4 Ways To Spice Up Your Sex Life Using The Latest In Sexual Psychology Research

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In a recent Reddit Science AMA series post, a Redditor asked sex educator Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., "what is the new science that will revolutionize my sex life?" In response, Nagoski named four paradigms: the dual control model, responsive desire, arousal nonconcordance, and meta-emotions. Though it’s always fun to debate the latest sex research, it’s not always clear how to bring the surprising statistics and amusing theories into the bedroom. So if that all sounds like scientific mumble jumble to you (show of hands??), here’s a user-friendly guide to each concept and how you can use it to improve your sex life.

1. The Dual Control Model

Think of sexual arousal like driving a car. If you want to speed up, you’ll usually step on the gas pedal. But that won’t work if your other foot is on the brakes. Couples often try to spice up their sex lives with kink, sexy outfits, new positions, or dirty talk. But for many, a more effective fix to a lackluster sex life may be to address other issues in the relationship that are acting as brakes.

In this brilliant diagram, Nagoski illustrates the factors that accelerate and halt the process of sexual arousal. Sexual shame, emotional distance, and insecurity can play huge roles in dampening sexual flames. Talking about these issues not only helps remove roadblocks to mind-blowing sex but also increases emotional intimacy, which in turn heats things up in the bedroom in an endless cycle of gloriousness.

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Doing nice things for each other outside the bedroom can also put the gas on couples’ sex lives. "Sometimes the sexiest thing a person can do for their partner... is the dishes. And that's true for everyone, regardless of gender or genitals," Nagoski told the Redditor.

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2. Responsive Desire

Sexual desire comes in all different forms, but one way experts slice it up involves the categories of responsive and spontaneous desire. Responsive desire arises from erotic situations, such as genital stimulation or exposure to sexy photos or videos, whereas spontaneous desire comes seemingly out of the blue.

Most people experience both responsive and spontaneous desire, and more than half (85 percent of women, 25 percent of men) experience responsive desire primarily. In addition, Nagoski explains that some people’s arousal may be more spontaneous “while they’re falling in love or when they’re trying to make a baby or when they’re on a sexy vacation” and more responsive “10 years into the marriage, a year after the birth of the baby, or in the stressful life that makes them need the vacation.”

What does this mean for your sex life? If you or your partner experience responsive desire, that’s completely normal – you may just need to create situations to respond to. This can mean scheduling times to have sex or, conversely, making time for physical affection outside of sex to help you feel less pressured and more connected. It can also help to reassure your partner that your lack of spontaneous desire does not indicate a lack of attraction.

Your desire is totally valid whether it occurs spontaneously or responsively. Sometimes igniting a flame just requires you to get down in the dirt and rub some sticks together, er, if you catch my drift.

3. Arousal Nonconcordance

When she sang “My body’s saying ‘let’s go,’ but my heart is saying ‘no,’” Christina Aguilera probably had no idea she was summing up arousal nonconcordance – when something physiologically arouses you, but you still don’t want to do it. Nogoski writes on her blog, “Just because your body responds to a particular idea or sight or story or whatever doesn’t mean that you necessarily like it or want it.”

In fact, studies have found a bafflingly low correlation between what women consider arousing and what their genitals respond to (measured by blood flow to the vagina). Researchers theorize that extremely varied sexual stimuli send blood rushing to the vagina to lubricate it for protection against potential tissue damage or STD infection.

It’s extremely important to keep arousal nonconcordance in mind when determining whether you have consent. A partner’s physical response is not enough to give the go-ahead; they must also be mentally on board with the situation. Sexual assault victims, male and female, commonly show signs of physical arousal – and that does not make the assault less egregious.

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4. Meta-emotions

Meta-emotions, as the name would suggest, describe how you feel about your feelings. “Emotion-coaching” meta-emotions encourage you to express and attend to your feelings without the need to justify them. And many of us know “emotion-dismissing” emotions, which police your emotions by classifying them as irrational or overreacting, all too well.

Meta-emotions become an issue when one partner’s emotion-dismissing attitudes make the other partner feel invalidated or starved for sympathy. Especially when someone feels responsible for their partner’s uncomfortable emotions, they may get defensive, leading to further dismissal and gaslighting.

Couples can break the pattern of emotion-dismissing by making room to hear each other’s feelings without any pressure to identify their source or assign blame for them. Sometimes, whether in a romantic partnership, a friendship, or any relationship, we just need a shoulder to lean on.

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