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Ep. 198 – Come Together and Create Lasting Sexual Connections (even after a baby)-Interview with Emily Nagoski, PhD

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Heather: Welcome to the Milk Minute Podcast, everyone. Welcome, welcome.

Maureen: I’m very excited about our interview today.

Heather: Yes, today we are delighted to have world famous sex educator and New York Times bestselling author Emily Nagoski, PhD, on the show.

How did we swing this awesome get, you ask? No idea. We just asked nicely. She’s actually a really nice person. Turns out we’d like to be her best friend. Yeah, and she does have a soft spot for lactators and new parents. She has a whole section in her book for new parents, which is awesome. She’s best known for her revolutionary book, Come As You Are, which shared new research about women’s sexuality, and then again for her second book, burnout, which she coauthored with her twin sister, Amelia, in 2019 about women and stress.

And I actually first learned about Emily when she was doing her promo for the burnout book. And she was on Brene Brown’s podcast. And I was listening during my weekly drive to North Carolina because I had a travel nurse job and I was a single mom at that time. And my stress was at an all-time high. And literally everything Amelia and Emily were saying resonated with me so much that I remember like, banging my hands on the steering wheel and just like yelling in agreement.

It was crazy. So, lucky for us, Emily has a brand new book coming out in just four days on January 30th called Come Together, The Science and Art of Creating Lasting Sexual Connections. And yet again, I am screaming affirmations as I’m navigating my postpartum period after my third child and I’m deep into year six of my marriage.

So this is, this book is for me.

Maureen: It’s for everyone, but this, this came at a good time and we, we got an advanced copy of the book, which like feels kind of like. Like a secret.

Heather: Yeah. And it’s been so exciting. I know. The book has this little sticker on it that says, Not For Sale, Advanced Reader’s Edition. I just feel really lucky and special and even more lucky that she is coming on the show today to talk to us.

And we’re so excited to chat with Emily about her new book and get a sneak peek into how we’re supposed to keep liking sex with our partners over the long haul.

Maureen: All right. Well, before we do that, we have some patrons to thank. Who, who can we thank today, Heather?

Heather: Today, we would like to thank Beth Breeding and Megan Morgel.

Maureen: Thank you guys so much for joining our Patreon. We really do deeply appreciate the support.

Heather: Yes, absolutely. We do. And please don’t forget to pre order Emily’s book. It’s out in four days. It’s very exciting. The pre orders make it Big difference for authors. And we want to make sure that we’re supporting people that we love.

And this is one way that we can thank her for coming on the show. And those links will always be in the show notes. Let’s take a minute to thank one of our sponsors. And when we come back, we are going to just jump right into the interview with Emily.

Imagine a world. Where you seek lactation care and it’s easy and someone greets you at the door and they’re nice to you And they give you a hot cup of tea and let you sit on the couch and talk about all the issues, Not just the breastfeeding issues.

Maureen: What a cozy fantasy. Is there anywhere that’s real?

Heather: Oh, it’s real girl It’s real and I’ve been building it for quite a long time. My business is called breastfeeding for busy moms and me and every member of my team are trained in our three major tenets Which is accessibility, kindness

Maureen: If you want to book a consult with Heather or anyone else on her team, you should head over to breastfeedingforbusymoms. com.

Heather: We do accept some limited insurance, and we’d be happy to walk you through it if you want to give us a call. And that number’s on Google.

Maureen: So go sit on the cozy couch with Heather at Breastfeeding for Busy Moms. Love you guys.

Heather: Emily, welcome to the show. We are absolutely thrilled to have you. And also thank you for sending your book in advance before it even dropped. I felt really special and important and you autographed it. So I really honestly called all my friends and I was like, Hey, I don’t mean to brag, but you know, I did just get an autographed copy of this book that’s not out yet.

So I kind of feel like I’ve made it thanks to you. And I did start reading it when I was in my third trimester of my last pregnancy. And I was actually, can I be totally honest with you? It sat on my nightstand for a little bit before I was brave enough to open it because I was a little afraid that it would like make me feel like I should be having a certain kind of sex and that was not the case at all. So when I opened your book, I was so pleasantly relieved.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah, the whole first chapter is like why do we have sex?

Heather: Yeah. Yeah So first of all, thank you for coming right out of the gate chapter one normalizing the fact that like maybe it’s fine if you don’t feel like having it that day or ever but Can I ask you, and I know it’s a little personal, but would you mind sharing what led you to write this specific book about long term sexual relationships?

Emily Nagoski: Yeah, so for the very first time I have written a book because of a thing that happened in my life. This is my second sex book. The first one was Come As You Are, which is about the science of women’s sexual well-being. And you might think that writing and speaking and thinking and talking about sex all the time would make it easier to want and like sex but turns out I was so stressed by the process while also working a full time job that I had zero interest in actually having any sex.

So, like, here I am, a sex expert for months, nothing. And then, and then the book came out, and I was on the road a lot, talking to people about the science of sexual well women’s sexual well-being! And it was great, and, like, I would try to follow my own advice from Come As You Are, of like, you know what?

Responsive desire. You show up, you put your body in the bed, you let your skin touch your partner’s skin, and your body will wake up and go, Oh right, I like this! I like my partner! And that’s great advice, I stand by it! And I was so exhausted and stressed and that I would put my body in the bed, let my skin touch my partner’s skin, and I would burst into tears and then fall asleep.

Yeah, I think we’ve all been there. It turns out, we have all been there, and it turns out, everything that I thought I knew about how to deal with the situation was inadequate. So I, I did what anyone would do, I turned to Google Scholar and read the peer reviewed research. And I discovered some shockingly simple to put into action things that people can do, but those things can only be put into action once you have abandoned the idea, this wrong-headed picture that we all have what sex in a long term relationship is supposed to look like.

Once you have created space for what sex in long term relationships can look like and allow that to be individual for you, then it’s like, Oh, this is so easy. This is so doable. Finally, and, and when it doesn’t work out, I don’t have to beat the crap out of myself. I, I know why things are not working the way I wish they were.

