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Episode 20

In the first episode of our two-part interview with Dr. Emily Nagoski, she explains how male and female anatomy is actually made of up the exact same parts.In the first episode of our two-part interview with Dr. Emily Nagoski, she explains how male and female anatomy is actually made of up the exact same parts. She helps us understand that we’re all “normal,” and teaches us how we can learn to listen to our internal voice with compassion.

Dr. Emily Nagoski is the author of the New York Times best-selling book “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life.”

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Sasza Lohrey

Hello, and welcome to the BBXX podcast. I’m your host Sazsa Lohrey, here to bring you conversations that challenge the way our culture has conditioned us to think and talk about sexuality, intimacy, and healthy relationships. In the first episode of our two part interview with Dr. Emily Nagurski, she explains how male and female anatomy is actually made up of the exact same parts, she helps us understand that we’re all normal. And you teach us how we can learn to tune into, or tune out our internal voice. 

Sasza Lohrey

Well, thank you so much for joining us on the show today. 

Emily Nagoski

My pleasure.

Sasza Lohrey

I’d love to know how it is that you came to through your own personal experiences, kind of where you identify with your own work, and how through those experiences, it’s brought you to where you are today. 

Emily Nagoski

Yeah, I have a very nonlinear sort of professional trajectory. I’ve never had that clear sense of like, I know for sure what I want to do this is these are the steps you have to take to get there. Here’s how I’m going to go. I have just gone it’s like I’ve taken one step. That seemed like a good idea. And then like a spotlight appeared ahead of me showing what the next step should be. So I took that one step with no idea where direction I was heading, or what the ultimate destination was. So I started in undergrad, actually, at the University of Delaware. I was a big ol nerd, like, I knew I was gonna be going to grad school for something, I had no idea what but for something, so I thought, okay, I need some volunteer work on my resume to make me look like a good grad school candidate. And guy on my floor, who is pre med said, “Hey, I know come and be a Peer Health Educator with me.” And I was like, “I like health. Why not?” So I did, I applied and I got accepted and started getting trained to go into residence halls to talk about condoms, contraception and consent, and then sleep and stress and all these other health issues, nutrition, and later to do sexual assault crisis responding and sexual assault prevention education. And while I was doing that, I was earning a degree in psychology with minors in cognitive science and philosophy, which I really loved and I genuinely do use it. But the intellectual academic stuff I was doing just didn’t make me like who I am as a person, in a way the volunteer work I was doing as a peer educator did. So that’s the path I chose. Instead of just what was intellectually fulfilling.

 I chose what made me feel whole as a human, which took me to Indiana University, where I did a clinical and I was got a master’s degree in counseling psychology, with a clinical internship at the Kinsey Institute, I got trained as a sex therapist realized midway through that program that I am not by temperament a therapist like I’m not good at, like sitting still with people very slowly and like nodding and saying, how does that make you feel? I’m an educator by temperaments. And I’m also a woman who likes to be in charge of things, which means PhD. So I went back to school, I got a PhD in health behavior. It’s basically public health, again, with concentration in human sexuality. And so there was the PhD in human sexuality. A couple years later, I started at Smith College, I was the director of wellness education, and I taught a class called women’s sexuality. And I was always at Smith’s for eight years all together. And when I was teaching this class, I ended the semester, my very first semester teaching by asking my students the question, just tell me one important thing you learned, out of all the science that I squeezed into this 100 level class, what was most important and I thought they were going to say, like the evolutionary biology or attachment theory, or something like that. And instead, more than half of my students, I had 187 students in this class, more than half of them wrote something like I learned, I’m normal. And they’re not broken. Just because I’m different from other women doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me. And I don’t know if you’ve ever graded final exams, but this is now what it’s usually like, I was sitting in my office with tears in my eyes, grading final exams, and I knew that something important had happened and I want to do again, and I wanted to make it accessible to more than just the students at this one school. So that’s the day I decided to write Come as You Are. Five years later, there was I had this book and I have been traveling around talking about the science of women sexual well being ever since.

