April 18, 2024


Desire and libido are today synonymous terms. However, this was not always the case throughout history. Formerly, the libido also expressed attraction, impulse, but not necessarily towards sexual issues. This word, which was used to describe an “accentuated desire”, was applied, for example, to the Roman emperors, prone to commit excesses of all kinds at their banquets. Freud defined the libido as “the energy of the drives or instincts that directs all behavior.” His disciple, Carl Gustav Jung, drew the term as “psychic energy, the manifestation of vital processes that usually take the form of desire.”

It is not known to what extent merging both concepts into one has deprived us of that subtlety that differentiated sex from life, desire from the vital impulse; despite going both, almost always, hand in hand. Today, when sexologists’ offices are filled with people (formerly women, but now also men) who confess to being without desire, one can wonder if what they have lost is the desire for sex or the desire for life. Or both at the same time, because they are very connected.

“Very little is known about desire. It works in a somewhat mysterious way and is a subjective perception”, explains Francisca Molero, gynecologist, sexologist, director of the Ibero-American Institute of Sexology and president of the Spanish Federation of Sexology Societies. “What is known is that there are people desiring, which are those who are curious, wanting to enjoy to the fullest, to live, to accumulate experiences. Desire is closely related to pleasure and reward circuits, with certain hormones and neurotransmitters. And then there are less motivated people, because desire is learned, just like pleasure. Children are motivated, or not, to have experiences, to try things, to participate, to be curious, to play. To wish”.

It is paradoxical that we complain about having lost the basic instinct (desire) in increasingly aseptic societies, which have long since turned their backs on biology for the sake of culture, ideology or consumerism. Most live like a sexless robot Monday through Friday and pretend to be a sex god on Saturday night. The question is, can we remain as beings desiring in frigid societies?

“Now that there is more sexual freedom than ever, there is less desire than ever because we are more stressed than ever,” says Antoni Bolinches, a graduate in Philosophy, Psychology, sexologist and professor of the Master’s Degree in Clinical Sexology and Sexual Health, at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Barcelona. Bolinches is also the author of several books, such as Love at the second try, Sex wise or, the last, My best thoughts, a compilation of reflections and personal aphorisms, also about sexuality. “It is true that in extreme situations, such as wars or catastrophes, the libido can be activated in some subjects, although in a minority percentage, because people have other priorities, such as surviving. But in the situation we are in, with medium-intensity, chronic stress, what happens rather is that vital energy is being undermined. A very bad apathy for sexual desire is created ”, he maintains.

The lifestyle, as in almost everything, is essential to maintain a trained libido; starting with physiological factors. Long working hours, few hours of sleep (in Spain we sleep very little), inadequate nutrition, lack of physical exercise and certain drugs (such as antidepressants or anxiolytics) make us feel like it. But to this we must add the current culture in each society and wonder if this is desiring either castrating. “With the good intention of educating on equality, respect and consent, we often misexplain these terms, or in such a way that they can be misinterpreted, and what we are causing is a confrontation between the sexes, or generating societies where desire is seen as something dangerous, hostile, hurtful. Therefore, I believe that we must be very careful and prudent in terms of the messages we send and the ideological analyzes we make of issues such as equality and consent”, explains Guillermo González Antón, doctor, sexologist, specialist in bioethics and law and vice president of the Spanish Federation of Sexology Societies.

What makes desire grow the most is the appearance of an erotic subject.  In the image, William Hurt and Kathleen Turner in a still from the film 'Fire in the body'.
What makes desire grow the most is the appearance of an erotic subject. In the image, William Hurt and Kathleen Turner in a still from the film ‘Fire in the body’.Photo: MPTV.net (-)

“When I get off work, the only thing I want is to kill,” a friend told me ironically when asked if she had time for sex. It turns out that, due to evolutionary reasons, women respond worse to stress than men and the first thing that is suppressed in stressful situations is libido. A form of prehistoric contraception. When the situation becomes tricky, it is preferable not to get pregnant and, to avoid risks, it is better to be little or not at all predisposed. This is how female chemistry thought when men lived in caves and this is how they continue to think in many cases, now that he rests in comfortable and functional spaces. Male testosterone never had to make such a reflection, since what was good for the conservation of the species was that the male covered the greatest number of females possible, with or without glaciation, even with wars, inflation and variable mortgage, included.

“The biologist theory cannot be banished,” emphasizes González Antón, “because, quantitatively, we see that men and women respond differently. The masculine desire is more visual, the image intervenes, and wants to be a finalist, to have an outcome; while that of women is more intimate and does not always need to materialize in a relationship”. “In addition, there is what is known as the cyclical model of the female sexual response, by Rosemary Basson, which was developed in 2001, and which maintains that many women do not need desire to want to experience a sexual relationship,” explains this sexologist. “Their motivation may be the need for affection, good treatment, intimacy,” she continues, “but once that interaction begins, it is when the excitement and desire appear. That is to say, that the desire is not always in the first place, as it usually happens in men, it is not always at the beginning of the sexual act, but it can appear later; although, of course, there must be an important predisposition”.

Of course there are women desiring who go with desire ahead; although, according to Bolinches, “the demanding and seductive woman can inhibit some men.” For this sexologist and writer, “what makes desire grow the most is the appearance of an erotic subject. Someone who stimulates our libido; but even if this does not happen; The fact of knowing that you are wanted can be very exciting”. “I recommend”, he continues, “that when there is no desire, nothing is done. Just trying to find out if that inhibition is due to previous experiences. Generally, if there is no physiological cause, the desire recovers when the erotic subject appears. Many others recover them when the holidays arrive, with the end of the routine and free time”. As for masturbation as a way to train the libido, Bolinches does not rule it out, “as long as it is an erotic variant and not a substitute practice, which becomes a refuge and causes whoever practices it to end up with a feeling of frustration.”

But, if there is good news regarding desire, it is that it, contrary to many other functions and organs of the human body, improves with age. “Just as the sexual response declines over the years (erection and lubrication become difficult), the opposite happens to desire”, underlines Guillermo González, “it becomes more intelligent, more sophisticated, it eroticizes other issues that previously went unnoticed, it becomes more emotional, intimate, more creative. This also affects the fact that seduction strategies are maturing, they are more staged, more scripted, more accurate”.

Under normal conditions, the libido should grow and improve over the years, the same as intelligence; but this is not always the case because for desire to exist, for most people, it is necessary to start from a situation of calm, stability, without excessive worries. “The successive economic crises, the pandemic, the uncertain future. Continuous stress scenarios are the ones that most harm serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters that help us to be well”, says Molero. And he adds: “Optimism and pessimism are contagious, and it is difficult to maintain the desire in societies little desiring. In any case, there is beginning to be a current, very humble, of people who seek to have more time, take care of themselves, work on erotic communication and limit technological connection. They want to live more in the body, because corporeity is essential for sex and we are forgetting that, first of all, we are a body. Even the brain is also part of it.


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