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[00:00:00]

Almost none of the sex humans have ever had is reproductive, even before there was hormonal contraception. There was not a statistically significant relationship between frequency of sex and number of pregnancies. So almost none of the sex we have is reproductive. Its primary function for us as a species is as a social behavior.

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Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish and this is the Knowledge Project, the podcast exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that help you master the best of what other people have already figured out. To learn more and stay up to date on new episodes, go to F-stop Logush podcast. Farnam Street puts together a weekly newsletter that I think you'll love. It's called Brain Food. It comes out every Sunday and much like this podcast, it's a high signal, timeless and mind-expanding read what you're missing at First Stop blogs newsletter.

[00:01:03]

Today, I'm speaking with Emily Nagorski, sex therapist and author of the amazing book Come As You Are. Emily, As You'll Discover, is nothing short of incredible. And as you might have guessed, we're going to talk about sex. This is a different type of conversation than we've ever had on the knowledge project before. I'm going to warn you in advance that the language and subject matter of this episode is not appropriate for all ages if you're easily offended or don't want to hear about sex.

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Turn this off right now. If you have kids in the car or nearby, I suggest you prescreen this episode before letting them listen. If you're using speakers in an office or room or other people might hear you, you're going to want to put headphones on. Don't say I didn't warn you. It's time to listen and learn. The Knowledge Project is sponsored by Medlab for a decade, Medlab. This helps some of the world's top companies and entrepreneurs build products that millions of people use every day.

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You probably didn't realize that at the time, but odds are you've used an app that they've helped design or build apps like Slack, Coinbase, Facebook Messenger, Oculus, Lonely Planet and many more. Medlab wants to bring their unique design philosophy to your project. Let them take your brainstorm and turn it into the next billion dollar app from IDEO sketched on the back of a napkin to a final ship product. Check them out at Medlab Dutko. That's Metal Abaco.

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And when you get in touch, tell them Shane sent you. And I'm so glad to get to speak to you today about sex. Too. What's the difference between the vulva and the vagina?

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I'm so glad you asked that question. So the vulva is the technical term for the external package of genitalia that on the day a baby is born, if people see it, they go, oh, it's a girl.

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It doesn't necessarily mean that that person is going to grow up and identify as a girl. But it's very likely that on that day people are going to see that package of genitalia and start raising that person as a girl.

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The vagina is the internal reproductive canal. It's where our menstrual blood and babies come out. And if they're into a penis is fingers and toys can go in.

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In your book, come as you are, you talk about how males and females have more similar parts than we're used to thinking about. Can you expand on that? Sure.

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The thing I say over and over, I think in literally every chapter of the book is that we're all made of the same parts just organized in different ways.

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And one of the reasons why, for example, I think it's important to differentiate between the vagina and the vulva is because the names we call things shapes how we think about it. Right.

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So if I was trying to explain to you what your face was and how your face works and I was using the word nose, you'd get really confused because your nose is one prominent feature, but they'd be missing a whole lot of other parts.

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Right. So when we use the language of vagina, we're talking about one feature and ignoring a whole bunch of other important parts, like the clitoris.

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So the clitoris is the biological Humalog coming from the original, the same origin, same origin, not same function. That's an important difference.

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So the clitoris is the biological Humalog of the penis, but more crucially, the external part of the clitoris, the glands, clitoris, glands, is the Latin word for ACORN.

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No, I don't know why.

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Why? That's the word, I guess. But it's the Humalog for the glans penis, which is just the head of the penis.

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Is the head of the penis all there is to the penis? No, no. There's all this other stuff going on. There's a shaft that's made of three spongy chambers and there's all this skin that covers it. Same goes for the clitoris. There's all this skin that covers the head, and there's three spongy chambers that extend deep into the tissue. And in fact, for the penis, you can actually push down along the shaft and you'll feel how the shaft extends deep into the body.

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There's much more going on with the penis than just the part we can see on the outside. Same goes for the clitoris. There's like all this stuff going on deep inside. In fact, the spongy bodies of the internal structures of a clitoris extend all of the way down to the mouth of the vagina so that we think for some people, vaginal penetration actually results in stimulation of these internal parts of the clitoris.

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It's only when we begin thinking about our anatomy in these homologous terms that we really recognize the complexity of all of our different parts.

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What it also means is we're all made of the same parts organized in different ways. One other example of homology is the scrotum. Next time you're up close and personal with a scrotum, you'll see a seam that goes down the center. It's called the scrotal reify.

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That is where that person's scrotum knits together. But if things have been a little different in the chromosomal or hormonal environment, that person's body would have developed labia instead in a fetus that's actually called the labial scrotal tissue.

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It's all the same parts just organized in different ways.

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So when we look at the it's a girl package and it's a boy package, we can see that it really is all the same parts organized in different ways. But also, if we look at several different it's a girl packages and several different it's a boy packages. They are also all the same parts just organized in different ways. And there's nothing wrong or broken about any of them. As long as there's no unwanted pain or infection. They're all just different variations on the way bodies can look.

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One of the reasons I dove right into this subject is we seem we were talking about this a little bit beforehand. We seem uncomfortable to talk about sex. Yeah. When I asked people what questions they had about sex, I made it anonymous so that we would get a whole bunch of questions. People could upvote them. And I think we got better questions that way. But why do you think we're so uncomfortable talking about sex?

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There's I mean, there's so many reasons, like I dove into it, so I wasn't even thinking about it, and then that way we can, like, pull out now and making hand gestures and talking about penises and vulvas and vaginas and clitorises and vaginal penetration and oh, let's talk about fluids, too. Yeah, but people have this sort of like a quick reaction.

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Sex educators use this term squinch. It refers to just the discomfort, the withdrawal, the shock and disgust that we feel. 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.

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And if you're not really good at it, no one's ever going to love you. How do you make those two things work?

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They both make sex a source of fear and shame and need you to hide it. So Jonathan Hights, research on the moral foundations offers one of the moral foundations is the same discussed withdrawal, which is about purity and sanctity. This foundation is the one that I think is most involved in our reaction to sexuality and our fear of talking about it.

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It's sort of everything from like take off your shoes when you come inside because you're bringing dirt from outside to like I'm only going to eat clean the purity of our food, as well as cleanliness and washing our hands, but also sex.

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Basically, the body is base and disgusting and needs to be avoided. We need to rise above it into the pure sanctified realm of the spirit.

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Basically, the Purity Sanctity Foundation isn't just at work in sexuality, but I think it is the most powerful explanation for why we have moral reactions to just a conversation about genitals.

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How do we become more comfortable talking about sex, not only specifically talking about sex, maybe as a society, and then narrowing down to a relationship and talking about sex with your partner and being comfortable approaching that conversation.

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There's actually an evidence based answer for that.

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You start early, you repeat it over and over again, and you begin with simple stuff about relationships and, you know, like body part names.

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OK, I'm going to tell you two contrasting stories.

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One is of a woman who read Come as you Are.

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And then she tweeted me that she then watched her adult brother change his baby daughter's diaper. And when the little baby daughter was all clean, he went to get the diaper and she reached down and touched her own genitals.

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And dad goes, I don't touch that right. So what she learning in that moment that that part of her body doesn't belong to her to touch and do it as she pleases. What would you have said if his baby had a penis instead?

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What would he have said if his baby had touched her feet instead? I mean, we get, like, so excited when our babies touch their feet right there. Oh, you got your feet tall. That's so cute. But when this little girl found her clitoris, dad was just like, oh, no, she's not going to remember this moment.

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But it will accumulate with countless other similar moments so that by the time she gets to adolescence, she doesn't know where she got this idea. But the idea of her own genitals, disgusting, horrifies her and she feels like it doesn't even belong to her.

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Versus I was giving a workshop for a group of therapists on a college campus, and afterwards one of the therapists told me that her daughter, who was at the time two years old at the time of the story, was bouncing on one of those bouncy balls.

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And she goes, Mommy, this feels really good. And Mom says, yes, honey, that's your clitoris.

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And the little girl goes, My clitoris is my favorite. Right?

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So she's probably not going to remember that moment, but it will accumulate with countless other moments and shape how she feels about her own parts.

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So there's these two contrasting stories about how these two girls are going to grow up and their relationship with their own bodies, but then there's also how people feel when they hear me tell those stories. There are a lot of people who agree that it's nice that that little girl learned that her clitoris was a part of her body and that it was cute that she liked it. But they also have this on articulable kind of like, no, there's got to be something dangerous.

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And I don't know what's dangerous and wrong about it, but it feels somehow dangerous and wrong for a two year old to say her clitoris is her favorite.

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And this is a phenomenon called moral dumbfounding, where you can't describe the ways that it's harmful or why it's wrong. You just have this sense that there's got to be something wrong with that. I think the reaction of the parents is key, right? I know the first time my mother ever caught me, the only time my mother ever caught me masturbating, I felt so much shame on her response.

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And I wonder how that sort of like plays out through life.

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Yeah, that's when it became hidden and it became something to do. And nobody can catch you, right? Sort of. It didn't stop me from masturbating. It stopped me from or it made me more careful and more thoughtful about my approach. Did you hide it? Yeah. Maybe hide it.

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Yeah. I was in the car with my mother. We were driving home from the library, so we must have just been at the library and I must have seen it in a book. And I asked my mom, what's vagina?

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And I don't remember the word she said, but I remember the flash of emotion that she experienced sitting there driving the car. So what I learned in that moment was whatever this vagina thing was, it was scary and shameful.

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And I should definitely never ask about it ever again.

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So I went home and looked it up in the medical encyclopedias that were in our house, which is how I got most of my sex education as a child. Yeah. When it comes to what families can do to promote sex positivity and making sure our kids have a happier, healthier sex life when you have it has everything to do with that emotional reaction, like prepare yourself for using these words, the more comfortable and normal you can be when these words get spoken.

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Elbow fingers, vagina, penis, scrotum, toes, ankles, patellar tendon, like whatever. They're all just parts. And when you can react to them neutrally, what that communicates to your kid is I'm safe to talk to you about these things. It's not dangerous or scary.

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And if you want to talk about stuff, I am an OK person to talk to.

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One of the things that you're going to find listening to this conversation is when I was thinking about how to architect it, like what would be the overall everything in sex is connected.

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It is actually hard to sort of like write a book about it, thematic approach. So so we're going to appear all over the place. But it all relates to sex. And since we're on the topic, I sort of wanted to do media messages, but we're on the topic of messages for sex. And one of the messages that you acquire is the message your parents give you. Yeah, and I'm curious, like maybe two or three separate scenarios, like how do you talk to kids in the, you know, seven to ten range about sex?

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How do you talk to kids 10 to 13 and then maybe 13 above? And what are those conversations look like? Yeah, how should you.

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That's a great question that I can't answer. No, I do like I work with adults. Yes, of course. So like, I just have the generic like the most important thing when it comes to parents talking to their kids is that the parents address their own shit.

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What do you mean by that? Address your own stuff.

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If you're listening to us using all these gentle words and you're like, you're squirming, fine, this is fine.

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Yeah, like address that stuff.

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Everybody listening to this right now and their car is like squirrelled. Yeah. It's like no, it's totally nobody can hear what I'm listening to. Right.

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You're sitting on the bus with your headphones looking at people like do they know, oh my God, that is the thing to work on, not just that sort of quick gross out thing, but also cultural messages, particularly around gender roles, consent and bodily autonomy. All of us have absorbed these patriarchal narratives about like women's bodies don't actually belong to them. They're in the public domain for men to trade and barter, to put it in its starkest, darkest terms.

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The language I've been using for this lately is a phenomenon that we call Human Givers syndrome.

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It comes from a spectacular book called Down Girl The Logic of Misogyny by a moral philosopher named Kate Mann. In it, she posits a world where there are two types of humans. There are the human beings who have a moral obligation to be their.

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All humanity, they're human beings, and then there's the human givers who have a moral obligation to give their full humanity to the beings, to give their time, attention, energy, affection, patience, kindness, bodies, every resource they have is the rightful property of whatever being needs it so that the being can achieve their full potential, just which one the women are.

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And of course, that's a cartoon version of it. I'm married to a man who is a giver. It's not actually as simple as just women are the givers.

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Men are the beings. But the cultural script is very much let's get two people together. And if one of them is a human being and the other one's a human giver, what are they going to do?

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They're going to do with the human being who wants to do, because they have both been taught that the human being is the one who has the right to take whatever he wants and his pleasure is what matters. And the giver, his job is just to give the pleasure and do whatever it takes.

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So as much as I love like a yes means yes conversation about sex, like, for example, the term of the T blog post and video about how content is like t like if if you, if you. Oh it's great video. It's a really beautiful sort of consent one on one like you would if you offer somebody t and they say no, you don't force them to drink it.

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Right. And if you offer them to you and they say sure. And then in the time it takes you to make the tea and bring it back, they change their mind and are like actually not.

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You don't force them to drink tea, and if they have tea with you today, that doesn't mean they necessarily are required to have tea with you tomorrow or that they want to, like, wake up the next morning with you pouring tea down their throat. And if they're unconscious, they definitely don't want tea. It's very simple, like we can all understand. But with sex, it's different because if Person A is offering tea to person B person as a human being and person B is a human giver.

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Person B receives the request, hey, I would like to give you some tea, would you like to have some tea person B's role as a human giver is to make sure the human being is satisfied. And so they sort of feel morally obliged to say, yes, not just that, but suppose they're sitting there thinking, OK, so what are some of the things I want here?

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I want not to hurt this person's feelings. I want to tell my friends I had tea with this person. I want to see what this person's teacups are like. I want the milk and the sugar.

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But I don't want any actual tea. So what does the person say? Do you say yes and what would it take for that person to say, you know what? Not for me, but what I would really love is a couple of milk and sugar and to watch you drink tea.

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How would that be? Right.

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Only if this person if this human giver is freed up from their role as a giver of satisfying needs and not being afraid of disappointing the other person and hurting their feelings and not giving them what they want, only when they're free of that role are they truly free to say, here's what I would like.

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What do you think about that? In her very dark but important book, Girls and Sex, Peggy Orenstein tells the story of a teenage girl who gave a boy a blowjob because he wanted to have sex and a blowjob was the way she figured she could get him out of our house without an escalating.

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Yeah, that's sad. So that's human giver syndrome.

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And part of what the shit that parents need to, like, get themselves through is renegotiating these gendered messages around bodily autonomy and what it truly means to give consent and what a woman's role is in the world, not just sexually, but overall.

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That works both ways, too. I mean, less and less common for sure. Like guys need to be able to feel comfortable saying no and in a way that we both need to feel comfortable saying no in a way that doesn't sort of just not disrespect, but doesn't make the other person feel like you're not interested in something. It's just not comfortable. And you do that because I remember times in my own life where somebody said no and like I was brought up with no means no as you stop right away.

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And I've also been in this situation where I've said no and it makes somebody feel like you're not interested in them.

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And it goes through all of these sort of weird thoughts and feelings that people respond to. And they often respond in private like no is interesting, but no, without a conversation might be more devastating because then somebody walks away feeling, oh, yeah, how do you like how do you have that?

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Because you inevitably fill in the gap with all of your worst fears. Yeah. Yeah.

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And it can actually be worse for men and boys in some ways because they're taught that if there's any time that they don't want the sex or they don't like the sex, that they're actually a failure. They're supposed to be like ready to go all the time. They're supposed to want sex all the time. They're supposed to like all the sex that is available to them. And to say no is not simply as it is for girls to, like, disappoint to the other person and hurt their feelings.

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It is to fail as a man to it's a measure of your worth as a human on earth to like put your penis in any vagina that you can get it into and to have an opportunity to do something sexual and not want to like there's all these feelings of self-doubt as well as the relationship with the other human being.

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And that's a conversation that if you're two teenagers trying to have that conversation, that's never going to be articulated.

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Here's a crazy, interesting story from high school. That's true. I was dating a woman. I refused to have sex because we didn't have a condom. We didn't have a conversation about it. She ended up breaking up with me the next day because she felt like I wasn't protecting her and she felt rejected, which wasn't the case at all. And so this misunderstanding, 13 sort of like weeks later, she comes to school pregnant. Everybody thinks it's mine because we were dating.

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I know it's not mine because we've never actually had sex. And when I'm starting to tell my friends that the message that I was getting was like, what do you mean you didn't like you?

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You could have didn't. Right. And it was this weird sort of like that was responsible.

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I did what I was supposed to do, but but so that was my pressure.

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And I mean, like I would imagine girls have totally different pressure around sex that I can't even begin to understand you, especially in the late teens, early adult years. I mean, can you expand on some of those pressures?

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Yeah, the thing that girls deal with is that no matter what they're doing, they're doing it wrong. We were talking about like the different messages, like there's the moral messages we get from the religious institutions.

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And even if you don't personally believe them, there they are.

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Abstinence only until marriage, abstinence, referring explicitly to penis in vagina sex because that's what sex is. And people with penises and people in vaginas is what marriage is like. That's the wonderful thing about the moral messages is that they're like sex is a dangerous and disgusting, shameful sin that you should only share with someone you very much love.

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OK, ok, good. The moral messages are very much about purity. And protecting yourself. Do you know the used tape analogy, abstinence only sex educators in the United States will go into high schools and they'll roll a piece of tape with the sticky part on the outside and they'll pass it around and have everybody stick it one time on their desk and pass it to the next person and stick it to the desk of the next person and pass it. And then when they get back.

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See, this is what happens when you have sex multiple times as you're like not a sticky piece of tape anymore. And who would want to be with this?

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Like, you can use up in, like, dirty Suli permanently damaged your sexuality by having sex with anybody who isn't like a person that you're going to be having sex with.

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So that's the moral message. Then there's the media message, which is exactly the opposite, that you should be having 74 different kinds of orgasms. You should be able to Deep Throat. You should be having sex on a very regular basis. You should want sex all the time, ladies, and you should be able to perform sex. This is the one that was really salient to me in my adolescence. I learned that men really like it when women enjoy sex.

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So you should act like you enjoy sex or tend to be a giver.

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It was absolutely to be a giver so that he can be satisfied.

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I should be really confident because the men really love confidence in women.

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And so I learned to perform pleasure without learning how to experience pleasure. And then there's the medical messages, which especially you get these when you get the kind of education that's about like contraception and STIs and you see the pictures of genitals with enormous warts on them, which isn't something that physicians see almost ever.

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And you get taught that there's a sexual response cycle that starts with the desire, goes to arousal, plateau, orgasm in that order every time. And also healthy couples have simultaneous orgasms during penis and vagina sex. This is sort of like structure of how you're doing it medically correctly. And those are all a set of rules to follow. And unfortunately, a lot of the science for a very long time deeply misunderstood how sexuality actually works. Only in the last twenty, maybe thirty years has the science been drawing a more accurate and representative picture of how sexuality actually works physiologically and relationally for a lot.

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For a long time, up until early in the 20th century, doctors were pretty sure that a woman having an orgasm was how she got pregnant.

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Doctors have been wrong for a really long time, and yet these medical messages are there and we assume that they're right because they are the medical messages.

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So it's three different competing, contradictory sets of messages.

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The whore Madonna contrast that is usually how we talk about it really doesn't cover the complexity of the contradictory messages. But whatever we're doing, we're doing it wrong. Our bodies are the wrong shape and size. Our experience of desire is wrong. We're not supposed to want sex at all. That's only four slots. We're supposed to want sex all the time or else you're a prude.

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You mentioned Deep Throat. So this is like a great segue into porn. Great. Talk to me about porn and the effect it's having on our perceptions of the other gender. And I presume it's predominantly males who are changing their perception of what females should be based on foreign or what females should do based on porn.

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There's no correct a lot of research on this question because the people for whom this is true are still really young. Internet access to the porn were started in nineteen ninety eight.

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So it's sort of my generation which would be like forty ish. Now that would be high school for me. Is back in ninety eight.

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Yeah. I graduated from college in ninety eight and I think of people ten years younger than me as being the ones who.

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So if they're like twelve in nineteen ninety eight and they're like tits on the Internet and then they get something I never could have gotten when I was 12 years old in nineteen eighty nine.

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So we don't know yet what impact it has had. I do know that porn is really bad sex education. It's like this is my standard analogy. Learning about sex from porn is like learning how to drive. Watching NASCAR. Those are professionals on a closed course with a pit crew.

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Do not attempt like it doesn't show how sex actually works.

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And it's certainly mainstream porn in particular, like the kind you can get for free reinforces a whole lot of norms about what people's bodies look like and how they behave and what. Sure looks like they mostly show things that look interesting on camera, like the angles of people's legs spread really wide and like it's just so they can get the camera up in there and give the what I call meat and potatoes shot.

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But when you're a 12 year old, you're not like, you know, media literate, really savvy viewer thinking about like what made them choose that position. And that shot right there, just like that is a Pinas going directly into this one should look like my body is exploding. Right. And you're like, I guess that's what sex is. Right. And the same goes for girls. Girls are learning how to perform. Men are also learning how to perform.

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Boys are learning like what they're supposed to do.

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Yeah.

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And that's the or how they're supposed to treat women and what people's bodies are supposed to look like, including boys learning what their penises are supposed to look like.

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Yeah. And so it's not good sex education. It's not. Harmful in a direct way, I think most of the harm from mainstream porn is actually done not to the people who watch it, but to performers who are coerced or not given free consent to make choices about what they do or don't do.

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There's a lot of really bad stuff that happens in the production of porn. A very small proportion of people, both men and women, boys and girls, find themselves using porn as the technical term is a maladaptive strategy to manage negative affect. What does that mean?

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So basically, if you're stressed, depressed, anxious, lonely or experiencing repressed rage, we've all got it.

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And instead of, like coping with your feelings, you go masturbate or turn into your partner to build a connection for, like, love and support.

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Yeah, exactly.

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If if you turn not to your partner but away from your partner and just watch porn and numb out from those feelings instead, that's where you can develop an unhealthy relationship with porn. Many people describe this as porn addiction. I'm not persuaded one way or the other about whether it technically is that. But mostly porn is moderately benign. But it's really bad sex education.

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I think that's the most common negative impact would not have a huge impact on your relationship to if you're stressed, you come home and rather than turn to your partner and engage in something that binds you together at sex or conversation, you turn away and you go in private and you don't even know what the term is for it. Like you postponed feeling like you're. Yeah, you're postponing dealing with these issues by distracting yourself. But you're also at the same time now you're alienating your partner from this, possibly lowering your sex drive for interactions with them and weakening your connection or your bond with them and the partners feelings about it, or the place where this is different from all the other ways that we numb out and avoid coping with our feelings, because there's lots of things we do in place of this.

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Right.

[00:32:17]

With varying degrees of health consequences, people eat to normal, people work to numb out people, exercise to avoid coping with their feelings, which might be like the least dangerous, but can still be done in a maladaptive way.

[00:32:32]

People just watch TV, people read to avoid their feelings, like there's all kinds of things that we do. But because a partner is likely to have an opinion and an emotional reaction to the fact that what this person is choosing instead of me is that that can get really destructive. And the fact that you're in a dynamic where you're not talking makes it not too promising that you're going to have a conversation about how you both feel about the porn.

[00:33:00]

You write therapy. That's what therapy is for.

[00:33:04]

Um, well, we're on cultural messages. Still talk to me about monogamy, the rise of open relationships. If there's any sort of evidence that those create healthier relationships or if it's just the opposite, where they tend to cause anxiety in a partner or just go, yeah, there isn't any evidence.

[00:33:28]

One way of about them being better or worse, they're just a different relationship structure.

[00:33:33]

They work really well for some people.

[00:33:36]

My favorite story about non monogamy as a friend of mine who was non monogamous, all his forty plus year marriage and his wife with his partners, concentra with her with OK, yes, this is an open polyamorous couple.

[00:33:53]

They both have sex outside the marriage. They have relationships, full blown relationships outside the marriage. For decades, she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's and dies very slowly and painfully. And I can't imagine how my friend, the husband, would have gotten through supporting his wife, through her death without his other lovers.

[00:34:19]

He needed that whole community around him and with him and loving him as intensely as a romantic partner with the physical affection and everything that surprises me.

[00:34:31]

Maybe does that indicate that I believe and strongly believe in monogamy, that I like that that really indicates that you spend your whole life being surrounded by messages about monogamy?

[00:34:41]

Probably.

[00:34:42]

Probably usually when I'm asked this question, like at the end of a talk, it's in the context of our sex life is not going great. We're not connecting sexually with each other sort of at all. Should we just go have sex with other people? Like everything else in our relationship is fine. I have this I want my two of my friends do my best friends, like, took me out for drinks and we're like everything else in our relationship is great.

[00:35:06]

We're great co parents. We work at blah blah. Everything's.

[00:35:09]

Great, it's just our sex life, we can't make that work and I like gave them all the advice that there is to give, and they got divorced three years later and we're like only then could be like, yeah, it wasn't just the sex.

[00:35:21]

It's rarely just the sex. There's almost always some other underlying something or other.

[00:35:27]

Let's pause and come back to the relationship context.

[00:35:30]

So here's the thing. If you're interested in opening up your relationship, think about it this way. When you're just by yourself, there's you and your feelings and there's how you feel about your feelings.

[00:35:40]

When there's two people, there's you and your feelings and how you feel about your feelings. There's a person B, their feelings and how they feel about their feelings. And then there's how a person feels about Person B's feelings and how a person feels about person A's feelings and person C with their feelings and how they feel about their feelings.

[00:35:58]

Now there's person A, their feelings and their feelings about their feelings, person B, their feelings about their feelings and their feelings. Person A's feelings about Person B's feelings. Person B's feelings about Person A's feelings, person A's feelings about Person C feelings, person B's feelings about persons. These feelings person sees feelings about Person A's feelings. Person sees feelings about Person B's feelings, person A's feelings about persons. These feelings about persons be feelings persons B, feelings about persons A's feelings about person B's feelings.

[00:36:23]

You get where I'm going. I like exponentially more complicated.

[00:36:27]

What it requires is a whole lot of planned calendar time for sitting around talking about your feelings if you're not already good at calendar management and talking about your feelings.

[00:36:42]

Open relationships might not be for you, you know, the sort of idea of like, let's have a baby, that's how to save our relationship. Adding another person never makes things easier. What are the signs in your experience that an open relationship is going to sabotage things versus an open relationship might help things? What are the signs?

[00:37:04]

That's a really good question. When it works well is when people go into it with a profound degree of love and trust, trust in particular is really essential. Sue Johnson, the relationship researcher who developed emotionally focused therapy. I love her a lot.

[00:37:24]

Funny, I was with her last weekend. Oh, she loved you a lot.

[00:37:30]

So she defines trust you breaks it down to. Are you there for me? Are you available? And I forget what they are in the eve stand for. But are you there for me is trust. So if you're good at being emotionally present with your partner then awesome.

[00:37:48]

If you can expand that to other people then that's really promising.

[00:37:53]

If you're good at staying over your own emotional center of gravity. So like when your partner is out with somebody else and you know they're out with somebody else and you're experiencing all kinds of feelings. I had some clients, my master's degrees in counseling. I trained as a sex therapist, ended up not becoming a sex therapist because that's just not what I'm good at.

[00:38:13]

I'm an educator, but I had a client, a gay man who was in an open relationship and he was really struggling with his jealousy. His partner wasn't even in a sexual relationship with the people that he was worried about.

[00:38:27]

But my client was a doctoral student in French literature and he would sit on his porch chain smoking cigarettes in the rain, imagining all the terrible scenarios of like what's going to happen, basically, as my partner is going to realize that everyone else in the world is a better romantic partner than I am.

[00:38:47]

And he's going to leave me when he recognizes that.

[00:38:50]

So it's anxiety. It had everything to do with his own self-doubt, with his inability to cope with his insecurities about himself is what it came down to trust. Really, when it's stress in a relationship, it comes down either to like I don't trust that I'm a good enough person for my partner to stay with or I don't trust that my partner is trustworthy. Right.

[00:39:14]

And trust is going to get challenged and you have to, like, meet your commitments. This is my calendar. Management is so important. You've got to show up when you say you were going to show up, if you said six thirty, show up at six thirty or text and say I'm going to be fifteen minutes late because that's how you establish trust in a relationship where it's really important that, you know, your partner is going to be there for you when you need them.

[00:39:35]

And that's independent of multiple partners. Oh, sure, General. Yeah.

[00:39:39]

I mean, but when you open it up to other partners, it becomes you're like you have expanded the space where trust is crucial because that person is going to go like put their body and potentially their fluids in contact with someone else's bodily body and fluids. And then they're going to come home and bring those body and fluids back into the house. And you need to trust that your partner has done everything that you would want them to do to protect you and your relationship.

[00:40:08]

And again, I've seen it work beautifully and powerfully, and it can be extraordinary.

[00:40:13]

And no relationships are easy. Relationships are hard. You get confronted with all the shit from your family of origin. John Gottman uses the phrase enduring vulnerabilities.

[00:40:27]

When you get stressed, when stress, when trust is challenged in a relationship, people often have this one script they go back to over and over. And I can tell that I am stressed or that we're just having generic conflict in the relationship. When I go to any more help, I just need more help. Why should I why do I have to do everything myself?

[00:40:49]

Right. I need more help.

[00:40:52]

And the fact that I can recognize it, like I hear the script coming out of my mouth and I'm like, oh, wait, that's my mother.

[00:41:02]

That's not this relationship. That's just me and my bullshit. Right. And that happens to us. Whether our relationship is monogamous or open.

[00:41:11]

Right is the last thing I want to touch on messages for sex before we do a deep dive.

[00:41:17]

How are you going to put that noise in the transcript? Oh, my God. I already feel sorry for the transcriber because you're like person a text person.

[00:41:24]

Be like, oh, man, they're going to have a field day with. Sorry, no, it's great.

[00:41:30]

We're given different messages about actually we're given a cultural distinction and maybe I'm just giving my cultural distinction here. But like I assume we're given a cultural distinction between making love, having sex and fucking. Can you either tell me I'm like completely off on that or those things exist and how are they separate and what's the difference?

[00:41:52]

I mean, then it seems to me like that definitely is a conversation that they had on Sex in the City. I never watch Sex in the City, so I definitely did not get it from there.

[00:42:01]

I've seen like two episodes, OK, but it's a thing that I.

[00:42:06]

Like people talk about, I have read like no academic article, breaking down, making love, having sex and fucking oh, it was in the movie kids from like nineteen ninety five, I think where they're talking about like sex with words fucking is like really energetic and passionate, but not like emotionally connected against you.

[00:42:29]

Johnson breaks it down in a different way. She has solid sex and separate sex and three different things that start with S.. So here's a thing I've learned since I wrote Come as you are. People believe you more.

[00:42:40]

When the things you say rhyme make sense, they remember it better and they believe you more. So I made it rhyme. Ready? Yes. There's a lot of different ways about breaking down the different kinds of sex we have. Pleasure is the measure I like at pleasure is the measure of sexual wellbeing.

[00:42:56]

It's not about how often you do it.

[00:42:59]

How do you do it with what room you do it in what positions? How many orgasms you have is whether or not you like the sex you are having. So if you like whatever counts as fucking for you, do you?

[00:43:12]

Those are sort of like artificial distinctions on the same sort of biological behavior.

[00:43:17]

It's just it's not well, I mean, like so then we need to figure out what counts as biological versus what's some other level of analysis, because in a technical sense, the soulful emotional connection implied by making love that's part of the biological power of sex is it's a bonding, socially connecting behavior.

[00:43:42]

Almost none of the sex humans have ever had is reproductive. Even before there was hormonal contraception, there was not a statistically significant relationship between frequency of sex and number of pregnancies. So almost none of the sex we have is reproductive. It's primary function for us as a species is as a social behavior.

[00:44:02]

So that one specific kind of social behavior of making love, of bonding a pair of people together who intend to like, stay and maintain that bond over the long term, that attachment behavior is biological. There's hormones involved and like chemical changes, it's biological, but it's also social. And it requires a particular mindset where you go into it with a bunch of things turned off, a bunch of cultural scripts in particular turned off that this is sex about performance, that this is sex about reproduction, that this is sex that's just about like a notch on a.

[00:44:47]

Do people use that term still notch on the headboard?

[00:44:50]

I don't know. I know what you mean when you say it. So maybe so you come into being like this is an experience that's about me connecting with this other human being who matters a lot to me. And it's about the fact that this person matters so much to me. That's what I think is implied by making love and it's totally possible to have sex. In the absence of that, it is totally possible to just like put your body parts together in a noisy, energetic, athletic way, which I think is what is meant by fucking.

[00:45:22]

And I think having sex is putting your parts together and like a lazy kind of way, like you just just like here, this is sort of like bare minimum.

[00:45:36]

Here's my penis. Go. Yeah. See, that's the thing is I was thinking here is my vagina.

[00:45:42]

Exactly. Same thing. And I was going to say, do you.

[00:45:46]

But I guess what I mean is do me go to town, buddy her. Come on, get it over.

[00:45:54]

Hopefully not talk to me about the role of sex in a relationship sex monogamous relationship. Husband, wife, yet male, male, male or female female people. Very.

[00:46:08]

Not only do people vary from each other and couples vary from each other, but also people change across time and relationships change across time.

[00:46:16]

Tell me about some of the common ways that people the role of sex and relationships and maybe and then talk to me about how they change over time.

[00:46:23]

So here's a sort of standard narrative, is that early on in the hot and heavy falling in love, there's a greater frequency of sex, a greater intensity of sexual experience where you're like bonding together and building the foundation of what it's eventually going to grow into.

[00:46:39]

It feels very high desire, high intensity of pleasure, hopefully. And you're often using sex as a way to repair any potential damage to the bond. Like if you have a fight or if one of the partners goes away for a while, you come back together in a sexual way for sure. So that's the sort of early in the relationship. And then you like get together and and you realize this person, your plan is for them to be there.

[00:47:06]

For ever, and it's really easy at that point for sex to drop away from your list of priorities in life because you've got a lot of other stuff to do among the couples who sustain a strong sexual connection over multiple decades. This is the talk I'm giving tomorrow. Among the couples who sustain a strong sexual connection over multiple decades, they have two characteristics in common. Those characteristics are not that they have sex very frequently.

[00:47:32]

Almost no one has sex very frequently because, you know, we're busy. These are not necessarily couples who have wild, adventurous sex. This is one of my favorite studies. Just a couple of years ago, a study found that the best predictor of sex and relationship satisfaction was not how often a couple had sex or even like what orgasms they have, but whether or not they cuddled after sex.

[00:47:53]

And these are not necessarily couples that, like, constantly can't wait to get their hands on each other. Sometimes they are from come as you are. You know, the difference between spontaneous desire, which is seems to emerge out of the blue. Erica Moanin, the cartoonist who illustrated Come as You Are, draws spontaneous desire as a lightning bolt to the genitals.

[00:48:11]

Kaboom, you just want it yet versus responsive desire which emerges in response to pleasure.

[00:48:19]

So in a long term relationship with us, often looks like is like you got the child care and you put the last load of laundry in the dryer and so you tromp up the stairs because it's Saturday at three o'clock, like you said.

[00:48:33]

You mean the right underwear was do this thing. And so you put your body in the bed and you let your skin touch your partner's skin and your body goes, oh, right.

[00:48:44]

I like this. I like this person that's responsive.

[00:48:49]

Desire and spontaneous and responsive desire are both normal, healthy ways to experience desire. But responsive desire is more typical of that. Like later in the relationship sort of experience, the couples who sustain a strong sexual connection, the two things they do have in common, one, they are friends. They have a strong friendship with trust at the foundation of their relationship. There it is again, trust.

[00:49:12]

And two, they prioritize sex. They decide they choose it.

[00:49:18]

They believe that it matters for the quality of their relationship, that they set aside all the other stuff they could doing the child care that they need to be doing and the jobs they need to go to and other family members and friends.

[00:49:31]

And God forbid, they just want to watch Game of Thrones. Right. They cordoned off time just to spend doing this.

[00:49:39]

Frankly, sort of strange thing that we humans do of like rolling our bodies around and combining our fluids and like breathing heavily and like if you're somebody walked in and didn't know what it was, they might be worried about you because your facial expression, those are the couples who sustain a strong sexual connection. I know this isn't the story. We're usually told about what a satisfying sex life in the long term looks like. We're told we need to spice it up.

[00:50:06]

And if you like to spice it up, go for it. Novelty can be a great way to, like, keep the wheels spinning.

[00:50:14]

But ultimately, what matters that engagement with sexual novelty, like porn and roleplay and toys, those things are great if you like them, but the choice to engage with them in a positive way is itself.

[00:50:30]

Prioritizing sex, deciding that it matters enough for your life to spend your money and your time collecting those things and participating in those things, sex seems to oh, I want to add one more thing.

[00:50:43]

If people have kids, it is normal early in the child experience for sex to disappear from a relationship for any number of reasons, not least being that your sleep is going to be deeply fucked up. And we know that sleep is actually a predictor of frequency and quality of sex.

[00:51:05]

There was one study from whole 2015 that showed that adding one extra hour of sleep increase the chances of having sex the next night by 10 percent.

[00:51:15]

So everybody out there who wants to get some get some sleep, just get a little extra rest.

[00:51:19]

What are the other predictors of frequency and pleasure of sex?

[00:51:23]

Oh, there's like way too many. So, OK, frequency does not matter because again, pleasure is the measure of sexual wellbeing and frequency of sex is not a predictor of sexual satisfaction because people vary so much. There are some people who are like, if I don't get it every day, then I don't feel OK.

[00:51:39]

And other people are like once a month, that's fine or less. Everything works. It depends on the relationship.

[00:51:45]

Yeah, it depends. And everything is normal. Like you're not if both of you are satisfied having no sex. That is just part of the spectrum you do you so I'm not one of those sex educators, it's like sex is so important, you really need to prioritize it because there are some people for whom it is not important. Don't prioritize it.

[00:52:05]

If it's not important to you, I'm not going to make anybody. But for the people for whom it is important, there are six factors that increase pleasure.

[00:52:14]

The first is obviously personal, mental and physical well-being. The best predictor in particular of a woman's sexual wellbeing is her overall well-being.

[00:52:24]

So obviously, if you are getting over the flu, that's going to interfere with your enjoyment of sexuality. If you were just diagnosed with breast cancer, that's going to interfere with your sexuality if you're experiencing depression, anxiety, going to interfere with your sexuality. So mental and physical well-being, your own two is partner characteristics. And we don't just think one dimensionally about their physical appearance. We're also talking about sense of humor and like watching them be expert at the thing that they do when my husband's funny.

[00:52:54]

That's the main thing for me. And my sister is a musician, married to a musician.

[00:52:58]

And when she hears her husband practicing piano in the other room like that really does it for her partner characteristics. It's not just about like, what do they look like? And here it is again, trust.

[00:53:11]

Like I think if people remember one thing, they should probably remember this trust in a relationship, how much you trust your partner, how do you work on that trust and how trustworthy are you with them?

[00:53:21]

That ability to like the best way to get trust is deserve trust, right? Sure, yeah.

[00:53:25]

Yeah. And to give it. Yeah. And there is a relationship between trustworthiness and willingness to trust.

[00:53:32]

Setting is another factor that influences whether or not something is pleasurable. So some people really love having the same sex in the same bed that they've had sex every time for the last ten years. Some people really want to be in like a hotel room where they know they're not going to have to deal with the laundry. I met a woman who had vacationed regularly at this one very old vacation house and had great sex at this one vacation house. And one year they rented a house.

[00:54:01]

It was in the same town, but it was a different house and the great sex didn't happen. They have three kids. And what she realized was this house was so old, the bed was built into the wall.

[00:54:11]

So it made no squeaking noise. So she didn't have that distraction of worrying about the kids hearing the squeaking.

[00:54:18]

And so they're building a house now with a bed built. They're building the bed into the wall. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So setting those sorts of factors make a difference. And there's a lot of things that are very controllable about the setting. And it's easy to figure out what works for you just by thinking about. So like what are like the great sexual experiences you've had other life circumstances.

[00:54:39]

So this is just like how stressed out are you about the kids and money and patriarchy and just like all the other things, other life circumstances that keep the brakes on. And then the last factor is my favorite. It's called Ludic Factors, Ludic from the same root as the word ludicrus.

[00:54:57]

It means to play. So how free do you feel to play with your partner, to have fun, to experiment? They're actually I know we have these scripts in our head about like what order things are supposed to go in and what we're supposed to do. But the fact is, consenting adults are allowed to do anything they want to to each other.

[00:55:15]

Like if you want to fuck your partner's armpit, you are allowed to, with their permission. It's called axillary intercourse. People like it when there's names for things. So like, if I can be like a name for that axillary intercourse, do you go for it? If you like it, awesome. If it's not for you, don't do that. Someone asked me. What I really like is when my partner links between the arches of my feet, when the soles of my feet are pressed together, I couldn't find a name for it, so I made one up interplanetary link.

[00:55:44]

It's OK now that it has a name.

[00:55:48]

Go for it, like you're allowed to do whatever you want to do, so that freedom to play is the last factor that increases people's experience of pleasure with sexuality.

[00:56:00]

One of my favorite quotes is actually from a Dorothy Sayers mystery novel.

[00:56:04]

Her detective lord, Peter Wimsey, says that the worst sin passion can commit is to be joyless. It must lie down with laughter or make its bet in hell. There can be no middle path.

[00:56:15]

And that's what the research says is true. The reason these things are true is because of nerdy things having to do with rat research that basically say the way your brain interprets the sensation changes depending on the emotional state in which you perceive it, which we all know to be true because of tickling. I know tickling is not everyone's favorite, but if you just like, imagine you're certain special someone you're already like a playful, flirty, turned on kind of thing and your partner tickles you that can feel playful and lead to other things.

[00:56:46]

Whereas if the exact same certain special someone tries to call you when you're pissed.

[00:56:50]

Yeah. You punch them in the face a little bit and it's the same sensation.

[00:56:56]

But because the context is different, the way your nucleus accumbens Shell interprets that sensation is opposite.

[00:57:02]

I'm curious about something you said, which was there's a relationship between your ability to trust other people and your trustworthiness to spend on that.

[00:57:13]

So there's a when if you want to know the details about this, there's an amazing, very pretty technical book called The Science of Trust by John Gottman. It's one of his nerdier books that goes really in-depth into the science of trust and game theory research on it. But from a logical perspective, it just makes sense, because if you yourself are not trustworthy, like if you would violate someone's trust, you would then of course, you assume that the other person would.

[00:57:39]

So in the research, when they do the trust game, they play with money. But I will describe it with Cupcake's, if that's OK with you. Yeah. So the research experiment is we're sitting here in this room and the researchers have given me four cupcakes and I have a choice. I can take my cupcakes, go home, or I can give you any number of cupcakes I choose. And because magic of trust, any cupcake I give you turns into three cupcakes.

[00:58:04]

So if I give you one cupcake, you actually end up with three cupcakes. Right. And then I still have three cupcakes. And if I don't trust you at all, I'm not going to give you.

[00:58:17]

Right. And if you trust me, you're going to give me all your cupcakes, in which case your cupcakes. Right.

[00:58:22]

Because after I make a decision, assuming I don't just walk out with my four cupcakes, you then have a choice to you can take your cupcakes and go home or you can reciprocate and then the game is over.

[00:58:35]

That's the basic trust game. Right.

[00:58:36]

So if I don't trust you, I'm taking the four and going home and we tend to be tit for tat, right? We are. Yep.

[00:58:42]

The basics is we tend to reciprocate and the rules baseline are go ahead and trust until you have reason not to. But suppose, like, you know, I've been hurt in my cupcake past, but I'm willing to give you a chance. And so I give you one cupcake. You have three. Assume you're trustworthy.

[00:59:01]

What do you do if I'm if you give me three, I give you one. You end up with three. So I've got three and you've got three.

[00:59:08]

Oh I don't know. Thank you. Give you some bar do you.

[00:59:12]

Give me a cupcake. Probably, yeah. Yeah. So if your trust that way I end up with two you've to up with what you have. But I wouldn't be, I didn't lose anything. Be more inclined to like give you two is like a thank you. Wow.

[00:59:25]

So if I'm ever in a position to play this game with you again, I'm going to be more likely to try and like maybe give you more cupcakes. Right. But if I know this is crazy, I just met you, but I'm going to go ahead and give you all four cupcakes, which means you now have 12 cupcakes.

[00:59:42]

You're totally trustworthy and deserve the total trust I have given you. What do you do?

[00:59:47]

I give you eleven or should I give you six? You? Well, I would probably give you eleven because I'm still only a like a net positive because like, you know, we're talking to.

[00:59:56]

Yeah. So like a normal thing to do would be to like give me sex. Yeah. And and then I've got six and you've got six. That's maximum cupcakes mathematically from this game. So perfect trust. Right. Perfect trustworthiness, maximizers, cupcakes and cupcakes of course is here a metaphor for the things we give and receive in relationships, time, attention, love, sex, actual money, sometimes actual cupcakes. Let's face it, that's really interesting because as you were saying that I'm thinking like I always want the other person to end up better off, not necessarily equal.

[01:00:30]

So like when I'm thinking about like I want to give back more, I'm a giver. Yeah. Yeah.

[01:00:35]

So you've got to make sure in your relationships that you're with other givers who do like. The thing I do in my marriage is I know that he will give and give and give until he has nothing left because that's the kind of. And he is and we both have to pay attention and protect his boundaries and make sure he doesn't just use himself up and wear himself out in support of me.

[01:00:57]

Right.

[01:00:58]

Like, I don't live there because there are people who look like I'm really lucky. He's amazing. Super cute, too.

[01:01:08]

But imagine if I give you all four cupcakes and you've got 12 and you're not trustworthy, you just walk out and you're just like, take your dozen cupcakes and go home.

[01:01:21]

I'm over here feeling this is the technical definition of betrayal.

[01:01:26]

I trusted you and you just took everything in my mind in real life, like losing the cupcake analogy here, that it doesn't just cause untrustworthiness.

[01:01:39]

It's sort of like you are on the losing end of a transaction. And when you're on the losing end of a transaction and we're using transaction loosely, not necessarily in the academic or the economic term or sense of the word, you only exchange bide your time to get like you're inclined.

[01:01:58]

Not everybody does this, but you're inclined to buy your time. And then if that person needs help, you won't help them. You sort of like extract some sort of revenge on them, even if you're not doing the same type of it's like you're negative, just complicated and you're negatively coiled spring. Right. And you're just waiting for this person to mess up. And then you're like, you feel justified.

[01:02:18]

And yeah, you know, I was just having this conversation with my car in the car with my sister. We were driving to Washington, D.C., talking about her ex boyfriends for some reason. Oh. Because we drove past where one of them used to live. And I said, I hope he's divorced.

[01:02:33]

And the reason for that was because, like, I was we were very young. I was like a kid when this happened. And I was like fucked up. And he was mad at me because I hurt his feelings. And it's very satisfying to me when my early partners end up having their relationships and painfully, because then I can just be like, it wasn't just me, it's not just that I was. So there is a sort of short and bad side of human nature to like.

[01:02:59]

I don't know.

[01:03:00]

But revenge is not actually an evidence based practice.

[01:03:04]

It is only useful if you're in an actual, like, mob type situation where somebody, like, betrays you trust.

[01:03:14]

That was that was my terrible man.

[01:03:16]

And make him an offer again. Review. Right.

[01:03:18]

So what revenge does, it's not so much about what you do to the person you get revenge against. It's that it communicates to other people. Don't fuck with me. So it's a power play that's useful if you want to be in a dominant, controlling, pretty vicious position socially.

[01:03:37]

Otherwise, we are faced with the sad reality that there is just a separateness between dealing with the feelings we have about a situation and dealing with the situation itself.

[01:03:51]

In reality, when we are betrayed, when we get our hearts broken, especially when it is the termination of that relationship, we long for an opportunity to hurt that person the way they want them to feel.

[01:04:05]

We want them to feel the suffering that they inflicted on us. That feels fair.

[01:04:10]

But in reality, if we ever got that chance, they wouldn't give us that satisfaction doesn't provide that physiologically. That is not how the system is built. Right. Well, how will we have to do instead? We can do it in our imagination. We can talk about it with our friends. We can take that energy, that rage and the sadness and purge it in all kinds of different ways. Physical activity, sobbing, writing it out.

[01:04:39]

I have literally, like, written my breakup's as fiction, cried on my keyboard and been like there.

[01:04:45]

And then like I said, it felt like your feelings are mentally process. You have to go through the darkness to get to the light at the end. So that's what actually works for betrayal and heartbreak.

[01:04:56]

Speaking of betrayal, I do affairs happen.

[01:05:00]

Oh, God. All kinds of reasons.

[01:05:02]

Basically insert Esther Pareles research here like she has talked to hundreds of couples about all the different reasons why the main reason they happen is not anything to do with sexuality.

[01:05:13]

It's because people are getting needs met in that relationship that they are no longer getting met in this other relationship and affair for me technically means that this is a relationship that's happening outside the consent and or awareness of the other partner. I actually just talked to a therapist and researcher in Moscow who asked a whole bunch of women, so when you think about cheating, if you think there's anything wrong with cheating, what is it that makes it wrong? And some of the participants of that, the reason they.

[01:05:47]

Cheating was wrong, was that because it was a lie? Basically, this describes me to like cheating is wrong for the same reason that, like, you know, you said you're going to pick up the kids at six o'clock and you weren't there until seven thirty. And they sat there and they waited and you broke your promise.

[01:06:01]

And that's not OK. And then there's other people who feel like cheating is wrong. Because it means your partner has a place in their life where you're not allowed to go.

[01:06:14]

The researcher called it a secret garden.

[01:06:16]

So it's not just that they have a place where you aren't where they're hiding it, but you don't have to mention these women feel they should have access to every part of the domain that is their partners in a world.

[01:06:32]

So that's not me. And actually hearing her describe it that way, help me understand why my betrayal you broke a promise explanation feels so unsatisfactory to some people because some people are like, yes, absolutely. You broke the rules. You lied to me. You betrayed it. Like you could have talked to me about the thing you felt was missing from our relationship. And instead you just broke your promise to me.

[01:06:53]

And then there's other people who hear me talking about that and they're like. It's not really just about that I was the therapist in me wants to say that.

[01:07:10]

People are allowed people, any individual human is entitled to secret gardens in their life, places where no one else is permitted, permitted to go, and I don't actually like know what would an empirical answer be?

[01:07:27]

How would you even empirically ask the question, is it OK for a person to have a place in their life where their even their closest friends aren't allowed to go?

[01:07:38]

Even their best friend, even their marriage partner isn't allowed to go? We would have to look at the relationships and see like who's satisfied and who's not. I don't actually know the answer to that question.

[01:07:48]

It seems like one of the indications of stress in a relationship is that sex stops. Is that fair to say?

[01:07:56]

It can be, absolutely. So the way the sexual response mechanism works in the brain is the dual control mechanism, which means it's got two parts is a sexual accelerator, which notices all the sex related information, the environment, and it sends the turn on signal.

[01:08:13]

But then there's the brakes that notice all the good reasons not to be turned on. Right now, it tends to turn off signal. They're both functioning at a low level all the time. And stress is maybe the most common factor in people's lives. That hits the brakes. 10 to 20 percent of people actually find that stress can increase their interest in sex. But for most people, it may have no effect or else it reduces their interest in sex.

[01:08:37]

So because stress is so frequent and because it is such a common brakes hitter, it's often associated with a reduction in sexual interest and sexual connection.

[01:08:49]

So sex has stopped in your relationship. It's fair to say that you should probably have a conversation with your partner about what's going on.

[01:08:56]

Stress can come from all different kinds of sources and the stress doesn't have to be about your relationship, right, in order for it to impact your sex life.

[01:09:04]

It's certainly a sign that something has changed in the relationship. OK, that thing could be like a new job or a new baby or there's all kinds of reasons why.

[01:09:15]

Or it could be that like there's being a breakdown in communication and trust and sense of connection in the relationship. It can be and the connection is gone. Therefore, I like the sex as a byproduct of the connection. Yes, OK, that can be the way it goes. So if you're going to have a conversation with your partner about your sexual connection, there are some ways to do it that are less likely to result in disaster.

[01:09:38]

One is and this is the classic John Gottman gentle startup. First of all, you ask permission, is now a good time to talk about this or else like let's find a time to talk about it, because it really is important to me and I want to hear your thoughts about it. So one asking permission to the gentle positive start up of like here are the things I really love about our sexual connection.

[01:10:00]

These are the reasons why it's really important to me. Tell me a little about like what you value about our sexual connection, because, again, couples who sustain a strong sexual connection, they prioritize sex.

[01:10:11]

So like, what is it about our sexual attraction that really matters for us?

[01:10:15]

And then you can talk about you want to get the other person to talk about the things that they feel like are standing between them and the sexual connection.

[01:10:25]

And in the book, I use this very silly metaphor of sleepy hedgehogs.

[01:10:31]

And the reason I'm bringing it up now is because I saw this wonderful sex coach working with a couple sort of at a workshop and she had them stand up and she said so face each other, but put as much distance between your bodies as you need to feel comfortable and safe and good. And the low desire partner stepped back 20 feet. Right. Like the whole stage, just all this space. And the difficult part was not that there was all this space between them.

[01:11:05]

It was that that space was not empty.

[01:11:07]

That space is crowded with months of accumulated, like, well, if you really love me, you would are like, I don't know what's wrong with me, but your criticism isn't helping and you're not there for me. And all this like the hurt feelings and the conflict and the misunderstanding and the sense of isolation and the despair and the fear. And in the book, I use this ridiculous metaphor of sleepy hedgehogs, if you imagine that like the floor between these two people is crowded with, like all these sleepy hedgehogs, all these uncomfortable feelings, each of which has to be like picked up and managed with like kindness and compassion so that you can set it free so that you can find your way back to each other one by one.

[01:11:50]

Fortunately, when you're actually in this process, once you get the knack of turning for difficult things with kindness and compassion, you can take.

[01:11:57]

Did you know that the mass noun for hedgehogs is prickled a particle of sleepy hedgehogs? So you can then take like whole particles of sleepy hedgehogs and move them into the hedge where they belong?

[01:12:09]

When I was doing this in my. I'm married to the best man on earth who happens to be a cartoonist, and so when we were having this conversation in our own relationship, he drew our bed with a little hedgehog sized escalator.

[01:12:23]

So then there's a little hedge over the side of the bedroom wall where, like, we were allowing all the sleeping hedgehogs to help themselves to the hedge off the bed.

[01:12:34]

I like Bill, just switching gears a little bit here on maybe a bit more rapid fire as we wind up the show and the episode. What are some of the things that males should know about females and females should know about males when it comes to sex that you find? People don't often.

[01:12:55]

Yeah.

[01:12:57]

Someone to replace your language just for precision. So I used to say cis women and cis gender women as this gender men because we're talking about the gender binary and we're thinking about like the ways. Yeah. That gets communicated women.

[01:13:13]

I think no, but tend to downplay the extent to which men are taught that their value as human beings is measured by their sexual prowess, even if it's not what a person explicitly believes the cultural message is, your worth is measured by the number of vaginas you can put your penises in. And if you can't get your penises into the vagina because they won't let you, then you lose.

[01:13:49]

P.S. Women are morally inferior to you and so you are losing to someone morally inferior to you, and that makes you less even than a woman. These are not explicitly held messages for almost anyone. But the idea with Human Givers syndrome is that women are subordinate.

[01:14:10]

And if you can't control your subordinate, then you have failed in your masculine duty. Right.

[01:14:17]

And so there's this intense vulnerability around sexuality where to reject a man's sexuality is to reject something really fundamental in his personhood.

[01:14:29]

There is a wound that I think most cis het men are carrying around related to sexual rejection.

[01:14:42]

The. They will almost never tell anyone about. I think I mean, am I totally wrong? I don't think you're totally wrong. And we especially because the narrative of men is they're supposed to be like super strong and invulnerable, we sort of accept that they actually are super strong and invulnerable and not carrying around these like really deep, permanent bleeding wounds underneath the armor that they have been forced to wear all their lives.

[01:15:12]

Yeah, we're definitely taught to hide vulnerability and it's a weakness.

[01:15:16]

And yeah, and that patriarchal message is, I think the primary source of violence against women perpetrated by men is that they don't know what to do with all their hurt, but they know that, like, they can't control this factor in their life and they're so full of rage and despair and has to go somewhere. It doesn't make that OK.

[01:15:37]

No, no, no. But I will add that, like, I don't know what everybody else's life is like, but I do know like my friends and sort of you're taught to as as male as you're taught to suppress emotion, not to be emotional. And increasingly the message in society is like you need to be more and more rational, less and less emotional. So you sort of like disconnected from your feelings and you don't get practice feeling right.

[01:16:01]

You don't get practice talking about your feelings.

[01:16:03]

You don't get practice feeling your feelings. And I wonder, like the long term impacts of that.

[01:16:09]

Yeah, we are living the long term impacts of that and women get the same thing. The the specific message of human givers syndrome.

[01:16:16]

If you're a human giver, your job, your moral obligation is to be pretty happy, yet calm, generous and attentive to the needs of others. So you suppress every other emotion like little girls get hot.

[01:16:32]

Oh, honey. Oh, makes me so sad to see you with a frown on your face. Don't cry. You put a smile on that pretty face. Right. And what that saying is, when you're emotionally uncomfortable, that makes me uncomfortable and my comfort matters more than yours. So you pretend to be fine. So I don't have to feel discomfort. That's right. Right.

[01:16:53]

So really early on we're taught to like be like be the managers of the emotions and relationships. And what John Gutman's research shows is that women are indeed in heterosexual relationships.

[01:17:02]

The managers of the emotions and the relationship responsible for like down regulating the men who like we get taught something about feelings, mostly about how to deal with other people's feelings, whereas men get almost nothing about how to deal with any feelings, they're granted permission to feel anger, but don't get taught how to, like, express that anger in a way that doesn't hurt themselves or someone else.

[01:17:29]

And women are granted permission to feel sad.

[01:17:32]

Which is why women get to cry. This message is the source of white women's tears, so we use it as a racist weapon to this. I'll get so much more complicated when we add race to it. And we're a couple of white people, I think.

[01:17:43]

Sorry, I don't mean to like whether we like assume, but so as a white lady, like I know that like the my cultural gendered message that I'm permitted to feel sad gets turned into a way for me to manipulate and control the situation where I as a white person, feel uncomfortable, because sad is what I'm allowed to have.

[01:18:04]

And when I feel sad, everyone has to come take care of me. So this is not the direct. And so the answer to the question, what women need to know about men is they have this like really deep wound and they're not going to show it unless you, like, get to a really deep place of intimacy and connection.

[01:18:24]

Well, it's hard to like even the person I'm married to.

[01:18:28]

This is not a thing we talk about, like on the regular. Right? Of course.

[01:18:31]

What do men need to know about women? How much time do we have? So come as you are is one hundred and ten thousand words long. Yeah.

[01:18:40]

Without references and I cut an additional two hundred thousand words.

[01:18:47]

What are the main sort of things that men need to know or should know. Not need to. But like what do most men not know about women. That would make a big difference if they did know about women.

[01:18:59]

Every time I think of something to say here, I think, you know what? If they knew that about women, then they'd also be learning about men than themselves and it would help them for that to.

[01:19:08]

Oh, I think that is the ultimate answer here, is that we actually sort of like learning about ourselves through the question, by learning about other people that's actually called connected, knowing so whole thing.

[01:19:20]

It's it's in Chapter six of burnout. OK, so let me see if I can boil it down to one thing.

[01:19:26]

So emptying my brain, Emily, you have a chance to tell every to everybody in the world, everyone in the world one message about women so that you can improve the lives of women.

[01:19:47]

Imagine a world where a presidential candidate says, I can grab men by the deck when your celebrity, they let you do it. And. People were like, I mean, yeah, women, this sounds so I'm afraid it's going to sound condescending women.

[01:20:09]

Have the same basic bodily autonomy that is the right to choose when and how they are touched as men do. They have been taught all their lives. That they must. Make sure everyone around them is comfortable and happy, and so they will sacrifice their own bodily autonomy for your sake. And women need men's help to gain full grasp of our own basic bodily autonomy that we are not required to set ourselves on fire, to keep other people warm or to.

[01:20:55]

Sacrifice ourselves on the altar of someone else's comfort and happiness as a great way to end this interview. Thank you, Jack. No, not at all. Dark, thank you so much. The knowledge project is produced in collaboration with Jason Oberholtzer and the team it charts and leisure. You can find show notes on this episode as well as every other episode at F-stop blog podcast. If you find this episode valuable, shared on social media and leave a review to support the podcast, go to F-stop logged membership and join our learning community.

[01:21:36]

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