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Emily Nagoski: Pleasure Is The Measure – Transcript

This week's episode of Simplify sees Caitlin dive into the secrets of great sex with award-winning author Emily Nagoski. Read the transcript here!
by Natallia Darozhkina | Apr 12 2018

Ben Schuman-Stoler: Welcome to Simplify. I’m Ben Schuman-Stoler.

Caitlin Schiller: And I’m Caitlin Schiller. Simplify is for anybody who’s taken a close look at their habits, their happiness, their relationships, or their health, and thought, there’s got to be a better way to do this.

Ben: This episode is about… sex. Sex for women, to be more specific. Well, actually it’s sex for people who have sex with women.

Caitlin: Totally. But there’s something to learn here for anybody who has a body and might want to learn to more deeply connect with it.

Ben: So, you talked with sex educator and writer, an amazing speaker and crazy cool badass, Emily Nagoski. She’s the author of the book Come As You Are: The Surprising Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.

Caitlin: Yes, evidence-based orgasms are the best sort.

Ben: Right, the kind that can be empirically proven or put on a pie chart or something. Yes. So, you guys talk about this amazing thing called the dual control model, you talk about mindfulness, talk about orgasms, and non-concordance—which is a big topic—how sometimes the body can respond even if the mind isn’t aroused or isn’t really there. There’s a lot in here. So I think we should just kinda play it. And we’ll break it down in The Bookend, where we’ll make a booklist, talk about the key takeaways, but let’s just play it. What do you think?

Caitlin: Yes, let’s do it!

Ben: Catch you guys in The Bookend!

Caitlin: See you later!

Caitlin Interviews Emily Nagoski

Caitlin: Hi, Emily. Thank you for coming on the podcast! Could you introduce yourself, please?

Emily: Sure thing. I’m Emily Nagoski, and I’m a sex educator that means I teach people to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies, I do it with science and it is the best job in the world.

Caitlin: Awesome, the ‘I do it with science’ coda. I read this book and I just have so much to say about it. And it was such an Illuminating read for me. But I wanted to ask you how did you get into this line of work?

Emily: It started really when I was an undergraduate. I was a big nerd in high school, so I knew as I started college that I’d be going to graduate school for something – I had no idea for what – so I thought, “OK. I need some volunteer work on my resume to make me look like a good candidate for graduate school.” And a guy who lived on my floor in my dorm was pre-med and said, “Hey come be a peer health educator with me,” and I was like, “Oh sure, I like health. Why not?” So I got trained to go into residence halls and talk about condoms, contraception and consent.

And the other piece of it was – even though I really loved the nerdy academic part of what I was doing – the work I was doing as a health educator made me like who I am as a person, in a way the intellectual stuff just never could.

Caitlin: Very cool. Where did the book come from? You wrote Come As You Are and that came out in 2015, is that right?

Emily: It came directly out of the teaching. I worked at Smith College.

So on the very first day I start with the anatomy lecture ––which is always where I start–– and a student raises her hand and goes, “Emily. Um. Could you tell us what the evolutionary origin of the hymen is?” And I’ve been a sex educator for 15 years at that point, and I had never even wondered what the evolutionary origin of the hymen was. So I knew on that day this was not going to be like an ordinary class, and it was not an ordinary class.

And at the end of this really intense semester I asked my students the last question on the final exam. It was like you can have your two points, no matter what the two points matter a lot of course. You can have your two points no matter what you say, but just take the question seriously, and tell me what is one important thing you learned. And I thought it might be the evolutionary origin of the hymen or any of the evolutionary biology, or any of the attachment theory, any of the sciency things…

And instead more than half my students wrote something like, “I learned I’m normal. I learned I’m not broken just because I’m different from other people. I learned to live with confidence and joy inside my body and not criticize myself just for being different from other women.” So I don’t know if you’ve ever graded final exams, but it’s not usually like this. I was sitting in my office grading with tears in my eyes, thinking, something had happened in that class when we kicked each other’s asses, we went somewhere new that changed the students’ lives.

So it was that day grading those exams that I decided I was going to write a book.

Caitlin: That’s fantastic! So I love the cover of this book. It’s this amazing relatively graphic image of what is a coin purse, that is opened and it resembles a vulva. And the title of your book is Come As You Are, you have this image, you’re expecting a book that is about sex when you open it up. And I was surprised to realize that much of this book, if not most of it, is about feelings. Can you talk a little bit about why this book that you think was probably graphically about sex is actually a book about feelings?

