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Holding Hands

Revitalizing Sexual Desire

Revitalizing Sexual Desire

It is not uncommon to hear couples express that the quality of their sex lives has declined over the past 15 months of quarantine. The Kinsey Institute found that more than 40% of individuals have reported a decline in their sex lives [1]. With the stress, anxiety, and depression felt by most throughout this time, many couples are not experiencing mind-blowing sex, but you can get back on track. Dr. McCarthy (2020) provided that the prescription for revitalizing and maintaining sexual desire in your relationship is intimacy, pleasuring, and eroticism [2]. Let’s dive right in and discuss how to revitalize the sexual desire in your relationship by using the art of touch.


Best Practices for Revitalizing Sexual Desire

Dr. McCarthy created a list of best practices for revitalizing sexual desire in your relationship [2]. While he has a list of 20 guidelines, I have selected the top 5 that I feel would help with jump-starting that desire you are craving.  I want to continue to reiterate that rekindling dwindling sexual desire is a joint effort and requires all partners to maintain a positive attitude throughout this journey. As a couple, you are only as strong as the weakest player on your team, and when done correctly, we move at the pace of the slowest partner.

  • Maintain a positive mindset when anticipating a sexual encounter, and accept that you deserve to experience pleasure.

  • Take responsibility for your sexual desire within the relationship, as well as know that the revitalization process is a challenge for all parties involved in the relationship and not solely dependent upon one person. 

  • Limerence, your initial passion and excitement phase of a new relationship, lasts between 6 months to 2 years; therefore, sexual desire will require ongoing maintenance through the development of your couple's sexual style.

  • Explore the ways you think, anticipate, and feel about being sexual, talk to your partner about how they think, anticipate, and feel about being sexual, and then as a couple develop the dynamic that bridges to sexual desire.

  • Create realistic expectations for the upkeep of a satisfying sexual relationship, and accept that you will have sexual encounters that were better for one partner than the other. The key is to have positive and realistic expectations of sex.


Genital Arousal & Subjective Arousal

Ladies, there are two components when it comes to your sexual arousal: genital arousal and subjective arousal. Genital arousal is the physiological changes that occur in response to sexual stimuli while subjective arousal stems from mental stimulation during sexual encounters [3]. Research has further indicated that women can have higher genital arousal than subjective arousal and vice versa; whereas men’s sexual arousal tends to correlate with their sexual orientation and sexual identities [4].  With that knowledge in the forefront of your mind check out the figure [3] and explore how this information can help you in your specific relationship at this time.

Genetic Sexual and Subject Arousal Chart

Gears of Touch

            Understanding the value of having multiple ways to connect with your partner physically and emotionally is vital for healthy sexual couples. Sex therapist and psychologist Barry McCarthy and his wife, Emily McCarthy, in their book Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style (2009), explain that “touch counts, whether it eventually proceeds to intercourse or not.” Understanding the idea of pleasure-oriented touch can help discredit the sexual script that indicates men only want intercourse and feel touch is foreplay leaving women feeling pressured to have intercourse instead of being invited to participate.

            The McCarthy’s utilize the idea of “gears of touch” as a way to describe the five dimensions of touch as affection, sensuality, playfulness, erotic nonintercourse, and intercourse. A 10-point scale of sexual arousal is used: 0 is neutral, 5 is the beginning of sexual touch, and 10 is orgasm.

  • First Gear: Affectionate Touch – Subjective arousal is anchored at a 1.

    • Involves clothes on touching; holding hands, hugging and kissing

    • Affectionate touch is not sexual; however, it does provide a foundation for intimate attachment.


  • Second Gear: Sensual Touch – Subjective arousal 1-3.

    • Non-genital pleasuring; clothed, semi-clothed, or naked

    • Includes head, back, or foot rubbing

    • Cuddling on the couch


  • Third Gear: Playful Touch – Subjective arousal 4-5.

    • Combines genital pleasuring and non-genital touch

    • Touching in the shower, full body massage, seductive dance

    • Invites the enhanced sense of pleasure and unpredictability


  • Fourth Gear: Erotic Touch – Subjective arousal 6-10.

    • Considered to be the most challenging element

    • Non-intercourse touch including manual, oral, rubbing, and/or vibrator

    • Erotic scenarios foster vitality, creativity, and unpredictability


  • Fifth Gear: Intercourse – Subjective arousal 7-10.

    • Intercourse is a natural progression of the pleasuring and eroticism process

    • This not a pass/fail sexual performance assessment

    • Transition at a high level of erotic flow (7-10) and continue stimulation throughout

Based upon your experience and your needs, complete the chart below and have your partner complete a separate one then discuss and process your scores as a couple.

"Having an intercourse or nothing" point of view instead of a pleasure-oriented mindset devalues the importance of touch and is often forgotten

Touch Type

Current % of all touch

% of touch desired

Affectionate Touch

Sensual Touch

Playful Touch

Playful Touch

Intercourse Touch

 Sexual desire is more than intercourse. It is about sharing pleasure-oriented touch and creating a common language for improved communication. I encourage you to explore your sexual desire and create a fluid mindset towards intimacy, touching, and intercourse.


If you want to learn more about your sexual desire visit our new website, You will also find other helpful resources that can help enhance your sexual journey.


Written by: Sex Therapist Stephanie Sigler, MS, NCC, LPC | June 2021




[1] Lehmiller, J. J., Garcia, J. R., Gesselman, A. N., & Mark, K. P. (2020). Less sex, but more sexual diversity: Changes in sexual behavior during the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Leisure Sciences, 43(1-2), 295-304. doi:10.1080/01490400.2020.1774016

[2] McCarthy, B. W., & McCarthy, E. J. (2020). Rekindling desire. New York: Routledge.

[3] Meston CM, Stanton AM. Understanding sexual arousal and subjective-genital arousal desynchrony in women. Nat Rev Urol. 2019 Feb;16(2):107-120. doi: 10.1038/s41585-018-0142-6. PMID: 30664743.

[4] Safron, A., Sylva, D., Klimaj, V., Rosenthal, A. M., & Bailey, J. M. (2020). Neural responses to sexual stimuli in heterosexual and homosexual men and women: Men’s responses are more specific. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(2), 433-445.


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