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The key to desire: how to unlock this life-enhancing drive

About the author: Allison Leigh is a pornographer, producer, polyamorist, and professional kinkster. When sexuality is business, business is fun! 

The fluttering in your stomach, the tightness in your chest, the heat between your legs – sexual arousal is a nearly universal experience amongst humankind. We feel it when we crave our partners, strangers, even celebrities. For some of us, the desire is overwhelming; for others, barely a note in the margins. Where do these feelings come from? What do we do when it changes?

Our sexuality can play a major role in our quality of life and decision-making processes. As sexual desire ebbs and flows, new dilemmas come with it. Our responses vary – we masturbate, we have promiscuous sex (or avoid sex altogether), we watch porn, we cheat. A crucial key to understanding human sexuality lies in discovering where the desire for sex comes from, and if it can be controlled.

Outside of little blue pills, most advice regarding desire centers around trying to stimulate or repress the emotional state, and pays little attention to what ignites it. According to the ubiquitous mid-century sex study by Masters and Johnson, sexual encounters begin with sexual desire, which then leads to partner-seeking and sexual arousal. However, a University of Amsterdam study from 2004 indicates that we respond physically to highly sexual visuals before our mind even engages with them – meaning that sexual arousal actually precedes sexual desire, instead of the other way around. Sexual desire may be the cognitive overlay we place on top of what our body is already feeling.

Researchers Ellen Laan, Stephanie Both, Walter Everaerd and Mark Spiering examined college students’ physical responses to sexual images, and compared them with self-reported feelings of desire as well as sexual activity following exposure to these images. They contrasted these findings with a control group that was shown neutral images.

Through their series of studies, they found that the body’s entire motor system ignites when shown sexual images. The more intense the visual, the more intense the spinal tendinous impulses they observed.  Further, these reactions occurred with no regard to whether the sexual material was consciously recognized. Our bodies are primed for sexual action before our minds have even considered being turned on. Their findings matched what researchers have been finding true in other aspects of our lives – that our brains are awakened to what needs to happen before we are conscious of wanting to do anything.

This means that the key to awakening a lower sex drive is likely increasing arousability – the physical cues that signal us to feel desire. Turning aside from the conventional wisdom of placing the root of the problem on a lack of sexy thoughts, perhaps the focus should instead be on creating the physical, mental, and emotional environment necessary for sexuality to thrive.

So how do we proceed? When sexual desire no longer comes unbidden, how do we summon it? The answer will vary for everyone, but one simple solution may be right there in the research – look at erotica! Porn doesn’t have to be an immediate precursor to sexual activity. Making sexuality and sensuality a part of daily life pushes your body’s sexual responses to stay active. Combined with creating a safe atmosphere for sexuality, enjoying erotic visuals alone or with a partner will help keep sexual arousal – and therefore sexual desire – a hot and fulfilling part of your life. Naturally, MetArt is thrilled to play a role in such a vital and life-enhancing process.


Angier, N. (2007) ‘Birds do it, bees do it, people seek the keys to it.’ The New York Times.  April 10 [Online]. Available at:

Both, S., Spiering, M., Everaerd, W. and Laan, E. (2004) Sexual behavior and responsiveness to sexual stimuli following laboratory-induced sexual arousal. The Journal of Sex Research, 41 (3).


Members Comments (5)


Lipstick Sunset 1 week ago

Interesting take, and well stated; furthermore, I can attest to the veracity of the sentiment in my own life.

I'm curious where I can find more work by the author...


Rose 1 week ago

Hi LS, Allison is a great new addition to our writing team! Look out for more of her here; she also has some recent posts on the SexArt blog:

Find her on twitter @allisonleigh_sm


Johannes BLT 4 weeks agoLifetime member

Great essay!

So this (erotica, MetArt) is physically and emotionally healthy.... thought so! I liked: "...our brains are awakened to what needs to happen BEFORE we are conscious of wanting to do anything." And, this (erotica) is "...a vital and life-enhancing process."

Love the photo choice of Nikia at the top (Rose?); this is the "Nikia look" at its best! I always knew, deep down, that Nikia and the other ladies here were life-enhancing... just LOVE it! (:


Johannes BLT 4 weeks agoLifetime member

Just noticed the little bio on the author up top, LOL - that is awesome!


Rose 4 weeks ago

Glad you enjoyed it, Johannes. Allison is an awesome writer and I'm really happy to welcome her onboard! She has a great take on sexual politics. Glad you appreciated the pic too, yes I picked it, Nikia is so beautiful :-)

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