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The 10 Most Common Categories of Sexual Desire

Why self-acceptance is important in sexuality.

I am a licensed relationship counselor, clinical psychologist, and certified sex therapist, in practice for over four decades. During these years, I have watched as society has changed its sexual norms, opened its inquiries, and offered multiple ways that people can explore all forms of sexual experience.

Yet, despite the decrease in sexual taboos, it is still hard for most people to openly share their true thoughts and feelings about their sexual fantasies and desires. Even in the protected and non-judgmental confines of a therapeutic environment, it is not easy for patients to disclose the full range of their internal sexual world.

Many of those barriers to comfort come from childhood teachings and modeling, sexual trauma, over-protection, or a lack of opportunity to gain acceptance and guidance in the years when a person’s sexuality begins to develop. What a person has been taught to suppress in those formative years often remains a pervasive deterrent to openly sharing, even with a trusted partner.

As sexual behavior is such an important part of most people’s lives, the need for more comfort and openness in talking about it is truly important, especially between sexual partners. A way to begin that process is to realize that one is not alone and that the most common categories of human sexual behavior are not unusual or abnormal.

The following are ten areas of sexual desire and experience that my patients have shared with me most often over time. You are likely to identify with some and not with others. Also, some may be easier to accept, while others are less so. That is totally normal. What is important is for you to fully accept yourself and to know how and when you can be comfortable sharing your thoughts and feeling with your sexual partner.

1. Romantic

Being in love while making love is the most sought-after sexual experience for most people. Blending together a fantasy of perfect connection with unbridled lust often results in couples dissolving into one another’s perfection, lost in the beauty of two becoming one. “La Belle Triste,” the beautiful sadness when they realize, after the love-making ends, that they are two again.

2. Mutual Masturbation

Sometimes two people, whether in a relationship or not, are too tired or too busy to enter into a prolonged sexual ritual. But they both feel in the mood and just want a simple orgasm and an easy disconnect. Their goal is to make sure the other gets off, and no more is asked for or needed.

3. Routine

Like all else in life, it is all too easy to fall into rituals. They take less thought and less worry. Too often, perhaps, couples who have been together for a long time, stressed by life’s demands, slip into predictable sexual routines. They can be mutually satisfying physically but are rarely lustful or exciting. Some people find that enough, but many others begin to wonder whether something better is out there.

4. Dominant/Submissive

Some people need a power struggle of some kind to make their sex interesting and exciting. Being “taken,” or forced to submit to control, invigorates some partners in ways that tender connection cannot. What is important is that it is mutually agreed upon and does not slip into one person getting his or her needs met at the expense of the other.

5. Polyamorous

This area covers a wide swath of sexual behavior. Non-binary openness to being whomever you authentically enjoy, having more than one partner at a time, several at one time, swapping partners, or participating in orgies can allow people to explore all parts of their sexual orientation.

6. Self-Pleasuring

Masturbation is a natural human behavior, yet many people still feel awkward about talking about it with others or demonstrating it during sex with another. Almost all males watch porn to intensify their auto-pleasuring and many women do as well, although women often pick different options. Couples who are comfortable with masturbation in front of their partners can demonstrate to their partners what most pleasures them.

7. Celebratory

So many people want to have sex when they are in unusual places or experiencing meaningful times. A lot of babies arrive nine months after New Year’s Eve. Too often though, a committed couple only has deeply connected and lustful sex in celebratory moments, when the stresses of life abate.

8. Purchased

Unfortunately, this type of sexual encounter is most often sought out by men and tends to portray the behavior as debasing of women. Yet, it is a regularly practiced behavior and has been since the beginning of time. Because it is most often a purely transactional encounter, the person purchasing dictates the behavior expected and the person agreeing, the price.

9. Obligational

Men tend to respond sexually to visual triggers moreso than women, whereas more women than men can get turned on by other factors. Yet, both can find themselves in situations where they feel obligated to be sexual with someone they are not attracted to at the time. Women, sadly, can fake it more easily. A man’s sexual apparatus is on the outside and less easy to hide if there is no arousal.

10. Illicit

Sexuality is an intimate behavior shared at the time by people who have made certain promises to each other as to whether it is limited just to that relationship or is open to concurrent experiences with others. These agreements are sacrosanct in maintaining trust. Illicit essentially means unlawful. The laws in any relationship are the moral and ethical behaviors that both partners have agreed to live by. One-sided breaking of those promises can produce exciting and increased lust because of the immorality of the action and can also make the existing relationship less attractive in comparison. This, of course, has the potential to severely damage the relationship.


You can begin to become more comfortable about your own sexual preferences if you simply talk about these categories with your partner or just explore them within yourself. You can also explore where your sexual desires differ from your sexual experiences, and how you might better integrate them.

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