And if I am patient with myself and patient with my partner. It will come back around again.

Maureen: Yeah, well, you know what? Let’s dig right into it. Because I want to talk about what great sex in long term relationships can look like. Like, how have we messed up all of our expectations? What, what is, what is the goal? Because we definitely need to remind every listener, all, you know, all of our listeners pretty much are in a long term relationship right now. Or, or they have been. Or trying to be. Or they’re trying to be.

And I want to remind them that they deserve pleasure and an erotic sexual relationship.

Emily Nagoski: Yes, they deserve it if it matters to them, which it doesn’t necessarily and it might at some points in your life and not at other points in your life, but So the, it turns out, it breaks down really easily.

The three characteristics of couples who sustain a strong sexual connection over multiple years have three characteristics. One, they are, they have a strong relationship. They are friends who trust and admire each other. I hope it’s not controversial to say that, like, if you want a strong sexual connection over the long term, you should like each other, right?

Maureen: Kind of feels like it is.

Heather: Well, okay, quick interruption. Hollywood would make us believe otherwise, where like, Oh, we’re going to talk about the thing, oh! Yeah, where it’s like, oh, but you know what, don’t you have to like kind of hate them a little bit in order to have that passion? You know that every trope on every piece of smut ever always stems in this like discord.

And Yeah, go ahead.

Emily Nagoski: I had to cut out so much about this from the book because I have such strong feelings about it, but if anyone would read just a little bit of affective neuroscience, you would know what total bogus nonsense it is to think that like hate and lust are opposite sides of the same coin. Hate, biologically, is the motivation to approach something, to destroy it, because it’s in your way.

Right? Lust, biologically, is the motivation to approach, to court, and share sexual pleasure. If you feel, inside you, a biological urge to move towards someone to destroy them, Don’t have sex with them. Oh. I feel like that’s not complicated, right? It, it doesn’t sound complicated.

Heather: it like that. When you say it.

Yeah, there’s some people out there that are like, I wish someone would come destroy me with their penis.

Emily Nagoski: Like, there’s a whole section on like, are there times when rage and lust go together? There absolutely can be. But that’s a Metaphorical destruction. That’s like, I just want to like surrender my body.

Maureen: It’s role play, right? It’s role play. We can, we can pretend, we can let those emotions come in, but they shouldn’t be the under arching emotions of your relationship.

Emily Nagoski: You’re playing a game together. You love and trust each other and are communicating clearly and there is full, equal consent to that experience.

Heather: Now, that doesn’t happen on the first date, probably.

Emily Nagoski: Eh. Would take a very special first date.

Heather: Well, I interrupted you, so that was number one.

Emily Nagoski: So when people think that rage and lust go together, it’s because they are buying into the idea that it is intensity of emotion that matters, that it’s like the quantity of emotion you have about a person and not the quality of the emotion.

The technical term is valence, like what direction are you moving? toward a person because you’re like, Ooh, drawn to them? Or are you repelled away from someone? Or are you drawn toward them to beat the shit out of them? Right? Like there are different ways to be drawn toward someone or pushed away from them.

And intensity is not the predictor of. anything in particular in relationships. Valence, quality of connection, is the predictor, people liking each other. I have a whole section on admiration, and it was controversial, that section on admiration, because several of my early readers were like, this feels very aspirational.

To be in a relationship where people talk to each other like daily expression of gratitude for the things you do for each other and feeling lucky for someone as your partner and like, do people really do this where they’re like, they hear the garage door open and their heart flutters because they’re so glad their partner’s coming home.

And I was like, I wrote that today because that’s what happened to me.

Heather: But, but you’ve been working on this for a while. Oh, yeah.

Emily Nagoski: So I’ve been married 11 years. I’ve been in therapy since I was 25, and I, like, I am married to this super awesome, you’ve emailed with him, he is wonderful.

Heather: He is wonderful. I was actually a little bit afraid that my, Abigail, my assistant who helps me was gonna, like, switch best friends and become best friends with your husband because he is equally as good of an emailer as she is, where they sign things off with, like, with much gratitude and like, oh, they’re just so nice.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He’s, and I, so sometimes I’m like, wow, I’m really lucky. And then other times I’m like, no, I worked really hard for this.

So on the one hand, gratitude may feel aspirational at certain times in our relationship. And certainly it has not always been easy for me to just feel a great sense of like admiration for my partner. But these days it’s just like flooding with admiration. But I’m suggesting admiration as the replacement for whatever the heck passion is.

Like, it’s a lower key emotion in some ways.

Heather: Yeah, you know, that one hit me in the book, because I think in my mind, I was still kind of stuck in this place where I am a passionate person by nature, I would say, like, I’m really into stuff when I’m into it, and I’m really not into stuff when I’m not into it.

And so, unfortunately, in marriage, much of your life lies in the in between, where it’s not these, like, peaks and valleys, it’s just a lot of, like, Oh, you made coffee today. Oh, you wiped the kid’s butt today. So, like, the admiration isn’t like, oh, I chiseled you out of this statue, or I made a statue of you.

It’s more like, oh, you wiped the kid’s butt. That’s so nice of you that I didn’t have to do it this time and I got to finish my oatmeal. And it’s being okay with that.

Emily Nagoski: Somebody gets home from work and is like, kid’s still alive? Kid’s still alive! We did it!

Heather: Exactly. I mean, so there was also like the desire versus pleasure piece, which When I read that, it was like, it wasn’t, I’m not going to call it an ah ha moment, it was like a duh, you know, where it just didn’t occur to me, but it makes so much more sense for long term.

Right? Yeah. Can you say more things about that, because I think a lot of our listeners are right there, right now. with their partner. Yeah.

Emily Nagoski: So I made up this term, the desire imperative, which is certainly what I grew up believing about how sex works, especially in long term relationships, which is this idea that at the beginning of a relationship, you’ve got all this like spark and this like spontaneous, urgent craving for proximity to your person.

