Welcome Dr. Emily Nagoski, PhD, fellow podcaster and award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller, Come As You Are: the surprising new science that will transform your sex life.
Dr.Nagoski’s mission is to help us live with confidence and joy in our bodies! Together, Emily, George and Laurie want to help people have a healthy view of sex and challenge people’s assumptions about what they believe and where they get stuck. We all see EFT as a way to help couples deal with the difficult feelings around sex where we often are anxious about hurting our partner’s feelings or fearful of being found sexually inadequate.
To help us understand desire, Emily tells us about where to find our brakes (all the good reasons not to be turned on… potential threats) and accelerators (everything we think, believe, imagine & touch, taste, smell, hear that has sexual connotations.) Fun topics in this podcast: look at your genitals! (if you want to make friends.) She and George talk about the complicated relationship men have with their penises. Nagoski uses a hedgehog visualization to gracefully accept our feelings around sex. Ever wonder why your body may be turned on but you really don’t want sex? Emily shares the concept of non-concordant sex – when our body’s arousal and subjective sexual feelings don’t align.
Please help support our podcast and get a 10% discount on Uberlube’s fabulous lubrication – Uberlube.com/Foreplay
book – Come As You Are
Laurie Watson 00:00
The following content is not suitable for children. Hey FOREPLAY fam! We’ve got a guest for you. We’re so excited. We have Dr. Emily Nagasaki!
Welcome to FOREPLAY Radio – Couples & Sex Therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist. And I’m George Fallon, your couples therapist, and we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other. Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart and the body. Just as we began, please remember to check out Uber lube it really calm is where you can get this great lubricant and help support for play radio.
Emily, we’re happy to have you Dr. Emily Nagurski is an award-winning author of The New York Times bestseller. Come As You Are, great title Emily, – the surprising new science that will transform your sex life, the Come As You Are Workbook which is fantastic, and the book co-authored with her sister Amelia of Burnout – the secret to unlocking the stress cycle. So, you got it goin on in both places, right? These are the two top things that women are concerned about stress and sex. And she began her work as a sex educator at the University of Delaware where she volunteered as a peer sex educator, while studying psychology with minors in cognitive science and philosophy, who she went on to earn a master’s in counseling and a PhD in health behavior both from the Indiana University with clinical and research training at the Kinsey Institute. Yay!… now she combines sex education and stress education to teach women to live with confidence and joy in their bodies.
Welcome. Hello. We’re connected. We’ve been having trouble we were just so apropos right for what we’re going to talk about exactly, the trouble connecting. Everything’s a metaphor when you’re talking about sex, it’s hard to miss. Everything is a metaphor. I have listened to your TED Talks, read your book, listen to you and your sister. You guys are fantastic together. Oh, thank you. Yes, yes. I love it. How is it podcasting with your sister?
Emily Nagoski 02:17
It’s great. We vary. The title of it is the feminist survival project. 2020. Thank you. Because in the summer of 2019, I was looking ahead and thinking that’s, that’s gonna be a rough year. Yeah. How am I going to get through it? Yeah. And I thought and I survived, I get a sense of meaning and purpose by feeling like I’m helping people helping women in particular, live with confidence and joy in their bodies. And I was like, I need to have something in place to feel like I’m doing that. So Amelia and I started a podcast and the whole point of it is just to like, give us a sense that we are contributing, and no matter what kind of hellscape the world turns into, we know that we are One little voice helping people access strategies to cope with the stress, the exhaustion, the overwhelm the really intense. I mean, I knew 2020 was gonna be bad. I did not know. How did you know looking forward? how bad it was quick to be I didn’t know was gonna be this bad. Yeah, very, very frankly, I did not think the survival would be this literal.
Laurie Watson 03:25
Yeah. And we are going to have all your links on our website and we’ll post them on Facebook and everywhere on social media so that you guys will be able to find Emily and all her resources.
book – Come As You Are
workbook -The Come as You Are Workbook
new book!! – Burnout: the secret to unlocking the stress cycle
podcast – the feminist survival podcast 2020
Emily Nagoski 03:36
And so what it’s like to record with Amelia is it is saves my life.
Laurie Watson 03:40
Oh, that is so sweet. She doesn’t live near you. She lives apart away from you. She actually lives only about 40 minutes away, I say and we used to record in the same room but then COVID happened. And now we don’t.
