Community Spotlight: Sexceptional Lecture Series – Dr. Emily Nagoski

Some people have asked me why I wanted to give away Come as You Are for this year’s #MasturbationMonth giveaway. This book is transformative, and I recently got to meet the author, and listen to her speak. Here’s what I learned.

There isn’t a huge sex positive community in San Antonio. It’s also a little disjointed. I don’t have the opportunity to attend many events here. A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Austin, where the Southwest Sexual Health Alliance was hosting its latest speaker for its Sexceptional Lecture Series: Dr. Emily Nagoski. The sex positive community there is much more rich and well worth the drive. The lecture infused many of the points made by Dr. Nagoski’s TEDx Nevada talk:

Everyone’s sexual response has an accelerator and brakes. Turning on the ons and turning off the offs leads to arousal, but many people have a lot of pressure to their brake system. Our culture can put pressure on our brake system. Our brakes are particularly sensitive to context. Sometimes, that context is how we view ourselves, and the barriers we’ve put up to protect ourselves. This is particularly difficult for the 1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men, and 2 in 3 transgender individuals that have had our sexuality used as a weapon against us. Yes, I’m in that number, too. Acknowledging that our bodies and sexualities exist as they are and can be amazing is confidence: knowing what’s true, even if it’s not what you’ve been taught to believe should be true. Shining kindness and compassion on ourselves and our barriers is joy: loving what’s true, even if it’s not what we expected should be true. These are the two keys to unlocking your own authentic sexual well-being.

A photo posted by DeAnn Cope (@deanncope) on

Beyond these two keys, we learned that sex is not a procreative activity. It’s a social activity. In fact, if you look at the data for the reasons behind why people have sex, and the anthropology of humanity, you wouldn’t know that sex leads to procreation if you didn’t know it already. Humans have sex to create bonds between adults of the species. This, in turn, secures more care for children. Adults have sex to build attachments. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that nuclear families became common place. Many people still live in multi-generational arrangements around the world.

So if sex is a social activity, it makes sense that we must teach each other how to do it, that we must know our own bodies to know how we want to do it, and that we must communicate with those whom we do it with so they know what is pleasurable for us. Pleasure is the measure with sex. With or without orgasm, the spontaneous release of sexual tension, it’s possible to have pleasurable sexual activity that builds connection with someone else.

We learned the homology of male, female, and intersex genitalia, looking at a variety of vulvas that are perfectly healthy and normal. In this discussion, we talked at length about the hymen and its evolutionary development. The hymen never “breaks” off, or “tears” off. You can be born without a hymen (somewhere else I read this is where human evolution is heading). Other primates do not have hymens, although elephants do have them.

Come as You AreArousal itself is partly a physiological process and a psychological process. Your body can and will respond to any one of the psychological responses, but when one of the psychological aspects is missing, humans experience trauma. In order for sex to be consensual, all 3 of these aspects must be present: you must like it, you must want it, and you must expect it. This is why rape culture myths are so damaging. The body can physiologically prepare for penetration, but if the psyche doesn’t want or like what is happening, the brain treats this as a traumatic event. No wonder sexual assault and rape survivors experience PTSD so often!

We discussed the “little monitor” in the brain that unleashes sudden burst of frustration when a goal we’re trying to achieve seems to take much more time or effort than we thought it would. This is what causes higher drive partners to become so hurt, confused, and angry when there is a sex drive difference in a relationship.

We learned that sex isn’t really a drive at all, technically speaking. It’s a positive reinforcement feedback loop. That means we engage in sexual activity because it results in pleasure. When the accelerator is tapped and the brake lets up, we’re able to go seeking it. However, some people drive around with the brake on. Sexy suggestions in magazines often only stimulate the accelerator, and when it’s the brake that’s holding us back, it takes a lot more work to move forward.

I learned some very powerful things, and most of these are in this book, and they are in easily accessible, easily readable terms anyone can understand. That is why I am such a huge fan of it and why I want someone to win a free copy.

I’m very grateful to the SSHA for the opportunity to attend this truly “sexceptional” lecture.

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