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Sexuality for Women Can Be Improved! Interview with Emily Nagoski

Sexuality can be a complicated business, very different from how easy it is on television. Today I’m lucky enough to interview Emily Nagoski. Her book Come As You Are on sexuality for women is a wonderful tool to help women take greater ownership of their sexuality.

sexuality, sex, orgasm, sex life, sexual issues, sexual frustration

Her book prompted me to immediately make a correction on the sexuality page of my website. I had 1 out of 3 women rarely or never orgasm in intercourse & I had to correct it to 70%. (& I didn’t dream up the number, I got it from a sexuality workshop).

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I was hoping you would begin by telling my audience about the dual control model of sexual response that Erick Janssen & John Bancroft developed in the late 1990’s at the Kinsey Institute. Reading about it in your book sure improved my own understanding & I’ve attended every sex workshop given by an expert & never heard about this before.

I loved the idea that you can change what your brake & accelerator responds to…Could you share more about that?

Emily: My favorite thing to talk about and thank you for mentioning that it was developed by Eric and John at Kinsey,  no, it’s not my idea, there was a day that I learned about it, just as there was a day that you learned about it and I felt my whole brain reorganizing about how it understood how human sexuality works.  I can’t think about sexuality without using this framework anymore and it actually is fairly straightforward, it posits that human sexuality in the brain functions just like every other system in our brain. Duh-huh, which is that it’s a combination; the dual control model, there’s two parts, the first is the sexual accelerator or the gas pedal that notices all the sexually relevant information in the environment, everything that you see or hear or smell or taste or touch or imagine that your brain encodes as sex related and it sends that turn-on signal that we’re all at least a little bit familiar with in our life and it’s functioning at a low level all the time, including right now us talking about sex, there is this little bit that is sexually relevant that is sent from our brain. Fortunately at the same time, there is also our brake, the second part of this dual control model and the brakes are noticing all the very good reasons not to be turned on right now, everything that you see, hear, touch, taste or imagine that your brain codes as a potential threat. So like you’re out in public or this is not the right setting or there are relationship issues or there’s a trauma history, so your level of arousal at any given moment is this balance of how many of the ons are turned on and how much are the brakes are sending the off signal.  Usually when people are struggling, the typical advice, if you’re having problems with arousal, desire or orgasm, the typical advice is all kinds of stuff to add stimulation to the accelerator, which is great and can be lots of fun but it turns out that when people are struggling, the difficulty is not that there’s not enough stimulation to the accelerator, is that there’s too much stimulation to the brake and this is what’s so empowering about the dual control model, is when you can identify the stuff that’s hitting your brake and it’s going to be stuff like stress and exhaustion and relationship issues and body image and sometimes trauma.

 Once you know what hits the brake, you can begin to work with the context & you have to reduce the number of things that are going on, what’s hitting the brakes.

Rhoda: And it’s just so wonderful to wrap yourself around a different frame of reference that can actually be helpful and I found it wonderful and I’d love for you to tell my audience about the ” ultimate nerd evidence of the power of context to influence your brains perception of sensation.”

Emily:  So this is where I get to use the phrase rat nucleus accumbens affective keyboard, everyone just fell asleep because I’m the biggest nerd in the world, okay, so this is research out of the laboratory of Kent Berridge, who’s an effective neuroscientist and the only the effect of neuroscientist to make me laugh out loud with his research. So here’s a study that the folks in his lab did, you take a rat and you insert a probe into the nucleus accumbens, which is the small thing in the emotional brain of a rat, it’s a painless procedure, and when you zap the front of the nucleus accumbens on the rat, it starts to behave in the world, it starts sniffing, it starts to explore and move toward things, these are approach behaviors right?

When you zap the back of the nucleus accumbens of the rat, it’ll stamp its feet, it’s called defensive burying and it’s kicking up dust in the face of the predator basically, yeah, what the hell is that and there’s a video on YouTube of a rat doing this to a snake and it totally works, the rat is like whoa buddy get the heck away… so again, he’s at the front, you move toward, whoa what’s that, you step back, you move away with avoidance behaviors to threat responses. The cool thing that happens when you take this rat and you put him, the home environment. (I think of it as the rat spa, it is silent and dark, it smells like a family, it’s a very familiar environment, it feels very safe, just imagine the most sort of relaxed and peaceful state of mind you’ve ever been in right, that’s the rat spa) When they zap the front of the nucleus accumbens in this context, the rat goes, whoa what’s that, with exploration moving towards but then when they zap the back of the nucleus accumbens, what is the rat do? Whoa what’s that, it’s the exact opposite response that we got in the other context, well then your brain is in this calm relaxed peaceful unthreatened state of mind, your brain will respond to almost any stimulus as something to move toward with curiosity, even a stimulus that in a different context, it might have responded to with a threat response, with a what the hell is that, get away from it response, which is the beginning of the explanation of why something like spanking can be great in an erotic context where you’re already turned on, there’s lots of trust, great communication, you’re already in an aroused state of mind, your brain is ready to interpret a sensation that in different context, it would respond to with a pain response.

Rhoda: Yes.

Emily: But then there’s more, then we get to what I call the dance club situation, where we put the rat in a box with really bright lights, they’re playing music really loud, the rat can’t even just get used to it because they play it at different volumes.  You can tell that the rat is stressed out because in this intense noisy bright environment when you zap the front of the nucleus accumbens of this rat, what does he do, yeah what the hell is that, he gives a threat response, when your brain is in a stressed-out threatened unsafe context, it will respond to almost any stimulus as something to be avoided as a potential threat, even stimuli that in a different context, it might have responded to as something to move toward with curiosity. My favorite example of this is tickling, I know tickling is not for everybody but even hypothetically you can imagine a world where you’re already in that erotic playful connected trusting state of mind and your partner tickles you that could feel pleasurable and fun and lead to other things but if the same certain special someone tries to tickle you when you are angry with them, you will want to punch them in the face right?

It’s exactly the same simulation but because the context is different, your brain literally responds to it in the opposite way with avoidance response, I know lots of people who come to me puzzled and confused because they’re like one time I approached my partner this way and I do this and they respond really well but I try the exact same thing on a different day and they’re like oh get away from me, what, my partner’s crazy what’s with the inconsistent mixed signals? No, the context was different, their brain is literally responding to the world in a different way, you need to pay attention to more than just touch me this way, don’t touch me there, you have to pay attention to the context in which the stimulation is happening. It is context that has a huge impact on sexuality.

BUY HER BOOK: COME AS YOU ARE  $11.55 paperback

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