And gradually over time, as your lives get more complicated, that spark fades. And then you cross the menopause, old age threshold, and like, are doomed to hold hands at sunset on the beach or whatever. And either, like you’ve only got two choices, either you can just accept that sex will go away because your spontaneous craving for each other went away, or you can work really hard to keep the spark alive.

If there were one phrase that I could just have, like, erased from the English language. It would be, keep the spark alive. Fuck the spark. Because, so, broadly speaking, I now think about it as like two ways that couples can struggle with lack of interest in sex, or like, low frequency of sex. The first is where like, the couple, one partner is like, I know my partner feels really sad about this, but I would be fine if we never had sex again.

And to explain this, I turn to sex therapist and researcher Peggy Klein Plotz, who is the leader of the Optimal Sexual Experiences research and clinical team. And so if this couple goes to her, partner A says, I’m sorry, this makes my partner sad, but I’d be happy if we never had sex again. Peggy will say to them, tell me more about the sex you do not want.

And what do you suppose they say?

Heather: Well, I would imagine that they’re just tired of doing it missionary and having a 5/10 orgasm once a month.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah, one of the ways Peggy describes this is doing what works relentlessly. Oh god. Like you found a thing that gets you both to orgasm. And so you just do that every time, or you feel like you’re not allowed to show up as your true self, or you feel like you’re just doing it out of sense of obligation.

Certainly this, this is sex that as Peggy puts it is dismal and disappointing.

Heather: Sounds, sounds about right. Yeah, but you know what? I think for men, for men, just for in like binary couples, I think the experience is a little different, which you can see in like Jeff Foxworthy’s stand-up comedy, where he’s like, Yeah, me and my wife have been together for a long time.

I know her combination. Two to the left, one to the right, one to the left, and we’re there. And all the men are like, ha, ha, ha, and all the women are like, that’s sad.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah, it’s, I mean, you know what? Not all sex is going to be like, An event in your life. Some of it can be just like, That was fun. Like, sometimes you just watch a TV show and you’re like, That’s a show we watched.

I’m glad we did that. And that’s, and that’s great. And if you know how to do that, that’s great. And also, If you get to a place where you’re like, I would, it would be fine with me if we never did that again. Peggy would hear your description of like, To the left, to the right. And straight on till morning, or whatever it is.

And she’d say, well, you know, I rather like sex, but if that’s the sex I were having, I would not want it either. Which, this is the thing, that’s like, it’s revelatory mind explosion, but also like, duh, it is normal. It is not dysfunctional not to want sex you do not like.

Maureen: Absolutely. And I, and I think these things feel like such revelations because we don’t have the time to think about changes as they occur in our relationships, right?

We’re just surviving every day with jobs and kids and partners. And so, yeah, when somebody says that to us, it’s like, holy shit, that could change my life. And also, if I had 10 minutes every day of self-reflection, that wouldn’t have felt bad.

Emily Nagoski: So crazy. Yeah, and so let’s create a world where you have 10 minutes.

Heather: Right, right. And so you talk about the emotional floor plan in your book, which was very helpful for people that need something more tangible, not these like, you know, ethereal, you know, Aspirational things that I’m supposed to think of. It’s like, nope, this is physically what I can see where my mind is at right now.

And I think this helps a lot because when you’re talking about, like, pleasure and desire, and you had mentioned in your book, like, maybe what you need right now isn’t sex. Maybe what you need is, like, a massage or cuddling or hand holding or something like that. Or a nap. Or a nap, you know, exactly. And I think a lot of moms feel that way because they’re constantly in caregiving mode.

So, can you explain a little bit about the emotional floor plan and how our listeners can use that to take inventory a little bit?

Emily Nagoski: Yeah. So, if we just, like, let’s take that couple who were, like, I don’t like the sex. Well, it’s normal not to want the sex. You don’t like. So let’s talk about what kind of sex is worth wanting.

Couples where one person is interested and like, that’d be fine with me if we never had sex again. Those are couples who begin with like, what actually is pleasurable. And then there’s couples that are like where I was. Where like, I knew that if I could just get myself there, it would be so much fun. It’d be so great.

We have very fun sex. I really, like, he’s, he’s so cute, and he’s so smart, and he’s so funny, and he’s so nice, and I, like, love pressing my skin against his, but I just, I just couldn’t. Why couldn’t I? And it was through using the emotional floor plan that I fixed. my situation, which, which is not like, I don’t like the sex, but like, I, like, I know that I would if I could, but I can’t.

So why couldn’t I? And it was because I was stuck somewhere in my emotional floor plan. So this is this metaphor I made up for the affective neuroscience framework of primary process emotions by Jak Panksepp. You don’t have to remember any of that stuff. Basically. He says that there are seven primary process emotions, one of them is lust.

So if you think about, like, a floor plan of, like, a house or a space, there’s a room that is the lust space. And if you’ve ever had sex that you’ve enjoyed, you have been in the lust space. You know what it feels like in your body, you know what goes on in your mind, you know what’s happening with your emotions, like, you get the sense of what the lust space feels like.

So if we think about, like, where was I emotionally? Before I got into the lust space. That’s an emotional space that is adjacent, that has a doorway directly into the lust space. For me, play is a really big one. So play is the biological motivational system of friendship. It is play is engaging in a behavior just for the fun of it.

When there is nothing at stake. And it is so easy to link play with sex because think about something like oral sex. You know how babies begin as toddlers with object play? They’re like, what can I do with this and what can I make this do? Your partner is genitals! What can I do with this? And what can I make this do?

Like, it can be so much fun. So if I’m in a play space, there is a doorway directly into my lust space. For a lot of people, care is a like, the so we’re on room number three at this point. The care space, if and care is really big and complicated, so we’ll talk about it. But One of the ways people can experience care is what I call the living room of care, where you’re like, cuddled up on the couch, maybe there’s a fire burning, you’re feeling really like, connected and affectionate and trusting and cared for and held, and for a lot of people, that emotional experience is like, Basically, you could just magic carpet ride your way right into the lust space.

