If the most romantic month is leaving you cold, resident sex therapist Coralie McEachron has some surprising sexual turn-ons and turn-offs that may help rev up your love life.

By Coralie McEachron

With the month of love can come increased expectations for romance, sex, and amorous moments. However, for many women, this pressure may feel paradoxical, particularly if they’re struggling with having any desire for sex at all.

For those of you wondering, “What’s wrong with me? Why is having sex the last thing I feel like doing?,” there are some new and surprising answers.

A little-known advancement in the sex therapy world is something called “The Dual-Response Control Model,” which looks at some of the ingredients that make up erotic tension, and provides a better understanding on what unlocks our libido. Researchers John Bancroft and Dr. Erick Janssen came up with this model by looking at sexual desire as a mix of accelerants — or gas pedals, and inhibitors — or brakes. Gas pedals are anything in our mind or body that moves us toward sex, romance, and intimacy, whereas brakes are anything that pulls us out of the moments, halts us, or stops us in our tracks.

You might be wondering, “Isn’t this a fancy way of looking at turn-ons and turn-offs?” The answer is: No! Our gas pedals and brakes may include what ‘turns us on’ and ‘turns us off,’ but they include so much more. As whole people, we are not just impacted by what happens between us and a partner, but also by what we are carrying from the day, the world, our pasts, our hopes, our needs, etc. Some of them may not have anything to do with being sexual!

For most people, in order for desire to blossom, we have to have more forces pressing down on our gas pedals than our brake pedals in that particular moment. Our gas pedals may co-exist or overlap and enhance our desire, while the brakes for many can put a stop on our sexual impulses in one impactful moment.

What does this look like in daily life? You’re getting home from work, and have had steamy texts between you and your partner hinting at more to come when you get there. Your imagination is running wild, thinking about the words, the kind of touch that will feel good, how the moment will play out. Then you walk into the house and the sink is filled with dirty dishes and a whiff of spoiling food permeates as you peek over to see an overflowing garbage can. What happens next?

For many women, despite feeling primed and ready for intimacy, that sensory barrage of walking in the door, and the resulting annoyance, resentment and tallying of the to-do-list is enough to pull them right out of the moment. You no longer have your attention on pleasure, relaxation, playfulness and are instead caught up in more responsibilities and maybe disappointment or frustration with your partner. You’ve hit the brakes.

While the lists of sexual accelerators and extinguishers can sometimes break down along gender lines, what is most important is learning to identify your own arousal accelerator and inhibition system in order to build a better relationship with your desire. You can start just by paying more attention to your feelings throughout the day and noticing what are some of the small stressors or happiness-boosters.

Becoming aware of these little moments and how they can increase or decrease your desire for intimacy is not just about self-discovery, it can also be something you and your partner focus on together. It’s part of realizing that foreplay is all day and not just what happens when the lights go off.


Coralie is a licensed marriage and family therapist and relational and sex therapist. Have a question? Send it to Coralie at Coralie@northstarcounselingcenter.com for a chance to have it answered in an upcoming column.