Science of Sex: Habituation of Sexual Arousal (The Coolidge Effect)

February 24th, 2018

Welcome to the Science of Sex, a feature I've managed to publish on Of Sex and Love for a whole year (albeit not necessarily when I promise to). In this monthly segment, I discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.

Today's post explains why it's harder to feel aroused by your partner after you've been together for a long period.

Check back every second Saturday of the month (ish) for new Science of Sex posts.


The so-called Coolidge Effect is a biological occurrence wherein a member of a certain species will experience renewed sexual vigor when a new potential mate enters the picture. In short, even an exhausted male will suddenly be ready to mate if a new female enters.

The Coolidge Effect is apparently named after president Coolidge, who'd had a discussion with his wife about a Rooster's prowess upon visiting a farm. When FLOTUS inquired into the rooster's sexual ability, POTUS apparently remarked upon the number of hens available.

Research indicates that several species experience the Coolidge Effect.  It can also occur in females, but the effect is heightened with males of a species. It may take longer for habituation to effect a woman's sexual respond than a man's. The research is currently conflicting.

Humans are definitely not immune to this, and it doesn't just apply to sexual activity. The Coolidge Effect explains why arousal increases when new stimuli (women) enter the picture. One study examined men's' arousal when exposes to the same stimulus as compared to arousal levels when the men experience more various stimuli.

Similarly, men who repeatedly view porn of the same actress will experience faster ejaculation, and the sperm contained in the ejaculate may actually be healthier!

The term for getting used to the same sexual stimulus is known as habituation, and it's exactly why people grow to need novelty in long-term sexual relationships. It strikes me that the Coolidge Effect can even explain why someone who has new sexual partners, consensually or otherwise, might experience renewed desire for their original partner.

Habituation of sexual arousal is worth looking into deeper. Researchers have found that while genital response will decrease to repeating the same stimulus, people can still subjectively feel aroused. Scientists were especially surprised to learn that this happens in men because men often feel mentally and genitally aroused simultaneously than women (concordance).

The proposed explanation for the Coolidge Effect is the same for many sexual theories. A male of the species will be able to produce more offspring if his desire can be triggered by multiple partners and quickly after new potential partners become available.

What does all this mean? If you've had sex with the same person for quite some time, especially if it's the same sort of sex, arousal might dip. Enter a new, attractive person, and you'll find yourself desiring sex again. Keeping things novel is one way to ward off the Coolidge Effect and minimize habituation, but it doesn't mean that something's inherently wrong with your relationship.  

Habituation may not be permanent, either. In at least one study, men found that desire again increased after a period of time.

Further Reading


Science of Sex: Dual Control Model

August 13th, 2017

Welcome to the sixth installment in a new feature on Of Sex and Love: Science of Sex. In this feature, I plan to discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.


dual control model of sexual desire

I’ve been interested in the dual control model since I first read about it in Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are, which I highly recommend but apparently never got around to reviewing. The dual control model was first proposed by Bancroft and Janssen in the early 2000s. This theory is relatively new, but it’s become accepted because it explains desire for many people.

The dual control model explains why desire is more complicated than we’ve been led to believe. It’s not just about what turns us on (our Sexual Excitation System (SES)). Turn offs (Sexual Inhibition System (SIS)) are also as important, and things that arouse you and detract from your desire happen at the same time. Whether you want to have sex is the result of this equation.

SESes (accelerators) can include being attracted to someone, sexy books, music or movies, someone who smells good and, in a few people, stress. SISes that put the kibosh on your arousal might be needing to shower or brush teeth (or needing the same from your partner), having kids or roommates home in the house, dissatisfaction with a relationship, being self-conscious about your body, or any kind of stress. Mood can be a brake, and women are more sensitive to mood when it comes to desire.

The original surveys were given to men and focused on issues with erectile dysfunction. Bancroft and Janssen divided inhibitors into type types for men: SIS1 refers to performance anxiety while SIS2 is inhibition due to possible consequences of sex. Since then, a survey with modified questions has been given to women.  Results indicated that feelings about relationships are especially important to a woman’s desire.

Nagoski’s book is geared toward women, and the dual control model is especially helpful for women who can’t figure out why they don’t want sex more — or even if that means something is wrong with them (hint: there’s not). The dual control model specifically explains why pressing down the gas pedal isn’t enough for many people to want more sex. They must let up on the brakes (inhibitors/turn offs).

