ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Emily Nagoski - Sex educator
Emily Nagoski teaches women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies.

Why you should listen

Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and the author of the best-selling Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. As she writes: "As an undergrad at the University of Delaware, I wanted some volunteer work for my resume, so I got trained as a peer sex educator, going into residence halls to talk about condoms, contraception and consent. Though I loved the brain science I was studying in my classes (BA in psychology, minors in cognitive science and philosophy), it was my work as a sex educator that made me like who I am as a person. So that's the path I chose. I went to Indiana University for an MS in counseling and PhD in health behavior, completing a clinical internship at the Kinsey Institute, then went on to work at Smith College, where I taught a class called Women’s Sexuality.

"That first semester at Smith, I asked my students, as the last question on the final exam, 'What's one important thing you learned?' Half the students answered simply, 'I'm normal.' I decided that day to write Come As You Are, to share the science and sex positivity that helped my students know they're normal."

More profile about the speaker
Emily Nagoski | Speaker | TED.com
TED2018

Emily Nagoski: The truth about unwanted arousal

Filmed:
2,165,525 views

Sex educator Emily Nagoski breaks down one of the most dangerous myths about sex and introduces us to the science behind arousal nonconcordance: when there's a disconnect between physical response and the experience of pleasure and desire. Talking about such intimate, private moments can feel awkward or difficult, yet in this straightforward talk Nagoski urges all of us to share this crucial information with someone -- judges, lawyers, partners, kids. "With every brave conversation we have, we make the world that little bit better," says Nagoski. (This talk contains mature content.)
- Sex educator
Emily Nagoski teaches women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies. Full bio

Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.

