Am I Normal?: Sex Researcher Emily Nagoski On Attraction And Relationships

A life 2023

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Am I Normal?: Sex Researcher Emily Nagoski On Attraction And Relationships
Am I Normal?: Sex Researcher Emily Nagoski On Attraction And Relationships

Video: Am I Normal?: Sex Researcher Emily Nagoski On Attraction And Relationships

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Video: How Couples Sustain a Strong Sexual Connection for a Lifetime | Emily Nagoski | TEDxFergusonLibrary 2023, January

In 2017, we recommended you the book "How a Woman Wants" is a New York Times bestseller, in which researcher and sex educator Emily Nagoski answers all our questions about female sexuality and pleasure. Now Nagoski has finally arrived in Moscow - in May 2019, she took part in the "Uncensored" conference. We met with the researcher to talk about new discoveries, the impact of stress on sexual interest, the problems of modern women and ideal sex education.


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Sexuality and the "norm"

The most common question I am asked as a sexuality researcher is "Am I normal?" There are different variations of this question: for example, "Is the shape of my genitals normal?", "Is it normal for me to take this long to reach orgasm?", "I still love my partner, but there is less sex - is it normal?" ". I almost always answer, "Yes, you're okay." The exception is when you experience pain (unwanted). There is no single circumstance that makes you have to endure pain during sex.

Sexual interest depends on many factors, and the key is almost always not in the person and his brain, but in context. For example, tickling can be perceived in different ways: if you are in a playful mood, you feel confident and safe, and your partner starts tickling you, it can be pleasant - then the tickling can be exciting and lead to some kind of pleasant continuation. On the other hand, if the same partner starts tickling you when you are angry, the sensations will be terrible - and you will want not to have sex, but to punch him properly. Your brain is fine - it just interprets the same physical sensation differently depending on the context.

People are always interested in what happens to attraction in a long-term relationship. Imagine: you have just started living with your partner. You stand by the bed and take off the sheet to put it in the wash - and then your partner unexpectedly comes up from behind and starts kissing you on the neck. Most likely, you will think "to hell with the sheets" and very quickly find yourself naked on a half-disassembled bed. Now imagine: fifteen years have passed, you have three children, and at the end of a long day you are trying to change the bedding. Your partner approaches you in the same way and starts kissing you - but your reaction will be completely different, you will think something like "what are you, foolish?" or "you better help me put everything into the machine as soon as possible." You're okay - it's just that the context has changed, now you need different conditions to feel the same excitement.

Desire and stress

Our sexual responses can be described using a dual control model: we each have a gas pedal and a brake pedal, one responsible for arousal, the other for suppressing sex drive. Stress is one of the main factors pushing the brake pedal. But everything is not so simple: for 10–20% of people, stressful situations, on the contrary, increase sexual interest, and many more use sex as a means of relieving tension. Once I was counseling a lesbian couple, both girls were under a lot of stress at the end of the school year and exams. But one noticed that during stress she could not even think about sex, and the other - that, on the contrary, she really wants sex. And they came to me with the question "Which one of us is doing everything wrong?" Of course, everything was fine with both of them: I just explained that each of them's brain reacts differently to stress, and the only thing that can be done here is to find a compromise and try to go through the stressful stage without loss, in order to return to the usual life and sexual activity.A few years later, these women bought a house and had a child, so apparently they coped with everything.

If you were able to get out of the "fight or flight" state into a state of peace and safety, and your interest in sex has not returned, then the reason is something else. Several factors can be to blame for a decrease or complete disappearance of sexual interest: in addition to stress, there is also anxiety, frustration, loneliness, suppressed anger, physical health (for example, you are worried about pain or some kind of illness), the characteristics of your partner, the general nature of your relationship, the environment … There is also what I call the “playfulness factor” - a playful mood, that is, openness to experimentation. And the last - "other circumstances", that is, all other factors that could affect your mood: for example, children behaved like assholes, or today you feel like a loser in the fight against patriarchy. Chances are, if you go through this list, you will find the reason why your desire is at zero.