I found this explanation especially intriguing because it affects everyone. Dr. Nagoski does discuss this in Come As You Are, mentioning that men tend to have more sensitive accelerators and less sensitive breaks than women. The things that want to make them have sex are many and powerful while the things that make them hesitate are fewer and weaker.

I was eager to apply the dual control model to myself. As best as I can tell, I have more sensitive accelerators than many women but more sensitive brakes than most men. I think many people will benefit from analyzing their desire though the filter of the dual control model.

Interestingly, bisexual women tend to have higher levels of desire than straight women according to the dual control model. I’d like to see how different demographics stack up to straight men and women.

Further Reading

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Science of Sex: Conditioning

March 11th, 2017

Welcome to the first post in a new feature on Of Sex and Love: Science of Sex. In this feature, I plan to discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.

I hope you enjoy. 

Science of Sex -- Conditioning

We all learned about Pavlov, his dogs and classical conditioning in school. By associating a neutral stimulus (the ringing of a bell) with a desired reward (food), Pavlov was eventually able to condition dogs to salivate at only the sound of the bell, even when there was no food in sight.

Much like food conditioning, sexual conditioning exists. However, many people first stumble across their capacity for conditioning quite by accident. Whether you masturbate to hardcore porn during your formative years and become unable to get off any other way or you realize that you’re physically turned on at the sight of a bright red lipstick that your partner wears specifically for sex, you’ve been conditioned.

Human’s aren’t the only animals capable of sexual conditioning. In fact, humans may be less prone to this type of conditioning than other animals. People who higher sex drives who more easily respond to sexual stimuli are the most likely candidates to become sexually conditioned, whether by accident or design. Most studies focus on men, who may be more likely to become sexually conditioned; however, women can experience it, too.

Upon discovering sexual conditioning, some people like to experiment it. BDSM practitioners sometimes employ sexual condition as it’s especially helpful to force someone to orgasm on command. You can certainly play around with sexual conditioning without being kinky, however.

Attempting to sexually condition someone without their knowledge may cross fall into consensual gray area. And classical conditioning has been used for nefarious purposes: specifically to change a person’s sexual orientation. The process, known as conversion therapy, attempts to change a person’s orientation with stimuli such as electricity or nausea drugs. No reputable studies show that this type of conditioning is successful, and one proponent of conversation therapy who wrote a controversial paper about it has since changed his stance and offered an apology to the gay community.

Finally, PTSD because of past trauma can lead to conditioned behavior in otherwise neutral environments because of fear conditioning. This is one reason why it can be difficult for survivors of assault to engage intimate behavior after the assault.

Fortunately, negative conditioning and fear conditioning may be reversed through a process known as counter-conditioning.

Although classic conditioning used for sexual purposes is possible and can be fun, we must address the ethical implications as well as the limitations of sexual conditioning.

Further reading on conditioning and sexuality:

Did you enjoy the first installing of Science of Sex? Do you have further questions or suggestions for next month’s subject? Leave me a comment!


Short and Sweet

September 10th, 2010

A hand on her hip. Fingers digging into flesh, grasping at bone. She gasps, ruby lips parting in a picturesque silhouette. The hand remains in place, holding her firmly and she remains still, aside from her momentary expression. His other hand roughly fondles her breast, the delicate flesh exposed to the exquisite agony of pinching and pulling and squeezing–all none too lightly.

As if on cue, the hand rests against her skin as he leans his body over hers, his mouth zoning in on her other hip. His breath is hot on her flesh and then his teeth are sinking into it, bruising and cutting her skin. He swirls his tongue inside his mouth, against her skin, before pulling away. His teeth leave marks on her skin as droplets of blood spring from open wounds.

She cries but cuts off shortly as he casts her a swift glance. She clamps her mouth shut as his finger traces the marks on her hip. The touch is gentle but every movement is searing in her imagination, worse than the bite itself. She holds her breath and, almost without realizing it, clenches her thighs. He feels the movement and is upon her in a second, roughly pushing her legs apart. Her vulva glistens in the lamp light, wet from her arousal. Yet, he knows she will be wetter still before the night ends.



February 22nd, 2010

Sex, I want it. And I can’t have it. Which makes me want it even more. I see it in movies, on TV and read about it in books. It seems like everyone is having it. Everyone but me, of course. I think about my husband (who will hopefully remain my husband). I think about our sex and my body springs to life but no relief is available.

I remember his movements, his sounds, the feel of his touch and his body against mine. My real life becomes my fantasy and I long for the past. I do not simply want sex. I want sex with him. I want the sex I remember and, yes, the sex about which I all-too-often took a passive attitude in the past.