George Faller 03:56
I’m so happy to have you join us as you have such a healthy, positive perspective of sex. And that’s so much of the mission of our podcast is to really get people to have fun with this topic to really see how important it is. And most of us grew up in families where we don’t talk about it. Right. So that to really challenge people’s assumption, I think we’re seeing this with so many other areas of our society, we have these systemic ways of believing things that we never even challenge. And unless we’re intentional and proactive, then we’re just going to get stuck in the same places over and over again. So thank you for joining us on this.
Emily Nagoski 04:34
It’s literally my favorite thing in the world.
Laurie Watson 04:38
To talk about sex, we have some things in common. Emily, I want you to talk about some of the things that are in your book. And I think our listeners they know where their clitoris, is and we hope that their partners do now as well. But could you I don’t know if they know where their brakes and accelerators are. So could you tell us how to find those things and what they are and what we need to know about it.
Emily Nagoski 05:00
They’re in your brain. So, so this it was a transformative thing for me to learn. And as I’ve been teaching it over the last couple of decades, I’ve watched it change other people’s lives, too. And it actually is an incredibly simple idea that once you know it, you’re like, of course, that’s how it works. And it’s this the dual control model of sexual response dual control model. So how many parts does it have does two parts. So the first is the sexual accelerator or gas pedal that knows it notices all the sex related information in the environment, everything that you see here, anything you smell, touch, taste, or and this is crucial, anything you think, believe or imagine that that accelerator codes as related to sex. When it notices any of those things. It sends that turn on signal that a lot of us are familiar with. And it’s functioning all the time at a low level. We’re talking about sex right now. So it’s it’s a little bit Oh yeah, I guess there’s some sex related information, but at the same time in parallel, if the first part is the gas pedal, then the second part is going to be the brake. And the brakes. Notice all the good reasons not to be turned on right now everything that you see, hear, smell, touch, taste, think, believe or imagine that your brain codes as a potential threat, and it sends a turn off signal. So your level of arousal at any given moment is this balance of how many ons are turned on and how many offs are turned off when you want to increase arousal. Yes, you activate the accelerator, you add stimulation to the gas pedal, but more importantly, you want to get rid of the stuff that’s hitting the brakes and when people are struggling, it’s very rarely because there’s not enough stimulation to the gas pedal. It’s much more likely that there’s too much stimulation to that brake.
Laurie Watson 06:52
I would totally agree with you for women, that the brakes are really heavy on us. I love your quiz. It’s really short quiz that you can find in Emily’s book comm as you are. And I took it, it was very interesting talked about the, you know what my brakes and accelerators were and then it kind of rates you in terms of how you rank with other women, which was so interesting. In the Come As You Are workbook, I used items on a survey that are more gender neutral. So if for example, you’re a person who does not have a menstrual cycle, you’ll find the companies you are workbook version of it more applicable. I did that by a request from therapists or were like, can you get one that works for men? Yeah, my husband took the one in your book. And he was like, I don’t know about this. So I’m really glad to know that Okay, perfect. We will buy your workbook too. And there’s actually a revised, updated edition of Come as you are coming out next year. That’s also going to have the more gender inclusive version of the quiz.
George Faller 07:51
When, I listened to your TED talk. I think God I really love watching any of your talks. It’s just how personal and intimate you get with your own story, right? And so you was saying, you know, the two predictors of great sex being that safe attachment, our friendship and trust. So the other thing about prioritizing sex, and here you are a total expert in the field, and you find yourself in your own relationship, not wanting sex, which is like totally fascinating that you’re coming from this place of your own story. So how are you able to kind of turn that on those could prioritize that to really, you know, make this to walk the talk.