Planning and romance

The key to good sex in a long-term relationship is planning. And no, there is nothing boring about it. If this seems strange to you, remember the beginning of a relationship and a date - in my opinion, this is planning sex, and it seems very appropriate and romantic! You spend your time choosing an outfit, smartening up and getting ready for a date, fantasizing about how everything will be - why not do it in twenty years? Just add “Friday night, 19:00” to your calendar, make sure that no one bothers you, put on something that makes you feel very attractive, turn on the music, and go ahead: your body will remember how much you like this person and sex with him as soon as you start.

People resist the idea of ​​scheduling sex because it "kills the romance." But it seems to me that there is nothing sexier than a partner who gives up all other activities for a few hours in order to have sex with me - he could have a great time with Game of Thrones, meet friends or do something useful. work, but instead wants to be with me because I'm important. And we both got enough sleep, cleared our schedule and made a conscious decision to be together, trust each other and have fun.

If we just wait for "the mood to appear," there is a risk of waiting forever. You need to slightly stimulate the brain so that it realizes that it is interested in what is happening. Most of us have a bedtime preparation ritual (brushing our teeth, putting on pajamas, reading in bed, and so on), and I advise you to come up with a ritual to prepare for sex. For me it is a little physical activity, for example a walk, pleasant self-care, such as a bath, and talking about something intimate - in order to feel emotional closeness with a partner.

I borrowed a great metaphor for planning sex from a therapist I know: Imagine your best friend invites you to her party. You think “how cool, party!”, But then the day of the holiday approaches, and you start to doubt: “Damn, it's Friday, there will probably be terrible traffic jams”, “I'll be exhausted after the work week” and so on. But you have already promised, so on the appointed day you come. And have a great time! Agree, this often happens: you are not in the mood for a party, but when you come and start chatting, the mood appears. It may, of course, turn out that the people there are unpleasant, you don't like the music, board games are not interesting - and then it doesn't matter how you were, the party just sucks. With sex, everything is exactly the same: something embarrasses or dislikes, you feel that there is no trust - leave the party.

Shame and body

I have not met a single woman who was in an absolutely harmonious relationship with her appearance and body image. Men, of course, also have such problems, but women are much more acute and systematic.For example, men almost never consider the option of surgical intervention to "correct" the appearance of their genitals - and women easily go under the knife to cut off the "extra" labia. It is not surprising: girls literally from infancy are told that their bodies are not good enough and until they change them and fit the standards of society, they will be unworthy of love. The worst thing is that derogatory remarks become part of our inner world and we consider them necessary: ​​after all, if you are not making fun of yourself, you are “dismissed”.

This can and should be fought - fortunately, there are many proven effective methods that help get rid of the negative image of your body! For example, an exercise on cognitive dissonance: you stand in front of a mirror, naked or as naked as you can bear, look at yourself and write down whatever you like. It can be very difficult because at first you don't see anything good, but then you start: “Okay, maybe eyelashes. Okay, big toe is cute. " Every day you begin to notice more and more details that you like, and you develop immunity to the messages that society broadcasts to you. The second way is to deliberately introduce images that contradict the “ideal” into your visual diet. You need to look at images of people that do not meet generally accepted beauty standards until you stop perceiving these images as something abnormal (surprise - this happens very quickly).

The third practice is loving-kindness. It implies that you are not paying attention to external factors (for example, how awful your butt looks in this skirt), but to your internal feelings. You can imagine that you are a newborn child: he does not know what exactly is happening to him, but he feels discomfort and starts crying - then mom comes and helps to figure it out. Gradually, the child begins to recognize hunger, cold, boredom or loneliness, and later learns to cope with them himself. In the same way, you need to recognize what each sensation of your body means. You need to wait until your inner critics shut up and a small, quiet voice inside you says what he needs: patience, love, acceptance, or maybe just sleep.