00:12
[This talk contains mature content
Viewer discretion is advised]
0
409
3466
00:16
My specialty, as a sex educator,
is I bring the science.
1
4825
4484
00:22
But my first and most important job
is that I stay neutral
2
10076
4041
00:26
when I talk about anything sex-related,
3
14141
2365
00:28
no embarrassment, no titillation,
no judgment, no shame,
4
16530
4222
00:32
no matter where I am.
5
20776
1333
00:34
No matter what question you ask me.
6
22411
3118
00:38
At the end of a conference
in a hotel lobby once,
7
26347
2349
00:40
I'm literally on my way out the door
and a colleague chases me down.
8
28720
3215
00:43
"Emily, I just have
a really quick question.
9
31959
2205
00:47
A friend of mine --
10
35061
1357
00:48
(Laughter)
11
36442
1151
00:49
wants to know if it's possible
to get addicted to her vibrator."
12
37617
3483
00:54
The answer is no,
but it is possible to get spoiled.
13
42085
3238
00:58
A different conference,
this one in an outdoor tropical paradise,
14
46284
3261
01:01
I'm at the breakfast buffet,
and a couple approaches me.
15
49569
3062
01:05
"Hi, Emily, we're sorry to interrupt you
16
53540
1909
01:07
but we just wanted to ask a quick question
about premature ejaculation."
17
55473
4794
01:13
"Sure, let me tell you
about the stop/start technique."
18
61092
3001
01:17
That is my life.
19
65025
1151
01:18
I stay neutral when
other people might "squick."
20
66526
3650
01:22
Squick is an emotion
that combines surprise
21
70534
3566
01:26
with embarrassment plus some disgust
22
74124
2958
01:29
and like, not knowing
what to do with your hands.
23
77106
2820
01:33
So, it's a product.
24
81688
1614
01:35
The reason you experience it
25
83326
1354
01:36
is because you spent
the first two decades of your life
26
84704
2587
01:39
learning that sex is a dangerous
and disgusting source of everlasting shame
27
87315
4175
01:43
and if you're not really good at it,
no one will ever love you.
28
91514
3444
01:46
(Laughter)
29
94982
1690
01:48
So you might squick,
hearing me talk about sex
30
96696
2762
01:51
while you're sitting in a room
full of strangers -- that is normal.
31
99482
3143
01:54
I invite you to breathe.
32
102649
1341
01:56
Feelings are tunnels.
33
104014
1555
01:57
We make our way through the darkness
to get to the light at the end.
34
105593
3199
02:00
And I promise it's worth it.
35
108816
1348
02:02
Because I want to share with you
today a piece of science
36
110188
2699
02:04
that has changed
how I think about everything,
37
112911
2341
02:07
from the behavior of neurotransmitters
in our emotional brain,
38
115276
3746
02:11
to the dynamics of our
interpersonal relationships.
39
119046
3466
02:14
To our judicial system.
40
122966
1635
02:17
And it starts with our brain.
41
125609
1532
02:19
There's an area of your brain
you've probably heard referred to
42
127165
2984
02:22
as the "reward center."
43
130173
1389
02:23
I think calling it the reward center
44
131586
1738
02:25
is a little bit like calling
your face your nose.
45
133348
2435
02:27
That is one prominent feature,
46
135807
2469
02:30
but it ignores some other parts
and will leave you really confused
47
138300
3856
02:34
if you're trying to understand
how faces work.
48
142180
2563
02:37
It's actually three intertwined
but separable systems.
49
145140
3420
02:40
The first system is liking.
50
148584
1811
02:42
Which is like reward,
51
150419
1152
02:43
so this is the opioid hotspots
in your emotional brain.
52
151595
2610
02:46
It assesses hedonic impact --
53
154229
2476
02:48
"Does this stimulus feel good?
54
156729
1540
02:50
How good?
55
158293
1161
02:51
Does this stimulus feel bad?
56
159478
1559
02:53
How bad?"
57
161061
1174
02:54
If you drop sugar water
on the tongue of a newborn infant,
58
162259
2747
02:57
the opioid-liking system
sets off fireworks.
59
165030
3000
03:00
And then there's the wanting system.
60
168682
1738
03:02
Wanting is mediated
by this vast dopaminergic network
61
170444
3794
03:06
in and beyond the emotional brain.
62
174262
2056
03:08
It motivates us to move toward
or away from a stimulus.
63
176342
4273
03:13
Wanting is more like your toddler,
following you around,
64
181339
2636
03:15
asking for another cookie.
65
183999
1547
03:17
So wanting and liking are related.
66
185570
2200
03:20
They are not identical.
67
188221
1404
03:21
And the third system is learning.
68
189974
2175
03:24
Learning is Pavlov's dogs.
69
192173
1531
03:25
You remember Pavlov?
70
193728
1334
03:27
He makes dogs salivate
in response to a bell.
71
195086
2118
03:29
It's easy, you give a dog food,
salivates automatically,
72
197228
2663
03:31
and you ring a bell.
73
199915
1175
03:33
Food, salivate, bell.
74
201114
1160
03:34
Food, bell, salivate.
75
202298
1573
03:35
Bell, salivate.
76
203895
1412
03:38
Does that salivation mean
that the dog wants to eat the bell?
77
206656
4108
03:44
Does it mean that the dog
finds the bell delicious?
78
212529
2984
03:48
No.
79
216322
1152
03:49
What Pavlov did
was make the bell food-related.
80
217498
4123
03:54
When we see this separateness
of wanting, liking and learning,
81
222522
3484
03:58
this is where we find
an explanatory framework
82
226030
2635
04:00
for understanding what researchers call
arousal nonconcordance.
83
228689
3968
04:04
Nonconcordance, very simply,
84
232681
1563
04:06
is when there is a lack
of predictive relationship
85
234268
2642
04:08
between your physiological
response, like salivation,
86
236934
2961
04:11
and your subjective experience
of pleasure and desire.
87
239919
3306
04:16
That happens in every emotional
and motivational system that we have,
88
244379
4341
04:20
including sex.
89
248744
1150
04:22
Research over the last 30 years
90
250378
1486
04:23
has found that genital
blood flow can increase
91
251888
2716
04:26
in response to sex-related stimuli
92
254628
2822
04:29
even if those sex-related stimuli
are not also associated
93
257474
3031
04:32
with the subjective experience
of wanting and liking.
94
260529
3120
04:35
In fact, the predictive relationship
95
263673
2095
04:37
between genital response
and subjective experience
96
265792
2357
04:40
is between 10 and 50 percent.
97
268173
3570
04:43
Which is an enormous range.
98
271767
2962
04:46
You just can't predict necessarily
99
274753
3406
04:50
how a person feels
about that sex-related stimulus
100
278183
3036
04:53
just by looking
at their genital blood flow.
101
281243
2175
04:55
When I explained this to my husband,
he gave me the best possible example.
102
283839
3499
04:59
He was like,
103
287362
1182
05:00
"So, that could explain this one time,
when I was in high school, I ...
104
288568
4041
05:04
I got an erection in response
to the phrase 'doughnut hole.'"
105
292633
3031
05:07
(Laughter)
106
295688
1492
05:09
Did he want to have sex with the doughnut?
107
297204
2000
05:11
No.
108
299744
1158
05:12
He was a teenage boy
flooded with testosterone,
109
300926
2969
05:15
which makes everything
a little bit sex-related.
110
303919
2809
05:18
And it can go in both directions.
111
306752
1587
05:20
A person with a penis may struggle
to get an erection one evening,
112
308363
3619
05:24
and then wake up the very next
morning with an erection,
113
312006
2635
05:26
when it's nothing but a hassle.
114
314665
2066
05:29
I got a phone call from
a 30-something friend, a woman,
115
317284
2603
05:31
she said, "So, my partner and I
were in the middle of doing some things
116
319911
3414
05:35
and I was like, 'I want you right now.'
117
323349
1898
05:37
And he said, 'No, you're still dry,
you're just being nice.'
118
325271
4047
05:42
And I was so ready.
119
330108
1501
05:43
So what's the matter, is it hormonal,
should I talk to a doctor,
120
331633
3016
05:46
what's going on?"
121
334673
1180
05:47
Answer?
122
335877
1175
05:49
It's arousal nonconcordance.
123
337076
1437
05:50
If you're experiencing unwanted pain,
talk to a medical provider.
124
338537
3408
05:54
Otherwise -- arousal nonconcordance.
125
342260
2047
05:56
Your genital behavior
just doesn't necessarily predict
126
344331
2984
05:59
your subjective experience
of liking and wanting.
127
347339
3251
06:02
Another friend, back in college,
128
350614
1524
06:04
told me about her first experiences
of power play in a sexual relationship.
129
352162
3540
06:07
She told me that her partner tied her up
130
355726
1936
06:09
with her arms over her head like this,
she's standing up and he positions her
131
357686
3645
06:13
so she's straddling a bar, presses up
against her clitoris, like this.
132
361355
3405
06:16
So there's my friend, standing there,
and the guy leaves.
133
364784
2706
06:19
It's a power play.
134
367514
1206
06:20
Leaves her alone.
135
368744
1151
06:21
So there's my friend, and she goes,
136
369919
2293
06:24
"I'm bored."
137
372236
1198
06:25
(Laughter)
138
373458
1215
06:26
And the guy comes back
and she says, "I am bored."
139
374697
3062
06:30
And he looks at her
and he looks at the bar
140
378569
2017
06:32
and he says, "Then why are you wet?"
141
380610
2403
06:36
Why was she wet?
142
384129
1150
06:38
Is it sex-related to have pressure
directly against your clitoris?
143
386700
3731
06:42
Yeah.
144
390455
1158
06:43
Does that tell him whether
she wants or likes what's happening?
145
391637
3206
06:47
Nope.
146
395835
1333
06:49
What does tell him whether
she wants or likes what's happening?
147
397192
3553
06:54
She does!
148
402216
1159
06:55
She recognized and articulated
what she wanted and liked.
149
403399
3742
06:59
All he had to do was listen to her words.
150
407471
2952
07:02
My friend on the phone --
what's the solution?
151
410447
3357
07:05
You tell your partner,
"Listen to your words."
152
413828
3309
07:09
Also, buy some lube.
153
417498
1333
07:11
(Laughter)
154
419561
1929
07:13
(Applause)
155
421514
1436
07:14
Applause for lube, absolutely.
156
422974
1871
07:16
(Applause)
157
424869
1430
07:18
Everyone, everywhere.
158
426323
1400
07:20
But I want to tell you a darker
listen-to-her-words story.
159
428855
3048
07:23
This one comes from a note
that a student sent me
160
431927
2523
07:26
after I gave a lecture
about arousal nonconcordance.
161
434474
2500
07:28
She was with a partner,
a new partner, glad to be doing things,
162
436998
3405
07:32
and they reached a point
163
440427
1151
07:33
where that was as far
as she was interested in going
164
441602
2446
07:36
and so she said no.
165
444072
1151
07:37
And the partner said, "No, you're wet,
you're so ready, don't be shy."
166
445247
4085
07:42
Shy?
167
450434
1150
07:43
As if it hadn't taken all the courage
and confidence she had
168
451927
3468
07:47
to say no to someone she liked.
169
455419
2158
07:49
Whose feelings she did not want to hurt.
170
457926
2234
07:52
But she said it again.
171
460942
1467
07:55
She said no.
172
463355
1150
07:57
Did he listen to her words?
173
465728
1800
08:01
In the age of Me Too
and Time's Up, people ask me,
174
469768
4087
08:05
"How do I even know
what my partner wants and likes?
175
473879
2452
08:08
Is all consent to be verbal
and contractual now?"
176
476355
2468
08:10
There are times when consent is ambiguous
177
478847
1994
08:12
and we need a large-scale
cultural conversation about that.
178
480865
4112
08:17
But can we make sure we're noticing
how clear consent is
179
485001
3989
08:21
if we eliminate this myth?
180
489014
2087
08:23
In every example I've described so far,
181
491125
2190
08:25
one partner recognized and articulated
what they wanted and liked:
182
493339
3833
08:29
"I want you right now."
183
497196
1810
08:31
"No."
184
499030
1150
08:32
And their partner told them
they were wrong.
185
500657
2137
08:35
It's gaslighting.
186
503612
1405
08:37
Profound and degrading.
187
505041
2095
08:39
You say you feel one way,
188
507160
1219
08:40
but your body proves
that you feel something else.
189
508403
3198
08:43
And we only do this around sexuality,
190
511625
2571
08:46
because arousal nonconcordance
191
514220
1476
08:47
happens with every emotional
and motivational system we have.
192
515720
2866
08:50
If my mouth waters
when I bite into a wormy apple,
193
518610
4285
08:54
does anybody say to me,
194
522919
1730
08:56
"You said no, but your body said yes?"
195
524673
2587
08:59
(Laughter)
196
527284
1682
09:00
And it's not only our partners
who get it wrong.
197
528990
2388
09:03
The National Judicial Education Program
published a document
198
531823
2853
09:06
called "Judges Tell: What I Wish
I Had Known Before I Presided
199
534700
4472
09:11
in a Case of an Adult Victim
of Sexual Assault."
200
539196
2575
09:14
Number 13:
201
542434
1286
09:15
On occasion, the victim, female or male,
may experience a physical response,
202
543744
4309
09:20
but this is not a sexual response
in the sense of desire or mutuality."
203
548077
4214
09:24
This brings me one step closer
into the darkness,
204
552315
2310
09:26
and then I promise
we will find our way into the light.
205
554649
2603
09:29
I'm thinking of a recent court case
involving multiple instances
206
557276
3008
09:32
of non-consensual sexual contact.
207
560308
1817
09:34
Imagine you're on the jury
208
562149
1722
09:35
and you learn that the victim had orgasms.
209
563895
2800
09:39
Does it change how your gut
responds to the case?
210
567403
2370
09:42
Let me remind you,
orgasm is physiological;
211
570735
2016
09:44
it is a spontaneous,
involuntary release of tension,
212
572775
2444
09:47
generated in response
to sex-related stimuli.
213
575243
2873
09:51
But the perpetrator’s lawyer made sure
the jury knew about those orgasms
214
579434
4095
09:55
because he thought the orgasms
could be construed as consent.
215
583553
3511
10:00
I will also add that this was a child
being abused by an adult in the family.
216
588674
3666
10:04
I invite you to breathe.
217
592674
1600
10:06
That kind of story can give a person
all kind of feelings,
218
594682
2777
10:09
from rage to shame to confused arousal
219
597483
3579
10:13
because it is sex-related,
220
601086
1904
10:15
even though it is appalling.
221
603014
2253
10:19
But even though I know it's difficult
222
607069
2691
10:21
to sit with those feelings
in a room full of strangers,
223
609784
2587
10:24
if we can find our way through
all of the messy feelings,
224
612395
3269
10:27
I believe we will find our way
to the light of compassion
225
615688
4532
10:32
for that child,
226
620244
2000
10:34
whose relationship
with her body was damaged
227
622268
2564
10:36
by an adult whose job it was
to protect it.
228
624856
2498
10:40
And we'll find hope
that there was a trustworthy adult
229
628561
4095
10:44
who could say, "Genital response
230
632680
1730
10:46
just means it was a sex-related stimulus;
doesn't mean it was wanted or liked,
231
634434
3699
10:50
certainly doesn't mean
it was consented to.
232
638157
2071
10:53
(Applause)
233
641124
5130
10:58
That compassion and that hope
are why I travel all over,
234
646278
4998
11:03
talking about this
to anyone who will listen.
235
651300
2110
11:05
I can see it helping people,
even as I say the words.
236
653434
3968
11:11
I invite you to say the words.
237
659354
3031
11:15
You don't have to say "clitoris"
in front of 1000 strangers.
238
663544
2928
11:18
But do have one brave conversation.
239
666783
3499
11:22
Tell this to someone you know
who has experienced sexual violence --
240
670306
3191
11:25
you definitely know someone.
241
673521
1334
11:26
In the US it's one in three women.
242
674879
2174
11:29
One in six men.
243
677077
1889
11:30
Almost half of transgender folks.
244
678990
2666
11:33
Say "Genital response means
it's a sex-related stimulus.
245
681680
3342
11:37
It doesn't mean it was wanted or liked."
246
685046
1999
11:39
Say it to a judge you know
or a lawyer you know,
247
687530
2779
11:42
or a cop or anyone who might sit
on a jury in a sexual assault case.
248
690333
3899
11:46
Say "Some people think
that your body doesn't respond
249
694256
2588
11:48
if you don't want
or like what's happening,
250
696868
2614
11:51
if only that were true.
251
699506
1397
11:52
Instead, arousal nonconcordance.
252
700927
2634
11:55
Say this to the confused
teenager in your life
253
703585
3278
11:58
who is just trying to figure out
what, even, what?
254
706887
4038
12:03
Say, if you bite this moldy fruit
and your mouth waters,
255
711244
5627
12:08
nobody would say to you,
256
716895
1373
12:10
"Well, you just don't want to admit
how much you like it."
257
718292
3245
12:13
Same goes for down below,
arousal nonconcordance.
258
721561
3063
12:17
Say it to your partner.
259
725387
1533
12:19
My genitals do not tell you
what I want or like.
260
727244
2842
12:22
I do.
261
730823
1150
12:24
(Applause)
262
732813
5434
12:30
The roots of this myth are deep
263
738271
1492
12:31
and they are entangled with some
very dark forces in our culture.
264
739787
3277
12:35
But with every brave conversation we have,
265
743088
3545
12:38
we make the world
that little bit better, a little simpler
266
746657
2738
12:41
for the confused teenager.
267
749419
1733
12:43
A little easier for your friend
on the phone, worried that she's broken.
268
751458
3444
12:48
A little easier and safer
269
756363
2872
12:51
for the survivors, one in three women.
270
759259
2643
12:53
One in six men.
271
761926
1150
12:55
Half of trans folks.
272
763648
1933
12:58
Me too.
273
766633
1150
13:00
So for every brave conversation you have,
274
768514
2464
13:04
thank you.
275
772601
1151
13:05
(Applause)
276
773776
6944
13:13
Thank you.
277
781268
1150
13:15
Thanks.
278
783379
1182
13:16
(Applause)
279
784585
3175
13:20
Helen Walters: Emily, come up here.
280
788232