Not me, because people vary, and that’s fine. But there’s a different, like, I think of the care space as, like an open plan room. Like, it’s a multifunctional space, because there’s also The kitchen of care, which is the taking care of where you’re not receiving care. You are just giving care to like everyone in your life.

You are taking care of the children. You are cleaning the kitchen. You’re cleaning the whole actual literal house. And your partner might be like in the less space. In their mind, and in your mind, you’re in like, there’s piles of laundry still that need to get done, there’s a pile of dishes in the sink, the kids need their baths, and like, I’m so touched out by the toddler hands.

And there is not a direct path from that space to the Lust Room. What you need is help transitioning out of that space through whatever space you have to go through to get to the Lust Room. There are seven overall of these. I won’t talk about all of them, but some very familiar ones. The three that are least likely to have a pathway into the Lust Space are Fear, which is everything from, like, slight worry.

Through anxiety all the way up to terror, and rage, which is everything from slight irritation and annoyance through hatred up to rage itself. When you’re in those spaces, it is extremely unlikely that you can get directly from there into the lust space. Except under some pretty Exceptional circumstances.

Heather: Yeah, and I’m not saying this is me. Wink wink. But I think a lot of parents that just had babies spend the majority of their time in those three rooms. Fear that their Parenting or lack of parenting skills is going to result in death, imminent death of their baby they just had, whether that’s real or imagined doesn’t matter because if you’re feeling it, it’s real and rage because unmet expectations with your partner and then caretaking where you’re literally melting your body for lactators and turning it into food like what?

What more care do you actually want from a person? So I think that there’s a collective sigh of relief happening for anyone that’s listening to this right now. And if you have not already clicked on the link in our show notes to pre order this book,

Emily Nagoski: let me say for moms, there’s an audio book. You can fold laundry while you listen. You can just lie down.

Heather: You can have sex while you listen. You absolutely could if you wanted to. You could use your favorite Dame product. Yeah. Yeah. So, okay. And that is me, by the way, you know, and I do feel that I have an, I have an eight week old right now as we’re recording this. So I feel that But the biggest thing that I maybe got out of the book was that the sex I’m having today or the lack of sex I’m having today does not determine the sex I am going to have in a month or 10 years from now.

And that there’s always tomorrow or even tomorrow. Yeah. And that it’s all good. You know, it’s all good as long as you can talk about it and give yourself some grace, which felt really nice. Thank you for that.

Emily Nagoski: I’m so, that’s basically what I was going for, is like, you have permission for this not to go the way you, like, ideally fantasize about it being.

What it looks like when it’s going amazing is not a match for your, like, fantasy ideal. Yeah,

Heather: exactly. Well, let’s take a quick break to thank a sponsor. And when we get back, I want to talk about maybe a little bit of the darker side of sex and long term relationships. And it’s not going to be depressing.

It’s going to be good in the end. So don’t hit stop if you’re feeling a little wary about that. But we have to go there if we’re going to get through this.

Let’s take a quick break to thank our sponsor Aeroflow. Aeroflow is

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Thanks, Aeroflow. Thank you so much. Go ahead and check out the link to Aeroflow in our show notes and order your pump through them.

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Heather: Amazing. I’m so glad a company has finally realized that a D cup is not a large.

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Heather: Thank you so much, Dairy Fairy.

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All right. Welcome back, everybody. Thanks for sticking through the interview so far. I’m actually, this is like the part that I’m really kind of most interested to get to because we, we know as midwives and as mothers that pregnancy and birth and babies, all of that brings up all the garbage that you had stuffed down into those deep, deep, dark places.

And yeah, and then a baby pops out and you are super emotional and all these feelings of shame about your body and your abilities just like flourish in the postpartum period. And I want to talk about where that shame comes from and how do we manage that while simultaneously trying to like live in new bodies and reinitiate a sexual relationship.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah. So one of the stories I tell in the book is a woman who read Come As You Are told me that she. Then watched her adult brother change his baby daughter’s diaper. And he, she was clean and ready. She, he turned just to get the clean diaper. And when he turned back, she was touching her genitals, a little baby.

And dad goes, ah, don’t touch that. And the woman telling me the story was like, it finally occurred to me, like, how would he have responded if his baby had had a penis instead? How would his, he have responded if his baby had been touching her feet? Cause don’t we fucking love it when a baby finds their feet?

Like, Oh, did you find your feet? Like she found her vulva. Did you find your clitoris? Oh, that’s such a good girl. And so baby’s not going to remember this moment. But it’s going to accumulate with an uncountable number of matching experiences that create a dark place in her brain. Like, what’s happening is that neurologically, her brain is linking the sensation of her genitals and even just the idea of her genitals to shame, to the idea that that part of her body does not belong to her, or that that part of her body is bad and makes her a bad girl.

And that’s gonna get added to by all the purity culture stuff and all of the body shaming culture stuff and the sex negativity and also all the stuff about how, like, if you’re, you’re both supposed to be like a pristine, pure lady, but also like a fucking rock star in bed and your body is supposed to be perfect all the time, no matter what, and Never in any pain and never have any needs that it’s, like, complicated for someone to meet.

Your needs should all be very easy to meet. So, all of those messages, like, when a baby happens, your body, the whole meaning of your body is utterly transformed permanently. And Most of it is pretty darn incompatible with most of the mainstream messages we get about our bodies.

Heather: Yeah, and can I just interject and say that I have, I’m trying to be a supportive provider, and I know Maureen is too, for pregnant and birthing people.

And when we watch someone give birth, like, one of the things that we say to people is like, wow, you’re so powerful. You know, like look at that amazing powerful thing you did and they look at us like deer in the headlights because that is literally the first time anyone has told them that their body is powerful in relation to their sex organs, you know, and that is sad, you know, like we really how do we even find these moments to talk to young people about how powerful.

Their sexuality is, and not be scary about it.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah, you, when, there’s sort of two ways that we do get told we’re powerful. I mean, especially if we’re like assigned the, it’s a girl package of rules and regulations at birth. And we grow up to like identify as girls and then women. We’re told we can be powerful because it is in our power to make men stray.

