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How to Handle a Libido That Switched from Low to High

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Gwynhafra asks:

I'm a 24-year-old woman who's never had any kind of partnered sex or been in a relationship. Until very recently, my libido was like a quiet walk in a very dull park. I had to make a serious effort to become sexually aroused, and was attracted mostly to men, but not very many men. I would masturbate maybe five or six times a month, and never orgasm. Intellectually I knew there was nothing wrong with that, but I felt freakish and insufficiently sexual.

I recently learned how to give myself an orgasm, though, and now I get incredibly turned on sometimes when I'm not even thinking about sex. I've gone from quiet walk in the park to stuck on a runaway train. It's distracting, embarrassing, and physically exhausting. When given the chance I will masturbate about fifteen times a day. On top of all that I've started noticing women as sexually attractive, and more men as attractive than I did before. This all happened within the space of three days. I know sexuality can be fluid but I kind of assumed the changes were gradual.

Why am I suddenly insatiable? I'm worried that either this will continue and I'll spend my days in perpetual need of a cold shower, or I'll go right back to being mostly desireless.

Heather Corinna replies:

I thought your question would be a great one to pose to Jaclyn Friedman, a Scarleteen colleague and supporter who is making the internet rounds with a blog book tour right now. I think you'll find what she had to say and share around this very helpful, and I also think her book is one that would probably be a great choice for you at this particular juncture of your sex life, if you want some additional coaching and reading. I'll also include a batch of links you may find useful below her answer.

So, here's Jaclyn!

* * * * *

It sounds like you know, at least on some level, that there's no wrong amount to be sexual. But it also bears saying that this means that there's no right amount to be sexual, either. I understand that your new libido levels are making you uncomfortable, and I'll get to that momentarily. But first I just want to make clear that there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to masturbate fifteen times a day, or even occasionally going ahead and doing just that. (If you do it often enough that it interferes with your ability to live the rest of your life, it might be cause for some concern, but that doesn't sound like the issue here.)

So let's talk about your discomfort with your new desires. You say that they're "distracting, embarrassing, and physically exhausting." Let's take those one at a time.

It's true that being horny can be distracting. But also I wonder about the fact that these changes happened in three days. How long has it been since those three days? Did something happen in those three days besides you learning how to bring yourself to orgasm? Like many things, I suspect that even if your libido keeps feeling very high-key, it will become less distracting over time, because it won't seem so new, and you'll have more time to learn how to manage how you feel about it.

Which brings me to the second experience you're having about being turned on: embarrassment. Embarrassment is a form of shame, and shame about sexuality is often a warning sign that either a) you're doing something that violates your own values, or b) you're trying to fit yourself into somebody else's values. An important thing to do when you feel shame about your sexuality is to try to figure out if either or both of those things is happening, and if so, then, as best as you can, to work towards dismantling it, because shame can be toxic to a healthy sexuality. 

In my book, What You Really Really Want, I created a simple exercise to help you start to disarm sexual shame. It's called the sexual mission statement, and it goes like this:

Whether you agree or disagree with my values, what matters is that you know what your own values are. Once you know what you believe about sexuality, you can build up an immunity to shame. How? Just do your best to act according to your beliefs. (Hint: If that seems impossible, you may want to check in with yourself to make sure your values are realistic and allow for you to be a messy, complicated person. Because we’re all messy and complicated at least some of the time.)

If you know what your sexual values are and adhere to them most of the time, then it’s going to be a lot harder for other people to make you feel shame.

DO THIS: Write a sexual mission statement. This should be a paragraph expressing what you believe about sexuality. Be sure to answer the following questions: What do you have the right to, sexually? What are your responsibilities when it comes to sex? What about your partners’ rights and responsibilities? What’s the most important thing you seek from sexual exploration or expression? What do you never want to seek from sexuality? What does no one have the right to do when it comes to sex?

Now, write a list of five times you’ve felt sex-related shame. Circle two of those five that felt particularly intense. Then pick one, and write out the story of what happened—what did you do or not do that triggered the shame? Did someone try to shame you for it directly, or did the shame come from the inside, from something you’d previously absorbed? Describe the shame you felt as specifically as you can. Now read back over your sexual mission statement, and apply it to this situation. Do you now, in the present tense, think you did anything wrong then?

If you find yourself trying to impose someone else's values on your own sexuality, stopping is easier said than done. Sometimes like this is a lifelong process for many people. But noticing it as it happens, and re-reading your sexual mission statement to remind yourself what you actually do believe about sex can help. The more you do it over time, the easier it will be to let go of shame if it does crop up.

The last of the three experiences described -- physical exhaustion -- is the one most in your control. If you're masturbating to the point of exhaustion, and you don't like being or can't afford to be exhausted, then masturbate less! Feeling sexual desire can be an experience unto itself. You don't always have to seek release. If you're masturbating more than is physically comfortable, try experimenting with just feeling the ache of desire and not doing anything about it. Can you find in it a delicious tension, or a secret spring in your step that no one else has to know about? Explore how it feels to just be turned on, without taking any action. (That said, there's also nothing wrong with sometimes masturbating until you just can't anymore. It can be wonderfully decadent to just indulge your desires over and over.) The point is, since you're new to all of this, experiment with different approaches until you find a balance that works well for you.

Overall, I get the sense from you that your sexuality feels like a force external to you, something separate and alien. If that's the case, know that you're not alone. By the time we start to feel sexual, we've often absorbed so many conflicting messages about our sexualities -- from the media, our families, religious institutions, government, schools, medical professionals, and more -- that it can be hard to know what we want for our own reasons. But it is possible to create a stronger relationship with your own sexuality -- to make it feel more like an intrinsic part of you, and less like something that's happening to you. That's why I wrote What You Really Really Want, which is a book full of exercises to help you do just that.

As for your worry that your libido will always be either a "runaway train" or a "quiet walk in the park," I can only tell you this: your experience of your sexuality will continually change over your lifetime. Sometimes it will be more intense, sometimes it will be less. Sometimes you'll be more focused on certain things that give you pleasure, only to find that over time you're less interested in those things and more interested in others. Sometimes those changes will feel exciting and you'll welcome them, other times you may have to grieve for the loss of experiences that were important and satisfying to you. The important thing to do is to stay true to your sexual mission statement (revising it over time as your sexual values evolve), and remember that there's no "normal." Your pleasure and safety -- and those of your partners, if and when you have them -- are what matter most. 

This post is a stop in Jaclyn’s blog tour about her new book, What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety. Be sure to check out yesterday’s stop at The Ch!cktionary, and her next stop tomorrow at Yes Means Yes.

And here are those links for you:

written 14 Nov 2011 . updated 14 Nov 2011

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