The dual control model – Why you sometimes can’t get in the mood for sex

Jay Dee

The dual control model – Why you sometimes can’t get in the mood for sex

Aug 30, 2016

Alright, today we’re going to talk a bit about the dual control model of sexual arousal.  I think people probably know this inherently, but sometimes it’s good to put things on paper, as it were, to make them clear. So, the dual control model of

The dual control model - Why you sometimes can't get in the mood for sex

Alright, today we’re going to talk a bit about the dual control model of sexual arousal.  I think people probably know this inherently, but sometimes it’s good to put things on paper, as it were, to make them clear.

So, the dual control model of sexual arousal basically explains arousal as being a system with two controls:  the Sexual Excitation System (SES) and the Sexual Inhibition System (SIS).  These two opposing systems are constantly fighting to control your arousal.  The excitation system (SES) is fighting to get your aroused, and the inhibition system (SIS) is fighting to keep you disinterested in sex.

Now, I think these are by design.  This is how our brain decides when it’s appropriate to have sex and when it’s not.  For example, if you are in a crowed room, your SIS tells you “There are people around!” and puts the brakes on your arousal.  For some people this is more sensitive.  Your SIS might put a hard stop anywhere on the following spectrum:

  • You’re in a room with people
  • You are in a room without a lock
  • Your kids are still awake
  • Your kid’s bedroom shares a wall with yours
  • There are guests in the house (who we can’t be sure are sleeping)
  • The neighbours might hear us
  • There are people within a 2 block radius who might suspect we’ve had sex

And it works differently for every person.  I’ve heard of wives who think it’s okay if people hear so long as you’re in a hotel, because you’ll likely never see the people who heard you.  But, I’ve heard of husbands whose SIS shuts down any sex in a hotel, because someone they don’t know might hear.  It’s all very personal, highly contextual, and if you don’t know what’s going on, very confusing.

The SES of course, works in the opposite way.  Something as simple as “Oh, my spouse took a shower” might trigger your sexual excitation system.  Spontaneously getting an erection might trigger the signal “Hey, I want sex!”

And then you get confusing signals like stress.  For some people, stress triggers their SES and makes them want more sex, for others it triggers their SIS and makes them put the brakes on arousal.  It might also change depending on the level of stress.  A little stress might be fun (like being tied up), but too much stress shuts things down.

This means there are two ways to increase your chances of getting aroused.

Decrease sexual inhibition system triggers

One method is to remove some of the things that are setting off your SIS.

Some triggers are simple to address, like perhaps your spouse smells and needs to take a shower.  Or their breath is bad and they need to use some mouthwash.  Or perhaps you’re worried your breath is bad and you can go brush your teeth.

Other triggers are a bit more deeply seated and may take some time to work through.  Some examples of these triggers might be body image issues, or relationship problems.  Mistrust or general stress.  For some, these triggers are so deeply ingrained and so strong a trigger that the brakes are always on.  For example, dealing with bad theology regarding sex can keep the brakes on until that theology is dealt with.  I mean, if you think enjoying sex is going to send you to hell … that’s a big inhibitor.

Increase sexual excitation system triggers

The other method, of course, is to increase the SES triggers.  Some of these again might be simple: change the sheets on the bed, because new sheets feel nice.  Start with a back massage because skin to skin contact can trigger the SES (it might also help release some SES triggers).

Others need some more work and time to achieve.  Trust in your spouse, for example, or feeling valued and appreciated by them.  Having good communication could be one.  And some can be synthesized.  You may never be able to experience the excitement of having a new sexual partner again, but you can find ways to bring novelty into your sex life to achieve a similar trigger.

Which should you choose?

So, do you work to turn off SIS triggers, or work to turn on SIS triggers?  There’s no clear-cut answer to that.  It depends on your triggers.  If you have an inhibitor system trigger that has the brakes on full, then it doesn’t matter how many SIS triggers you manage to hit, you aren’t going to move.  That said, there is a mechanism in the brain that when we get aroused, the part of our brain that regulates some SIS triggers starts to shut down.  So, you can overcome some inhibitors by getting your partner more aroused.

On the other hand, research shows that removing SIS triggers is generally easier than increasing SES triggers.  In other words, it’s more effective to lift your foot off the brake than it is to give it more gas.  But, if their’s no pressure on the gas pedal, you can completely let go of the brake and still sit there not moving.

In short, I don’t have a simple answer for you.  What I’m hoping is that you can use this information to figure out what works best for your marriage.  Have a conversation about what your spouse’s SIS and SES triggers are.  Then work to remove the SIS triggers and hit more of the SES triggers, and everyone will be happy.

Looking for help?

7 thoughts on “The dual control model – Why you sometimes can’t get in the mood for sex”

  1. Mike says:

    We had a large home school family in church that was teaching the purity movement as gospel. As I talked to the teenage girls, I began to suspect that they were going to have trouble with sex in their marriages. They had purity rings, were dead set on being virgins, looked down on anyone who had compromised sexually, would not forgive anyone in sexual sin (couples who had had sex outside marriage), they condemned anyone who had viewed porn, they had never been to a doctor, one did not want children, they had no idea about birth control, etc.

    I tried to give a balanced view, but the parents have more influence than I do. I have never heard this SIS and SES explained before, so thanks. I would think that they have a very high SIS. They also want to be married and are drawn to guys. Any suggestions as to how to handle this as a teacher preparing youth for marriage?

    1. Dan says:

      @Mike- If you care to know more about SIS , SES. arousal non-concordance, and more of what Jay Dee has been writing about recently and a lot more very useful information about women’s sexuality get yourself (and your wife) a copy of Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are. I am certain you will both learn some things and have more than a few “light bulb” moments.

      You can buy it in paperback or Kindle from Amazon. If Jay Dee has an affiliate link with Amazon, give him a break and buy it through his link. I won’t cost any extra and help out Jay Dee’s ministry.

      1. Jay Dee says:

        That’s book’s on my reading list. She has some good research, though I find her views of sexuality, gender and such extremely liberal. Oh, and I added my links to your response, thanks.

        1. Dan says:

          I understand your comments about her liberal leanings but can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. I have had heard women say or Nagoski’s work, “Finally I get me,” and “Finally someone understands our sexuality.” I found Come As You Are very instructive and I don’t mean solely from the standpoint of physical techniques. Being task- and goal-oriented, we men tend to approach sexual sharing as a series of separate sequential, not integrated, steps that work inexorably toward the goal of orgasm often at the expense of not maintaining a state of prolonged arousal that our wives find pleasurable and satisfying even they do not achieve orgasm. I know. As a guy I don’t get it either, but that’s the way it can be. Orgasm isn’t always their goal but they’re capable of multiples in the same session. Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.

          1. Jay Dee says:

            No, I agree, that’s why it’s still on my reading list.

  2. Beth says:

    I just finished Emily Nagoski’s book as well. This is so interesting. My husband and I have switched roles with all the triggers. We are in our 50’s and my interest went up and his went down. I’m guessing youthful levels of testosterone are a huge accelerator. He is now more stressed by his job, knows we have a full to do list and is aware of our teens being home. I just asked him the other day “Why didn’t those things bother you 15 years ago?” Kinda funny.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      It’s a good book and she does a good job of pulling together the research.

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