With the power of our dangerous, dangerous sexuality are dangerous, tempting bodies. And we’re powerful because we can manipulate men with our body. That’s how we’re powerful, is by like being such desirable objects that we can make men give us things that we want.

Heather: Ugh, you’re so right, and that feels so dirty.

Gross, right? Yeah, it is gross. It’s gross. But I, I have also used and abused that power and felt more womanly because of it.

Emily Nagoski: Absolutely, because you’re doing it, you’re following the rules. You’re doing it right. You’re being, you’re conforming with the culturally constructed aspirational ideal, what I call the It’s a Girl Handbook.

Says like, congratulations, you, you’re pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others.

Maureen: Your, your pose that nobody can see right now with you bundled up was just amazing.

Heather: Yeah, but then postpartum, you’re like I don’t feel pretty, I don’t feel desirable, I’m not meeting the needs of others, even though I’m trying really hard, and this person’s telling me I’m powerful, and it does not math.

The math isn’t mathing.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah. One of the things that, I mean, this doesn’t even necessarily have anything to do with sex, but like, if I could just transplant into everyone’s mind one idea, maybe the one I would pick is, it takes all of us working a little bit harder than we feel like we can to do all the things that need to be done.

By like, by which I mean like changing the world, as well as like meeting the needs of the people around us and meeting our own needs, everyone working just a little bit harder than they think they can. If you are working harder than, a little bit harder than you think you can, you need more help.

Heather: Yes, but can I also say that one of the parts in your book that really resonated with me was when you identify that a change needs to happen, either globally or within your own marriage.

You’re like, what can I do to change or, or. What does my partner need to do to fix this? And you kind of bring the reader back and you’re like, no, it’s what can we do?

Emily Nagoski: We do together to create this change.

Maureen: That’s such a hard mindset change for us in particular. And a lot of our listeners who we are all

Emily Nagoski: What am I doing wrong? What else can I be doing? What can I be doing better so that my partner is able to? What can I do differently so that my partner can meet my needs?

Heather: Yeah, right. Exactly. Or what does he, what does they need to do to make me feel more sexual so I can meet their needs?

Maureen: And it’s such a mindfuck when you really verbalize these things in that way and you’re like, okay, I need to listen to what I just said to myself because I don’t know what that was.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah, like when you say it out loud, do you, do you hear that? Do you hear that when you say it out loud? And this is, this is, this is the third thing idea. The idea that your sexual connection isn’t like your partner’s fault that something is wrong. It isn’t your fault that something is wrong. There’s this, you have a sexual connection that is this thing that exists between you.

It doesn’t dwell in you and it doesn’t dwell in them. It dwells in your interaction. So I take this language of the third thing from an essay that the poet Donald Hall wrote about his marriage to fellow poet Jane Kenyon, who says that we did not spend, they lived in rural Vermont, right? So all their New York City friends would come visit them in rural Vermont and be like, this is really beautiful, but like, what do you do all day?

Which, because they live in New York, and Donald Hall, we, we did not spend our days gazing into each other’s eyes. You do that when there is something wrong or when you’re being intimate. Most of what happens in a relationship is you turn your shared gaze onto third things. So maybe it’s Poetry. Maybe it’s your kids.

Maybe it’s your sports team. Maybe it’s your special needs cat. There are third things that all relationships rely on as, like, the thing you do most of the time is not, like, gaze into each other’s eyes. Turn your shared attention with affection and pleasure and fascination and curiosity and excitement onto this third thing.

And I I’m strongly of the opinion that if, oh, we only talked about the first characteristic of couples who sustain a strong sexual connection, the first one is that they trust and like each other. And apparently that’s a little controversial. But two, they decide that sex matters in their relationship.

And, caveat instantly, sex is not always important in every relationship. In particular, those early weeks and months of bringing a new human into your household. However that human comes into your household, like, the change is so radical and disruptive. And, The meaning of your life, and the structure of your life, and everything is changing so fast, and so frequently, and so out of your control, that it makes sense that sex might go away for a while.

Not just because of, like, physical limitations, but because of, like, existential limitations. Like, there’s not space right now. But, if sex matters to you and to your partner and to you as a relationship, then you will find your way back to each other because it matters. As you create a new meaning and existence together, you, because sex matters, you want sex to be part of this new thing that you have together.

And so, You create it as a third thing. My metaphor, the metaphor where I started with In Come As You Are is that your sexuality is like a garden where you’re born with this little patch of rich and fertile soil and your family and your culture start to plant ideas about bodies and sex and gender and safety and love and intimacy and by the time you get to adulthood, There you have it.

And they have taught you how to tend the garden, and some of us get lucky, and all we have to do is, you know, weed and harvest. And a lot of us get stuck with some very toxic crap in our gardens. And so we have, oh boy, a growth opportunity to go row by row through the garden and choose what we want to keep and what we want to pull and throw in the compost heap to rot and become fertilizer for the stuff we are choosing for ourselves.

When you are early in a relationship or it’s just a short term relationship, you kind of visit each other’s gardens. But, when it comes to creating a lasting sexual connection, you co create a shared garden where you bring, like, your favorite stuff from your garden and you plant it here, and your partner brings their favorite stuff, and they plant it, and you really hope that one is not going to strangulate the other.

And, just like a garden, it requires maintenance, it’s going to have seasons, and it takes It takes cultivation. It takes getting out there every day and doing something about it. And so yeah, I’m talking about talking about sex. In the beginning, you’re going to be talking about sex way more than you’re going to be having it.

Because you’ve got a lot of ground to cover that never got covered before. Because somewhere along the way, somebody, I guess, planted the idea that if you have to talk about sex in a relationship, that already means something is wrong. When what the research tells us is that The couples who have great sex for decades talk about sex all the time because it matters to them.

Heather: It’s a priority. That is so true. And, you know, right now, eight weeks postpartum, I feel like I’ve just approached my husband just holding a piece of crabgrass being like, is this okay? And he’s like, sure, okay, I’ll take some crabgrass, you know, and that’s okay for right now. But that, that was really helpful.

