NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, January 30, 2021

Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Your Sexual Brakes - Part 1

I'm continuing to discuss topics from Emily Nagoski's book, Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life.  My topic for this article is "Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Sexual Brakes (see my articles  What is Good Sex - Part 1).

Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Your Sexual Brakes

Sexual Accelerators and Sexual Brakes
Similar to the brakes and accelerators in cars, people can experience sexual desire in terms of brakes and accelerators.  While some men and women are less inhibited about sex (more accelerator than brake), others experience more inhibitions (more brake than accelerator).  

Back in the late 1990s, Erick Janssen and John Bancroft of the Kinsey Institute developed the dual control model of sexual response.  This model explains the central mechanism that governs sexual arousal, which controls how you respond to sexually relevant sights, sounds, sensations and ideas.

According to Dr. Nagoski, your central nervous system is made up of pair of accelerators and brakes that send signals to your brain.  For example, your sympathetic nervous system is an accelerator and your parasympathetic nervous system is a brake.  

Your sexual accelerator is what allows you to get sexually turned on when you're exposed to something that is sexually relevant to you.  When you feel sexually turned off or you're in a situation where you need to inhibit your sexual response (e.g., in a staff meeting), your sexual brake is operating.  

People can have different experiences depending upon who they're with and the context of their situation.  For example, a woman who is normally less inhibited (more accelerator than brake), can feel more inhibited (more brake than accelerator) if she's conscious of her children hearing her and her husband having sex in the next room.

Another form of a sexual brake is associated with anxiety about sexual performance or worrying about having an orgasm.  Stress and anxiety, in general, can be a powerful brake and get in the way of sexual pleasure.  

Sexual Arousal
To become sexually aroused, it's a matter of activating the accelerator and deactivating the brake.  

If you have a sensitive accelerator and very little in the way of brakes, you're easily aroused and you have a difficult time controlling your sexual arousal.  

According to Dr. Nagoski, who focuses on women in her book, approximately 2-6% of women have a sensitive accelerator and a much less sensitive brake.  This can often be associated with sexual compulsivity and risky sexual behavior.  This can leave some people feeling like they're out of control. 

If you have a sensitive brake and a not-so-sensitive accelerator, you probably have difficulty getting sexually aroused and difficulty having an orgasm.  

According to Dr. Nagoski, a sensitive brake is the strongest predictor of sexual problems for women.  Men, on the other hand, on average, have a sensitive accelerator and less sensitive brake (there are exceptions, of course).

Dr. Nagoski says in her book that approximately 15% of women are spontaneous sexual responders.  They are sensitive to sexual stimuli and they are easily aroused.  

Women who respond more based on context (women who score in the medium range on Dr. Nogaski's sexual questionnaire in her book) represent about 70% of women.  For these women, context matters.  These women need more sexual stimulation to get turned on.

The important takeaway from Dr. Nagoski's book is that regardless of whether you're easily aroused or you need more sexual stimulation to get aroused, everyone is different and there's no need to feel ashamed of it.

Becoming Aware of Your Sexual Brake and Accelerator and Taking Steps to Improve Your Sex Life
If you want to improve your sex life, recognizing if it's your brake or accelerator that's operating and knowing what turns you on and what turns you off is important.

For example, if you're under stress because you're worried that your children might interrupt you while you and your spouse are having sex (your brake is operating), plan to have sex when the children are out of the house, if possible, so that you don't have to worry about being interrupted.

Suggestions on How to Improve Your Sex Life
Here are some other suggestions from Dr. Nagoski to improve your sex life:
  • Create a Space and Mood for Sexual Desire: Set up a space and the right mood with intention.  Trust, affection, relaxation, privacy and peace of mind are all important for creating the right mood for sexual desire.
  • Communicate Your Sexual Turn Ons and Turn Offs: Once you understand your sexual brakes and sexual accelerators, you can communicate this to your partner. 
  • Be Open to Hearing About Your Partner's Sexual Turn Ons and Turn Offs: Take the time to discuss with your partner what s/he finds sexually desirable.  Check in with  regularly with each other to discuss this.
  • Learn to Be Playful During Sex: Rather than approaching sex as a goal-oriented activity that ends with an orgasm, relax and be playful, especially if you haven't had sex with your partner for a while.  Focus on enjoying and giving pleasure to each other rather than on having an orgasm, which can put too much pressure on you and your partner.

See Part 2 of This Topic: 

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your spouse are having difficulty with with sex, rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an experienced psychotherapist.

The first step, asking for a consultation, is often the hardest, but it can be the first step in creating a happier relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist (see my articles: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.