Sleep is very important. When my sister and I were doing research for our book on stress, Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle, we found out that there is not only a “second shift” - when women come home from work and devote a few more hours to the housekeeping and children - but also the "third shift", night. This is how the researchers mean that it is women who will sacrifice their sleep for the needs of the family. From fathers, even the most sympathetic, no one expects this. Unsurprisingly, young mothers in the first years after childbirth are faced with terrible, debilitating sleep deprivation. So when women say they are too tired to have sex, that's not an excuse, they really are on the verge of exhaustion.

Emotions and hedgehogs

One of my favorite metaphors is sleepy hedgehogs. It's about relationships in which sex is a problematic topic. Wounding memories and emotions accumulate, and partners move away from each other - and sleepy hedgehogs lie on the way between them. You need to be very careful so that they do not wake up and start hissing, take each of them, understand what he needs, come up with a name for him and let him go. Every heavy feeling is a sleepy hedgehog. And you need to understand that we are discussing here rather not the problems in sex, but the emotions associated with these problems - and this is much more complicated.

Coping with premature ejaculation is easy. Coping with a couple's emotions about premature ejaculation is much more difficult. For example, a partner with this problem feels inferior - this is one sleepy hedgehog. Angry with his partner because she could be more supportive - another hedgehog. Feels attacked and criticized - another one.The partner doubts her sexuality - a hedgehog on her part. Believes that her partner is not putting in enough effort - another one. You need to deal with each of these animals. This is the meaning of Emotionally Focused Therapy: identify what emotion it is, speak it out, and transform your pain into a positive need. For example, "I feel insecure" is transformed into "I need you to say that I and our relationship are important to you." It seems to me that cute animals are a suitable image here: we are very sensitive to topics related to our sexuality, we are very afraid to open up and get hurt, we are afraid of condemnation. So the more compassionate and gentle we can be in discussing these feelings, the better.

Teens and sex

I grew up in a dysfunctional family, and it was not at all like that for me, but ideally, sex education begins in the family and continues throughout the years of school. At the age of twelve, at the very beginning of puberty, it is very useful to start conversations with children about life values: ask how they imagine their future, what role career, love, family and children will play in it. Such conversations - and there is not a word about sex in them - in themselves postpone the age of entering into sexual relations and reduce the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy.

Actually sexprove related to contraception, pregnancy, disease prevention is also necessary, but it is much more important to teach children to think about bodily autonomy. Explain that their body belongs only to them and no one has the right to touch them without asking. With teenage girls, we do this exercise: I bring large sheets of paper and ask the girls to lie on them and circle each other to get the outline of their bodies. And then they write on parts of the body, in what situations, who and how can touch them: for example, the fingertips are a rather public part of the body that we use when shaking hands, and only your grandmother or a close friend can stroke your head. So we think about what kind of contact is desirable for us and who can touch us at all - this is necessary in order to learn the principle of consent.

Science and plans

Now most of my work is speaking at various conferences and communicating with scientists. I am very worried that many researchers today incorrectly use terminology describing female sexuality and sexual reactions (for example, equating attraction with genital response, which are completely different things), this can lead to confusion in research and victimblaming in society. They often disagree with me, but it's nice that many still listen: I have a scientific degree, so it's easier for me to achieve a serious relationship.

Although I have been studying sexuality for many years, writing books and giving lectures, I am constantly learning new things myself. Each of the discoveries that I described in the book "How a Woman Wants" is noncordance (mismatch between arousal and genital response. - Approx. Ed.), a reciprocal drive, the gas-brake system - at one time blew up my brain, and I'm not sure that it completely fell into place after these shocks. Many years after the beginning of my career, I began to study what the hymen is, and I found out that not only does it have a different structure in different women, but also that in the event of a rupture, hymen can heal and return to its previous state. Indeed, this is a normal living tissue, why shouldn't it heal! But for some reason it hadn't crossed my mind before. In 2016, I learned that some women do not have labia minora at all: I accidentally read about this in a study where it was said that scientists were unable to attach sensors to measure the genital response on some participants in the experiment (usually they are placed on the labia minora) … Scientists have become interested in female sexuality not so long ago, so I'm sure there will be many amazing discoveries awaiting us.

Cover: TED Conference / Flickr, eshma -


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