For me because I’m a very visual person and I do have a question though because I’m thinking back to like my first marriage that Sex was important in the very beginning and it remained important to him But then I had a baby and it changed everything we were young We didn’t know how to talk about sex at all and that same thing rang true Where if you and he was very firm in this like if you have to talk about it, something’s wrong We might as well just do it if we do it enough it will get better.

Everything will be fine in our relationship if we just have sex every single day.

Emily Nagoski: Let’s pause just for a second and let me explain why that’s the opposite of true because I think a lot of people believe that if we just do it, it’ll be fine and get better. But here’s the thing. If you do it and you don’t like it, it will reinforce in your brain over and over.

You’re creating this connection that sex equals Dissatisfaction equals discomfort equals pain equals frustration equals an increased sense of isolation in the relationship Which is the opposite of what you’re looking for Another one of my like can everyone just like let’s try on this idea What if all of us only ever had sex we like?

Heather: Oh, that would be really nice.

Emily Nagoski: It would be, and it takes us, honestly, it’s like, it takes us so long to get there after all of this internalized crap that we have to work through, you know? Which it’s no fucking fair that we have to, like, we don’t choose any of that stuff. I’m tired of growth opportunities, honestly.

Heather: I’m exhausted! I don’t need another one!

Emily Nagoski: Yeah, exactly. And our partners feel the same way. Like, I don’t, I don’t want to, just want to do it and then, and then it’ll be fine. Right?

Heather: Yeah. I’m like, what if we played the game where I pretend like I’m asleep and then you have sex with me, but I’m sleeping the whole time.

No, not really. But I did try to play that game with my ex-husband because I was like, how am I going to get through this? Like, this is the path.

Emily Nagoski: Oh my God. Oh my God. That phrase, how am I going to get through this? How am I supposed to? Is the question, especially since the pandemic, I’ve been asked that a lot.

Like, how am I supposed to, how am I supposed to do this? Answer, you’re not. You’re not.

Heather: And hurts and resentments build up. And I think that there’s, you know, many different types of people, but there’s people that have makeup sex. And then there’s people that don’t use sex or don’t feel comfortable using sex to makeup.

It doesn’t heal. It just compounds the issue. So. You know how I because I felt bad that I couldn’t just like let it go when I was hurt pregnant and postpartum. I just couldn’t let things go. And I felt like a grudge holding troll. So can you explain that little part where we like expect our partners to change to Get back to where we were.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah, that’s an awesome example of feeling like the problem exists in one of the partners, and if this partner could just change, cause like, no, that’s the partner, this is the partner who like, who changed and like went away. Stuff was good, then you changed and now it’s broken, so change back. Right. So just, just, can you, can you just get back to things?

No. No, because that’s not actually what’s happening. The person changed because the context changed. Because I, maybe it’s because there was a baby, maybe there are any number of other reasons why the context changed and the person adapted in response to that change. Maybe somebody got unemployed, maybe somebody went back to school, maybe somebody’s parent is ill and needing caretaking, maybe you got a Puppy, you need to house train.

Like, there’s so many reasons why the context changes, and it affects how your brain is responding to the world, and sex changes in how it’s working in your brain. There’s nothing wrong. What happened is the context changed. And so What you need to do is create a different context that allows the person’s brain to respond to the world as if sex can be on the radar now.

So the question to ask is not, can you please just change, but like, how do we co create a context that makes it easier for your brain to get access to pleasure? And having sex that you do not like over and over is an excellent way to create a context that makes sex more, that makes pleasure more and more difficult to access.

Because your brain’s just learning over and over again, sex is, sex is painful, sex hurts, sex is boring, sex means I’m not allowed to be who I am, I’m doing this out of a sense of obligation, my needs don’t matter, sex means I don’t matter.

Heather: Wouldn’t it be great if you started all of those conversations with your partner with the understanding that You’re both not broken, individually or together.

Like, hey, before we get into this, I want you to know, we’re not broken. What a great foundation to leap from.

Emily Nagoski: You’re normal, I’m normal, our context changed. Let’s look at the context, which is the third thing. What happened in our context to create this change? Is there any part of that context we have control over?

If not, we can hit the pause button. Okay, here’s the irony spiral. Writing this book about creating lasting sexual connections, just like writing Come As You Are, killed my interest in sex. And like, I knew exactly what was going on at the time, and I knew that it was, it was just not gonna change until the fucker was done.

Heather: Yeah, like you’re not broken, because you’ve done it before. You’re like this is not my first book, baby.

Emily Nagoski: Yeah, yeah, and like, I, so, my partner and I had the conversation, like, it doesn’t mean I’m less attracted to you or less interested in you, it just means this context is The actual worst for my sexuality.

Heather: Yeah, and like your workspace and your emotional floor plan clearly isn’t right next to your lust space.

Emily Nagoski: I was trapped in the fear space. I was just so anxious. I was so focused. And like there was, it just wasn’t ever going to happen. So the conversation we had was not like, how do we change the context?

It was, let’s wait until the context changes because I’m gonna finish it. It will be done, and we will have the conversation and come back to it, because it matters to both of us. We both want it to happen, and it is not giving up to recognize that we’re in a situation where, like, it’s off the table for a minute.

But when the context changes, let’s come, let’s find our way back to each other. The good part about this time is that when I got done writing the book, I literally had a 100, 000 word manual of what to do to repair my own sex life. How annoying. So convenient. I’ve been using it. Fucking works. You got it.

Heather: I’m so happy for you. You seem relaxed. I mean, for a person whose book is dropping in four days, you seem pretty chill.

Emily Nagoski: Are you good? Are you okay? I mean, it’s better now than it has been for a really long time. Cause I’ve been using my own advice.

Maureen: That is the hardest thing to do. I mean, we, like, we are medical providers over here who give people this wonderful fucking advice about their lives.

