NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Getting to Know Your Own and Your Partner's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes to Improve Your Sex Life

As I've mentioned in my previous articles, one of the best sex education resources for individuals and couples is Dr. Emily Nagoski's bestselling book, Come As You Are

An important topic in this book is sexual accelerators and sexual brakes (see my articles:  Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Your Sexual Brakes - Part 1 and Part 2).

Getting to Know Your Own and Your Partner's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes

Dr. Nagoski discusses the Dual-Control Model of human sexuality, which helps you understand how everyone is wired in terms of sexuality.  

To simplify this concept, she uses the metaphor of a car, which has an accelerator and a brake.

While some men and women are less sexually inhibited (more sensitive accelerators than brakes), others experience more inhibitions (more sensitive brakes than accelerators). 

Whether you have more sensitive accelerators or brakes, there is no right or wrong way to respond sexually--it's just different.

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

But before you can do this, you need to know your own as well as your partner's sexual accelerators and brakes.  

Becoming Aware of Your Sexual Brakes (also known as Inhibitions)
If you're not aware of your own accelerators and brakes, you might need to think back to situations with your partner or when you were alone where you felt sexually inhibited and other situations where you felt sexually turned (see my article: Discovering Your Peak Erotic Experiences).

In order to allow yourself to respond sexually, deactivating the brakes is more important than activating the accelerators.  

Just like when you drive a car, you can't accelerate if your foot is on the brake.  You need to be able to release the brake first before you can accelerate.

So, in terms of accelerators and brakes, since deactivating the brakes is more important to start, let's focus first on possible brakes you and your partner might experience.

     Stress as a Sexual Brake
For example, a common sexual brake for many people is stress.  Let's say you had a very stressful day.  It's usually difficult to transition from feeling stressed to feeling open to being sexual.  You might need to relax, meditate or do some breath work to feel open and sexual.

     Lack of Privacy as a Sexual Brake
Another example is if you're in the habit of leaving your bedroom door unlocked and you're worried about your child coming into the room and finding you and your spouse having sex. It would be hard for you to relax enough to have sex with your spouse if you think your child might come into your bedroom.

     A History of Unresolved Sexual Trauma as a Sexual Brake
A history of unresolved sexual trauma can also be a brake if you get triggered, and there can be many different triggers: a certain touch by your partner, the scent of an after shave or a cologne that is the same as the person who abused you, certain sexual acts, and so on.  

Unresolved sexual trauma can get worked through in individual therapy with a trauma therapist (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).  

Couples therapy, like Emotionally Focused Therapy, can also be helpful for you and your partner to work through these issues in your relationship.

     A Negative Body Image as a Sexual Brake
Another common sexual brake, especially for women, involves body image (see my article: Sexual Wellness: Is a Negative Body Image Ruining Your Sex Life?).  

A related issue would be critical remarks from a partner ("You gained so much weight. I'm not turned on by you anymore" or "You're so flabby. How do you expect me to be turned on by you?").

     Anxiety About Sexual Performance as a Sexual Brake
Focusing on sexual performance rather than pleasure is another common issue.  For men, this might mean worrying about penis size and/or maintaining an erection, and for women, it might mean worrying about having an orgasm (see my article: What is Performative Sex?).

Working through sexual brakes can be challenging, but many individuals and couples are able to do successfully work through these issues with a skilled psychotherapist with an expertise in these issues.

Becoming Aware of Your Sexual Accelerators
Assuming your sexual brakes have been deactivated enough for you to enjoy sex, you can focus on your sexual accelerators (see my articles: What Are Your Core Erotic Themes?What is Your Erotic Blueprint - Part 1 and Part 2).

Becoming Aware of Your Own and Your Partner's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes

     Discovering Your Sexual Turn Ons During Solo Pleasure as a Sexual Accelerator
If you're not aware of what turns you on sexually, one way to find out is through your own self exploration.  

This might involve allowing yourself to become comfortable enough to put aside any critical voices in your head, which are also sexual brakes, to engage in solo pleasure.

     Talking About Sexual Fantasies as a Sexual Accelerator
Another way to discover your sexual turn ons is for you and your partner to explore sexual fantasies (see my article: Exploring Sexual Fantasies Without Guilt or Shame).

When you and your partner are sharing your individual fantasies, be aware that you're both emotionally vulnerable so it's important not to be judgmental or critical of your partner's fantasies or your own. 

Your partner's fantasies might not be your fantasies, but if you want to have an open discussion about them, you both need to be empathetic and nonjudgmental.

By exploring, I mean that you and your partner talk about the sexual fantasies that turn each of you on.  At this point, this doesn't mean you're going to enact any of these fantasies--unless you both want to do it (see my article: The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).

     Being Open to Sexual Exploration With Your Partner as a Sexual Accelerator
Once you each know what you both like sexually, you can be more sexually adventurous and try novel ways of having fun.  

Whether these sexual explorations work out or not, once again, it's important to be empathetic and nonjudgmental. 

Being open and playful can be helpful.  Rather than focusing on having an orgasm or other performative issues, focus on having fun and enjoying each other (as Dr. Nagoski says, "Pleasure is the measure").

Overcoming Problems With Talking to Your Partner About Sex
It's not unusual for couples--even couples who have been together for many years--to feel too uncomfortable to talk to each other about sex (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

Getting to Know Your Own and Your Partner's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes

Whether these inhibitions involve guilt, shame or shyness, know that you're not alone.  

This is a common problem for many couples, especially couples living in the United States and other places where sex education is generally inadequate and many people grew up in a sex-negative environment (see my article:  What Does Sex Positive Mean?).

A skilled couples therapist can help you and your partner to overcome the communication challenges you're experiencing together.

Overcoming Problems with Sexual Desire Discrepancy in Your Relationship
As I discussed in previous articles, problems with sexual desire discrepancy are common in relationships.  

In fact, it's one of the most common problems that brings couples into couples therapy (see my articles: What is Sexual Desire Discrepancy? and Overcoming Sexual Desire Discrepancy in Your Relationship).

Whether it's a temporary issue or an ongoing problem, you and your partner might experience differences in terms of sexual libido.  

One of you might have a stronger sexual libido and want sex more often than the other, and this can become a contentious problem, especially if one or both of you feel hurt, rejected or misunderstood. The problem is often compounded if you and your partner don't know how to talk about it. 

For many couples, sexual desire discrepancy leads to the end of their relationship.  But this problem and other related sexual problems doesn't mean your relationship is doomed.  

Educate Yourself and Seek Help in Therapy If Necessary
Rather than giving up on your relationship because of sexual problems, educate yourself by reading and discussing Dr. Nagoski's book, Come As You Are, together.  

If you continue to have problems, seek help from a skilled couples therapist.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individuals and couples (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?

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.