Sexual Intelligence, written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
Marty Klein pic

Each month, Sexual Intelligence® examines the sexual implications of current events, politics, technology, popular culture, and the media.

Dr. Marty Klein is a Certified Sex Therapist and sociologist with a special interest in public policy and sexuality. He has written 6 books and 100 articles. Each year he trains thousands of professionals in North America and abroad in clinical skills, human sexuality, and policy issues.

Issue #218 – April 2018


Sexual Desire vs Sexual Interest

Back to top

Like every sex therapist, I spend hours every week talking to men, women, and couples about desire.

People want more of it, or they want their partners to have more of it, or they want more desire for the person with whom they're involved.

"Don't get me wrong," Jon tells me, "I love my wife. I just don't feel that same passion like I once did." "Don't get me wrong," says Maria, "my boyfriend's great, my friends love him. But these days I'd rather watch a good movie with him than have sex with him."

I've been hearing this every week for over 30 years.

The truth is, most people in long-term, monogamous relationships notice a decline in sexual desire in themselves, their partner, or both. In some couples it happens soon after they move in together; in others, soon after their first child is born. Sometimes it happens only six or twelve months after two people become a couple. That's hardly "long-term," but it isn't rare.

For most people, a decline in sexual desire is almost always followed by a decline in sexual frequency. While that might seem totally obvious, it doesn't have to be. Desire and willingness can be separate moods, although most people think they're pretty much the same.

"Like without that horny feeling," says Yuki, "who's gonna have sex?"

I am NOT saying people should have sex when they actively don't want to. I do NOT believe in "duty sex" or "fake it till you make it" or any other excuse for people to suffer through sex they don't want.

There are lots of good reasons that a healthy person might actively not want sex. They might be angry, hurt, or scared. They might be so troubled about some non-sexual thing that they can't relax and mentally put it aside. They might be battling a cold or backache. They might anticipate conflict during the sex, or feeling used afterwards.

But actively not wanting sex is different from being neutral, or not-turned-on, or sort-of-willing-if-the-other-person-does-most-of-the-work.

However, if adults in committed relationships are waiting for that omigod-I-gotta-have-it-right-now feeling before considering sex, they may be waiting for the rest of their lives. Because that feeling is unusual after the initial rush of the relationship passes. Besides, there's the reality of aging: as we get older, a combination of biology and psychology means most people feel sexual desire less and less urgently.

My patients (and the therapists I train) hate when I say this. Almost everyone has had that thrilling sense of yearning for someone, and giving it up is painful. For some people it feels like the end of their youth. For others it feels like the end of the world. "How can sex be any good without that feeling?" asks Deepu mournfully.

That's the challenge of adult sexuality: participating and enjoying it when we're not on fire. It can definitely be done–especially if you don't expect to feel on fire as part of sex.

Increasing desire itself is great if someone can do it. It's one reason people drink alcohol when they think they might have sex. Different people try lingerie, new bedroom tricks, going to strip clubs together, role-playing, and flirting with others in front of their partner. Hey, whatever works. But the impact of these is usually temporary, the effects generally fading within a few hours or few days.

So for most people, igniting passion may not be the best route to more or better sex over time. Instead of increasing passion, we should consider reimagining sex and sexual interest, and rethink how we make sexual decisions. We can decide that sex is a reasonable thing to do with this person at this time. Or at an upcoming time that seems practical. We can conceive of our partner as someone familiar whom we like, with whom we can communicate and laugh, and with whom we can have a bit of sex.

Not "romantic"? Correct. Real life actually isn't.

In our youth, erotic activities like kissing, caressing, exploring, and teasing (what people diminish by calling it "foreplay") are about getting the bodies ready for sex.

As we get older, and as sex and relationships offer less novelty, these erotic activities are more about preparing our minds for sex—re-creating mutuality, and agreeing to set aside the day's mundane resentments, concerns, and unresolved life questions. Each person decides to create and enter a special sexual space with the other—entering not urgently, but consciously.

Each one brings their body along to share.

The result can be relaxed, enjoyable sex with a good friend, someone we perhaps live with and even share our destinies. Not intense sex we hunger for, but pleasant sex we accept.

This model is in direct contrast with pornography, which is a constant display of intense desire, a nonstop literature of desire's supposed ease and availability. Actual adult life simply can't match that. Of course, adults are similarly challenged by the constant pageant of attractive, ripe young men and women in public everywhere. "Easy to desire that," my patient Sophie laments.

And the siren song of infidelity, with its easy passion, is a nonstop trope of film, TV, and internet. Aside from being nineteen years old, infidelity is probably the easiest life situation in which to feel irrational, imperative craving.