And then I go home and I’m like, Oh, hmm, I told somebody they should go get a massage today. And I’m laying here with my muscles, like, all cramped up because I haven’t gotten one in two months.

Emily Nagoski: Yep, exactly. Yes, as, as my own provider says, Emily. Even a gastroenterologist cannot give herself a colonoscopy.

Heather: You can try, but it won’t be pretty.

Emily Nagoski: We all need help. But honestly, like, I would love for this book to, like, change millions of lives. I would love it to, you know, save marriages and bring joy and pleasure to people. Around the world. But if, even if like nobody else reads it, the fact that it has been, I have created a tool that I will be able to use in my marriage for like, you know, as long as we both shall live.

I can just return to it over. So I like, I made this tool for me. And if it helps all y’all. Great.

Maureen: Well, you made a tool for you that is also like the most inclusive book on this topic that we’ve ever read. You know, that was one of the one of the first things we came together on it about being like, wait a second.

This is right up our alley because we it talks about, you know, biology and gender roles and sexual identity and all of that in in the way that we are just So admiring of thank you. Was it difficult? Yes. To find good research on that? Yes. That was inclusive. Yeah. Yeah.

Emily Nagoski: So, yes. So sex therapists and sex educators you may know, have to go through something called a sexual attitude reassessment a sar.

On a sort of an ongoing basis, continually, in order to like, address our biases and preconceived notions about sexuality so that like, when someone comes up and talks to us about something sexual, there is no part of our body that goes, Ugh! No! Like, we’re just like, cool with like, you can say anything to me you can talk about.

Whatever bodily fluid you enjoy having involved in your sexuality, you can tell me about, like, whatever gear you want to wear, whatever role you want to play, whatever animal you want to pretend to be, and I’ll just be like, okay, cool. How can I help? Sex researchers are not required to do that. So, even pretty basic biases show up in the research.

And I had to weed through. A lot of trash. But there is some great, there is some great research. In particular, if people are interested in the research, I will point you, first, I already mentioned Peggy Kleinplatz. Her work on optimal sexual experiences resulted in a book called Magnificent Sex, co-authored with Dana Maynard.

And it’s on the academic side, but it’s pretty darn accessible and I really highly recommend it. And it’s inclusive of people of different genders, sexual orientations, kink. Poly, straight, vanilla, monogamous, like, of all different ages, like, into their 90s. P. S. What do you suppose is the typical first age at which a person has their first optimal sexual experience?

Oh god.

Heather: 30. I don’t, I don’t know.

Emily Nagoski: Typical age at which they have their first optimal sexual experience.

Heather: Oh no, that’s gonna be old.

Emily Nagoski: 55. Oh man, that’s way worse than I thought. So, it’s interesting because a lot of people are like, phew, that means I’ve still got time.

Maureen: Oh, well, that’s good. I mean, that’s great too, but it just makes me so sad to think then, okay, yeah, like that’s great, they can enjoy that, we have something to look forward to, but

Emily Nagoski: What was the rest of your life like?

Heather: Yeah, and also, like, how much were you not living your truth before that? Because I, I feel like a lot of our close friends are, are different. You know, they’re, they’re transitioned. Some of them have transitioned into different genders. You know, some of them have divorced their husbands, and now they’re married to women.

And, you know, that process should not take as long as it frickin does. Yeah. Stupid society and culture that plants all the bullshit in your garden. So, you know, like, for all of you listening that have new babies, look at your baby and understand the garden that you are planting for them right now needs to be a garden of truth so they don’t have to wait till they’re 55 to have good sex.

Emily Nagoski: And also just do your best. Do your best. Like, the thing is, so, my mom is great. I did not receive any explicit shaming messages. But when I was 11 we were driving home from the library and I think maybe I saw the word vagina in a book. And so on the way home from the library, I asked my mom, Hey mom, what’s a vagina?

And I do not remember the words she said, but I do remember this like flush of embarrassment and shame and awkward. When we got home, I looked it up in a medical encyclopedia, and I found out what a vagina was. But in that moment, my mom accidentally taught me how to feel about a vagina. And, but, yeah, and the thing is, she’s great.

She did a really good job. She, I mean, you know, in the 80s, she was like, don’t use The word gay as a slo as like to say something is bad. Like, early, she was already planting ideas about how, like, everyone is equal and diversity is good and you can be whoever you want to be. And also, she had, like, her own unexamined shit.

And, like, it would be awesome if parents Like, weed your own garden. Cause probably you’re gonna end up planting some of your own shit into your kid’s garden. And then they’re gonna have the job of, like, going through and digging that stuff out. All the work you do in your own garden is gonna make it so much easier for your offspring to do the same thing for themselves.

You do your best, and when you screw up what you’re going to, you forgive yourself and are transparent. And another Peggy, Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls and Sex and Boys and Sex. At the end of Girls and Sex, she talks about how her own mom, when she was like a teenager, would talk about how, like, satisfying her own sex life was, and how happy she was that she and her husband, her father, had, like, great sex.

And at the time, as a teenager, Peggy Orenstein was like, Ugh! Mom! Gross! And as an adult, especially as a parent of Young people was like, I really appreciate. What it took for her to say and do those things because it set a standard that it’s supposed to be pleasurable So like go ahead and like embarrass your kids like have boundaries that work for your Relationship and be age appropriate and all the stuff and you know what works for your kids and also don’t worry if they’re like, ah Because the whole world is telling them to be like, ah and that’s okay.

Heather: Yeah, I have a ten year old boy And I heard him the other day make some kind of joke about cream soda because he was drinking a cream soda and he said some kind of joke about cream. And so he didn’t know I could hear him, but that night when I put him to bed, I said, Hey, by the way, I heard your joke about cream soda.

And he looked at me and I said, I want you to know that your mother likes a dirty joke as well as the next person. And the look on his face, he was like, and I said, but you have to make sure that you are saying it to the right people. And in a way that is supportive and positive. We’re not using it as like, A violent thing or, and so I was like, there are boundaries, but just so you know, I am a human being and I like a good joke too.

