Content Warning: **This article contains content about sexual assault and sexual violence. **
One of the many (inaccurate) messages we receive about female sexuality is that you get “wet” when you’re turned on, and if you’re “dry,” that means you’re not interested, menopausal, or sexually deficient.
Of course, none of these things are necessarily true. Mainstream cultural narratives around sex would make you believe that someone’s genital response always indicates whether or not they’re DTF, but in reality, arousal isn’t always so cause-and-effect. There’s a name for this: arousal non-concordance.
It may sound intense but arousal non-concordance is a perfectly normal phenomenon that anyone can experience, regardless of gender.
Arousal non-concordance is when your physical and subjective arousal are out of sync. Physical arousal is how your genitals respond to sexual stimuli, like increased blood flow to the clitoris and labia, and the production of vaginal lubrication (being “wet”). Subjective arousal, on the other hand, is your mental engagement during sex — how horny you’re feeling.
Simply put, arousal non-concordance is when you feel turned on but you can’t get wet or vice versa. Vaginal lubrication is a common aspect of your body’s sexual response mechanism, but it’s not always going to happen. Sometimes, you’re in the mood but your vaginal response is MIA. On the other hand, sometimes you may be wet but aren’t feeling turned on. That’s because your body can simply react to sexually relevant stimuli, whether you want it to or not.
Arousal non-concordance is a normal part of human sexuality, but if it happens to you it can make you feel less-than-normal. Before I learned about arousal non-concordance I would feel mortified if I couldn’t get wet during sex. I often found myself apologizing over the lack of bodily function (never did I stop to consider that maybe the guy wasn’t doing a good enough job at turning me on, but that’s a conversation for another day).
Messages around sex constantly reinforce the idea that getting wet is not only normal but also a turn-on, so, unsurprisingly, people with vaginas might feel like there’s something wrong with their body if it doesn’t react as expected during sex. Just think about how often vaginal wetness is brought up in pop culture or porn.
But the fact of the matter is that your vagina is a complex organ, not a Super Soaker. And sexual arousal isn’t as linear as we’re taught. Yes, sometimes not getting wet can be an indication that you’re not turned on enough, but sometimes it just means that your vagina has a mind of its own.
Arousal non-concordance is especially important because of its implication in consent and sexual assault. It’s not uncommon for survivors of sexual violence to experience physical arousal, or even orgasm, during the assault. But remember: your body just responds to sexual stimuli, it’s not always a sign of pleasure, let alone consent.
This notion that wetness or reaching climax is a sign that sex is consensual plays into a wider societal problem: not believing women. Consent is only valid when it’s given verbally and freely, regardless of how wet someone is. The quicker we understand how female arousal works, the sooner we dispel the idea that a physical reaction equals enthusiastic consent.
If you experience arousal non-concordance, just know that it’s completely normal. But if it’s getting in the way of your sexual enjoyment, here are some tips on how to help your mind and genitals be more in sync:
Despite the patriarchy’s aversion to foreplay, we can’t stress enough how important it is, especially in the context of arousal non-concordance.
If you have a hard time getting physically aroused, foreplay gives your body a chance to catch up. Equally, if your genitals are ready to party but your mind is elsewhere, foreplay can help you slow down and be present in the moment. Whether or not penetration is involved (it doesn’t have to be), rushing into a sexual act does nobody a favor!
If you’re super turned on but your vagina hasn’t gotten the memo, there is absolutely no shame in reaching for some lube. It’s quite literally what it was invented for. Using lube does not mean there is something wrong with your body, if anything, it means that you know how to make standard sex become super-fun sex.
If you ask us, lube is a value-add regardless of circumstance. The wetter, the better. (And make sure it’s microbiome-friendly lube — no spermicides, fragrances, nitrosamines, benzocaine, parabens, and glycerin, all of which may impact the vaginal microbiome!)
Don’t rely on body language alone
If you notice your partner say “you’re so wet” in excitement, don’t let them assume you’re ready to go. If you’re not fully aroused, let them know. Tell them what you want them to do to you and how they can turn you on even more — don’t underestimate how sexy this can be!
It can be easy to rely on physical cues from your partner, especially in long-term relationships. Rather than assuming that they’re having a good time based on what their body is doing, communicate and check-in with your partner during sex.
Speak to a therapist
Human sexuality is complicated and many things can get in the way of sexual enjoyment, from chronic stress and trauma to health issues and some medications.
If you’ve tried everything but still can’t find pleasure, there is nothing wrong with seeking the help of a sex therapist or counselor. Remember that you have the right to enjoyable, satisfying sex.
If there’s one takeaway from this article, it’s this: your body is normal, it’s society’s understanding of female sexuality that’s effed up.