The past? Has it really been that long. Only a few short weeks. Yet, it feels like forever. It feels like a lifetime ago even though I know, logically, it has not been. But it has been too long and every day my desire grows. It is though I have never yearned for him as I do now or perhaps it is simply how I yearn for him because I have certainly wanted (but not been able to have) sex with him before. Before, sex was always an option in the future (albeit, not always the near future) but that is not the case now.

Regardless of how things turn out, I imagine he will be the object of my fantasies as long as I fantasize and as long as I cannot have him, I will certainly have to to survive.


I Am a Word Whore

December 7th, 2008

My husband and I met online. We had a lot of very satisfying rounds of cybersex. By that point, I was fairly experienced in talking dirty online and I knew what I want. He definitely did the job – and then some! – and I was happy to finally have a partner who consistently performed well.

Since amrrying and moving in together, we have obviously not had the chance to participate in such arousing activities and I have missed it.Words do so much for me and physical sex does not provide as much opportunity to use words as does cyber or phone sex. I found myself not being worked into the frenzy I had once known and my desire did seem to lessen a little.

Currently, my husband is away for business reasons. Left to my own devices, I feel as though I have rediscovered my sexuality. I’ve been playing with toys a lot, not just because I have many to review but because I find myself more aroused. I am feeling that desire deep within my body that I have no felt for ages. What’s more is I have been able to funnel this desire in my husband’s direction. I’m not simply masturbating and fantasizing. Rather, I am fantasizing about him and being with him.

In an unsually naughty mood last night, we exchanged sultry texts about how much we missed and wanted one another and what we would do when we are together again. I felt my heart beating faster. I grew wetter and more aroused as he described how hard his cock was for me. Though, I was in a better position to relieve my sexual tension and I quickly broke out a new toy and fucked myself with it roughly. Until I came.

I felt so renwed sexually. And almost relieved that my husband could still bring out these feelings in myself. I hadn’t before realized how much my libido might have been suffering from a lack of words. And then is when I realized it: I am a word whore. I would much rather have satisfying cyber sex than mediocre intercourse for the rest of my life. If someone can paint a picture with their words, I am more than willing to suspend disbelief and imagine myself into a place where we are both breathing heavily, sweating and grinding against eachother.

Perhaps using these words is easier when you’re on the other end of a computer but I have been to that place again and I do not want to go back. So I will make it my mission to use more words, during sex and all the time so that I can get into that sexual frenzy and the pounding of his hard cock will be what releases me.


The Gears are Grinding

September 18th, 2008

I’m writing articles and reviews in the back of my mind. In the mean time, I thought I’d share with you a cycle I notice that I’m in. It seems that the less I have sex, the less I think about it and the less I want to have it. The also seems to be true; the more I have sex, the more I want it and the more I think about it.

It’s sort of a curious trend but  not without it’s logic. The less time I spend having sex, the less time I think about having sex and the further away from the idea of sex I grow. The less time I think about sex, the more I spend thinking about other things and the more I concentrate on other subjects, the more subjects arise to keep my attention. As my mind distances itself from the subject, my body does, too which is a fair assessment when you consider that female arousal and sexuality is mostly mentally based.

On the other hand, the more time I spend having sex, the closer my mind is to the issue and it will be more easily aroused to continue having sex. The effect my mind has on my body is obvious. I’m aroused more easily and quicker to accept sex. When sex takes up a larger part of my mind, other subjects are forced out and I think of it even more.

The one thing I find interesting is that these trends don’t necessarily have a correlation with masturbation quantities although quality might be something different. If I am not having sex, I might be more likely to masturbate but if I’m not thinking about sex at all, I may be less likely to engage in self stimulation. The same lack of trend is apparent when I am having sex. An increase in sex may mean an increase in general arousal and thus more masturbation or it may mean that I’m being satisfied more and thus masturbate less.

I think the difference here is in purpose of masturbation. Generally, it’s just done to get off; it’s a mechanical motion rather than a passionate or emotional one. While self gratifying, it isn’t necessarily satisfying and I usually see it more as work than play time. Of course, this changes when I have more time and space and can make it more of an experience, I will go above and beyond the call of duty but this is not all the time.

It’s interesting to see how these trends and even the lack of trends about masturbation are so heavily connected to my mind. Of course, considering how deeply rooted in mentality female sexuality and orgasm is (which is another topic for another time), I shouldn’t be surprised.