When couples come for counseling, more often than not, sex or lack of sex or not enough sex comes up. Some variation of these come up because for one, I will ask about it, and also because it is such a hot topic, fraught with layers of vulnerabilities that it's unavoidable. These discussions about sexual intimacy in couples counseling always lead me to introduce the Dual Control Model (DCM), as brilliantly summarized by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. in her book "Come As You Are."
The Myth About Arousal:
Many people go by the false premise that arousal (i.e. the body's signs that it wants sex) has an on and off switch. You're either turned on or you're not. You make out, a little petting happens, yadi yada ... you have sex. This linear view of sex fails to take into account the integral role of desire (i.e. wanting to have sex).
Very often, people believe that new lingerie, some wine, chocolates, or whatever should do the trick (turn you on and it's all smooth sailing from there). And when it doesn't, the couple is very frustrated, hurt, and at times angry. All this because they create false meaning around why all that foreplay didn't lead to anything. This is where you will appreciate the invaluable contribution of DCM.
Let's start with the basics: Using a Car Analogy
If there ever was an appropriate time to use a car analogy, this is it!
Our nervous system is comprised of a series of accelerators and brakes, which are also available as sexual excitation and inhibition systems. These two systems are affected by the various sights, smells, noises, touch, tastes, images, and even thoughts and emotions -- which send signals to the brain to either go (the accelerator) or stop (the brakes).
Within the brakes you have two sub-brakes: one that's like the foot peddle that will totally turn off your system (you'll come to full stop), and another that's more like the handbrake (you can keep driving the car, but it will drag and you'll burn through gas really fast).
So like driving, your foot should be on the accelerator but not so much that you're blowing through all the red lights and hitting people, therefore your other foot should be ready to slowly pump the brakes so that you can slow down or stop when you need to.
How the Dual Control Model Works in The Bedroom:
So now that you have the basics, you can see that it's not just an on and off switch, it's actually two separate systems that are at play and must work together: You have your accelerators that are on a continuum between sensitive and insensitive. And you have the brakes that are on a continuum from sensitive to insensitive. You want a nice balance of both dials centered around the middle and able to move in synchrony.
If your foot is on the brake peddle, you can go all out on the accelerator, that car ain't going nowhere!
What you need to focus on is identifying what's keeping your foot on the brake and how you can begin to get your foot off the brake in order to take your car out on the town!
And on the flip side, you can't just hit the accelerator full force, because you know you will crash and someone's going to get hurt.
Next week I'll talk about how you can create a balance between the accelerator and the brakes.