Emily Nagoski 08:31
So I’m facilitated in it because I have an extraordinary partner who’s sitting over there and he’s gonna know that I’m talking about him, and he’s gonna feel embarrassed. That’s good his fingers in his ears. But because he is, I have to go back a little in burnout a million I discuss a phenomenon called human giver syndrome, where you know, certain people feel a moral obligation to be pretty, happy, calm, generous and attentive to the needs of others. All times at the end, no matter what the cost is to themselves. And when a human giver like that is in a relationship with someone who feels entitled to take anything, the giver gives, then you get into a really gross dynamic where the giver just keeps giving and keeps giving and constantly feels like they’re not enough but also starts to feel resentful, and the other person in the relationship doesn’t know what’s missing. So a lot of people are in relationships like that. And I certainly have been in relationships like that. And that does not work out well in terms of sex. But I am in a relationship or both of us are givers. We both feel a moral obligation to give to the other person to show up to meet each other’s needs. He will like just give everything he has in support of me. He has spent this entire day I lost 500 words of my book and I’ve been in copy editing hell and he’s been in here he like he has his own work to do and he has just been here for me. Right, are you there for me is Sue Johnson’s key question. He has just been there for me this whole time. So because he’s willing to be present with me, because he’s willing to be patient with me and not push me really hard because he knows the science that like if my brakes are hit, if I’m just exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed out, it has nothing to do with him not turning me on. It’s that my brakes are activated by all this other stuff that has nothing to do with him. And it takes time for me to release the brakes, get rid of all that stuff. I depend on the science confirming that I am normal. That just because things have changed doesn’t mean there’s something broken. That does not mean that all the time, I can like, warmly accept like it’s okay that my desire for sex has diminished from what it was before. That’s completely fine. I don’t judge myself at all, just because I must sexpert who has low sexual desire. There are days totally when I’m like, oh, flogging myself and just just beating the crap out of myself. Do you think that makes it easier for me to get turned down?
Laurie Watson 11:09
No. Sounds like a break.
Emily Nagoski 11:11
Totally. And he knows that too. So basically, the way I do it is marry the right person. Well, what would you be good advice?
George Faller 11:19
This will be my last question here. But I think a lot of our listeners aren’t so fortunate. What would you do if your partner would be normally resentful, and frustrated and letting you know that?
Emily Nagoski 11:35
Oh, communication skills. There is, I think, a powerful motivation in clarifying that when you’re resentful and frustrated and you push me in this chasing dynamic that just makes me late hits my brakes and makes it more difficult for me to want sex with you. I talked to a couple maybe a year and a half ago, who had been in a low desire situation ever since she got pregnant and their child was about eight months old at that point, sure. Typical, and I made a suggestion, which is very common, which is like take sex off the table, no pressure, no performance demand, take sex entirely off the table. And he goes for how long? And I was like, I don’t know, you’ve been struggling with this for a long time. So three months, and he goes, Oh, like, rolls his eyes. And I was like, let’s pause for a moment. And I turned to the mother of his child and said, when you see that facial expression at the idea of not having sex for three months, how does that make you feel? And like this flood of emotion came out, that was all about the way she felt inadequate and was falling short, and she wanted to meet his needs. And the whole difficulty was that they were having sex that she didn’t want or like, so that she would meet his expectations and desires. And he didn’t want that he wanted her to want it. Like this was maybe the moment when he finally recognized that his impatience with her is the thing that was making it so difficult for her to move toward him. Does that make sense?
George Faller 13:14
It makes perfect sense. So your theory of change would be him understand that his impatience and how it plays out would be enough for him to be able to kind of Yeah, turn off all this muscle memory of pushing
Emily Nagoski 13:28
when there’s a higher desire partner, I asked him the question, what is it that you want when you want sex? Because it’s not just an orgasm, you kind of have an orgasm by yourself. So what is it that you want? And in this one person’s case, the answer was really clearly I want to be wanted. And he managed to get to a place where he’s like, it’s difficult for my partner to want me when I am judging her for not wanting me.
Laurie Watson 13:54
Mm hmm. Such a bind such a bind,
Emily Nagoski 13:57
right? Like it’s complicated and difficult and there’s a lot of features feelings to get through. And this is a place where EFT comes in really handy separating the process of solving the actual problem, versus the process of dealing with all the feelings that everyone has about the problem.
George Faller 14:12
It’s really good.
Laurie Watson 14:13
Emily, I loved the part that you talked about how women can become more comfortable with their vulvas. And I want you to talk about how they can do this, and how they can introduce their vulva to their partner.
