Sexual Temperament

Sexual Temperament

Rose MacDowell

The word temperament refers to your essential nature, the basic core of your character. You may be calm, impulsive, sensitive, moody, optimistic, or some combination thereof. Chances are you know your emotional temperament, and have a good sense of how you usually respond to people and situations.

But do you know your sexual temperament? Just like we all have an emotional temperament, we all have a sexual temperament, too. Your sexual temperament may be similar to your emotional temperament, or very different. You may be an extrovert with a positive outlook, but shy and slow to warm up sexually. Let's dig deeper into the concept of sexual temperament and how it impacts your sexuality and satisfaction.   

How Do I Determine My Sexual Temperament?

According to Emily Nagoski, author of Come As You Are, your sexual temperament is made up of two factors: your SES and your SIS. SES stands for Sexual Excitation System, and SIS stands for Sexual Inhibition System. 

Dr. Nagorski refers to the SES as the gas pedal of your sexual responses. The SES takes in information from your surroundings, including sensory stimulation like smell, taste, visual cues, and thoughts, and sends signals to your body to feel turned on. 

The SIS acts as the brake of your sexual responses. The SIS picks up on things like body image issues, lack of trust, fears of intimacy, concerns about erectile dysfunction, and worries about STIs, and sends signals to your body to feel turned off. 

Sexual Temperament Questionnaire

You can determine your sexual temperament by numerically rating certain statements about things that excite and inhibit you. 0 is not at all like me, 1 is not much like me, 2 is somewhat like me, 3 is a lot like me, and 4 is exactly like me. 

These statements are based on the SESII-W/M, a questionnaire designed to measure the factors involved in human arousal. The first part of the questionnaire concerns things that can inhibit arousal, while the second part is about things that can excite arousal. 

Inhibitors (SIS):

  • Unless things are “just right” it is difficult for me to become sexually aroused. 
  • I need to trust a partner to become completely aroused. 
  • Sometimes I feel too shy or self-conscious during sex to become fully aroused. 
  • When I'm sexually aroused, small distractions can interfere and turn me off. 
  • If I'm worried about taking too long to become aroused or to orgasm, this can
    interfere with my arousal. 

Excitors (SES):

  • The smell of a partner can turn me on. 
  • Seeing my partner doing something that shows his/her talent or intelligence, or
    watching them interacting well with others can make me very sexually aroused.
  • Having sex in a different setting than usual is a real turn on for me.
  • Certain hormonal changes definitely increase my sexual arousal.
  • When I think about someone I find sexually attractive or fantasize about sex, I
    easily become sexually aroused.
  • I get very turned on when someone wants me sexually.

Now add up your ratings for the SIS part of the questionnaire separately from the SES section to determine your score on each part.

Your Sexual Temperament Score Explained

Let's take a look at what your score means for your sexual temperament. And remember, your sexual temperament can change over a lifetime as you experience different relationship and learn more about yourself.  

SIS Score:

0-6: Low SIS. About 15% of women have the same score. You’re less sensitive to things that put a damper on arousal. You aren't overly concerned with issues of body image or sexual functioning, and you're not easily distracted in sexual situations.

"Shy" isn't a word you'd use to describe yourself when it comes to sex. You aren't picky about sexual situations, and may have trouble holding yourself back from sexual activity at times. 

7-13: Medium SIS. More than half of women rate themself as medium SIS. This means your sexual inhibitions can be activated according to the sexual situation. A new partner might bring out your anxieties or body image issues, or make you more easily distracted. You tend to prefer lower-stress circumstances that involve less risk and more familiarity.

Women with this rating may find sexual arousal derailed by fatigue or depression, which can overwhelm sexual signals from your brain. 

14-20: High SIS. Approximately 25% of women are high SIS. Your arousal system is sensitive and can be thrown off by distractions, feeling rushed, or even irritating noises. You tend to be most aroused in a relaxed setting with a partner you trust.

High SIS may be correlated with a higher risk of sexual problems, and is worth paying attention to if you often feel thrown off during sex or unsatisfied afterward. 

SES Score: 

0-7: Low SES. Approximately 8% of women have a low SES score. You're probably less aware of sexual signals, and are more likely to enjoy familiar sexual situations rather than new partners. To become more sexually aware, try adding different kinds of stimulation to your repertoire, such as sex toys and sexual mindfulness, which can help you become more in tune with your body and what feels to good to you. Lower SES is also common for asexual folks. 

8-15: Medium SES. The majority of women -- 70% -- score between 8-15 on the SES scale.  Your response to sexual stimulation typically depends on the context, meaning your body will respond to a highly charged erotic or romantic situation but it may be harder to move the needle sexually in a less intense situation.

To boost your SES score, try being more sexually aware and recognizing the possibilities for arousal and connection in less overtly erotic situations. 

16-24: High SES. If you're part of the 16% of women who are highly responsive to sexual stimuli, you're sensitive to things other people may overlook, such as tastes and scents. You can enjoy novel sexual situations as well as familiar ones, and may be someone who has sex to relax or connect with your partner.

New and unusual contexts can be exciting for you, which could put you at greater risk of sexual compulsions. It can also be more of a challenge to stay focused on your partner's sexual needs, especially if they're slightly different from yours. Fortunately, because you're highly responsive, you're likely to find it easy to enjoy your partner's pleasure as well as your own.