Arousal Non-Concordance Is Common — Here’s How To Deal With It

Not all sexual experiences go smoothly. From premature ejaculation to injuries, the process of getting it on can sometimes go hilariously wrong. However, you might have a time (or multiple times) when you’re super horny and want to have sex with someone but you can’t get wet. It’s like your body hasn’t gotten the message that you’re trying to get laid. It’s super frustrating, not to mention confusing. However, it’s generally nothing to be concerned about. It’s something called arousal non-concordance, and it’s completely normal.

What is arousal non-concordance?

Simply put, arousal non-concordance is when you feel like you want to have sex with someone but your body isn’t necessarily getting the message. Your head is in the game and you’re totally turned on. However, the physical signs of that arousal aren’t present (at least not in the way you’d want them to be).

“Arousal non-concordance occurs when there’s a disconnect or mismatch between your subjective level of desire (how much you want to have sex) and your body’s physiological reactions,” sex therapist and sexuality educator Ceara V. Cory tells Bolde. “Non-concordance can take multiple forms including having a strong mental or emotional desire for sex but no physical reaction (no erection, no vaginal lubrication, etc.) or having a physical response that typically correlates to a desire for sex without the mental/emotional longing.”

Arousal non-concordance is an important concept in the study of human sexuality. That’s because it challenges the notion that subjective experience and physiological responses are always aligned. It also underscores the importance of taking a holistic approach to understanding sexual experiences, including both physical and emotional components.

How common is it?

Research has shown that a significant proportion of people experience some degree of non-concordance between their experience of sexual arousal and their physiological responses. For example, various studies have found that around 10-20% of women experience wetness and other signs of being turned on even when they’re not actually in the mood. Meanwhile, a similar number of women report the opposite — they want to have sex but their bodies haven’t gotten the message. Men can also experience arousal non-concordance, although research in this area is more limited.

It’s worth noting that arousal non-concordance doesn’t necessarily mean you have a sexual problem or dysfunction. Rather, it reflects the complexity of human sexual experience. In other words, don’t sweat it too much.

Why does this happen to people/what’s the cause?

There’s no one singular explanation for why some people experience arousal non-concordance. It’s a natural physiological process that happens as the brain and body communicate with each other before sex. That being said, sometimes the messages get mixed up and things don’t go quite as smoothly as planned. That’s when you might find that your body isn’t quite as excited about sex as your mind is.

Cory notes that “our context is what opens or closes the path for desire or motivation to engage in sex to occur.” By “context,” she’s referring to the things happening inside and around us in the moment. For instance, your environment in the heat of the moment could contribute to arousal non-concordance. If it’s too noisy, your kids are hanging around outside your bedroom door, or you’re not feeling 100%, you might find you’re not getting quite as wet as you normally would.

It’s also possible that your mental and emotional state could be playing a role in your level of sexual excitement. After all, anxiety, stress, depression, and other strong emotions are bound to have an effect on our overall state of mind. The same goes for what’s happening in your relationship with your partner. If you’ve been fighting a lot recently or you think you might be headed towards a breakup, it would make sense that your body isn’t all that hyped up about getting it on.

“When too many aspects of our context are not in alignment with our unique recipe for a pleasurable experience, we may have difficulty experiencing desire, even if our body is trying to give the green light,” Cory adds.

How it can affect relationships

Perhaps unsurprisingly, arousal non-concordance can cause issues in relationships. This is particularly true if it’s a regular occurrence and/or happens over a long period of time. While it might not matter if you experience this with a casual hookup, it’s bound to take a toll on a long-term relationship. It can lead to some of the following problems:

  • Feelings of frustration, shame, and embarrassment on both sides
  • Avoiding attempts at sexual contact to avoid rejection
  • Feelings of being unwanted or unattractive on your partner’s behalf
  • Accusations of cheating or disinterest from your partner
  • Lack of emotional connection due to lack of sexual connection
  • Worries that there’s something seriously wrong with you because your body won’t cooperate
  • Fear of initiating sex because it might be painful or uncomfortable if you’re not turned on

While not all couples will experience all (or any!) of these issues, they do occur. And while arousal non-concordance isn’t anyone’s fault in particular, it can still put a strain on a relationship. It’s not necessarily a death sentence, but it’s important not to brush the issue under the carpet. Otherwise, it could become a bigger problem than it really is.

How can you treat arousal non-concordance?

As with most relationship issues, one of the best and most effective things you can do is to communicate with your partner. Reassure them that what’s happening isn’t a result of your lack of attraction to them. If you have a feeling about what might be behind the problem, share that openly and honestly with them.

“Openly discussing your needs, desires, and the nuances of your unique sexual functioning can create deeper intimacy and connection in relationships and lead to more pleasurable sexual experiences. Instead of placing blame, work together to identify the source of the disconnection and devise a plan to resolve it,” Cory suggests.

Licensed clinician Megan Tangradi, MS, LPC, LCADC, CCS, CCTP, tells Bolde that seeking professional help may also prove useful. This is especially the case when you’ve tried all you can on your own and the arousal non-concordance is still causing difficulties in your relationship.

“If you are experiencing arousal non-concordance, it is important to understand that there are no ‘quick fixes’ such as medications or supplements to resolve the issue. Regular exercise and healthy lifestyle habits such as avoiding alcohol and smoking can be beneficial as can other treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and sex therapy,” Tangradi explains.

“It can also be helpful to talk with a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support on how to address these issues effectively and safely. They can also give advice on relaxation techniques and other strategies to help manage arousal non-concordance.”

Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @jenniferlstill