I heard a new term this week and I’m really excited about it, because it’s a concept I’ve known about for a long time, but I’ve not seen many people write about it. I also didn’t know what to call it. I like having labels, because it makes it easier to short cut conversations and make sure everyone is talking about the same thing. So, I’m pretty excited that this concept is being talked about.
So, what is arousal non-concordance. Arousal non-concordance is the phenomenon when your psychological arousal does not match your physical arousal. This is something that happens to both men and women, though it happens a lot more in women. So, what does this mean?
Your spouse can mentally arouse you, but you show no physical signs
For women, this means you can mentally ready for sex, want it even, but physically, you’re not lubricated (wet), and blood flow hasn’t increased in the genitals (making physical sensations better). Unfortunately, this is the standard by which our society has deemed that arousal has happened or not. We automatically assume that wet = aroused, both physically and mentally, and when that doesn’t happen, we assume that something is wrong. Either they’re not interested in sex right now, or worse, they’re not interested in us.
In fact, this has spawned a whole movement in part of the manosphere of rejecting the use of lube because lube means the woman isn’t really interested and they want the most exciting passionate sex possible. So, if she’s not wet…well, I’ll go find someone who is.
Now, hopefully that sort of mentality doesn’t exist in Christian marriages, but I am quite certain that some husbands and wives are confused about a lack of natural lubrication at times by the wife. I wonder how many are thinking something is wrong with themselves, with the situation, or with the marriage, when in fact, there’s nothing wrong at all. It’s perfectly normal.
The same thing can happen for men. Again, our society has decided that erection = arousal, with in a lot of cases, that isn’t true. A husband can be extremely interested in sex, but lack an erection. Sometimes this has to do with erectile dysfunction, but other times it’s simple arousal non-concordance. His brain is aroused, but his body hasn’t caught up, or kicked in. Again, because we’ve been taught to believe that erection = arousal, this can be confusing for a lot of spouses. If a wife is giving her husband oral or manual sex, for example, and he loses his erection, the assumption is that she’s not doing a good job, or at least that he’s not enjoying it. But, I know for a fact that this happens to a lot of men and they are absolutely loving the attention…there’s just this arousal non-concordance. It doesn’t mean he’s not enjoying it, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a good job. He may be extremely aroused mentally, but physically just need something different.
You can be unaroused mentally, but show physical signs of arousal
Of course, the opposite is true as well. Many women have experienced lying in bed with their husband, going through foreplay, and being very lubricated, but mentally not being there at all. They may be physically ready for sex, but their mind is on the grocery list, or on the task list for tomorrow.
And just about every guy remembers being a teen and getting random erections without any mental arousal. It doesn’t just happen when you are young either. How many of us have gotten an erection occasionally when a child climbs into your lap? No one wants to talk about it, because everyone is terrified they’ll be called a pedophile, and sadly, I’ve even seen psychologists claim that it shows something disturbing about the individual, but the fact is that this is another facet of arousal non-concordance. There was a physical stimulus and the physical arousal system kicked in. It has nothing to do with their mental arousal.
There is an overlap between physical and mental arousal
Now, it’s not that they’re completely disconnected of course. As far as I can tell from resources, in men, there’s about a 50% overlap between mental and physical arousal. In women, it’s more like 10%. Women’s arousal patterns are far more complex. Plus, it’s a lot harder for a woman to tell if she’s physically aroused. Men have this obvious erection that strains against our clothing, or bumps into things, or, well, just sticks out there. But for women, their genitals are not as obvious. They may have no idea that they are wet. They could have increased blood flow to their genitals and not know it. I think this might be part of the reason. After all, if a man get’s an erection, that tends to make him think about sex, and so they sync up a lot more often. For women, there isn’t that obvious stimulus to trigger a mental arousal response.
How do we deal with arousal non-concordance?
So, what does this mean for us? Well there are a two major things:
- Just because your husband has an erection, doesn’t mean something turned him on mentally. I don’t want women thinking that he’s lusting after another woman just because he has an erection. That’s not necessarily the case.
- Don’t get upset if your husband isn’t getting hard. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t like what you are doing. Ask him.
- Just because your wife isn’t wet, doesn’t mean she’s not interested in sex. Her body just might need some time to catch up. This leads us to another topic of pro-active vs re-active sex drives that I might tackle tomorrow. I’ve talked about them before, but I don’t think I have a post on the topic. In short, women’s sex drives tend to be more reactive. If you start sex, usually they can catch up. Of course, they have to be willing to let you arouse them.
Lastly, if arousal non-concordance symptoms worry you, don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal. You just need to learn some tricks to get them to sync up when you need. Those will likely differ from individual to individual, but finding them sounds like a fun exercise.
So, do you experience arousal non-concordance? Let us know in the comments below.
18 thoughts on “Arousal non-concordance”
I agree it’s nice to have a name for it. When my wife and I were first dating we were at a church meeting and she took my hand. Suddenly I had to grab a hymnal to hold in my lap but there was nothing sexy going on upstairs. Glad she didn’t notice it. And a lot of times I’ll have morning wood, but no sexual urges. Those kind of events aren’t so bad. It’s when you have a strong urge for sex, and she is even willing, but the body won’t cooperate that it gets frustrating..
