For reference: types of sexuality

This is a concept I find myself using a lot as I think about sexuality, so I’m going to coin terms and then refer back to this post when I use them in the future. From my experience, and according to several things I’ve read, there are two different ways to be interested in sex. You can be proactively interested, hungry for it, feeling some level of discomfort or even misery if you don’t get a sexual outlet. Or you can be responsively interested, content without sex but happy to respond if someone else (someone you like/trust/are into) initiates sexual activity, and ramping up into hot-and-horny mode after some stimulation. I’ve written about this distinction here, and Emily Nagoski writes about it here.

It seems that, while most people experience both kinds of sexual desire, a lot of people find that they typically feel one kind or the other. And it also seems that people who typically feel proactively-interested in sex are more likely to be male, and people who typically feel responsively-interested are more likely to be female. In my last post on the subject, in fact, I referred to them as “male-typical” and “female-typical.” But I want a gender-neutral way of talking about this distinction, because there are plenty of people who cross gender lines on this. So I’m going to start saying P-type and R-type.

P-type: Sexual desire that arises spontaneously, that has some level of urgency, that proactively seeks out a mate (and/or a private release.) Also a person whose sexual desire more often looks like this than like the R-type.

R-type: Sexual desire that is aroused by an external stimulus, that (in the early stages) is fairly easily dismissed, that intensifies in response to sexual stimulus (either by a partner or by oneself.) Also a person whose sexual desire more often looks like this than like the P-type.

As my study and understanding of sexuality increases, I may refine these categories, but that will do to be getting on with.

Also feel free to riddle the comment box with anecdotes: are you more P-type or R-type? What about your partners? Do  you feel that your pattern of response is typical or atypical for your gender, and if atypical, has that caused problems for you? I’d love to know.

2 thoughts on “For reference: types of sexuality

  1. My sexual desire has always been much more P-type. I actively sought sexual release long before I even knew intellectually what it was. For me, sexual desire has always felt instinctual and urgent. Kind of like the need to eat, drink, or sleep. It can’t easily be dismissed. Of course, this is not to say that I’ll have sex with anything that moves… I’m still quite choosy about my sexual partners. But sexual release does have to be a regular part of my life in order for me to feel healthy and to reduce my stress levels. I’ve never seen my sexual desire pattern as incompatible with my gender. However, I did feel that it was incompatible with what was EXPECTED of my gender. As a teenager, I was annoyed by stereotypes of women that portray us as seeking out sexual relationships for the companionship and NOT for the sex. Rather, women are supposed to be in intimate relationships despite the sex, which we aren’t really supposed to enjoy. As a woman who needs sexual release and needs it regularly, I was bewildered by these stereotypes while also feeling like my pattern of sexual desire was quite normal. In fact, I suspected that women who claimed not to want or need sex were just lying to themselves and everyone else. Now, of course, I recognize that there are different patterns of sexual desire and that healthy sex drives come in quite a range of intensities.

    Interestingly, I’ve tended to seek out partners who are also P-types. I am extremely uncomfortable with partners who don’t experience their sexuality as a visceral need. And I think that this is where socialization comes into play. That I am a P-type is hard-wired. But because I was socialized as female, I’m really not comfortable being the one who regularly initiates sex. I like to do it sometimes, just for a change of pace, but generally speaking, I prefer that my partner come onto ME (no pun intended), not the other way around. This is not because I don’t need sex. I need it, and I need it bad. But I’ve internalized our culture’s idea that the woman ought to be the desired one, not the one doing the desiring. Even in relationships with other women, I’m most comfortable playing this role. Does it bother me that I need to be the object of someone else’s desire because I’ve been socialized as female? Not really. I make it work for me and I enjoy it. And I tend to be most attracted to lovers who enjoy playing the part of the desirer (correct me if I’m wrong on this, but P-type sexual desire often seems to accompany this role). I enjoy being desired, which doesn’t mean that I don’t have a really strong, visceral sexual need for the other person. I just prefer not to play the role of the desirer in bed.

    With all that said, I’d be interested in a discussion of what appears to be the complex relationship between P-type/R-type sexual desire patterns and desirer/object (masculine/feminine) roles in bed. Also, what do you see as the relationship/difference between P-type/R-type patterns and sex drive?


  2. Here’s a distinction that i hadn’t quite fingered (also no pun intended, though no one may believe me) as vacant from my discourse. I very much identify as an R-type, and my sexual history attests to this. My partners have tended to be more P-type (though this may have much to do with my infrequently proactive dating habits) and i’ve found myself increasingly interested in more R-type partners in the past few years (with a concurrent change in dating habits). I’ve assumed that this was in pursuit of a sense of balance or reciprocity, but now that i’m prompted i think it may have more to do with timing, scheduling, or some other factor linked to the stress that comes with high expectations of my sex: I’m hetero, male, and athletic, so people sometimes expect me to be outright pushy, but i’ve found myself just a tad uncomfortable with partners who i know may seduce me at any moment (though certainly not enough to complain).

    In contrast, though, re: Charis’s comment, i seem to have a moderately high sex drive: When i’m not dating i masturbate at least once a day and often wish i had yet more time. (Is that even a suitable metric for libido?) I don’t know that i would even expect a correlation between the P/R scale and the high/low sex drive scale . . . maybe before internalized cultural norms have been teased out, and admittedly i hear (from sociologists) that that’s a world of work in itself.

    I got the feeling in high school that a lot of my male friends felt more emotionally driven (and slightly less sexually driven) than they were accredited, and since then i’ve never given much thought to the norms.


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