Sasza Lohrey

Amazing. Glad that right off the bat, you chose what makes you happy and to focus on that. I think a lot of people spend their life in end up coming back to that, if at any point–

Emily Nagoski

And you know, it’s only recently that I’ve discovered what the personal strength is that allowed me to do that. I have always had very loud internal voice telling me this feels right, this doesn’t feel right. And I don’t always listen to it. But it is always very loud. So when I do hear it when I’m given sufficient time to stop dismissing it, I can always recognize what it’s saying. And every time I follow what it tells me to do, it’s the right thing. The more women I talk to, the more I discover that voice isn’t as loud and obnoxious for everybody as it is, for me, it’s more subtle, it’s more quiet, it’s more polite. And it requires more focused attention in order for it to really emerge and say what it has to say

Sasza Lohrey

Right? I love that. And what kind of advice would you give to women who have that kind of more quiet, dismissive voice that they have to kind of let that out? Right, first of all, identify it recognize it, that it could be a good thing. And to kind of live through that more. 

Emily Nagoski

Yeah, for me, there’s three things that I found are really valuable. One is, first of all, recognizing that if you got identified as a girl, on the day you were born, you were trained from that day to believe other people’s opinions about your body and your internal experience, more than what you believe what your body itself is trying to communicate to you. So if you have trouble hearing your inner voice, your inner wisdom, if you struggle to believe it, and trust it, that’s normal, because that’s what you got taught to do. So you’re just doing what your entire life history has said is the right way to do it. And you can begin to undo that learning and reconnect with your internal voice through a practice of mindfulness mind, of course, it comes back to learning to quiet the noise outside you and quiet the noise inside you. And the third essential practice is a kind of self compassion, that’s a little more complex, actually, than how we usually think about it. I love simple practices, like just folding your hands over your heart, and telling yourself things like I am enough, or I am safe, or may I know peace that is a beautiful, lovely and effective, in fact, evidence based practice to help reduce stress and to improve well being. But I find that in order to gain access to your very quiet, shy, polite internal voice, it takes slightly uglier kind of intervention. In the second book, actually, the one I wrote after Come as You Are, it’s called Burnout, the last chapter is called the madwoman in the attic. And the mad woman is that mean, critical lady in your head, who tells you what a terrible person you are, and what a failure you are, and how dumb and ugly and unlovable you are, which I feel comfortable saying because pretty much again, if you got identified as a girl and the day you were born, you’ve spent your entire life trying to be what everybody told you to be, instead of who you actually are. And there is this unbridgeable gap between the actual you, you and expected you, the who the world expects you to be. And the mad woman, her job is to yell at you until you work hard enough to conform to that culturally constructed, aspirational, ideal self like she’s trying to help you. She’s trying to keep you safe. She’s trying to make sure you meet other people’s expectations. And she’s doing it in a way that’s pretty destructive and cruel. But our job is to turn toward her with kindness and compassion. We don’t silence her. We don’t ignore her. We don’t try to replace what she’s saying with affirmations. Because you know, if you’re like really mad at somebody, and you’re mad in a panicked way, because you’re pretty sure the thing they’re doing is putting them at risk, and you love them and you want to keep them safe. And they’re ignoring you saying, “No, I’m not gonna listen to you, I don’t believe you.” Everything is fine.” Like with that, will that help the situation or with that just make you crazier and escalate and make you more frustrated and more furious? Whereas if they turn toward you and say, “I can tell you’re worried, tell me what’s bothering you.” That’s when you can say here’s what’s bothering me and feel listened to and understood. So that’s what you do you turn toward your inner madwoman with kindness and compassion. I actually did this. Oh, man. So there was a conference that I had agreed to attend. It was on my calendar for Sunday. And on Saturday, I got a text saying hi, Emily, are you upstairs? We’re ready to get started.

Sasza Lohrey

Oh, no.