Emily Nagoski 14:26
This is one that’s actually pretty simple the research is it’s basically just exposure. Look at your genitals. It is a thing that a surprising number of people have never done. This is not nessus I want to put the caveat that this is not necessarily advice that I give for trans folks gender non binary folks, people who feel like their genitals are not congruent with their gender identity. Those folks have a different relationship with their genitals and this is not the advice I give but if you feel like your genitals are congruent with your identity It’s time to make friends with your genitals. I first did this, it was my very first semester of training as a sex educator. I was 18 years old. I grew up in a very sort of like regular American household in terms of my sex education, which is that I got no sex education. And like it wasn’t particularly negative. And somehow when I went to look at my vulva, I felt like I was armoring up to go confront an enemy, somehow, like, Where did I get that? What nobody had ever told me explicitly to feel bad about my genitals, but there it was. So I went, I got a little hand mirror, and I looked, and I burst into tears immediately, because I just realized it was this very normal part of my body like the undersides of my feet, which I also don’t look at very often. And they’re kind of weird when you finally do look at them, right? That’s like they’re very interesting looking, but they’re just part of me, and there’s no need to hold on to that emotion around them. And I could when I could let go of that fear and that sort of like fight feeling, I created space for this affection and I could integrate that part of my body into my schema of my self, which led me when you can turn toward your own body with kindness and compassion, it is much easier to access pleasure.
Laurie Watson 16:25
Emily Nagoski 16:26
We talked about brakes and gas, disliking your own body being worried about your own body is a really classic brakes hitting factor.
George Faller 16:36
Do you feel men have a similar difficult relationship with their penis?
Emily Nagoski 16:41
I do actually. Last summer I was at a meeting just sitting around at brunch talking to a bunch of sex therapists. And many of them were saying that they have a lot of single men clients who come in and basically what they need to do is sit and talk about their feelings about their penis that they have this really complicated relationship and there’s no one that they can talk to about how difficult their feelings are, because they’re supposed to be fine. It’s supposed to be simple and easy and to dare admit that you have a more complicated relationship with your penis is to be doing being a man wrong.
George Faller 17:17
And you would say the biggest complaint is size, then that’s what they’re finding, not liking about their penis.
Emily Nagoski 17:23
I don’t know, I think it’s probably more complicated than that size is just the sort of like, porn script that we get. Because when we’re talking about heterosexual men who like to put their penises into vaginas, when you talk to the people who have the vaginas who like having penises put in them, they’re pretty clear that size is not a factor. It just isn’t. And yet, this pressure remains, it’s like women and thinness, like among men who enjoy women’s bodies. That’s really not so much a thing, except in so far because it could be status marker. I think and this is not an area where I’m an expert. But I think that when men get really complicated feelings of inadequacy around their penises, it’s because it’s a status marker of their masculinity and whether or not they are enough as men. It’s not about the shape and size per se. It’s about what it means and whether or not they are good enough.
George Faller 18:23
right, which adds that layer of complication. If, if I have premature ejaculation or I can’t maintain it arousal, now all of a sudden, I start developing a different relationship.
Emily Nagoski 18:34
Yeah, and I this, when I say these things out loud, I feel a little silly. But everybody who feels congruent with their genitals, if they can take a moment to practice turning toward their genitals with kindness, and compassion, like they’re a part of their body that has just suffered a lot of criticism and shame and grief and disconnect. And freeze total shutdown, like turn toward it now with kindness and compassion, like your genitals were a child that had experienced all those things been told all their lives that they are inadequate that they are ugly that they are shameful and dirty and smelly, and bad and wrong and broken. And like hold them in your heart and let them know they’re enough. They’re just fine.
George Faller 19:25
This sounds like a good homework assignment to all our listeners. I love it. Right? This is what you’re gonna do today.
Laurie Watson 19:31
You’re going to move towards your genitals with kindness. We are grateful to Uberlube for still sponsoring us. This is a fantastic lube. If you haven’t tried it yet. Please check it out at Uberlube calm with the coupon for play, which gives you 10% off I keep forgetting to tell people that they can support us and they can try this great lubrication which is really it’s made out of a high grade silicone and you know I do all kinds of ratings on lubrications just in my work and silicone doesn’t get absorbed into the body so it it really provides smooth touch, smooth intercourse a great glide. It’s scent free, it is taste free so you can switch from foreplay to oral sex to intercourse with no problem.