1833
13:22
Thank you so much.
281
790089
1246
13:23
I know that you do this all the time,
282
791645
1828
13:25
and yet, still, I'm so grateful to you
for having the courage
283
793497
3326
13:28
to come and talk about that on this stage.
284
796847
2016
13:30
It really took a lot
and we're very grateful to you.
285
798887
2444
13:33
So thank you.
286
801355
1178
13:34
Emily Nagoski: I am grateful to be here.
287
802557
1917
13:36
HW: So in your regular day job,
288
804498
1603
13:38
I imagine, as you put
at the top of the talk,
289
806125
2096
13:40
you get asked a lot of questions.
290
808245
1594
13:41
But what's the one question
that you get asked all the time
291
809863
3611
13:45
that you can share with everyone here
so you don't have to answer it 1000 times
292
813498
4508
13:50
throughout the rest of the week?
293
818030
1539
13:51
EN: The question I get asked most often
294
819895
1896
13:53
is actually the question underneath
pretty much all the other questions,
295
821815
3405
13:57
so, can you get addicted to your vibrator,
296
825244
2039
13:59
please help me
with my erectile dysfunction?
297
827307
2080
14:01
Underneath every question is actually
the question, "Am I normal?"
298
829411
3102
14:04
To which my answer in my mind is,
299
832839
2381
14:07
what even is normal and why is that
what you want your sexuality to be?
300
835244
4192
14:11
Why do we only want to be normal
around sexuality?
301
839942
2341
14:14
Don't we want to be extraordinary?
302
842307
1849
14:16
Like, do you just want normal sex
or do you want awesome sex in your life?
303
844180
3810
14:20
I think, though, there's a lot of fear
304
848014
2460
14:22
around being too different sexually.
305
850498
2167
14:24
When people are asking me,
306
852689
1539
14:26
"Is this thing I'm experiencing normal,"
307
854252
1921
14:28
what they're actually
asking me is, "Do I belong?"
308
856197
3397
14:31
Do I belong in this relationship,
309
859998
1921
14:33
do I belong in this community of people,
310
861943
2475
14:36
do I belong on earth as a sexual person?
311
864442
2712
14:39
To which the answer is always
a resounding yes.
312
867178
3962
14:43
The only barrier there is,
the only limit there is, there are two:
313
871164
4023
14:47
one, if you're experiencing
unwanted sexual pain,
314
875211
3135
14:50
talk to a medical provider.
315
878370
1302
14:51
And two: As along as everybody involved
is free and glad to be there,
316
879696
4349
14:56
and free to leave whenever they want to,
317
884069
1922
14:58
you're allowed to do
anything that you want to.
318
886015
2689
15:00
There is no script,
there is no box you have to fit into,
319
888728
2825
15:03
you're allowed, as long as there is
consent and no unwanted pain,
320
891577
3550
15:07
you're totally free to do
whatever you want.
321
895151
2610
15:09
HW: Amazing. Thank you so much.
322
897785
1593
15:11
EN: Thank you.
323
899402
1172
15:12
HW: Thank you, you're incredible.
324
900598
1664
15:14
(Applause)
325
902286
1150

▲Back to top

ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Emily Nagoski - Sex educator
Emily Nagoski teaches women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies.

Why you should listen

Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and the author of the best-selling Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. As she writes: "As an undergrad at the University of Delaware, I wanted some volunteer work for my resume, so I got trained as a peer sex educator, going into residence halls to talk about condoms, contraception and consent. Though I loved the brain science I was studying in my classes (BA in psychology, minors in cognitive science and philosophy), it was my work as a sex educator that made me like who I am as a person. So that's the path I chose. I went to Indiana University for an MS in counseling and PhD in health behavior, completing a clinical internship at the Kinsey Institute, then went on to work at Smith College, where I taught a class called Women’s Sexuality.

"That first semester at Smith, I asked my students, as the last question on the final exam, 'What's one important thing you learned?' Half the students answered simply, 'I'm normal.' I decided that day to write Come As You Are, to share the science and sex positivity that helped my students know they're normal."

More profile about the speaker
Emily Nagoski | Speaker | TED.com