Emily Nagoski

Yeah. So I did what I could to [inaudible]. I’d like to just put it on the wrong day on my calendar. I was still in my pajamas half an hour away. My car was under a foot of snow. I was not going to get to the conference. So I did what I could to mitigate the actual situation itself. And then of course, my mad woman is like, fall like the whip is out and she’s throwing balls of lava at me just beating the crap out of me like what a bad terrible person I am because I have made this mistake. So I took my own advice I turned toward her in my imagination, my madwoman looks like Tikka, the lava monster from moana. So she’s throwing these lava balls at me. And I turn toward her like Moana saying, “Let her come to me,” and the ocean parts.  And Tikka comes up to me and starts telling me how angry she is that I made this mistake. And then she says how afraid she is for me that when I make these kinds of mistakes, people are going to stop wanting to know me. And basically, I’m going to die alone. And when she got through her fear then, she told me how exhausted she was from having to carry all this rage. And all of this fear for me all the time to be so vigilant all the time constantly worrying that even the smallest mistake was gonna result in people never wanting to talk to me again. And because I had turned to her with kindness and compassion, because I was listening with love and appreciation for all the hard work she was doing. For me, even though she was doing it in a way that was counterproductive and hurtful, I can see value in her motivation. And I could thank her for what her intention was, and grant her permission to like, take a break, go rest, take care of yourself, because I’m an adult now. And I can take care of the situation and it really is going to be okay. Because the people in my life aren’t going to abandon me just because I made a mistake. So that was that was my three things. The third one was turning toward your inner critic with kindness and compassion, building a positive relationship. She’s not going anywhere. So you might as well be friends as much as you can with a toxic person, mindfulness practice, which is simply learning how to tune out the noise in the outside world and focus on your internal experience in a quiet way. And the first one was recognizing that if you struggle to hear your inner voice, that’s because you’ve been taught to ignore it. It’s a form of gaslighting really to say no, no, you think your internal experience is one thing but I’m here to tell you that it’s something else. Don’t believe what your gut is telling you don’t believe what your own personal sense of right and wrong is saying. You believe me? You believe what I said it’s gaslighting. Those are my tips. Right? 

Sasza Lohrey

And I loved how can the mad woman her anger you specifically mentioned came from a place of fear. 

Emily Nagoski

Yeah, when I asked her to describe their mad woman over and over the way they described her is as this unpleasant character who also has this really profound vulnerability and sadness underlying that unpleasantness. Like, you know, the angry emo girl sitting in the back of the class slouched in high school. And when anything goes wrong, she just goes well, I told you so. But she’s really lonely sitting back there. She’s unpleasant you can’t–

Sasza Lohrey

Yeah, and make comes from that place of so she’s actually quite concerned for you and she wants the best for you but she’s just going about it in such an unhealthy and toxic way. So kind of to counteract that and her insecurities is just having your own securities and knowing your own worth to balance out her fear.

Emily Nagoski

 Yeah. And it helps to heal her because her insecurity comes from the original wound of the world treating you as though you’re supposed to be someone other than who you truly are. Which is the Moana song, “I Have Crossed the Horizon to Find You.” Imagine if you turn toward that mean critical voice in your head and you say, “I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name. They have stolen the hearts from inside you but that does not define you. This is not who you are. You know who you are.” And you return the heart what happened on spoiling Moana anybody?

Sasza Lohrey

Yeah, yeah, you need to become the face of Moana cause– 

Emily Nagoski

This movie is a parable for like womanhood and I think everyone should watch it. I know it’s Disney and it’s called problems. And also like the Kava lava monster is actually Tafiti, and the moral of the story is our enemies are made when their hearts are stolen, and we can unhook our enemies. When we return their hearts. We see what’s beneath the surface, we turn toward them with kindness, compassion. When Moana says “let her come to me.” She restores the heart and take Kava lava monster becomes spoiler to Tafiti, the goddess of life. When we can love that mean lady inside our own head. It turns out she’s actually a source of abundance and inspiration and creativity and motivation and joy and pleasure.

