The new book by sexual educator Emily Nagasaki is my new ‘go to’ to recommend for couples experiencing low sexual desire. Much of the takeaway is simple re-education and understanding on the question: What is normal sexual desire? Some fascinating excerpts directly from Emily.
Lesson One There’s a very wide range of women’s sexual normalcy.
Emily Nagoski: “We’re taught, from the very beginning in our culture, a model of sexual response that is based entirely on how men work, and so [the assumption goes] the extent to which women fail to be like men is the extent to which they fail to be sexually normal, and that’s just not true…The standards, for me, for healthy, normal sex are consent, lack of unwanted pain and satisfaction. When all three of those things are there, you’re doing really well. Satisfaction’s complicated, though, because that’s based on, ‘I have an expectation of what it should be like and I either do or don’t match that expectation.’ And if your expectations are based on incorrect information, then you’re going to be dissatisfied, not for medical reasons, but because your expectation doesn’t make sense for who your body actually is.”
Lesson Two: Women do NOT understand their bodies. What culture tells us about sex is not what science tells us about sex.
EN: “Amazingly little has changed. Students walk into my class feeling very sophisticated, like they know a whole lot about sex, and what they know a lot about is what their culture has taught them about sex, and they know a lot about it. And that, it turns out, has very little relationship to what the science says about sex. So, halfway through my first lecture, which is about anatomy, they’re sitting there with their jaws in their lap, having had their minds blown about, like, how big the clitoris actually is and what’s the deal with the hymen. Things they really thought they knew that it turns out, no.”
Lesson Three: . There is a dual control model of sexual response – Accelerator and Brakes.
EN: “There’s two parts to it, and one part is the gas pedal — or accelerator — which means the other part has to be the brake. So, the accelerator responds to all the sexually relevant information in the environment — everything you see, hear, touch, smell, taste, or imagine that your brain codes as sexually relevant and it sends the “turn on” signal. The brake, at the same time that that’s happening, is noticing all the very good reasons not to be turned on right now — everything you see, hear, smell, touch, taste or imagine — that’s a potential threat, and it sends a signal that says “turn off.” So, arousal is not just the process of turning on the ons, it’s also turning off the offs.”
Lesson Four: If we want to change the “ons” and “offs,” we have to relearn:
EN: “There’s a normal bell curve distribution of how sensitive the accelerator and the brakes are. Most of us are just heaped up in the average section. There are some people with extra sensitive, or insensitive accelerators and extra sensitive or not sensitive brakes — most of us are just average. And, from the moment we’re born, our brains are learning what to count as sexually relevant and what to count as a potential threat, and that’s what we can change. It’s learned. There’s almost nothing that’s actually innately sexual, so we learn that and we can unlearn it and teach it something new.”