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What is Arousal Non-Concordance?

What is Arousal Non-Concordance?

Ever started getting it on with someone you're really, really into... and your body won't play along? 

In October 2019, we surveyed over 5,000 people to discover lubricant preferences and perception of arousal. 76% of respondents associated increased natural lubrication with being more aroused - and it's a common misconception. Many people believe that the more aroused a woman or person with a vagina is, the more natural lubricant they produce. In fact, medically speaking, higher levels of arousal aren't directly correlated to the amount of natural lubricant produced, which explains why so many of us experience discomfort during sex - and consequently feelings of confusion or shame.  

Arousal is not a binary experience. Desire can lead to sexual arousal which in turn can lead to involuntary bodily responses, but it's not a sure thing. As a general rule of thumb, our society, we do a whole lot of assuming.

We assume that erections and vaginal wetness mean we're being turned on. We assume that we know how turned on our partner is by the way their body responds to stimuli: a soft stroke of their skin, a whispered demand, a filthy sext or out-and-out pornography.

It's time we recognised the difference between subjective arousal and physical arousal. 

What is Subjective Arousal?

Subjective arousal is your personal evaluation of how a sexual stimulus is making you feel, if you’re turned on or experiencing pleasure.

What is Physical Arousal?

Physical arousal is how your genitals react to sexual stimulus. 


What is Arousal Non-Concordance?

It’s completely normal to feel that your subjective arousal and your physical arousal aren’t aligned. Many people experience this and it’s known as arousal non-concordance. Examples of this might include:

  • Feeling confusion when your partner has gone down on you and your genitals physically reacted - but you weren’t feeling turned on or enjoying pleasure in the moment.
  • This can also occur in reverse. You might really want to initiate or engage in sexual activity - but your genitals have other ideas. No erection, no getting wet, no physical evidence of your attraction and arousal.
You are not alone. According to author Emily Nagoski, 90% of cis-women and 50% of cis-men have experienced arousal non-concordance. 


What causes Arousal Non-Concordance?

 A number of factors may make arousal non-concordance more likely, including stress, burnout, tiredness, lack of energy or you just simply weren’t feeling it in the moment. 

Unfortunately as a result of our cultural conditioning, we tend to think of sex as a tabooed topic and as such any concerns we may have about our sexual wellness become larger than life. When we don’t feel comfortable sharing things with others, we tend to overthink and place too much emphasis on an issue, when we add limited information to that mix (as is often the case with sex), we can spiral into negative thought cycles and convince ourselves that ‘there is something wrong with me’. 

There is nothing wrong with you. you are a human being with hundreds of different influences in your day-to-day life, real life is not like the books, movies, or porn we’ve grown up on. In these stories everyone wants sex, and has it regularly with ease, like flicking on a switch. Real life is complicated with daily plot twists which affect our mental, physical and sexual health. If you feel like you don’t want sex as much as you ‘should’ or you’re not often turned on ‘enough’, remember that there is no minimum threshold for sexuality, it is all relative to you and your desire. 


Recognising that arousal is not black and white can be the first step to understanding yourself and others through a different lens.

The big learning to take away: if a partner has not verbally consented but they’re physically aroused, this does not serve as consent. Similarly, if a partner is verbally saying no, but you can feel that they are physically aroused, this does not mean they are playing hard to get - a dangerous trope. Communication is key. Check in with them to see if they’re subjectively aroused and get their enthusiastic, continuous and indisputable verbal consent. Whether you've been together two hours or ten yers, no matter the stage you're at in your relationship, it's a must-do. You can read more on the importance of consent and ways to ask for it here.


Want to bridge the gap between your subjective and physical arousal?

1. If you tend to be subjectively but not physically aroused, start by listening to your body and making note of what makes you physically aroused. Masturbation is a good place to begin. Pay attention to the movements and touches that make you feel good. You can also try a mental deep dive into past sexual experiences that have been memorable for the right reasons: what triggered a positive physical response? Was is a certain position with a sex toy, or a type of porn or audio erotica? Do you like hearing dirty talk - or do you like focusing on other senses, such as touch and taste? Give yourself the time to investigate and trial different options. Try our friends at iloh for sex toys and accessories designed by women, for women, that are a world away from giant purple Rampant Rabbits. (Hey, we're aesthetic-orientated masturbators!). 

2. Make Lubricant your new BFF. If you're struggling with getting wet, consider introducing lube into your sexual repertoire. Not only does a little extra slip and slide make for a more physically comfortable experience and avoid irritation and tearing, it can also help alleviate the shame some people feel about vaginal dryness. Our Lubricant is non-flavoured, and non-scented for this very reason. It's not a novelty item, but an essential that should be best supporting actor rather than the action hero. You shouldn't even notice it's there...

3. If you often find yourself physically aroused but not subjectively aroused, take a moment to reflect on your mental and physical health. Are there events or experiences within your relationship or outside it which may be influencing your subjective arousal? You may choose to talk to someone close to you about these external factors or you may wish to see a Psychosexual Therapist, these therapists specialise in sex counselling as well as relationship therapy. Therapy can be incredibly useful, with many people seeing a therapist once as week as part of their self-care or mental health routine. Others choose to seek additional support when they are going through a specific change or phase in their lives. You may benefit from sharing your experience with someone who has the expertise to guide you through your sexual wellness journey. 


Own your journey 

The important thing to remember is that your sexuality is unique. It exists on a totally individual, personal spectrum on which you experience arousal and attraction. Join the conversation on our HANX Life forum here.


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