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Pleasure, Desire, Liking and Wanting

by Joseph Kramer, Ph.D.


Recent neuroscience indicates that enjoying or “liking” a particular experience, such as sex, does not motivate us to seek out that experience again. “Wanting” or craving is a neurological process that drives us to seek out a particular experience like sex again and again (because craving is fueled by dopamine). The neurological process of “liking” sex, on the other hand, does not involve dopamine, so the “liking,” in and of itself, does not motivate us. This surprises me! I have always assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that savoring the pleasures of a sexual behavior would be motivation enough to repeat that sexual behavior. What are the implications here for sex education?



Join me in this inquiry into “liking” and “wanting.” Perhaps sex educators would benefit from understanding the neuroscience involved in wanting, liking, craving and pleasure. Some of you – like me – will dive deep into this investigation. Below are resources for both beginner and advanced sex geeks.

Sex educators often teach their clients to ask for want they want. Perhaps better advice would be to ask for what you like“Wanting” is the pursuit of a reward. “Liking,” on the other hand, is the enjoyable experience of a reward after it’s been obtained.


  • Kent Berridge: Rewards are both ‘liked’ and ‘wanted’, and those two words seem almost interchangeable. However, the brain circuitry that mediates the psychological process of ‘wanting’ a particular reward is dissociable from circuitry that mediates the degree to which it is ‘liked’.


  • Kent Berridge: Whereas the dopamine / wanting system is vast and powerful, the pleasure circuit is anatomically tiny, has a far more fragile structure, is harder to trigger and is not dependent on dopamine.”


  • With mindfulness, we can move beyond “wanting” into savoring our bodies in the present moment. Interoceptive awareness (IA) and body wisdom is available to us when we place our attention inside our body. More “wanting” means less access to that body wisdom.


  • What motivates us to pursue sex if not pleasure? A stated motivation is not necessarily the same motivation that is happening behind the scenes (within the brain). What is the role of:   
    • Wanting to be normal?   
    • Wanting to be liked? 
    • Wanting to feel connected to another?  
    • Wanting to be competent or skilled?  
    • Wanting to feel powerful? 
    • Wanting to be in a trance state? 


  • Imagine a person with genital sensory amnesia. Feeling pleasure would be motivating because that would mean they are experiencing sex as others do (a desire for normalcy). 


  • Getting a soft cock erotic massage is enjoyable. Is feeling that enjoyment a motivation to repeat that experience? Check out Soft Cock Erotic Massage


  • After several months of exploring “wanting” sex and “liking” sex, I got some clarity. The more that “wanting” is operative within us, the less we access our body wisdom during arousal.


  • As we come to understand new information about liking and wanting, how can we use this information help us create positive outcomes for our clients and students? How does this affect our approach to sex education?


Resources and Research:


  • The Science of Craving is a good introduction to the 21st century changes that have happened in the field of liking, wanting, pleasure and desire. 


  • Here, Kent Berridge, the main researcher on “liking” and “wanting,” defines these terms and provides links to twenty different studies.



  • This sixty-three page, peer-reviewed article is the most in-depth exploration of “liking” and “wanting” I have found.

I welcome any “liking” / “wanting” resources and findings you wish to share with me.

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