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How Sexual Desire Works
The Enigmatic Urge


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  • Date Published: September 2014
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107688049

£ 28.99

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About the Authors
  • There are countless books on sex and an endless fascination with the subject. Varieties and vagaries of sexual desire have long been documented, but there has been little engagement with cutting-edge scientific research to uncover the biological and psychological bases of sexual desire. Here, Frederick Toates uses the insights of modern science to show how a wide range of desire-related phenomena - fantasy, novelty-seeking, sexual addiction, sex-drug interactions, fetishes, voyeurism, and sexual violence and killing - start to make sense. For example, the role of the brain's neurochemical dopamine can now be much better understood in terms of wanting, and a distinction between wanting and liking has been established. Also, an understanding of the layered organization of the brain, sometimes described as hierarchical, can be used to explain temptation and conflict. This is a fascinating book with great social relevance to society and its problems with sexuality.

    • Considers evidence from both psychology and biology, offering readers a broad integrated approach which shows links between otherwise isolated bodies of knowledge
    • Links to historical, social, philosophical and theological issues, enabling readers to appreciate the broader relevance of the material
    • Concepts are explained, where necessary, with the help of diagrams
    Read more


    • Winner, 2015 PROSE Award for Psychology

    Reviews & endorsements

    'In this fine book Toates gives a lively tour of the psychology behind 'how sexual desire works'. As a pioneer in motivation theory himself, Toates is an ideal guide into how incentive motivation processes work to produce sexual desires. Beyond psychology, he leads the reader on forays into neuroscience, and includes many excellent quotations as case samples, all to help put the psychology of human sexual desire into better perspective. This is a highly readable and illuminating book.' Kent Berridge, University of Michigan

    'A balanced and highly accessible book on the enigma of sexual desire, highlighting the vast range of different sexual desires and the many unanswered questions in this area of research. Borrowing from fictional depictions of desire, as well as a wealth of scientific data, this book will appeal to academics and clinicians across a variety of disciplines as well as the general public.' Cynthia A. Graham, University of Southampton, and Research Fellow, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction

    'In this eminently readable and enticing book, Fred Toates weaves a golden thread through the disarming topic of sexual desire, linking its many faces - literary, clinical and scientific - together. The implications of his analysis to our understanding of sexual problems and disorders are immense and will likely help create important paradigms for their study. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in motivation and sex, and how we are able to get what we want and like, despite living in a world full of imposed sexual values and inhibitions. A real tour de force!' Jim Pfaus, Concordia University, Montréal

    'Bringing together all of the latest scientific research on the topic of sexual desire, Frederick Toates somehow manages to combine a scientific tone with an uncanny ability to engage the reader. An illuminating and beautifully written text by one of the world's leading writers on biological psychology today.' Lance Workman, University of South Wales, and co-author of Evolutionary Psychology

    'Toates' book makes an important contribution to a debate that society can't afford to ignore as we struggle to balance individual rights with protecting the vulnerable.' Fortean Times

    'This sounds like a useful self-help manual but is actually an all-round examination of the core aspect of human experience from one of psychology's leading experts in motivation. Theory and data are entertainingly balanced by examples from life and the arts, so that it works as a textbook or as an example of popular science that is especially well evidenced.' Times Higher Education

    'The book is worth it for its bibliography alone.' New Scientist

    'This book offers a broad and thorough view, including the latest research in psychology and neuroscience, as to the how and why of sexual desire and urges. It also offers suggestions for how to help people with problems in this area and should be seen as a valuable contribution to an improved attitude that will lead to a healthier and safer society.' Breathwork Science (

    'I came away from this book enriched by being exposed to Toates' insights regarding basic aspects of our human sexual experience. Issues surrounding sexual desire are commonplace among many of the clients who seek out sex therapy and understanding the causes of sexual desire is the first step to being able to help them. Wonderfully researched, with many insightful explanations, this book is an important contribution to the field of sex research with many practical ramifications for the sex therapist.' Sexual and Relationship Therapy

    'This book offers a broad and thorough view, including the latest research in psychology and neuroscience, as to the how and why of sexual desire and urges. It also offers suggestions for how to help people with problems in this area and should be seen as a valuable contribution to an improved attitude that will lead to a healthier and safer society.' Scientific and Medical Network Journal

    'Those who want to gain an overview of models of sexuality from the standpoint of a perspective that integrates especially the more recent research on the importance of the 'behavioral approach system' are very well advised with this book.' Harald Walach, translated from Verhaltenstherapie

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107688049
    • length: 500 pages
    • dimensions: 227 x 153 x 27 mm
    • weight: 0.7kg
    • contains: 12 b/w illus.
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. What is enigmatic about sexual desire?
    2. Explaining desire: multiple perspectives
    3. Sexual desire in a broad context
    4. An incentive-based model
    5. Sex and levels of organization
    6. Sexual attraction
    7. Shades of desire from simple to complex
    8. Details of the brain and desire
    9. Arousal
    10. The consequences of sexual behaviour and associated expectations
    11. Sexual familiarity and novelty
    12. Inhibition, conflict and temptation
    13. How did sexual desire get here?
    14. Setting the trajectory: link to adult sexuality
    15. Sexual desire in interaction
    16. Representations of sex
    17. Sexual addiction
    18. Variations in desire: general principles
    19. Some forms of desire at the fringes
    20. The toxic fusion: violence and sexual desire
    21. Sexually associated (serial) murder
    22. Concluding remarks.

  • Author

    Frederick Toates, The Open University, Milton Keynes
    Frederick Toates is Emeritus Professor of Biological Psychology at The Open University and Vice-President of the Open University Psychology Society.


    • Winner, 2015 PROSE Award for Psychology

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