Pleasure is the Measure with Dr. Emily Nagoski – The Knowledge Project

Check out The Knowledge Project Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “Porn is really bad sex education. Learning about sex from porn is like learning how to drive watching NASCAR.”
  • If you’re thinking about opening up your relationship, know that…
    • Adding another person NEVER makes things easier
    • Doing so adds a much more complicated dynamic in terms of how feelings are assessed 
  • “Pleasure is the measure of sexual well-being”
    • It’s not about how many orgasms you have, how many positions you cycle through, or how many partners you have, it’s whether or not you LIKE the sex you’re having
  • “Frequency of sex is not a predictor of sexual satisfaction
  • The two characteristics of couples who sustain a strong sexual connection over multiple decades: 
    • NOT frequent sex
    • NOT wild and adventurous sex
    • 1) The couple maintains a strong friendship based on trust
    • 2) The couple prioritizes sex and believes it to be important for the quality of the relationship
  • The 6 factors that increase sexual pleasure:
    • 1) Personal, mental, and physical well-being
    • 2) Partner characteristics
    • 3) Trust
    • 4) Setting
    • 5) Life circumstances (stress, job satisfaction, etc.)
    • 6) Ludic factors (how free you feel with your partner to experiment in the bedroom and explore your fetishes)

Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Dr. Emily Nagoski (@emilynagoski) is a sex therapist and a New York Times bestselling author

Homology

  • “We’re all made of the same parts, just organized in different ways”
    • Take the clitoris – it’s actually the biological homolog of the penis (AKA it comes from the same origin)
      • The external part of the clitoris (the glans clitoris) is the homolog for the glans penis (the head of the penis)
      • Side note – For some women, the spongy bodies of the internal clitoris structure extend all the way down to the mouth of the vagina (thus, for some women, vaginal penetration results in stimulation of the internal parts of the clitoris)
    • Another example of homology – the “seam” (AKA the scrotal raphe) that goes down the center of the scrotum
      • If things had been slightly different in the chromosomal or hormonal environment, this part of the male would have developed into a female’s labia instead

Why are people so uncomfortable talking about sex?

  • “It comes from spending your entire life being raised with these weirdly mixed messages that sex is a dangerous and disgusting source of everlasting shame”

How can parents begin to talk with their kids about sex?

  • Start early, repeat it, and start with the simple stuff (i.e.body part names, etc.)
  • The WRONG thing for parents to do – tell kids not to touch their private parts 
    • Why do parents get so excited when babies touch their feet but grimace when they grab their penis?
    • Every interaction like this adds up and accumulates to shape how a child feels about sex
    • Shane shares a personal story – “The reaction of the parents is key. The only time my mother ever caught me masturbating I felt so much shame based on her response. I wonder how that plays out through life.”
  • Kids pick up on the reaction of their parents when a sexual term is mentioned
    • If the parent has a noticeably negative reaction, the child internalizes it
  • “When it comes to what families can do to promote sex positivity… it has everything to do with that emotional reaction”
    • The more comfortable parents can be when words like penis and vagina are spoken, the better 
      • At the end of the day, they’re all body parts – a penis is no different than an elbow
      • This then communicates to the child that you’re safe to talk about sex with and that the subject itself isn’t dangerous or scary
  • “The most important thing when it comes to parents talking to their kids is that the parents address their own shit”
    • If you as a parent squirm every time a sexual term is mentioned – you have some work to do

Human Being vs. Human Givers (and why sexual consent is like tea)

  • “Human giver syndrome” is discussed more in the book – Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny
    • Human beings have a moral obligation to “be their full humanity”
    • Human givers have a moral obligation to “give their full humanity to the human beings” (time, attention, energy, affection, their body, etc.)
      • In a sense – every resource they have is the rightful property of whichever human being needs it 
      • The cultural script is that many women fit this bill
  • Sexual consent is like tea
    • Check out this video
      • If you offer someone tea and they say “no” – you don’t force them to drink it
      • If someone has tea with you today, they’re not required to have tea with you tomorrow
      • If they’re unconscious, they definitely don’t want tea
    • Here’s why this matters – human givers often feel morally obligated to consent 
      • Once a human giver is released from this role, they then feel truly free to state their desires in a conversational form
  • Related – check out the book Girls & Sex
    • In the book, the author tells the story of a teenage girl who gave a boy a blowjob as a way of deescalating the situation (the boy wanted to have sex but the girl didn’t)
      • This is a classic example of human giver syndrome

Conflicting Messages

  • “I would imagine girls have totally different pressure around sex that I can’t even begin to understand especially in the late teens and early adult years” – Shane
  • “The main thing that girls deal with is that no matter what they’re doing, they’re doing it wrong”
  • Moral messages from religious institutions are all around us (no sex before marriage, sex referring only to male/female sex, sex is shameful and you should only do it with someone you deeply love, etc.)
    • Even if you don’t believe these messages, they still get to you
  • There’s also the message from the media which is EXACTLY the opposite (you should be having sex regularly, you should be able to deep throat, men like it when women enjoy sex, etc.)
  • Then there are the medical/sexual education messages which overemphasize sexually transmitted diseases

