When it comes to breakfast boners (and what to do with 'em), everybody's different.
Art by Zoë Ligon
Other than the few times a year I tell a partner in advance to wake me up by penetrating me with their lubricated penis (I get off on the psychological aspects), my crotch is lifeless in the morning. It's like someone who won’t wake up no matter how hard you shake them. My current partner and I have a communicative, healthy, and balanced partnership, and unlike in past relationships, I don’t find myself being taken advantage of in any sense. But lately I’ve been wondering how he manages to be so horny every morning, while I feel like a schlub with a reliably limp clit.
Mismatched libidos come in all forms, from the amount of sex we desire to the ways in which we desire to have it. I’m 25, and while my sex drive is absolutely lower than it was five years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever really been into morning sex. On the other hand, the primo, primetime jizz hours for my partners always seem to coincide with the time of waking up. Recently, I was out with a couple of girlfriends who remarked that they too detest morning sex. As I began to bring it up more frequently, I noticed that almost everyone, one way or another, had strong feelings on the subject.
"Everyone has different rhythms in their body—different flows of desire, different kinds of arousal. While studies show that all kinds of genitals experience erections while sleeping—clitorises and penises both—how people react to that when they wake varies widely," fellow sex educator and writer Sinclair Sexsmith told me. As a morning person themselves, Sexsmith offered a new perspective. “Some folks are just morning people, and want to get their day on as soon as they wake. Some folks are cuddling people, and want to snooze for an hour so they can have close skin-on-skin time. And some feel that itch of arousal in their bodies and want to scratch it, if only for a quickie.”
While I know that, regardless of genital configuration, we’re all more alike than different, as a sex educator I’m constantly wondering what causes us to have such a variety of preferences. Is there a physiological difference between people who wake up and immediately want sex, and people who don't?
I spoke with Dr. Candice Nicole, a sex psychologist who both counsels and directs scientific research teams, and asked her to explain why partners can have such dramatically different morning libidos. “In a person with no health conditions, the act of sleep provides bodies with rest and restoration," she wrote to me in an email. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the part that helps us feel calm and experience sexual arousal, is more likely to be active during sleep. When we're just waking up, the PNS may still be active. That means your body is less stressed and more open to sexual arousal, including optimal circulation to the genitals. Testosterone levels are also higher in the morning, decreasing as the day progresses.”
But that swelling isn't so simple. For vulva-owners, wetness, not hardness, is emphasized as the sign of horniness—and wetness doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with arousal, Dr. Nicole noted. “A physiological response does not automatically suggest a sexual imperative. Just as [there are] various forms of vaginal discharge throughout the month, it doesn’t mean that we automatically want sex because we notice we’re a little wetter on a specific day. Morning wood can be, but isn’t always, a sign of sexual arousal. For [some], it can actually be a nuisance.”
“My morning boners are sometimes pee boners,” my partner confirmed, as I thought out loud about writing this article. “You have to watch out for those. Sometimes you think you’re hard, but it’s just your penis stiffening up when your bladder is full.” I thought back to all the times my morning sex was interrupted by partners realizing midway through that they had to pee. It made a lot of sense, and I wondered if I’d ever had a clit boner that was, in fact, just a pee stiffy.
Except on those rare occasions where I’m dehydrated and my bladder isn’t ready to burst, I personally can’t have morning sex unless I scurry to the bathroom first, anyway. The bladder sits right along the vaginal canal on the belly side, and for me, having vaginal sex with a full bladder is a recipe for discomfort. But I have heard some people say that they enjoy the pressure it puts against their g-spots—maybe this partially works in favor of arousal in the mornings, too.
Thankfully, Dr. Nicole had even more good nuggets of science to explain this phenomenon. She cited a study from 2014 that examined how gender and chronotype—the genetics that determine one of four sleep patterns—influence the time of day you’re most turned-on. “For women, regardless of chronotype, most prefer sex from 6 PM to midnight, although women with a morning chronotype had a second wave of sexual interest from 6 AM to 9 AM.”
I've seen several articles claiming “men are hardwired for sex” in the morning, and wondered if this study could explain that. “From the same study, men were more likely to desire sex in the morning (6 AM to noon) regardless of chronotype, but chronotype determined which part of the morning,” Dr. Nicole explained. “Men with an evening chronotype preferred sex from 9 AM to 12 PM, which might correspond with their normal wake up times. Men with a morning or ‘neither’ chronotype were likely to prefer sex starting at 6 AM.”
It makes sense: Hormones and bodily cycles vary a great deal from person to person. Knowing this makes me feel a lot more at peace with how I’ve compromised my lazy stirrings to let my partners drop a load in me many-a-morning. "It’s the BEST way to start the day," my partner remarked to me as I further investigated his personal morning needs. “It’s like how exercising first thing in the morning makes you feel good—it’s a release!” I had to agree. It was a great way to get me going in the morning, and I do love the feeling of cum slowly dripping out of me throughout the course of the day. (Obviously, my partner and I are fluid-bonded. But I am not encouraging you to forego condoms for the sake of the sensation.)
So how does someone like myself, whose morning libido differs from their partner’s libido, best navigate the mismatched needs? Dr. Nicole has a very straightforward approach: scheduling! “If the couple chooses to schedule two sexual experiences per week, they can choose times that correspond with each person's libido,” she noted. “They can fill in any potential sexual needs with spontaneity for the rest of the week, but the two sessions set an equitable compromise.” For sluggish morning folks like me, she additionally recommends the spooning position since it allows both parties to be horizontal.
Sexsmith shared some anecdotal personal experience to give me added perspective, too. “I’m most awake in the morning—my body winds down in the evening and I have less energy. Personally I could have sex every morning, but my partner is not so into it. So we negotiate—I make note of mornings where neither of us has to be anywhere and hint at it or talk about it overtly the night before, and I take it slow and concentrate on sensual touch and slow turn-ons, rather than being goal-orgasm oriented.”
Right? It shouldn’t be that hard to suss out whether your partner is onboard, no matter how sleepy you are. “Just touching and kissing and sliding against each other is often enough to satisfy the craving my body wants,” they added. “If it isn’t, and my partner still isn’t into it, I get off on my own and then go about my day.”
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Visit Sinclair Sexsmith at sugarbutch.net.
Follow Zoë Ligon on Twitter.