Episode One: The Sex Talk That Wasn’t
This episode looks at one thing that’s missing from many sex-ed conversations: pleasure. It explores some of the biggest misconceptions about desire and arousal and examines how we can take back control of our own pleasure through unlearning some of the [patriarchal and heteronormative] narratives we’ve been fed for centuries.
Am I normal?
This episode begins with an anecdote from sex expert Emily Nagoski who shares that at the end of her semester-long, college-level class about sex, the most common answer that students gave to the question, “What did you learn from this science?” was: “I’m normal.”
According to Nagoski, while everyone’s genitals are made of the same parts, no two are alike, and what you see in porn has quite possibly been digitally altered to look that way. Is there an aspect of your anatomy or sexuality that’s made you feel isolated or alone? What would it take for you to let go of some of the shame/fear around it?
What’s up with my ‘sex drive’?
First things first: Emily Nagoski clarifies that the term ‘drive’ implies a biological mechanism that must be dealt with in order for you to stay alive (like hunger or thirst).
About 15% of women and 75% of men experience sexual desire spontaneously, while 30% of women and 5% of men experience responsive desire — they are aroused in response to sexual pleasure instead of in anticipation of sexual pleasure. For everyone else? It’s context dependent.
Nagoski suggests a more helpful way to think about sexual desire and arousal is to understand that there’s a dual-control model in your brain: Your level of arousal at any given moment is a product of what’s turning you ON and what’s turning you OFF. Use the worksheets in the gray box to the right and linked below to map out your own desire and arousal and better understand the contexts and circumstances that turn you OFF and ON.
How much does orgasm matter?
Emily Nagoski says that historically there’s been a lot of misinformation about orgasm — from believing that an orgasm was how a woman got pregnant to believing that all orgasms are pleasurable. Nagoski says it’s important to understand arousal non-concordance: just because your genitals are doing something in response to a sex-related stimulus doesn’t mean that it’s pleasurable all the time. Seventy percent of women sometimes, rarely or never orgasm from vaginal penetration alone, and some folks never experience orgasm but can still experience lots of sexual pleasure. In other words, orgasm is NOT the end-all-be-all.
Instead, pleasure should be the measure of your sexual experiences. Nagoski: “It’s not how much you crave it, how often you do it, where you do it, who you do it with, what positions. It’s whether or not you like the sex that you have.” What are your dominant beliefs about orgasm? Does that change when you learn some of the data? What narratives about pleasure have helped shape your understanding and experience about sex? What would it look like for you to think more about pleasure as the goal for a sexual encounter?
How do I have ‘the sex talk’?
Did you get a sex talk from your parents? Or did you first learn about sex ed in school? Whatever your first exposure to sex was, it’s likely that early messaging shaped your beliefs.
Think back to your own sex ed: what messaging did it include? What was notably left out? Do you hold on to any of those beliefs today? If you’re a parent, what do you want your kids to grow up believing about sex and their bodies? Would you feel comfortable bringing dialogue about pleasure into your ‘sex talk’?
Emily is an an author and sex educator. She wrote the book “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.”
Carin is a biologist, science communicator and author of “Wild Sex: The Science Behind Mating In The Animal Kingdom.”
Want to dig in further?
- Watch Emily’s TED Talk: The Truth About Unwanted Arousal >>
- Understanding The ‘Dual Control Model’- A Graphic >>
- Watch Carin Bondar talk more about sex in the animal kingdom >>
- Explore Your Own Arousal- What Turns On Your Ons And Off Your Offs? A Worksheet via “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski >>
- Learn About Desire From Your Own Experiences: A Worksheet via “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski >>