Better than "Sex Drive"

Finding a more scientifically accurate term

Hey everybody-

How are you holding up? Got a few minutes to talk about language?

We live in a world where people are getting comfy with singular they pronouns and are adapting our language in lots of other ways – people who are pregnant, penis-havers, estrogen-rich bodies (hat tip to Matthew Nolan), all-gender bathrooms.

We can also adapt our language to be more scientifically accurate and actively promote a culture of consent.


Today, i want to talk about the phrase “sex drive”.

(For an explanation of how this term is both scientifically  inaccurate and weaponized by rape culture, see chapter 7 of Come As You Are.)

One of the things I talk about a lot is the fact that sex is not a drive, but rather an incentive motivation system.

I’m a reasonable enough person to recognize that “sex drive” is much easier to say than “sexual incentive motivation system,” but is there any pithy way to talk about sexual motivation that isn't such a mouthful?

Over the years, I found a variety of phrases that fit the bill for different situations:

  • Sexual interest

  • Sexual motivation

  • Sexual urges

  • Feelings of sexual “craving”

  • Sexual instinct

  • And just plain old sexual desire

You can also talk about things like, “if you could wave a magic wand and have a quote perfect sex life quote, what would your ideal sexual frequency be?”

Or my favorite question about desire, “What is it that you want, when you want sex?” (It's not just orgasm, because you can have that on your own.) This question asks people to think through the obvious desire for pleasure and really consider what sex means in their life and relationships.

Some terms I prefer not to use because of their outdated and/or unscientific connotations:

  • Libido

  • Lust

  • And even “passion.” 

These aren’t bad words and I would never judge anyone for using them, they're just not a good fit for me as a sex educator who “brings the science.”


Sorry it’s been a while since I last posted. There’s some stuff going on that I can’t tell you about yet. A rather lot of stuff, if I’m being honest! But if I may ask a mysterious and leading question, what podcasts are you enjoying right now?

I recently had a fun conversation with Chris on How To Be a Better Human if you’d like to give it a listen! It’s the March 15, 2021 episode.

This email is in response to a reader email. I love questions. I may answer them here or they may become material for a podcast. I will never reveal your name.

Email me at: emilyadnexa@gmail.com

- Emily