Sasza Lohrey

Right? I one, have new plans for tonight and that is to see Moana. But it sounds amazing. And kind of exactly what you said. It reminds me of that saying that you can’t ever truly hate somebody if you haven’t loved them first. And that kind of their anger or fear coming from having lost their heart. And my sister sent me a quote just the other week that like the basically says “the only reason people hurt other people is because they’re feeling hurt themselves.” And so exactly as you’re saying, you don’t have to hurt her back. That’s not the solution. It’s it’s turning towards her.

Emily Nagoski

Yeah, given that hurting people is not an excuse, or having been hurt yourself is not a reason or a vacation for hurting someone else. But it’s always coming from a place of pain and suffering. And we can, if we choose to create space for recognizing the hurt that has been done to someone who is hurting us. 

Sasza Lohrey

Amazing. to dive into your book a bit more. I must say I’m kind of obsessed with the first chapter about anatomy. 

Emily Nagoski

Yeah.

Sasza Lohrey

And I just love it. So for anybody listening who hasn’t read it yet, which you probably soon will. It basically talks about the fact that male and female anatomy is the exact same down to it coming from the same kind of cells and skin types. And literally just being kind of displayed in a different way. But that each part in one sex has its equivalent in the other down to there’s some scene that you mentioned, like a line that runs down the scrotum I believe.

Emily Nagoski

Yeah, the scrotal rafey. 

Sasza Lohrey

Yeah, cool term. And now you just feel as though it kind of discounts so many things. By putting everything on this level playing field, it just makes people realize that you have to discount so many stereotypes due to, you know, anatomy or evolution, which obviously plays a part in certain things. But it just kind of reminds you that we need to view things from this level playing field and not with all the socialization that kind of filters our perspective, and I just found it so fascinating. So I’d love you to just kind of speak a bit to that.

Emily Nagoski

Oh, yeah, you have nailed it. That’s exactly what I was going for. in that chapter. I obviously wanted to do a little bit of anatomy education, like here is where the clitoris is, is once and for all. Here is where the vagina is, once and for all. But more than that, I wanted people to see that all of our bodies are made of all the same parts, just organized in a different way like that scrotal rafey, you mentioned it’s this sort of seam going down the center of a scrotum. The scrotum being the part on somebody who you know, on the day they’re born, all the adults go, it’s a boy, right? The scrotum is a sort of like stretchy skin on the outside, where hair will grow later. And on the body parts of babies who make the adults go, it’s a girl. There’s also some stretchy skin where hairs gonna grow later. And on girl assigned bodies, that’s the vulva or the external labia, the labia majora. And when you look at a scrotum, you see that seam going down the middle, that’s actually where that person’s body would have developed into two separate labia, if things have been a little different in the chromosomes or in the hormonal environment in the womb, it’s the same tissue in the womb, it’s actually called labial scrotal tissue. It’s all the same stuff. It’s just organized in a slightly different way. The penis, of course, is the equivalent of the clitoris and you know, like, the head of the penis isn’t all there is to a penis, duh. And the head of the clitoris, which is the only external part of a clistoris is not all there is to a clitoris there’s this vast internal structure to the clearest of tissue that swells up at arousal, and is part of the process of lubrication. And when we recognize that all those parts are there, we see that the clitoris is not just this little nub, the size of it might make us want to dismiss it, but it’s actually this really important structure in the same way the penis is a really important structure for a person who has a penis and loves their penis. And then my favorite example, which is the one that really is like, okay, there’s a difference between what our bodies are and what our culture sort of lays over, like what the meaning imposed on our culture on our genitals is, which is the hymen.