George Faller 20:20
Well if you’re using Uber lube to enhance or relax your body, and it’s just that much easier to open up your mind and expand your heart
Laurie Watson 20:28
and having something fun that makes sex even better. I would love for you to try it Uberlube,
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Laurie Watson 20:41
We’ve done two Facebook Lives for our patrons George and we try to do that once a quarter we try to send newsletters and give exclusive material. But it’s really we are grateful for people who believe in our mission to help couples keep it hot. Help inform people and help them talk about sex, help them get better at their sexual relationship.
George Faller 21:06
Right in partnering with us is it’s really an honor to know people are joining us on this mission, that this is a an effort to produce and for the listeners to put aside time, and we hope that’s valuable, but when when we join forces, it’s just a lot easier to get that message out there. So we so appreciate the support both financial and just to make those ratings and to spread the word because our world really needs it in time.
Laurie Watson 21:35
And we get so many letters from people, not just patrons that are grateful for what we’re doing and say it’s changing their lives. And so if you want to help us change the world, we would appreciate that support. And certainly this is something that our hearts are in and we’ve given a lot to and you can join with us. Okay, George you open us with hedgehogs, what do you want to say?
George Faller 22:01
Listen, I again in my one of my favorite parts of your books is just your description of these hedgehogs that just show up in our relationship and really wreak havoc and people don’t know how to talk about them and take them so personal and you really, you really helped change really my relationship to hedgehogs right to see the opportunity these hedgehogs to do something differently. Could you just caught a look, give our listeners a little, a little quick talk about these hedgehog?
Emily Nagoski 22:28
Yeah, so this is my sort of Sleepy hedgehog theory of emotion. So all of us have difficult feelings, difficult feelings that are like hard to handle and you don’t know what to do with them and you just want to get them out. But they’re like these sleepy hedgehogs where you like you find it, and it’s quiet right now, but if you approach it in the wrong way, really bad things could happen. So you approach your difficult feelings the way you would approach this sleepy hedgehog. You want to stay really calm about it, approach it. You want to listen to what its needs are so that it will stay calm. You may need to enlist your partner’s help. It’s useful to be able to give a name to the hedgehog. This is my hedgehog. Her name is loneliness. This is my hedgehog, her name is rage. And here is what she needs so that we can set her free. And you collaborate together to figure out what the needs are so that this emotion can be released, and when people have any sort of conflict in a relationship, but I think especially around sex, because we are all so like tender and so worried about hurting our partner’s feelings and we’re so worried about falling short. We have to be really gentle with each other’s difficult feelings around sexuality, like the frustration of like wanting sex and being turned down. Like that frustration. You have to be so gentle and tender and you have to collaborate on meeting the needs of that frustration, separate from the process of solving the sexual difficulties. And then remember, I’m married the right person. he’s a he’s an artist. He would not let me use that word. So when we were talking about this, he actually drew an elevator hedgehog sized elevator going down off of our bed toward a little hedge along the wall of the bedroom, like an escape route for the hedgehogs because the deal is when you’ve got hedgehogs that are interfering with your sex life, it’s like your bed is covered and hedgehogs. I’m like, No wonder you cannot. Sharks, you need to find a way to like, set all the hedgehogs free each individually. And you can’t just like push them off with a sheet you have to like treat each one with kindness and compassion, and then release it because it wants to go home.
George Faller 24:39
Yeah, I’m writing that down and escape route for the hedgehog. What a different way instead of fighting it and scaring it and battling it and it just doesn’t leave to actually give it escape route. Listen to the wisdom of what it has to share and be compassionate with it. Awesome image is easier said than done, right? It’s nice to have a clear target. Write what gives us the best chance of success and why some things don’t work. But yes, we all fall short of that.
Laurie Watson 25:06
I love the gentleness and essentially it’s, it’s a visualization of a mindfulness right away, we can think about things and not be so judgmental, but be kind and compassionate toward our difficulties and our partners difficulties,
Emily Nagoski 25:20
and we find it so much easier to be kind toward others than we do toward ourselves. So I find the image of the hedgehog sort of externalizes the emotion. And so you can be caught even though it’s your emotion and it’s inside your body. It’s externalized because you have this sort of imaginary object. And the brain research actually shows us that people have an easier time being kind toward, like a characterized emotion inside themselves than just turning toward their own selves with straightforward self compassion. If you struggle with self compassion, try doing it this other way of creating a metaphor or persona or an image for that emotion to create a little distance between you and that thing inside you
Laurie Watson 26:02
and activate that part of us that wants to take care of others. Exactly. I’m others, but we turn it toward ourselves. That’s beautiful. Thank you. That’s awesome. Tell us to about context and how things totally changed with different context.