And he was just like, okay, sounds good. That’s great. Okay. Well, what’s the one thing you want our listeners to know about your book and their future orgasms? One thing? I know.

Maureen: Just, just whichever is on the top of your head.

Emily Nagoski: Okay, let’s do this. I have, because people ask me if they’re normal all the time and I’ve had to think hard, like, what do people actually want to know when they want to know if they’re normal?

I made up a definition of normal sex. You ready? Normal sex is when everyone involved, peers, have sexual contact with each other, everyone is glad to be there. And free to leave with no unwanted consequences, including no unwanted emotional consequences, no emotional bribery, but if you loved me, oh, come on, hey, no unwanted consequences, and also no unwanted pain.

Perfect sex is normal sex, which is fully, freely consensual, and no unwanted pain, and everyone turns toward whatever is happening in the moment with kindness. Curiosity and joy, which means that if somebody wants an erection and an erection isn’t happening, you turn toward that absence of erection with curiosity and joy.

There are, first of all, a lot of cool things you can do with a non-erect penis, and also, you can just do a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t involve penises at all. Or if someone wants to have an orgasm and an orgasm isn’t happening, You turn toward that with curiosity, and kindness, and joy, and be like, So, maybe you’re getting frustrated, and also, like, When you have a high intensity of pleasure for a long time, that’s nothing but a win for me.

So, we can do whatever you choose to do, and also, if you just want to stay at a high level of pleasure for a long time, without, like, judging or criticizing yourself, and just enjoy that, I’m here for that. That’s perfect sex. It has nothing to do with functionality. It has everything to, the, the fastest way to turn your sex life into a problem is to worry about it, to judge it as wrong.

The best way to solve every problem is to turn toward it with kindness and compassion.

Heather: I can’t stop smiling. I feel like I just had the best therapy of my life. First of all, reading your book was very good therapy, and you can read it a couple different ways. Front to back, or you could just open it anywhere and be like, this probably applies to me.

I’ll just read this section. But thank you.

Emily Nagoski: There is a specific section for newer parents. And that’s there because my agent was a newer parent as I was writing it.

Maureen: Oh, that’s sweet. Well how about we tell everybody how to go buy this book right now.

Heather: Yeah, pre order it guys. If, if you love Emily like we do, you will want to pre order her book.

So she can hit all of the bestseller lists because they use that metric big time, and we always want to support our friends.

Emily Nagoski: How do you guys know all this stuff about, like, the, the publishing biz?

Heather: Listen, I don’t know. We know a lot of random facts. We’ve been podcasting for, like, going on four years now, and we’re, we are really into reading, so.

We love books. I, I don’t know where I found that out, but. I did, and I want you to have that.

Maureen: And now we just want every author on the podcast to have the best of everything.

Heather: We do. We want that for you. Go ahead, tell us where we can find you.

Emily Nagoski: All right, so the book is available anywhere books are sold.

There is no way to buy the book that benefits the author more than any other. Anywhere you buy it, it counts and is beneficial. I also love when people get it from the library. If your library doesn’t already have it ordered, you can like go up to a librarian and be like, Hi, can you make sure we get this?

Book and then or buy one copy and share it with all your friends. I’m also a big fan of that one.

Heather: That’s awesome. Awesome. All right. Well, Emily, thank you so much. All of that will be in the show notes for you all to access. And Yeah, we will talk to you later. Thank you so much for coming on. Thank you.

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Maureen: You deserve a Ceres chiller, and frankly, I could not live without one right now.

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Maureen: Well, I just, I, I feel like I’m in like a transcended space right now, after that.

Heather: I know, I feel, I feel like that kid that just made a new friend on the playground and it’s just like So exciting, because I just really want to see what she does next, and I can’t wait to see how this book revolutionizes relationships for people, and I know that it will.

I know it, because I’ve read it, and it’s amazing. So if you have not pre ordered your copy yet, please do so now.

Maureen: Yeah, I, you will not regret getting this book, 100%.

Heather: Oh, it’s so funny too. Like her way of writing where you can just read something that’s pretty serious, but still chuckle out loud because you’re like, yep, that that’s me.

And it’s just the way she says things is so hilarious. You are gonna love it. I promise.

Maureen: Yeah, and we really this is our favorite kind of book that hits the intersection of science and like relatability very well, which is like a hard space to exist in.

Heather: Yeah, it’s so hard to write like that, and it takes a very special and intelligent person to do so.

And we are so grateful that she came on the show today. If she’s made a difference, after you read this book, If you feel like it’s made a difference, please leave her a review and leave us a review on this episode and just kind of let us know how it affected your life. And you can always email us at MilkMinutePodcast at gmail.

com. And speaking of people that communicate with us about their wins, we do want to give an award today. This award is from Stephanie J, who’s in our Facebook support group. Stephanie says, Today, I hang up my pump after 13 months. 13 months of persistence, tears, hard work, mom math, love, and dedication to my sweet babe.

I’ve wanted to quit too many times to count, but I’m stubborn, dedicated, broke, if I’m being honest, side eyeing those formula prices and I was determined to make it to one year. Surprise, surprise, I passed my goal and I’m actually tearing up thinking about the end. I wouldn’t have even made it 24 hours into this journey if I hadn’t binged the Milk Minute podcast throughout my pregnancy and replayed certain episodes when needed.

I also had some help from Breastfeeding for Busy Moms, a lot of donor milk towards the end, and so much family support. To a goodbye that is a lot more bittersweet than just sweet, thank you and keep on keeping on. Stephanie. That’s so sweet. That is so sweet. That’s what this is all about, you guys. Like women propping each other up, making a difference for each other, sharing knowledge.

That’s how we do this thing.

Maureen: Absolutely. Well, we thought we’d give you the Lucky 13 Award. I love that. Lucky 13. That’s you, Steph. Yeah, you did fantastic and we are so proud of you.

Heather: Alright, well thank you for listening to another episode of the Milk Minute. You know how we change the system. You know. We just talked about it.

Okay. Go do that. Alright. Bye bye now.


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