This is a thing that happened on the very first day that I was teaching at Smith. It was my anatomy lecture because I started with anatomy. And a student raised her hand and we said, “Emily, can you tell me the evolutionary origin of the Hymen?” I had been a sex educator for 15 years by then and I had never even wondered what the evolutionary origin of hymen was. So I was like, “I’ll get back to you.” And I did a bunch of research over the next week. And it turned out, there was no evolutionary function of a hymen. We have hymens for the same reason that the “it’s a boy” babies, and among humans have nipples, which is that nipples are very important for all mammals species. They’re so important that evolution has made sure the hardware is installed. From the very beginning before differentiation between male and female happens, nipple hardware is just there because that’s how important nipples are for our survival as a species that nurses but so nipples are this sort of like extra residual leftover thing from this homology the technical term is homologous homology means having the same origins. So they’re just leftover, they also called spandrels, they have no particular function that they were selected to do. It’s just there. And it might do some stuff since it’s there. And the hymen is just a homolog. It’s this leftover residual thing. On the “it’s a girl” set of genitals, leftover from the sort of cascade of organizational events that happened to create a vulva. Because that tissue was necessary in the cascade of events that create penis and scrotum. It’s the homolog is the equivalent of the Virile Montana, which don’t remember that it doesn’t matter. It’s the curve of tissue between the prostate and the urethra, which its primary thing that happens is that it is that curve, and sometimes it gets infected. It’s the only time you’ll ever hear about it. But it doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t serve any function. It’s just an extra fold of tissue. It’s like a cuticle. It’s just there. And from there, I did all this research on the hymen. And it turned out everything my culture taught me about the hymen is a total lie like when you have intercourse, your hymen does not break. And when you think about it, of course it doesn’t. Is there any body part that if it tears, it just stays torn? Like if you tear your lip when you fall and hit it again, something? What happens to your lip? It heals, right? So does your hymen, there’s actually no relationship between the shape and size of your hymen. And whether or not your vagina has been penetrated? None. Right? So this is the biological reality of the hymen is this just sort of like this random extra fold of skin that’s just there, and it stretches with intercourse. And if it does tear, it breaks. But it heals, just like all the rest of our tissue. But culturally, because you know, patriarchy. A culture that made women’s bodies property saw this fold of tissue over the mouth of the vagina, which is the reproductive tract of that body and said like my husband jokingly calls it a freshness seal. That it’s this like marker of purity and like, it’s like a gated, like, “Oh, so this is how we know this one’s fresh. This is how we know this one’s pure.” Because you want to make sure that your property is undamaged or unsullied. And if this is all just a little bit gross, yeah, it feels a little like patriarchy. Yeah, it is. So which story do you like better? The one that’s just like your hymen is just a thing that’s there because biology or your hymen is a bile is a marker of your purity and your worth. I can tell you which one is supported by the evidence. So biology, like there’s no relationship between whether or not your there are people who have given birth whose hymens are intact, it is not a marker of whether or not you have ever had any sort of vaginal penetration. So, I mean, if you like the cultural story, okay, but it’s not supported by the evidence. 

Sasza Lohrey

Right? And then wow, and having given birth and still having that intact is just kind of your irrefutable evidence and but then there are also people as you mentioned, that are born without it or born with kind of one that so why does all of this say it’s hard to even try and process the fact that religions and and lives have been built around such a powerful myth? That stands on air? Yeah, lives literally somebody has been born without this. They really could be punished for the rest of their lives for something that.

Emily Nagoski

Yeah, they can be killed for it. Yeah, cuz somebody does a oh god virginity test, and see that that person does not have a hymen. And they think that it means something other than like, this is just one of those people who has a vulva but doesn’t have a hymen and hymens come in all different kinds of shapes and sizes that have no relationships to that person’s sexual behavior.

Sasza Lohrey

I want to ask how we, how we kind of help, I guess by bringing light to it is really the only thing you can do to try and create change in that space. And making people realize that. 

Emily Nagoski

 For me, knowledge is for sure the first step. Once you know, then you can make choices about your own personal sexuality, like your relationship with your body, you can make choices about the way you talk with your friends and loved one and your kids about their bodies, and how you feel about them and what the standards are. And you can look at the larger culture and ask yourself if there’s larger cultural change that you could see creating, in order to change the way our culture treats people, based on the shape and size of their body parts. 

 

Sasza Lohrey

Right. And that’s kind of what we like to say is we’re working to change the culture and the conversations surrounding a lot of these themes, exactly bodies and sex but intimacy and relationships as a whole. Another thing that you mentioned in the book, a line I love that kind of paints such a clear portrait that immediately kind of counteracts everything we’ve we’ve learned. And I love when that happens is how you say that trying to understand sex by looking at behavior is like trying to understand love by looking at a couple’s wedding portrait. 