Emily Nagoski 26:18
Oh, yes. I love this so much. So the short version. Take the example of tickling. I know modeling is not Yes, no tickling. No, yeah, some people don’t love it under any circumstances. But if you’re like, really turned on and you have a great connection with your partner, super duper trusting, you’re feeling really playful. There might be a time when your partner could tickle you and it would lead to other things and feel good. But if that same partner tries to tickle you, when you are pissed off at them, and in the middle of a fight, you could attack them. If you want to punch him in the face a little bit. Maybe. it’s the same sensation, right? It’s even the same partner. The difference is in the context when your brain is in a stressed out unsafe state 90% of your nucleus accumbens shell becomes committed to avoidance motivation, moving away from any stimulus even a stimulus that in a different context it would have interpreted as a sensation to move toward with curiosity. Hmm This also is the explanation of why spanking can feel good. Like if you’re in a really turned on trusting state like that and your partner swats your butt back can feel good in the right context with full permission and usually expecting it but if you’re in the middle of if you’re trying to get out the door, but you’re changing the baby’s diaper and you are wrist deep and poop and your partner swats your ass not so much. I tell that story advisedly from a specific woman who sat with me at lunch and she was we were talking about context text and she was like, can you please tell my husband that because here’s what happened. And the words that came out of his mouth after he swatted harass when she his wrist deep and baby poop. What he asked was, do you want to have sex tonight? What was the answer to that question?
Laurie Watson 28:16
Probably a big fat no.
Emily Nagoski 28:19
Yeah, there are so many other choices he could have made in that moment to make the answer yes.
Laurie Watson 28:26
Yeah, wrong context for that.
Emily Nagoski 28:28
Yeah. So it’s a question of like, what can we do, because pleasure is not about touch me in this spot in this way. And don’t ever touch me that way or in this other spot. It’s about creating a context that allows your brain to interpret the world and all these sensations as safe and fun and sexy and pleasurable. So when you think about that, like what can I do to create a context that allows that creates the opportunity to get access to pleasure, and that’s going to be the stuff that I hit the accelerator. But even more than that, the stuff that gets rid of all the stuff that’s hitting the brakes.
Laurie Watson 29:04
So you talk about three things, there’s low stress, we want to get rid of stress, that’s a break, high affection, which is an accelerator and explicitly erotic cues, right and a better word. And high trust is a context that we can turn on in
Emily Nagoski 29:22
stresses varies from person to person, about 80% of people find that stress may not have a big impact, or it reduces their interest in sex. 10 to 20% of people find that stress can actually increase their interest in sex. So people vary a little bit and what their relationship between stress and sex is. But for a lot of people reducing stress is an important factor, increasing trust, increasing affection, which the combination of trust and affection I’m basically saying attachment and explicitly erotic because that’s how you get the accelerator onboard. Maven.