Emily: It is! Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally a book about sex. And it turns out that when we really want to understand how sexuality works for everybody ––but in particular when we talk about women’s sexuality–– sex is not separate from the rest of our lives. It is profoundly influenced by everything else that’s happening in our lives. And sex influences everything else that’s happening in our lives. They are not separable.

So we can only understand how to maximize our sexual well-being if we understand the ways the other stuff in our lives is interfering. Because usually when something is happening that we don’t enjoy about our sexuality, the solution has nothing to do with our sex lives – the solution lies outside our bed, and then the benefits pass through into our sex lives.

Caitlin: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. The thing that caught my attention ––this is also in your TED Talk, and I hope that you’re not sick of talking about it because it was kind of mind-blowing–– was when you speak about the dual response system, and how it’s not just about turning on the ons, it’s about turning off the offs.

Emily: I will never be tired, it’s like my favorite thing to talk about. I remember the day that I learned about the dual control model and it felt like the puzzle pieces of my brain had been dumped out on the floor and rearranged and put back in my head better than they were before, like this is such an important idea. So, and it’s actually fairly straightforward right, so if it’s called “the dual control model”, there must be two parts to it.

And the first one we’re all already familiar with – there’s a sexual accelerator, a gas pedal, that notices all the sexually relevant information that we’re surrounded by. So it’s every sensory modality you see, hear, smell, touch, taste or ––and this is crucial–– imagine, anything that gets coded as sexually relevant, and it sends the turn-on signal. So we’re familiar with the idea of that, like you get stimulated and that turns you on. OK! And that’s happening at a low level all time, even right now…

But fortunately also at the same time, all the time, brake ––the other part of the dual control model–– is noticing all the very good reasons not to be turned on. So this is everything you see hear, smell, touch, taste or ––and this is really crucial–– imagine that your brain codes as a potential threat and it says, “Turn off.” So the process of becoming aroused is this dual process of turning on the ons and turning off the offs.

And the most important thing – it turns out that when people are struggling with sexual arousal, desire, orgasm, sometimes it’s because there’s not enough stimulation to the accelerator, but usually it’s because there’s too much stimulation to the brake. And that goes back to the idea that usually when you’re struggling with your sexuality it has nothing to do with your sexuality itself, a lot of it has to do with the other stuff in your life. Like you’re feeling stressed out and exhausted or not really great about body image stuff these days, or not feeling really great in your relationship. Those are really important factors that can’t be fixed by doing something to your sexuality.

Caitlin: And this brings up, I mean, a bunch of stuff, but another thing that was really impressive and meaningful to me to read about in this book was how important stress is to how someone feels about her sexuality. Can you talk a little bit about fight, flight, and freeze? The one that surprised me the most was freeze, because you don’t really hear it very often.

Emily: Yeah, we don’t hear about it and it would change the entire fucking world, if we did teach it at the same time that we teach. Like, I think it’s really, really important. So fight-or-flight is the part we’re mostly familiar with, and it actually parallels with dual control model because fight and flight is the accelerator stress response, when you are approached by some sort of threat – anything your brain interprets as a threat – that activates an accelerator – this adrenaline and cortisol.

So, like, if a lion is charging toward you – that’s a threat, so you guys flood with adrenaline and cortisol, and the point of all these hormones is to prepare your body to run like crazy because that’s the only way that you could possibly survive. So you do – you run. And then there’s only two possible outcomes here: either you are eaten by the lion or you survive. So you take all of these hormones, and you run back to the village and scream for help, and everyone in the village comes out and helps you to slaughter the lion. And then you eat the lion that night at dinner in a big feast and then the next day hand-in-hand with these people who just saved your life you bury the parts of the carcass you’re not going to be using giving grateful thanks to the lion for its sacrifice.

So that’s the complete stress response cycle. Usually when we get taught about fight-or-flight, all we get taught is flight response and then what – nothing. The difficulty that we have these days is that we are alas almost never chased by lions, but our body responds to our stressors in pretty much the same way. So, if your stressor is work or like a shitty boss – you can’t literally run from your boss, you can’t punch your boss in the face ––I mean you could, but there would be consequences. You just have to, like, smile, and be nice, and get through it.