Emily Nagoski

Yes.

 

Sasza Lohrey

 So I guess if you could just say something a little quick, something about that, too. But it’s, it’s, it’s so self explanatory. At the same time that I think a lot of people will just say, Wow, because what you look at a wedding portrait, these photos, say nothing except for kind of taking the top point 1% of life, life’s beauty and joy and capturing it into this still frame, that obviously cannot be a representation of the rest of the relationship, nor would it be fair in the sense that most people’s relationships only start from there and evolve so much afterwards and become something even stronger and even more beautiful, and perhaps more joyous. Perhaps, you know, they don’t look, you know, aren’t the same size dresses, they were in the photo. But as I actually just read an article about last week, there’s science behind gaining weight actually is like positively correlated with your happiness. So there’s also, you know, just so much to be said behind that photo. 

Emily Nagoski 

Yeah, it’s a snapshot, a picture. That’s what behavior is, if we measure behavior, we explore behavior is this really superficial, very surface level glance at what’s happening, we can tell ourselves a story about what we think the motivations are behind those behaviors like this way, we can tell ourselves a story about a couple that we see in a wedding portrait. But we don’t know for just making up a story based on what we already know about those kinds of images, or those kinds of behaviors. And the way to actually know it’s a dive much deeper and get much richer information about life histories, and about the ways people vary from each other, and about all the different courses that our life can take. And yet actually, body size is one of those things where there’s such enormous variability, that behavior doesn’t even begin to capture everybody’s situation. There’s a whole chapter in so Come As You Are, has a half a chapter about body image and its impact on sexuality. That’s in chapter five, I think. And then, oh, gosh, is also in chapter five and Burnout. In the second book, the whole chapter, is about body shape and size. It’s called the bikini industrial complex, about this enormous profit machine that only makes money when we hate our bodies and are convinced that we need to change them in some way, including by making us believe that the healthiest thing for us to be is as thin as we are capable of becoming. And increasingly, the research is like, “Yeah, no, that’s just not right. It can be healthier to be 70 pounds over your medically defined ideal weight than it is to be just five pounds under it.” And basically, the healthiest on average weight to be is somewhere in the sort of what technically by this, the CDC and the World Health Organization would call overweight, those are the people who live the longest have the fewest health complications, and are most likely to survive a dangerous illness, which is like you don’t hear that story very often. Why? Because the bikini industrial complex is not interested in you hearing that story. They are not interested in you loving your body and enjoying living in the world. They’re interested in you hating yourself and constantly feeling like you need to change your body so that you can conform with the culturally constructed aspirational beauty ideal which when you live in the West, that’s the thin ideal.

Sasza Lohrey

 I would like to say that that beauty industry is a half of a trillion dollar industry. That I think I think last night actually I heard somebody say something similar that was about how much money is made off of people making themselves feel terrible about. So that’s interesting about kind of the the health health things as well. I hadn’t heard that.

The BBXX Podcast Let’s Get Intimate is produced by Sazsa Lohrey in Berkeley, California. Dialogue, narrative and content crafting by Amy Soper audio editing, good music vibes and sound mixing Daniel Herrera. You can learn more on our website or on our social media at bbxx.world. And if you believe in what we’re doing, please do help spread the love by sharing this with someone you care about. Until next time. 

Continuing the conversation with Emily Nagoski, Ph.D, sexuality educator, and author, we discuss how to better understand our accelerators and brakes when it comes to desire, why it’s important to stop worrying about sex while you’re having it, the different kinds of desire, and why pleasure is the measure! We hope you enjoy and are able to find more pleasure in your life and enjoy the sex you’re already having!

There’s No Right Way

We often feel that there’s a right way to have sex due to the sexual scripts that we’ve all become accustomed to. However, as life circumstances change, the same sexual behaviors can elicit very different reactions. Context matters! It’s rarely that something to do with you – but more
likely to be something in your environment, or context.