George Faller 29:58
I found your turn non-concordent sex also helpful, because sometimes your physical response might be different than what your words are saying. And this, I think, is part of the confusion around communicating with sex. And we’re so taught that, you know, what my body’s saying is the absolute truth, you know? And so can you speak more than
Emily Nagoski 30:23
Yes. So what our bodies are saying is the absolute truth, but we have been taught the wrong thing about what our body means what our what our bodies behaviors mean. So we have been taught, here’s what I grew up with. penises get hard, and a person wants sex. vaginas get wet, and a person who is ready for sex wants it likes it. And it turns out, even the most superficial understanding of the mesolimbic cortex, she said, totally understanding that that’s ridiculous. Even the most I can’t say it twice. When you look at the structure of our emotional brain, it’s got three intertwined but separable parts, the part that is pleasure, right? So this is the hedonic hotspots, opioids, this is the fireworks that goes off when you put sugar on the tip of your tongue that just goes Oh, yes. And in the right context, sexual touch pleasure, right? And then there’s desire or wanting this is dopamine mediated. It’s not just in tiny little hotspots. It’s spread all throughout the brain. And it’s the one that motivates you to pursue something. Now, yeah, there’s a relationship between pleasure and desire. We tend to want more of things we like very generally speaking, but there’s a big difference between sitting and eating ice cream and just enjoying the hell out of how delicious this mouthful of ice cream is. Versus, for example, my niece when she was little used to follow my brother around and Go, dad, what’s in the freezer? Hey, what’s in the freezer? Do you know what’s in the freezer? What’s in the freezer? jr? No, it’s in the freezer. Is it ice cream? That’s wanting that’s desire that’s pursuit. She’s motivated, because she has a memory of pleasure. So they’re related. Yeah, but they are separable. And then there’s this third system, which is basically the Pavlov’s dog system. We all have heard of Pavlov probably he trained dogs to salivate in response to a bell. Anybody can do it. You just give a dog food, the dog salivates automatically. And then you ring a bell food salivate Bell food, salivate Bell, until eventually you can just ring the bell and the dog salivates because the dog’s brain has learned that the bell predicts food a food related stimulus has happened. But does that salivation in response to a bell mean that the dog finds the sound of the bell delicious? Does he like the bell does that doesn’t mean that the dog wants to eat the bell. Now it’s just a food related stimulus. It turns out our genital bloodflow is a lot like that. It’s this other system that’s related to the liking and the wanting, but is separable in the same way pleasure and desire are separable. So it turns out in particular, heterosexual women’s genitals will respond to kind of anything that even gestures in the direction of being sex related, whether they are interested in it, like actually pursuing anything in terms of desire, or even in terms of pleasure, your genitals can respond. That does not mean you’re experiencing pleasure, it means something sex related is happening. Does that make sense?
Laurie Watson 33:46
That totally makes sense. We feel …
Emily Nagoski 33:48
I got taught my whole life that my genital response meant that I wanted or like something. So when I’m in my early 20s, I’m working as a sexual violence response crisis responder, you know, like 1 800 line. And there were times when I would listen to stories of terrible things that had happened to people. And I would notice my genitals respond. And I thought doing this work is screwing up my sexuality and you just stop it because I am turning into some kind of monster being turned on by this stuff. Eeuw yuck. And then I learned about arousal, non concordance, and I was like, Oh, no, we just live in a sufficiently screwed up world, that some of the things that are sex related are also terrible, are totally unwanted and unliked. And when I could separate those things, I was free to just be like, oh, there’s my genitals responding. Some of the things that are sex related that I’m exposed to are neither wanted nor liked.
Laurie Watson 34:39
So my body may turn on, but I still don’t want sex. Or my I may want sex in I’m having a hard time turning my body on.
Emily Nagoski 34:50
Yeah, it goes in both directions. Absolutely. Yeah.
George Faller 34:54
Yeah, I think that’s so helpful to take some of this pressure off. Everything has to be lined up and perfect for it to work right
Emily Nagoski 35:02
and it’s not like this is like some strange feature of sexuality. This is true for all of our emotional and motivational systems. One of my favorite examples is music. So you know the feeling of chills that you get when you listen to really great songs. Yeah, they study chills in the laboratory by playing music that is that is known to cause chills. And they ask people Hey, did you experience chills? And they measure the physiological predictor of chills so usually chills means piloerection, your hair standing on end, so they literally put a camera on a person’s arm to see if their hair stands on end, and they ask them did you get chills? Turns out there is not a relationship between getting chills and having your hair set on end. Ha Wow. And if you’re Celine Dion singing my heart will go on, which is one of the songs known to cause chills. Which do you want? Do you want people to walk out of your concert going that was fine, but their hair stood up, or do you want them walking out of the concert going? I had chills and their hair stayed totally flat, which matters. Right? Right.
Laurie Watson 36:09
The feeling that subjective feeling. Absolutely. So thank you, Emily, for all that you’ve given us today. I mean, these are important concepts. I, I love what you’ve said about our brakes and accelerators and how we can get comfortable with our vulva and context and non concordant sex. That understanding I think will be really helpful to people. And I just appreciate your time today and being with us on Foreplay Radio, and you can find Emily on TED Talks. Her books Come as you are the workbook Come as you are workbook and burn out the secret to unlocking the stress cycle. And we can find you on your podcast, which is the feminist survival Project 2020. Thanks for listening. And PS, please tune in to our Patreon page so that you can catch the next exclusive episode and our next Facebook Live.
George Faller 37:03
We appreciate you joining us to spread this really important message
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