Let’s be honest, most of us don’t exactly like talking about sex. It can make many of us uncomfortable and we are raised in our society to keep our preferences, experiences, and concerns about sex private from pretty much everyone — sometimes even our partners. And even if we are discussing these things, it can be difficult to bring up any issues you may be having out of concern for your partner’s feelings.
But, if we do not talk about anything that may be inhibiting us from having the level or type of sexual intimacy that we want from our relationships, we are likely going to end up feeling upset and even coming to resent our partners later on in the relationship. So, if you want to avoid this possible source of fights — or if you are already experiencing negative effects on your relationship because of lack of or incompatible sexual intimacy — let’s find a way to talk about sexual intimacy and desire in a better way.
Luckily, Dr. Emily Nagoski, in her book “Come As You Are,” has already figured out a great way to talk about these topics using two words: accelerators and brakes.
What Are Brakes & Accelerators?
Just like in a car, our sexual desire can be increased or decreased by certain actions. In a car, these actions are using one of the two pedals under our steering wheel — the brake and the accelerator.
Now, of course, humans don’t come with a set of pedals that we can just push when it comes to how we are feeling, but, Emily Nagoski’s book, “Come As You Are” dives into how our sexual desire is actually ruled by our own personal brakes and accelerators. Unlike cars, though, people have way more “pedals” — after all, we do much more than simply accelerate and decelerate.
So, how exactly does this analogy work? Well, let’s talk about what we mean by brakes and accelerators here.
Let’s start off with the brakes. These are similar to “turn-offs” in the sense that they make you slow down, decrease your sexual desire, and may even make you decide that it is not the right time to engage in sexual activity with your partner.
You could have sensitive or low-sensitivity brakes and this will affect how easy it is for outside influences to affect your sexual desire. In other words, if you have sensitive brake pedals, you are going to be much more affected by both internal and external signals than if you had low-sensitivity brakes.
Accelerators, on the other hand, are like your “turn-ons.” These are the internal or external environments that increase your sexual desire. And just like with your brakes, you can have high- or low-sensitivity accelerators.
So, if you have more sensitive accelerators, you are going to experience more increased desire due to internal or external conditions. But, if you have low-sensitivity accelerator pedals, you may not be easily influenced by your environment or actions.
What if You Have Different Levels of Brakes & Accelerators?
Accelerators and brakes are not universal. It is very likely that you and your partner will have different sensitivities to both accelerators and brakes and you will also likely have completely different pedals. Many of the sexual intimacy issues that can develop later on in a relationship can be traced to reactions to different inputs being completely different.
For example, maybe you have more sensitive brakes than your partner does and one of the pedals that serves as a brake for you is being in a messy location. So, if your partner is wanting to get a little frisky with you, but you are busy thinking about all of the things that you need to clean and how long it is going to take, chances are, any feeling you may have about wanting to join them for a proverbial roll in the hay could be easily blocked out by the stress you may be feeling about getting the house in order.
Now, this was just one example of many that can happen in a relationship depending on your and your partner’s unique accelerator and brake pedals and the sensitivities of those pedals. In general, though, there are going to be two types of partners in a relationship: the partner with lots of brakes and the partner with lots of accelerators.
Here, we’re going to dive into each of these descriptions briefly before going into an exercise that you and your partner can do to get on the same page and help avoid letting that resentment build up over your relationship.
Lots of Brakes?
This is the partner in a relationship who has less sexual desire. If you are this partner you may feel like you feel pressured into sex sometimes — especially if you feel that you are agreeing to be sexually intimate to please your partner even when you do not really want to be sexually intimate during that time.
This can sometimes make us feel guilty and make us wish that we did want to be sexually intimate more often, which can lead us to feel like there are things that we need to do to change ourselves to better fit our partners. This is not an effective way to bring change to a relationship because a relationship is a two-way street. To figure out how to get both you and your partner on the same page and working together, you need to work with them — which is where the activity down below comes in.
Lots of Accelerators?
Alright, this partner is the one who wants more sexual intimacy in their relationship. Maybe the level of sexual intimacy has declined over time and you are looking to rekindle that fire or maybe you just have a higher sex drive than your partner does. Just like with the partner who has less sexual desire, it is important for you to approach this topic with your partner. Not on your own.
Relationships are built on communication and understanding of each other. So, if you are wanting to get to that place where you feel both of you are working together, try out the conversation activity below.
Try This Activity
If you want to get past the distance you are feeling when it comes to you and your partner and your intimacy, you need to talk about it with them. Chances are, they are feeling just as frustrated or concerned about it as you are, and talking to them about it can help you to both get on the same page.
So, try following these tips for a productive conversation that can help you figure out both your and your partners’ brakes and accelerators and what you can do to reignite that spark in your relationship.
- Ask your partner about their accelerators and share about yours.
- Ask your partner about their brakes and share what are brakes for you.
- Make room for the emotions you and your partner are feeling. This can be a tough conversation and if either of you are feeling upset, take a break.
- Practice acceptance. You and your partner will not have the same brakes and accelerators, and it is important to accept that and learn to work together, not against each other.
- Talk about what you (and your partner) feel is missing from your relationship now that you are not experiencing that same sexual intimacy you were before.
- Talk about what was going on in your relationship when you began fighting and losing physical intimacy.
- Finally, reflect on your conversation. Are there any accelerators or brakes that you maybe did not know before coming into the conversation?
Having Trouble Beginning the Discussion?
Even with the conversation activity above, it can be extremely intimidating to bring up concerns about sexual intimacy with your partner — especially when you feel you are not on the same page. Conversations about sex make us feel vulnerable and they can be really scary for us to bring up.
If this is the case, it can be helpful to consult a professional therapist. Therapists are equipped to help you confront these issues and learn strategies and techniques that can help you address them with your partner.
So, if you are feeling nervous about having this conversation or you are just not sure how to bring it up, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow. We can work with you in individual or couples therapy and we also have dedicated sex therapy that can help you bring up those more difficult to approach topics about sexual intimacy. We look forward to hearing from you, whether it is to schedule a session or even just to ask a few questions!