Accelerators and Brakes

Arousal is a dual process of turning on the “ons” and turning off the “offs”. As we go through life, we accumulate more things that turn us off. So it’s important to know those things that turn you on and hit your accelerator, and those things that turn you off and hit your brakes. An example of a common brake: cold feet! So put on some socks and warm those feet up so
that you aren’t distracted by your cold feet and you can free up your accelerator.

Sexual Performance

What does it mean for you? Worrying about sex while you’re having it is a sure way to pump the brakes. Practicing mindfulness – or paying attention to sensations in a non-judgmental way – helps with all aspects of your sexuality. Lori Brotto, who we’ve spoken about before, has a great book that can help with being more mindful during sex.

Physical Activity

Understanding the body’s stress response cycle is incredibly valuable information. Physical activity can be a kind of endorphin therapy once you reach that threshold of activity. Because our emotions are biological events that happen in our bodies, physical activity can be a form of therapy to help release those emotions and feelings.

Stress is the most common factor that hits the brakes.

Sex and Attachment

Sex is a social behavior – it links us together – and social connection is a biological process. John Gottman researched victims of domestic violence and found that many women reported some of the most passionate sexual experiences after episodes of violence. This can be attributed to attachment theory and how the violence threatened the attachment, and because sex is a social behavior, it becomes a way to reconnect to repair the threat to the relationship and attachment. Attachment is a survival mechanism for humans.

Wanting v Liking

When people are clear about the difference between wanting and liking, the better you can communicate with your partner about what works for you so that you can access more pleasure. It is possible to like something that not want it; to want something and not like it; to like something and want it; and to not like something and not want it.

Why Desire Matters

Masters and Johnson, as well as Kinsey, researched the sexual response cycle, which didn’t really need to include desire. However, desire really matters in a sexual relationship. And we know now that desire is the single most common reason a couple seeks sex therapy. Based on the research
initially conducted by Helen Singer Kaplan, we know that there are two different ways that people can get to desire:

  • Spontaneous Desire – when it appears out of the blue in anticipation of pleasure (like a lightning bolt to the genitals)
  • Responsive Desire – beginning with pleasure, and your body begins to experience sensations that feel good, and then the desire comes.

It’s like being invited to a party – you may not want to go, but when you get ready and arrive, chances are you end up having fun – and if you’re having fun, then you’re doing it right!

Pleasure is the measure.

Advice

  1. Pay attention to your partner
  2. Take orgasm off the table and focus on pleasure instead
  3. Enjoy the sex you are having – even if it’s only with yourself.

If you’re having fun at the party, you’re doing it right!

No additional resources found for this episode.

About the Expert

Emily Nagoski

Emily Nagoski

writer. educator. researcher. activist. nerd.

A gifted and engaging speaker, Emily is an expert on women's sexual wellbeing, healthy relationships, and the prevention of sexual violence and harassment. People bring Emily, because Emily "brings the science."

Episode Discussion

Home Forums Episode 20 & 21 – “Pleasure Is The Measure” with Emily Nagoski

  • Episode 20 & 21 – “Pleasure Is The Measure” with Emily Nagoski

  • Valentina 

    September 21, 2020 at 8:41 am
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    • What did you learn about yourself?
    • What did you learn about culture?
    • What was your favorite quote?
    • What surprised you most?
    • What is one way you can enact what you learned in your own life?
    • How can we each help shift the culture and the conversation surrounding this topic?
  • Amy

    September 21, 2020 at 12:26 pm
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    The thing that I learned about myself while listening to these episodes was that the male and female anatomy are made of the same parts and that I am normal. The thing that I learned about culture is that it tells men and women that liking something is the same as desiring it, when there is a difference. The thing that surprised me most was that our desire is a system of accelerators and brakes and that once we understand that we can take the drivers seat of our own desire and pleasure. The way that I can enact what I learned in my own life is to understand the difference between like and desire when it comes to sex with a future partner. The way that we can shift the culture and conversation around this topic is to educate ourselves about the difference between liking and desiring, as well as not putting pressure on ourselves to perform.

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