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Sex educator Emily Nagoski visits to discuss pleasurable intercourse

Sex educator Emily Nagoski visits to discuss pleasurable intercourse

Emily Nagoski lectures about sexual behavior, the orgasm in Higley Auditorium. | REID STAUTBERG

Last night, Dr. Emily Nagoski gave a detailed lecture in Higley Hall about normalizing and reclaiming what intercourse is.

An award-winning author of the New York Times Best Seller Come As You Are, Nagoski began her sex education career in 1995 as a peer health educator at the University of Delaware (UD). At UD she was trained to teach her peers about stress, nutrition, physical activity and sex. She went on to learn about sexual violence prevention and response, earning an M.S. in counseling psychology from Indiana University (IU), and finally a Ph.D. in health behavior and human sexuality, also from IU.

After eight years of working as a lecturer and director of wellness education at Smith College, Nagoski now travels, trains professionals and teaches college students about sex.

Her hour-long lecture highlighted five key factors to keep in mind when having sex. She discussed genital response versus subjective arousal, context-dependent sexual pleasure, difficulties with orgasm, the importance of consent and how to create the best context for a sexual encounter.

Nagoski centered her lecture around the idea that all bodies are different, and therefore, all bodies like different things.

“[You must] look inside your own internal experience and ask your body what is true for it,” she said. “So have a look at your genitals, and learn not to see them through the cultural lenses of what they’re supposed to look like. Just see them through the lenses of actual biology… of how beautiful they are. You have your set of stuff. It’s made of the same parts as literally everybody else, just organized in a unique way.”

Much of Nagoski’s lecture dealt with patriarchical pressure and how such pressure can inform certain conceptions of sex. She addressed the often-overlooked fact that “genital response tells you what’s sexually relevant [and] subjective arousal tells you what’s sexually appealing.” She then displayed a Venn diagram that placed genital response beside sexual arousal. According to her data, for 50 percent of cisgender men, blood flow to their genitals indicates arousal. In contrast, however, this is true for only 10 percent of cisgender women. In this way, she explained how the idea that sexual arousal can always be felt is problematic. Ultimately, it lies in the hands of each partner to communicate when and how they are sexually aroused.

“If you bit into an apple, and it turned out that there was some worm in it, but your mouth had watered, is anybody gonna say to you, ‘well, I mean, your mouth watered. You just don’t want to admit how much you like that worm,’” Nagoski explained. “We are so good at [understanding this concept] when it doesn’t relate to sex.”

Further, she explained that “among the people who have vaginas, only about a quarter to a third are reliably orgasmic from vaginal stimulation alone.” Nagoski tied this idea back to her main topic: being comfortable with one’s body and exploring new things.

Nagoski also expressed that even if a person has not had an incredible sexual experience as a college student, this was normal, too.

“The average age at which [people] have their first experience of extraordinary sex is 55,” she said.

Nagoski ended her talk by discussing different elements that contribute to sexual pleasure, the first of which being outside emotions such as anxiety, depression or even sleep deprivation, that can inhibit performance. She went on to explain how a partner’s characteristics, physical or emotional, can play a role in arousal.

“My sister, a professional musician, [is] married to a professional musician, [and they’ve] been together 22 years … it took 17 years before she even told him that when she’s sitting in the living room reading, and he’s in the piano room practicing, that’s like the most sex-related content in their relationship,” she said.

Finally, Nagoski wanted to make one thing clear: There is no right or wrong way to have sex, as long as pleasure is the main priority.

“It is not who you have sex with or how often you have sex or what you do or where you do it,” she said. “It’s just whether or not you like the sex you are having.”

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