Let’s Talk About Porn

  • Internet access to porn started in ~1998, so it’s still relatively new
  • “Porn is really bad sex education. Learning about sex from porn is like learning how to drive watching NASCAR.”
    • Porn only shows things that look interesting on camera 
  • “It’s not harmful in a direct way. Most of the harm from mainstream porn is done not to the people who watch it but to the performers… There’s a lot of really bad stuff that happens in the production of porn.”
  • MANY use porn as an outlet for repressed anger or a way to manage depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc.
    • “If you turn not to your partner, but away from your partner and just watch porn, numbing out from your feelings, that’s where you can develop an unhealthy relationship with it”
      • It’s similar to how people eat to numb their feelings, work to fill an unfulfilled need, or exercise excessively to numb whatever needs to be numbed
        • There are ALL kinds of things people do to numb their feelings

The Rise of Open Relationships and Non-monogamy

  • “There isn’t any evidence about them being better or worse, they’re just a different relationship structure”
  • If you’re thinking about opening up your relationship, think about it this way:
    • When you’re by yourself – there’s you, your feelings, and how you feel about your feelings
    • When you (Person A) have a single partner (Person B) – there’s you, your feelings, how you feel about your feelings. person B’s feelings, how they feel about their feelings, how Person A feels about Person B’s feelings, AND how Person B feels about Person A’s feelings
    • Now add a Person C… ouch
    • Emily adds:
      • “What it requires is a whole bunch of planned calendar time for sitting around talking about feelings. If you’re not already good at calendar management and talking about your feelings, open relationships might not be for you.”
      • “Adding another person NEVER makes things easier”

When might opening up your relationship help? When might it sabotage things?

  • “It works well when people go into it with a profound degree of love and trust. Trust in particular is really essential.”
    • If you’re REALLY good at being emotionally present with your partner – then it might work
    • If you’re REALLY good at “staying over your emotional center of gravity” – then it might work
    • If you have extreme self-doubt and tons of insecurities – it probably won’t work
  • Trust WILL get challenged in an open-relationship

Pleasure is the Measure

  • “Pleasure is the measure of sexual well-being”
    • It’s not about how many orgasms you have, how many positions you cycle through, how many partners you have – it’s whether or not you LIKE the sex you’re having
  • “Frequency of sex is not a predictor of sexual satisfaction”
    • If both partners are satisfied having no sex, then it’s fine 
  • Sex is a bonding and socially connecting behavior
    • The vast majority of sex humans have had throughout history was not for reproduction (even before the creation of hormonal contraception)
    • Sex’s primary function for us as a species is a social behavior

How the Role of Sex in Relationships Changes Over Time

  • Early on in a relationship, sex is more frequent and of greater intensity
    • Sex is often used as a way to repair damage to the bond
    • Later on, sex falls from the list of priorities
  • The two characteristics of couples who sustain a strong sexual connection over multiple decades: 
    • NOT frequent sex
    • NOT wild and adventurous sex
    • 1) The couple maintains a strong friendship based on trust
    • 2) The couple prioritizes sex and believes it to be important for the quality of the relationship
      • (They set aside all responsibilities to spend time having sex)
  • Emily recalls a study which found that the best predictor of relationship satisfaction was not sex frequency, but whether or not a couple cuddled after sex
  • If people have kids, it’s normal for sex to fall to the side for any number of reasons (like a lack of sleep)
    • Adequate sleep is a predictor of frequency and quality of sex
      • Emily recalls a study which found that adding 1 extra hour of sleep increased the chances of having sex the next night by 10%

The 6 Factors That Increase Sexual Pleasure

  • 1) Personal, mental, and physical well-being
  • 2) Partner characteristics
    • Not only physical appearance but also things like a sense of humor or watching your other partner do what they truly enjoy
  • 3) Trust
    • How much you trust your partner and how trustworthy you are with them
    • For more on this, check out the book – The Science of Trust
      • The main premise – Humans tend to reciprocate trustworthiness 
  • 4) Setting
    • Some people like having sex in the same bed over and over, others like trying out new locations
  • 5) Life circumstances (stress, job satisfaction, etc.)
    • The way your brain interprets a sensation changes depending on the emotional state in which you perceive it
  • 6) Ludic factors (AKA how free you feel with your partner to experiment in the bedroom and explore their fetishes)

Why do affairs happen?

  • “Inset Esther Perel‘s research here”
  • “The main reason they happen is not anything to do with sexuality, it’s because people are getting needs met in that second relationship that they’re no longer getting met in their primary relationship”

Does stress in a relation cause sex frequency and sexual interest to decline?

  • Sometimes, here’s why:
    • Our brain has a dual-controlled “sexual response mechanism” which is running all the time
      • There’s the sexual accelerator which sends the “turn on signal”
      • Then there’s the brake which notices all the good reasons we shouldn’t be turned on – it sends the “turn off signal”
        • Stress is the most common reason that this break gets hit
  • ~10-20% of people find stress increases their interest in sex

What should males know about females and females know about males when it comes to sex?

  • “Women know but tend to downplay the extent to which men are taught their value as human beings is measured by their sexual prowess”
    • The cultural message to men: “Your worth is measured by the number of vaginas you can put your penis in and if you can’t get your penis into the vaginas because they won’t let you in, then you lose”
  • “There is a wound that I think most cishet men are carrying around related to sexual rejection that they will rarely tell anyone about”
    • Women need to understand many men walk around with these deep wounds
  • What men need to know about women:
    • “Women have the same basic bodily autonomy, that is the right to choose when and how they are touched, as men do”
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