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Sexual Desire

  1. Lisa M. Diamond

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0853

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Diamond, L. M. 2010. Sexual Desire. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. University of Utah

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Sexual desire is typically viewed as an interest in sexual objects or activities. Although sexual desire is often confused with sex drive, these are fundamentally different constructs. Whereas sex drive represents a basic, biologically mediated motivation to seek out sexual activity and/or sexual gratification (and hence is traitlike in nature), sexual desire is a specific state of sexual interest that typically has a specific target and/or trigger. Sexual desire can be elicited by a large variety of cues and situations, private thoughts, feelings, and fantasies, erotic materials (such as books, movies, photographs), and a variety of erotic environments, situations, or social interactions. Researchers have increasingly come to acknowledge that there are different forms of sexual desire. One useful distinction, first advanced in the context of research on nonhuman primates, is that between proceptivity and receptivity. Proceptivity refers to a basic urge to seek out and initiate sexual activity and is regulated by gonadal hormones (e.g., testosterone in men and estrogen in women). Receptivity, sometimes called arousability, represents the capacity to become sexually interested or aroused upon exposure to certain environmental or situational stimuli. Unlike proceptivity, arousability is not hormone-dependent; in fact, even individuals with no circulating gonadal hormones show arousability to erotic stimuli, although they are not typically motivated to seek out sexual gratification.


  • sexuality;
  • hormones;
  • desire;
  • sexual orientation;
  • gender differences