When we talk about sex drive, desire, and sexual arousal, most of us have no idea what causes any of it or why our bodies do what they do. We find ourselves going in frustrating circles with our partners, wondering why we have a lower libido, why they want sex all the time, and why we just can’t seem to get in the mood.

It’s not a shock to anyone that Sex Ed in schools is an absolute nightmare. Since parents don’t have honest discussions about sex with their children, and teachers don’t explain anything beyond STI scaring and condom use (if you’re lucky), porn is the de facto sex education we wind up with.

We know nothing of desire, our potential for pleasure, or how to understand our bodies. It’s no wonder why we’re all so messed up about sex.

Here’s a term you may not have heard before, but which can serve as a catalyst for profoundly better sexual happiness: accelerators.

“Being able to identify your accelerators allows you to have answers and add direction for your partner,” explains Kristine D’Angelo, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist. “If they’re asking [what turns you on] that means they want to know how or what you respond positively to before or during sexual experiences.”

This discovery leads to better sex.

Everyone has these sexual on-buttons within them (with the partial exception of the asexual community). They key is figuring out what yours are and how to ignite them.

What Makes Us Want (Or Not Want) Sex

If you want to know how sexual response actually works, it’s both straightforward and, as many things in sex tend to be, complicated.

Sexual response happens in four phases: Excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution.

In the 1970s, after greater research, desire was added as the first phase. While the sexual response cycle was first thought to be linear (hat tip to sexual pioneers, Masters and Johnson), we now understand that the response cycle is non-linear, often circular, and different for different people.

What’s more, how each person gets to this response cycle in the first place is also rather subjective. Emily Nagoski, PhD., author of Come As You Are explains The Dual Control Model; our brain's system of "accelerators" and "brakes" that govern sexual response in a non-linear way.

“Accelerators” are things that propel you towards sexual feelings, they push you forward toward wanting sex.

Your “brakes” are sexual inhibitions. They hold you back. When your brakes are going strong, your brain is thinking: Nope. Now is not the time for sex.

Understanding your accelerators, discovering them, and exploring them can help you have better, more satisfying sex. The same goes for understanding those “brakes” we mentioned.

“There are times when unconsciously or consciously, we experience sexual "brakes" that contradict our accelerators. Understanding both of these can be empowering,” says Rebecca Alvarez Story, Sexologist & Founder of Bloomi. “It's helpful to understand both, so if there are any triggers of past negative sexual experiences, or simply things that turn you off, you can recognize them and communicate them to your sexual partners”.

What accelerates your sexual response is unique to you and there is no shame in that game.

Discovering Your Accelerators

Before we tap into accelerators, we need to understand how they work. There are three main, inextricably linked, types of accelerators that make us yearn for sex and pleasure: contextual, psychological and sexual strengths.

Contextual Accelerators

For contextual accelerators, D’Angelo says to think of the environment in which you feel or have felt sexual, sexy, and connected to your body. This can involve sounds, smells, tastes, and all our senses.

Consider the lighting in which you feel the most turned on and the sounds you want to hear. This creates the context for feelings of arousal through setting the scene.

Psychological Accelerators

“When considering psychological accelerators consider what mood you were in,” D’Angelo explains. Psychological facts are super complex and can range from how you feel about your body to the messages you received around sex while growing up.

Tapping into your psychological accelerators means considering what needs to happen to make you feel sexy and a desire to be intimate.

Do you need to be told you’re beautiful? Do you like being caressed and massaged? Do you find yourself feeling turned on when your partner does a task you asked them to do?

Sexual Strengths

Sexual strengths are directly linked to sexual confidence. It’s about how you perceive how good you are at sex things. Getting turned on means feeling good about your skills.

Consider something you’re proud of in bed. Maybe it’s your cunnilingus or blow job skills. Maybe your big strength is your gregariousness and enthusiasm that always makes sex feel fun and exciting. These sexual positives are factors in being turned on.

Why This Is All so Important

Understanding all of these factors is paramount to discovering what works for you, what you need, and how to convey that to a partner. “Your accelerators for sex could be very different from your partner's, which is why it's so important to know your unique accelerators first,” says Lucy Rowett, a certified intimacy coach and clinical sexologist. “This way, you are being true to yourself and your needs and not just going along with what your partner wants.”

Take time to reflect on your sexuality. It doesn’t matter if you want sex all the time, some of the time, or next to never - there is power in self-discovery.

Once you take time to really hone in on all the factors that make up who you are as a sexual being, you are better equipped to take on your sex life with better understanding and confidence.