Ahem to that… Not only is it frustrating when it happens, it can also be a !itt!e embarrassing when you are very turned on by your wife and nothing much is happening in Man Land despite your best efforts by both of you.
Yes, it can be. But, if you realize that sometimes it’s just a normal response of arousal non-concordance, then it’s not so embarrassing (though it may still be frustrating). Then you can move to some other activity while your body catches up, or onto something entirely if it decides it’s not going to today.
Getting an erection when a child climbs into your lap? Nope, I’ve never experienced that, and it would bother me a LOT!!
Well, that’s why I wrote that part, so that for those who it does happen to, they won’t be freaked out and think there’s something wrong with them.
Isn’t this obvious? Shouldn’t you be able to tell this is a thing just by observing your own body?
Part of NFP is observing your cervical mucus. If it’s clear you’re fertile. Often this translates into being slightly wet all the time for a few days in the middle of your cycle. I noticed this long before I knew NFP was a thing. Obviously, you’re not thinking about sex and/ or turned on the entire 3-5 days. It should be perfectly logical that a woman’s physical response (including lubrication) would vary with her cycle. Have you seen those hormone charts showing all the hormone changes in a regular month? To say nothing of pregnancy or menopause. So the wrong time of the month your body will naturally just not be into it. No matter what you do/ think/ feel. The corollary would be that men can’t always get hard, even if they want to. For example when your fight or flight responses are activated (like when he is stressed out), your blood vessels will constrict. Obviously that is not conducive to getting or maintaining erections.
Surely everyone knows guys just get random erections sometimes. Or then again I guess not. I’ve wondered why guys would get embarrassed and try to hide erections. It never occurred to me to think anything of it. I don’t make a habit of looking at guys crotches anyway. But I guess this false equivalence of erection = aroused would account for the embarrassment element.
Would arousal fluid not differ from cervical mucous? Cm varies from day to day of course depending on your fertility, but shouldn’t there still be the possibility (or lack) of arousal fluid separate from that?
The fluids are different, correct. They are produced by different glands.
What about for the husband who says can’t stay up? (He’s young, 27 and I’m 29). He gets frustrated – starts out hard but can’t stay there. Everything I read points to it being a psychological issue – he is an emotional person – but after trying, even though the experience is still fun for us both, there was no climax. We are also hoping for another baby, which I’m sure adds some pressure. Is he getting psyched out? I try to believe that he still finds me attractive, as he says he does. We’re both pretty attractive people objectively – but maybe there’s too much pain from the past getting in the way? We’ve only ever been with each other. And we’ve recently come out of a long time of abstinence (another story). I’m also fighting the fear that I’m too “loose” after three vaginal births, the last of which can was 10lbs. Yes, I’ve done kegels – Maybe I need to do more?? I try to be encouraging and help the mood prior to, during, and even after. I’m trying, and somewhat succeeding, at not being discouraged. But I feel the oncoming waning of my strength. And I just want him to feel confident. Insights? Suggestions? Questions? Resources?
Yeah, that sounds psychological. I doubt it has anything to do with your body. He’s going to need to work through it. Talk about it, even if it’s uncomfortable. If he can’t move past it on his own, then he’s going to need help.
I appreciate your time and words. Uncomfortable indeed, but thankfully we do talk a lot and even about this and he’s fairly open to independently seeking help in general. Despite all that, still frustrating and we both want to make it through this time.
My wife and I were just talking about this. Thanks so much.
I was thinking that I wasn’t turning her on. You rock JDee.
“christian marriages” really!? Just because you don’t follow the path of christ doesn’t mean you’re just with your partner for sex.
I didn’t say it did. What I was saying is that those who DO follow the path of Christ shouldn’t be just with their partner solely for sex. That doesn’t assume anything about those who don’t.
And what if your body never catches up? I don’t even remember the last time my body reacted by producing arousal fluid.
I know this is an older post, but I have been searching for an answer to my issue and this seems to describe it well. I think my physical lack of arousal may be due in part to hormonal birth control. I started it a few months before our wedding and my desire and excitement seemed to drastically drop. Now, not even 2 months into marriage, we both struggle because I don’t ever seem to get to a state of physical arousal even though I mentally want to, and previously used to have a very high sex drive (although we did wait for sex). We don’t want kids for another 4 or 5 years so I’m reluctant to go off BC. Does anyone have any resources or suggestions on how I might be able to get aroused again? Is it maybe just something I have to talk to a doctor about?
Check out the spice jar download or memory game here. If things are not where you want them now, I would try something different. Talk to your husband. Start hours ahead of time. I start texting my husband at work hours before he comes home. It makes him feel good, and it changes my state of mind, even if it is a little at a time.
I do hope you found a solution, I totally understand wanting effective contraception! If nothing else, have you tried another kind of pill? They can be quite different, although honestly I never did manage to find one that didn’t affect my sex drive/emotions.