Which is exactly what so many people want: desire, passion, and hunger, as long as we have confidence that sooner or later, it will be redeemed and we will be fulfilled.

But as with many other things in adulthood, to move ahead and grow into new possibilities we have to accept the loss of something we've valued. When we accept that "sexual interest" today won't feel so much like "sexual desire" yesterday—or the "desire" we fantasize having for people and situations that are off-limits—we can actually have sex today.

With that best friend of ours we've been living with, or co-parenting with, or creating a future with. Probably not sex that drives us crazy—but sex that can help keep us sane.

Back to top



Sex Science in the News

Back to top

Sex continues to be an important topic in the news. I don't mean celebrity infidelities, Midwest prom gossip, or the latest bluetooth vibrator that also tracks your steps and cholesterol.

I mean the ongoing public policy issues that affect us and our families every week. There's real science about sexual behavior, feelings, and biology which everyone deserves access to—and which policymakers and political activists should take seriously.

Here are a few stories you'll continue to read about in Sexual Intelligence.

The War on Trafficking—Now a War on YOU

Congress has passed SESTA and FOSTA—two horrible bills that censor online speech about sex. As a bonus, these bills also endanger sex workers and sexual minorities.

These bills even threaten my blog.

Journalist Violet Blue explains why "sex trafficking" is the latest American moral panic, why it is NOT the huge problem moral entrepreneurs (and misguided feminists) say it is, and how these two new laws will create more misery and reduce our freedom.

Actual Data on Actual Porn

PornHub is the world's largest porn website. It gets 81 MILLION visits a DAY. Other than shopping, social media and search engines, it's the fourth largest site on the entire web.

Who watches PornHub? When? Where? They've recently released a huge amount of site statistics, which tells us plenty about ourselves and our sexuality. Journalist Michael Castleman helpfully summarizes and comments on the numbers here.

Teen Sexting—Shocking!

Teen sexting continues to rise, according to findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. One in four teens receive them, while one in seven send them. Virtually none of them realize that this is a felony, and could involve mandatory lifetime sex offender registration.

Abortion Outcomes

The National Academy of Sciences has released the first in-depth report in more than 40 years about the state of science on abortion safety and quality in the United States. Abortions done in a clinic or with drugs are overwhelmingly safe—statistically, safer than childbirth.

The science shows that abortion does NOT appear to increase the risk of infertility or breast cancer. And having an abortion is NOT linked to depression, anxiety, or PTSD.

Back to top

Damaging Justice to Make a Point About Rape

Back to top

There's currently a campaign to recall a Superior Court judge in my county.

Judge Aaron Persky presided over the 2016 trial of Stanford student Brock Turner, who was ultimately convicted of digitally penetrating an unconscious woman on campus.

With Turner a young first-timer with no previous police record, the Probation Department recommended a sentence of six months in jail and three years' probation, focused on rehabilitation. As is typical, the judge followed this recommendation. California law also requires that Turner register as a sex offender for the rest of his life—an absolutely crucial factor that Recall proponents don't discuss.

Many people are very upset about the sentence, thinking it way too light. Six months in jail for raping an unconscious young woman! (Again, ignoring the lifetime sex offender registration.) Outraged, hundreds of thousands of people—most of whom know nothing about the case beyond sensational headlines—want to punish the judge by revoking his job.

That is, they want to undermine judicial independence. Perhaps they misunderstand a judge's actual mandate. It is NOT to reflect community values, and it is NOT to satisfy the bloodlust OR the sympathy of the community in a given case. No, that's how it works in places like Russia, Iran, and Egypt, where judges implement community values (as dictated by the government) rather than the law.

A judge's sworn job is to understand the law and apply it impartially, using the accepted tools of the judicial profession—including knowing and applying precedents, managing conflicting interests in the courtroom, being sensitive to ethical issues, and sifting through the recommendations of various officials within the justice system.

Regardless of how one feels about Judge Persky's sentencing decision in this case, revoking his job (and destroying his career) undermines the effectiveness and impartiality of every judge in every case. Judges are human; after this recall election, which judge will NOT look over her or his shoulder when making complicated judicial decisions?

As dean of the law school at University of California Berkeley Erwin Chemerinsky says, "Justice, and all of us, will suffer when judges base their decisions on what will satisfy the voters."

The California Commission on Judicial Performance has cleared Judge Persky of misconduct or bias. Open letters supporting Persky have been signed by 20 retired judges and almost 100 law professors across California. And several County Bar Associations (those are lawyers, not judges) have voted to defend Persky, saying that his removal would be a "threat to judicial independence."

