Sexy woman with on / off button
Shutterstock / Yury Smelov / Sanit Fuangnakhon / Love Matters

What does it take to turn you on or off?

Is a glance enough to drive you wild with desire? Or is the slightest mood-killer enough to put you off sex? Your answer can reveal a lot about your sex life, says the latest research on women’s sexuality.

It’s Friday night and your roommates are at a party. That means you and your boyfriend have the house to yourselves. You’ve just finished a candlelit dinner for two and have moved to the bedroom. Your boyfriend’s pants are around his ankles, and all you have on is your bra. Things are getting pretty heated and you’re both aroused when you hear the front door open: your roommates are back early. Do you get turned off, put your clothes back on, and head out to join them? Or do you and your boyfriend ignore the chatter in the next room and go right on having great sex?

The gas pedal and brakes of arousal

Women (and men) vary a lot when it comes to how easily they get turned on and off. For example, some women find it takes the slightest thing for them to lose interest in sex – far less than a houseful of roommates. Others find that once they’re turned on, there’s pretty much no stopping them.

Arousal depends on these two drives, something like stepping on the gas pedal and putting on the brakes, according to The Kinsey Institute’s Dual Control Model of Sexual Response. On the one hand, there’s excitation, when you get turned on by sexual cues, and on the other, inhibition or getting turned off.

Turn on: the smell of a lover

Scientists measure excitation and inhibition with different questionnaires for men and women. Women can answer questions on what excites them sexually (things like “dirty talk” or the smell of a lover) and what inhibits them (like needing things to be “just right” or feeling self-conscious about their body). A woman’s answers can reveal a lot about her sex life.

For example, women who have high scores of sexual inhibition are more likely to have trouble getting aroused or reaching orgasm, the latest research is beginning to show. These are the women who find they can’t get turned on if things aren’t “just right”, and the tiniest mood-killer is enough to turn them off.

Turn off: worries about sex

It’s also true for women who tend to have a lot of worries about sex – like how long it’s taking them to reach orgasm or whether they’re a good lover. All that worrying makes it really difficult for them to get turned on.

If there’s an aspect of your sex life that’s bothering you, you can share your worries or ask for advice on our Let’s Talk forum. Also, don’t be too embarrassed to go to the doctor.

Dr Cynthia Graham’s presentation at WAS
The Psychometric Properties of the Sexual Excitaiton/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women (SESII-W) Within a Dutch Population (2015), Bloemendaal LB, Laan ET.
Psychometric Properties of the Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women in a German Sample (2015), Velten J, Scholten S, Graham CA, Margraf J.

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