So it turns out that for us dealing with the stressor has been separated from dealing with the stress itself – this thing that happens in our bodies. And we have to address the stress itself in order to, like, complete the cycle and get ourselves back to a place where our body feels like a safe place to be. Does that make sense?

Caitlin: That does make sense!

Emily: So freeze happens… Let’s imagine you’re a gazelle running away from a lion. The lion is faster than you and chomps its teeth into your hips. What do you do? In the middle of this big gas pedal stress response your brake slams on, the parasympathetic nervous system shuts everything down and as a gazelle you collapse. You play dead. And the lion is no longer interested in chasing you because you’re not running. She runs away and gets her cubs to come and feed on you. And that’s when the miracle happens.

So that’s freeze – this is the experience that people experience especially under life threat circumstances where you feel trapped, that you have no way out: you’re not fast enough to run, you’re not big enough and strong enough to fight. Women tend to experience it a lot under a lot of circumstances, but especially sexual assault. And if we all knew that freeze is a normal, healthy biological stress response, then nobody would ever wonder, “Well, why didn’t you fight? Why didn’t you kick? Why didn’t you punch? Like, why didn’t you run?” It’s because freeze kicked on. Because your brain was totally sure that your best hope of surviving this life threat situation is to shut down, play dead and wait either for it to end or for somebody to come and rescue you.

Caitlin: Right.

Emily: It is normal and healthy for people to have that experience. And it’s a survival response, and it works. You know how we know it works? Here we all are.

Caitlin: Wow. I was going to ask you about this freeze completing the cycle. That was really really interesting to me when I was reading the book. You say that we deal with the stressors, but we don’t deal with the stress. And if you don’t deal with the stress, what happens is that you can’t complete the cycle. And this had never occurred to me as an important part of the process before.

Emily: This actually is… Lots of people say that to me and that’s the reason why my next book is about burnout, it’s about stress. The first chapter is “Complete the cycle”, because this idea is so important. Because it doesn’t matter how organized your house is, or how, like, effectively and like a grown-up you’ve resolved any kind of conflict – if your body is still in a stressed-out state, your sexual brakes are still going to be on. Like, your sexual brakes don’t know what, like, “I was a grown up and calmly resolved a conflict” meant –– it knows what running or beating the crap out of somebody means. So you have to speak its language.

Even when freeze is the stress response that you’re experiencing, the brake will on its own ––when the threat goes away–– the brake begins to slowly come off. And if you’re a gazelle lying on the ground, as the brake comes off you start to shudder, and shake, and pant, and what’s happening is all those motor patterns that were activated by the fight-or-flight stress response are completing their patterns, right? So your body is letting go of the gas pedal stress response that it was locking down. As the brake comes off, your body goes through that process.

And when it’s a trauma that people are recovering from, one of the tricky things about trauma recovery and a freeze is that as the brake lets up, your body wants to do stuff: it wants to shake or tense your muscles, or there’s a lot of physiological sensations. And trauma is generally an experience of losing control of your body. And the experience of releasing the brake is also a process of losing, allowing your body to be in control of itself without you directing it and being in control of it, learning to trust that those sensations are not dangerous in and of themselves. That’s why therapists are so useful as, because they are like a safe, calm, loving presence to notice you having that physiological experience and let you know that you’re still safe.

Caitlin: Wow. OK, so we’ve talked about the dual control model and how the ons need to be on, the offs need to be off and how fight, flight, and freeze can factor into a sexual experience, and how important is to complete the cycle order to deal with stress. What do you tell people that they can try to do in order to get to know their bodies and feel comfortable enough to have the kind of sexual experiences that you talk about, turning the stars into rainbows, etc.

Emily: Yeah, so the natural response mechanism is wonderfully resilient. It will notice sexually relevant stimuli no matter what the situation is. And essentially, so one of the questions I get asked most often is how do couples sustain a strong sexual connection over multiple decades?

And the answer is actually fairly simple: one – they’re really good friends with their partner. It’s not because they’re the people who like can’t wait to get naked and rub skins together, it’s not because they have sex a lot. They are the couples who make a choice, they decide that it matters for their relationship that they stop doing the other things: the raising of the children, and the going to the jobs, and the watching of the Netflix. They close the door, they put their body in the bed with this other person, let their skin touch this person’s skin and cordon off a half hour just to do this –– let’s face it–– sort of wacky thing that we humans do. And they do it because it matters for their relationship. I’ve started calling it “the magic circle.”

In game design parlance they talk about this “magic circle” that people walk into. And this is psychosocial space that we enter, where we shed sort of the mundane aspects of our identities and step into just these very specific kinds of identities. So we step into our sexual identities so that we can connect with our partner in their sexual identity. Magic circles, two things happen in them that are really essential for human existence: the two things that happen in magic circles are ritual and play.

These are both highly repetitive stylized versions of the things we do in real life that seem to have no particular immediate purpose, like play doesn’t have an immediate purpose except that it’s fun and it bonds us to people. So, play is practice for our adventures out in the world and ritual reconnects us with our sense of home, right? And sex is both of those things simultaneously. So when couples can do a good job of sustaining strong sexual connections, it’s because it matters to them and they play with each other.

Caitlin: About the magic circle. Are you working with theory of game design in other ways when you think about sex? Or is that the one thing that you’ve taken so far?

Emily: I actually wasn’t thinking about sex when I was reading about the magic circle, I was thinking about connection overall. So humans…Jonathan Haidt, the social psychologist of all people, describes humans as 90% chimp, 10% bee. We are an ultrasocial species, a human being alone is not a complete organism, a complete organism of humans involves at least two people.

Here’s the contradiction: on the one hand, the process of becoming an adult is the process of taking on responsibility for meeting your own needs, right. You learn to control your bowels and produce language, you learn to walk, and then you learn chemistry, and then you learn to drive, and you go to college, and you start paying your bills, right. The process of becoming an adult is process of taking on responsibility for meeting your own needs.

But humans, being incomplete organisms on their own, have certain needs that can only be met by other people. We have social needs.

I’m writing the next book with my sister who’s a choral conductor and the reason I stumbled into this stuff is because this is what she does for a living is create for groups of people this experience of union into one through harmony and rhythm.

That experience is so deeply powerful. We crave it, we go to church to get it, singing with strangers. And sex is another way to get there. Not all sex is like this. Some sex is just like, “Hey! Let’s have some sex!” – “Woo! That was fun!” And there’s some sex where you are deeply synchronized with your partner, where it feels like your two bodies have somehow transitioned into one bigger body. And that’s “the magic circle.” And what it requires is shedding the mundane parts of your identity and shifting into a new, this one specific way of being.

Caitlin: Wow. I had never considered singing to be related to sex in any, but when you talked about harmony, it made all the sense. I used to sing and it was one of my favorite things to do. And I injured my voice, so I don’t anymore. But I still miss that feeling of… It’s like flying almost, when you successfully slip into the right niche with everybody else who’s singing at the same time and create harmony. It’s incredible!

Emily: We call it uber-bubble. It’s the bubble of love, and that’s uber-bubble.


Ben: Hey guys, it’s Ben! Just wanted to let you know that this episode has a perfect companion coming up on this season of Simplify. It is mindfulness and sex expert, Dr. Lori Brotto. So, if you really enjoy this interview with Emily Nagoski and Caitlin, be sure to subscribe to Simplify, so you don’t miss out on good stuff like this that Dr. Brotto shares in her talk with Caitlin.

Dr. Lori Brotto: The science tells us that sexual desire, like other emotions, has to be triggered. It needs to be elicited. So, when we accept that sexual desire, like other emotions, can be cultivated, can be elicited, then suddenly, you know, the world is your oyster – you start to explore, “Wow, are there things that I hadn’t considered before that actually can cultivate this?”

Ben: Let’s get back to the interview with Caitlin Schiller and Emily Nagoski. See you guys in The Bookend!

Interview Contd.

Caitlin: OK. Let’s switch tracks just a little bit. And I want to get back to more nitty-gritty sex stuff, if that’s cool with you. As women try to connect with their own sexual pleasure, and as people who have sex with women try to facilitate that, what have you found in your research and your experience as a sex educator, what are people expending energy on that they really don’t need to be expending energy on because it just doesn’t work?

Emily: Sort of everything. So, when people are struggling with desire, arousal, pleasure – the common advice is to add stimulation to the accelerator, like toys, and porn, and role play, and those things they are great, if you like them. Go for it! Do you. And it doesn’t matter how much pressure you put on the gas pedal, if like, the brake is on and the parking brake is pulled up, like you’re just going to burn a lot of gas.

So try to drive with the handbrake on in your car, right. Maybe you could get where you want to go: you use a lot more gas and it is going to take a lot longer and nobody’s going to enjoy that ride, right? So it’s really much more about figuring out what’s hitting the brakes and getting rid of that stuff. And usually what’s hitting the brakes is not like we’re not using handcuffs – that’s not what’s hitting the brakes. What’s hitting the brakes is usually like your actually life-stress, relationship factors, body image stuff, and sexual shame messages. A lot of us got taught that sex is dirty, dangerous and disgusting, and we should save it only for someone we really love. Like that message doesn’t make any sense! And so we get to a sexual scenario, and even if we don’t explicitly believe any of those messages, there they are making us feel ambivalent about our sexuality. And certainly if you have a trauma experience, that’s going to be hitting the brakes. So healing all that stuff is an important part of the process.

Recognizing that when you experience a sexual sensation, it also hits these brakes that got planted in your brain when you were a kid and didn’t have any choice about it, and learning to stay with that. Because it will let go itself, it will simply end, if you allow it to. Where people really get tied in knots is when they start to experience the brakes coming on around sexuality, and then they start judging the fact that their brakes have come on. And do you suppose judging your sexuality hits the accelerator or does that hit the brake?!

Caitlin: I think it might hit the brake.

Emily: Totally, it’s a brake!

So a really important step, more even than porn, and lingerie, and lube, and toys ––and don’t get me wrong, I’m a lube evangelist–– but the most important thing to do is not to freak out when things don’t go the way you expected or wanted them to go. Have a curiosity and calmness about what’s going on and explore it and shift your attention a little to the left or right from like, the dead center of the thing that’s not particularly working out the way you expected it to. And that calmness and curiosity, self-compassion and patience is actually one of the most important ingredients for having a great sex life.

Caitlin: You know, this sounds a lot like is the messages that I’ve heard in yoga classes. When something is frustrating, just explore it, get curious about it, befriend the pull that you feel in your quad. That’s what this is bringing up for me. It’s kind of mindfulness in a way.

Emily: There’s a book coming out called Better Sex Through Mindfulness by Lori Brotto. I wrote the foreword for it. She’s amazing, she’s so spectacularly good and is the mindfulness and sex lady. She does all this amazing research with all different kinds of people about the ways they can apply mindfulness in their sex lives and it very much is about if you don’t judge shit and you just let it happen, especially if you put desire to one side, like who even cares about desire. It’s about pleasure.

Caitlin: How are you separating desire and pleasure?

Emily: Yes, this is one of the things that culturally we don’t do even though the neuroscience is ––I’m totally persuaded by the neuroscience–– that pleasure and desire are not the same thing. They are related to each other, obviously, but they are not identical.

So you can increase desire without increasing pleasure. We’ve all had the experience of a strong desire without pleasure. The need to pee: like, that’s very uncomfortable with a high degree of desire. Or heartbreak is a high degree of desire for the person who has left without any kind of pleasure, right, like a desire can be intensely painful, and it can be sort of neutral, and it can be really pleasurable.

We can make desire a pleasurable experience in the right context, but in the wrong context it sucks a lot. Desire for sex can feel really fun and good if you know you’re going to get sex at the end of that desire. Desire for sex feels shitty if you’re constantly trying to get sex and can’t get the sex, and you still want the sex, and you’re being rejected by your partner, like that can feel intensely distressing.

So, desire and pleasure are not the same thing. When you put pleasure at the center of your definition of sexual well-being, everything changes when you let the desire just emerge in response to pleasure. All the puzzle pieces of your sexuality come together in a brand-new way. If you are experiencing pleasure, you are doing it right.

Caitlin: OK, so that would look like enjoying touch for the sake of touch, or enjoying being in bed…

Emily: Right, so remember our couple, like, they close the door, they send the kids away, you know, you chuck the last of the toys in the toy box, you tromp up the stairs, you close the bedroom door and you’re like, “Alright. 3 o’clock on a Saturday, because we said so: you and me and the red underwear – let’s do it!”

What happens next is you put your body in the bed, you let your skin touch your partner’s skin, and almost always what happens is your body wakes up and goes, “All right, I really like this: I really like this person, I really enjoy this experience.”

There’s this analogy that I love, it’s the party analogy that I learned from a sex therapist in New Jersey named Christine Hyde. She tells her clients, so your best friend invites you to a party, you say yes, because it’s your best friend, and it’s a party. Of course you say yes! But then as the date begins to approach, you start thinking, “Ugh, we’re going to have to find child care, there’s going to be a lot of traffic… Do I really want to put on pants on a Friday night?” But, you know what?
Caitlin: I ask myself this all the time.

Emily: Right! But you go to the party, because you told your friend you would go the party, right? And usually what happens is you have a good time at the party. If you are having fun at the party you’re doing it right.

Caitlin: Cool. It sounds so much like what you’re advocating here is turning off the brain a little bit and letting the body lead.

Emily: Yes, and I don’t want to give the impression that this is as simple as it sounds. It never is. Because I gave this advice to a couple of friends of mine. We were sitting in a bar, and they’re a young couple, married, a couple of small children, and they’re really struggling with sexual desire, and I said, you know, you put your body in the bed, you let your skin touch your partner skin, and one of the partners, like, pulls away and cringes like, “Ugh. I just don’t want to let my skin touch my partner’s skin.” Right, and like how, what do you do then?
And there absolutely is stuff that you can do. When most sex therapists suggest that people go straight into sensate focus, which is touching base, like allowing your body to receive touch, some people are in a place where they can’t even receive any kind of touch. They need to stay physically distant and just, like, look at their partner and think about their partner before they’re going to be ready to take any steps forward. Does that make sense?

Caitlin: Yeah, I think so. So it just sounds like it could be different from person to person: maybe it is about letting your body lead, but maybe it’s also about giving your body the space that it needs, and I guess that is also in a way letting your body lead.

Emily: Yeah, when it comes to couples, letting your body lead is a complicated thing because it’s letting both bodies lead. And the thing that two bodies create is larger than either of the two bodies, and exists both within each of the two bodies and in the space between the bodies. And you have to manage all of that simultaneously.

Caitlin: I keep thinking about the cave and how men and women were, or women and women, and men and men were once whole circular people who were rent in half by an angry god.

Emily: Right, yes. Aristophanes’ The Origin of Love, yeah.
Caitlin: So what’s one idea that you would like to leave everyone who’s listening today?

Emily: So, as I traveled around the country and the world talking about the science and sexual well-being. I was working really hard to try to communicate these ideas about putting pleasure at the center of a definition of sexual well-being. And I came up with a three word phrase that rhymes and everything. Did you know that people believe you more, when the thing you say rhymes? It’s not just they remember it better.

Caitlin: It doesn’t surprise me.

Emily: They believe you, it feels more true to them.

So here it is, rhyming and everything: pleasure is the measure. Pleasure is the measure of sexual well-being. It’s not about what you do in bed or how many orgasms you have, how long it lasts, or who you do it with, or how frequently you do it. What matters is that you like the sex that you are having.

Caitlin: That is a great rule of thumb. I love it. Not just because it rhymes, it’s great. Although that it rhymes doesn’t hurt, I have to admit it.
Emily, I always like to ask people about what they’ve been reading lately or what books have been really fundamental to them at the end of the interviews. What are some books that you love and you would recommend to readers? Or what you’re reading now?

Emily: I’m reading a lot, yeah. Lots of nonfiction I’m reading right now to inform the book I’m writing. One of them is John Cacioppo’s Loneliness (Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John Cacioppo). He’s been researching loneliness for decades, and this is the summary of his research. And it’s really wonderful. It’s basically science, but it’s deeply connected to the human experience. And he talks about this drive for social connection, this hunger that we have. And it’s the place where it really clicked for me that rhythmic movement is the foundation of well-being, in particular rhythmic movement synchronized with another person is the foundation of human well-being.

Another book. Let’s see. I cannot get enough of this book, and I’m recommending it to everybody – it’s called Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by the moral philosopher Kate Manne.

Caitlin: Ooh! What a great title! That’s going on my Amazon wish-read-list immediately.

Emily: I don’t know how to think without the ideas in this book anymore. The central piece for me, she talks about this paradigm of human beings, who have a moral obligation to be their humanity, right, because they’re human beings and human givers, who have a moral obligation to give their humanity. They cannot possess any resources or control anything, their job is to give those over and that includes their own bodies, and they can’t advocate for their own needs, they need to hold on to their needs. And not inconvenience a human being with their needs.

So, when you see this dynamic and you’re like, ‘OK. So, if women are the human givers and men are the human beings…’ That explains a lot, right?

Caitlin: Wow, unfortunately, yeah.

Emily: Yeah, so basically, we can understand all the patriarchy and misogyny in terms of the idea that women are not intended to control any resources. And if she dares to, for example, run for president – she’s trying to take away the presidency from a human being whose right for property is.

And when a man has sex with a woman who is not conscious, he’s a human being who has a right. His job is to be avaricious and competitive, and to take whatever he wants – that’s his role. And a woman’s is cheerfully with a smile on her face to give whatever it is, that human being wants.

And it makes the solution really simple. When I talk to college students about it, their first impulse is, “Yeah, the solution’s really simple. Everybody gets raised as a human being.” But if everybody’s raised is a human being, right, we’re all designed to be avaricious and competitive and to take whatever we want – that’s no good. That’s like a Hobbesian nightmare. That’s bad.

Instead the solution very simply is raise everyone to be a human giver with an obligation to help other people, to be attentive to the needs of others, to be generous. Because there’s nothing threatening or dangerous about being a human giver in and of itself. It’s only when that gets manipulated and exploited by the patriarchy, that it turns into a problem. So we need to raise everybody to be a human giver.

Caitlin: I love that. That is a great idea. I feel like there needs to be a children’s book about exactly that. Amazing! Thank you so much for these recommendations and just sharing what you’re reading. I have a list of them and I will definitely be bringing to a bookshelf near me.

Emily: Yeah, they’re really, like I can’t stop thinking about all of these books.

Caitlin: Awesome. When is your new book coming out?

Emily: Probably January/February of 2019, so about a year.

Caitlin: Very cool. Well, I’ll keep an eye out for that. Maybe we can talk again when that one is ready for the world.

Emily: I would love that!

Caitlin: Me too. Thank you so much for taking the time today.

The Bookend

Ben: Welcome to The Bookend. Where we end…with books. So we talked about… Well, you guys talked a lot about sex, but kind of more than sex, I would say. So why did you want to have Emily Nagoski on Simplify?

Caitlin: Well, I saw Emily’s TEDx talk on the “keys to a great sex life” and was really struck by her warmth, her funniness, and how genuine and moving her TED talk was. So, I checked her out on Medium and found more of the same, and then I got curious about her book. What stood out to me was that she has what is a COMPLETELY sense-making, simple, but WHOLLY overlooked take on the recipe for a great sex life—which is really being connected to yourself. You do that, you can truly connect with someone else.

Ben: In bed.

Caitlin: Right. That’s my favorite fortune-cookie game. Yes—in bed.

Ben: Sorry, too easy.

Caitlin: And over Chinese food.

Ben: Yeah, and I mean, we’re kind of joking about the sex stuff, but there’s a lot more in there. I mean, like you said, it’s not just about intercourse.

So of all the things that we just heard and, you know, a sensitive topic and things that people care about, but aren’t always comfortable talking about –– what’s the one thing that people should really remember from it? Or what’s the one thing that people can bring up to start a conversation about it from this interview?
Caitlin: Well, first off, it’s that you’re OK. You’re actually OK. And everything is normal. And that sex isn’t just about your body. It’s about getting the mind and the body on the same page so that you can actually be with your partner in a real way – which is easier said than done, I get that. You have to turn on the on switches and also be generous and attentive to turning OFF the off switches. And it’s hard, but you can do it. Might take some work, but possible.

Ben: I think it would be cool just for people to think about the gas pedal, the brake pedal, on switch, off switch – just that dichotomy, that paradigm is enough to start a conversation.

Caitlin: Totally! Well, and it amused me because I was like, “Oh, this is the only time I’ve ever heard of a car metaphor applied to a woman’s body that I didn’t find detestable.”

Ben: Right. Shout out to every R&B song.

Caitlin: EVER!

Ben: So, let’s get into the books. I think there’s a lot of different directions we could go with the book. So, what do you got?

Caitlin: Yeah, let’s go there. OK, so the first one is a pretty straightforward direction. It’s Jaclyn Friedman’s Unscrewed. She was a guest on Season 2 and I will plug her book until I die. Not only does Jaclyn have this fantastic podcast by the same name, but she has also contributed to the world with her book—out just last October—called Unscrewed: Women, Power, and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All. It’s a really relevant read for right now in light of the #metoo movement, in light of the kinds of laws being passed in the US right now and the ways in which women’s position in the culture is changing. So, it critically inspects so-called “girl power” and invites us to take a look at the water we’re all swimming in.

Ben: And really shout out to the interview with her Season 2. You guys got into heavy stuff, but managed to somehow break it down in a way that made like all of the feminist political themes right now somehow understandable.
Caitlin: Yeah, that’s what we do here, Ben – simplify.

Ben: Yes, simplify!

Caitlin: Even if it’s really complex, we try.

Ben: Alright. What about a second book?

Caitlin: So, the second book is John Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are. And this one is a classic on mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn is the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and he’s one of the driving forces behind the MBSR technique—which is an everyday-use kind of mindfulness practice that gives people the tools to stress less, confront chronic pain without losing their minds, and also have better sex. This one is good for mindfulness.

Ben: Yeah, and it also ties to, you know, if people want to dive deeper into, like, why good sex is not just about the body –– this is a good start.

Caitlin: Right. Ben, do you have a recommendation?

Ben: Sure. I mean, I was thinking we could cover something about men’s sexuality. Ian Kerner is an author that we’ve plugged on Simplify before. He wrote this book She Comes First, which is also about having sex with women. But he also wrote a book called He Comes Next, which is kind of about having sex with men. And I think it’s worth checking out for everybody out there. There’s a lot in there about the role of anxiety, when it comes to arousal, and feeling insufficient, that I think is important for the general topic of sexuality and good sex, and, like, feeling good, feeling like you are OK. So that’s that’s my rec – He Comes Next by Ian Kerner. Check it out.

Caitlin: Awesome!

Ben: Thanks for listening to this episode of Simplify. It was produced by me, Ben Schuman-Stoler, Caitlin Schiller, Nat Darozhkina, and Ody Constantinou, who only drinks water out of a leather water skin that he bought in Morocco.

Caitlin: Yeah, it seems really inconvenient, but he likes it. I mean, it’s biodegradable, whatever. So, if you heard something that stuck with you on this episode, I hope you’ll do something for us: share it. Just sharing it with one person gets Simplify into the ears of somebody who might really appreciate it. Or you! After all—podcasts are conversations. This episode could help you start one with somebody you like.

Ben: Yeah, and thanks everyone who’s already subscribed. If you’re not subscribed, do it! You get all the episodes automatically into your feed. And thanks to anyone who’s given us a shout out, rating or review, whatever, on any of the podcatchers or Apple Podcast, Overcast, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, wherever you listen. Really helps and we’re really appreciative about that. So thanks!

Caitlin: Yeah. We’re also on Twitter. I’m @CaitlinSchiller and you’re –

Ben: @bsto

Caitlin: Right, great.

Ben: If you don’t know, Simplify is made by the same people who make Blinkist, where Caitlin and I work. Blinkist is a learning app that takes insights the world’s bestselling nonfiction books and condenses them into these focused little capsules of knowledge available in audio or text that you can listen to or read in just about 15 minutes. And Caitlin and I work at Blinkist, we’re standing in Blinkist right now. So check it out!

Caitlin: Hurray! And we made another voucher code for this episode, if you’d like to try Blinkist, which I mean, why wouldn’t you? You can get 14 days free if you go to and type in the voucher code: onswitch

Ben: Last thing! Thanks everyone for sending in the answers to the question, Caitlin’s favorite question, “What have you learnt was much easier than you thought it was?” We want even MORE of them! If you haven’t done it yet and you want to, record a voice memo with your answer to the question “What have you learnt was much easier than you thought it was?” and email it to me and Caitlin at

Caitlin: Yeah, that email box can be kind of lonely sometimes. I love getting email. Write to us! Say hi! I mean tweet us if you want, but say hi. Right, so we’ll be back next week with another episode of Simplify. And in the meantime be good, this is Caitlin –

Ben: And Ben.

Caitlin: Checking out.

Ben: Checking out. See you guys later!

Caitlin: Bye!

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