This Recall election isn't about whether Aaron Persky deserves to be a judge. It's about whether the community deserves judges who are independent. The separation of the judiciary from both government and popular opinion is a brilliant innovation of our American system, and we must protect it no matter how painful it feels on a given day.

Even legal system professionals who disagree with Turner's sentence are against the recall campaign. "Most of the judges in California would have done the same thing as Judge Persky," says District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen—whose office prosecuted Turner and recommended a six-year prison sentence after his conviction. "I do not believe he should be removed from his judgeship.

* * *

In addition to his jail sentence, Brock Turner is now required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life—some 40, 50, 60, or 70 years.

People dissatisfied with Turner's "light" punishment apparently know very little about what lifetime sex offender registration means. These convicts face rampant, LEGAL discrimination in jobs, housing, education, and healthcare. They can't own homes, get school loans, enter most professions, get a basic security clearance, or get police protection. With their passports stamped "registered sex offender," they'll be denied entry into virtually any other country on earth.

With their name and address public information—FOR LIFE—there is no such thing as paying a debt to society and living quietly. If a registered sex offender lives with his mother and a church is built next door, he has to move. Murderers literally face fewer obstacles once they leave jail.

As a lifetime registered sex offender, Brock Turner's life is pretty much over. Months in jail, years in jail—as awful as that is, it's most certainly LESS awful than being a registered sex offender for life. Do those criticizing Judge Persky's decision understand or even care about this? Or do they just want a pound of flesh? That's an ugly and dangerous position from which to sanctimoniously demand public policy.

* * *

The Recall election campaign is underway, with rallies, legal maneuvering, and dueling letters to newspapers and websites.

Of course, that's how democracy works. But there's a disturbing note to it: people who oppose the recall are being painted as pro-rape. That is, Recall supporters are making this election a referendum on rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and women's rights in general. They see the actual judge and this actual situation as a convenient archetype rather than parts of real life.

For example, Recall campaign leader (and victim family friend) Professor Michele Dauber, says "This historic [Recall] campaign is part of a national social movement to end impunity for athletes and other privileged perpetrators of sexual assault and violence against women." She stresses the recall campaign is focused specifically on ensuring that "white, privileged men" are held accountable.

According to The New York Times, the case is being described as "symbolizing the barriers to justice often faced by women and assault victims in the courts." But this case is more accurately described as a triumph for the justice system: even though unconscious, the woman was rescued by passersby, and the perpetrator was quickly arrested, quickly tried, quickly convicted, and quickly sentenced. And is now required to register as a sex offender for life.

* * *

Hanging Brock Turner—or making sure he rots in jail until he dies—will not make our planet safer. Getting rid of Judge Aaron Persky will not make anyone safer. (In fact, by eliminating judicial discretion, it will disproportionately harm poor people and people of color.)

Oversimplifying this situation as black and white—either you're for hanging Turner or you trivialize rape—will not make anyone safer. It will instead keep the progressive movement divided, and discourage men and women from working together to change society.

Recall supporters who can't make a decent argument call anyone with whom they disagree a rape apologist, or accuse others of being brainwashed by the patriarchy, or say their privilege prevents them from thinking clearly. This doesn't make a Recall supporter right, or even smart. It just makes him or her a bully.

And by pretending that lifetime sex offender registration is a light sentence or a trivial detail, we continue to dehumanize those whose lives are ruined by it. While three years in prison may feel like a lifetime, it's absolutely nothing in comparison to spending an actual lifetime as a registered sex offender.

Back to top




You may quote anything herein, with the following attribution:
"Reprinted from Sexual Intelligence , copyright © Marty Klein, Ph.D. ("
  • Subscribe to Newsletter

    Contact Dr. Klein

    Featured Book

    • America's War On Sex book cover

    Recent Issues


    • 2010 issues #119 - #130
    • 2009 issues #107 - #118
    • 2008 issues #95 - #106
    • 2007 issues #83 - #94
    • 2006 issues #71 - #82
    • 2005 issues #59 - #70
    • 2004 issues #47 - #58
    • 2003 issues #35 - #46
    • 2002 issues #23 - #34
    • 2001 issues #11 - #22
    • 2000 issues #1 - #10

    Sexual Intelligence Awards

    Sexual Intelligence Awards honor individuals and organizations who challenge the sexual fear, unrealistic expectations, and government hypocrisy that undermine love, sex, and relationships--and political freedom--today.

    SI Award Nomination