Traditionally, arousal is visualized as a linear progression:
Arousal – Plateau- Orgasm – Resolution
The standard sex advice is that to enjoy sex more, just add more arousal. More lingerie, more candles, more genital stimulation.
But we all know it is not that simple. You can flood your system with arousing input and still not be turned on.
A newer model of arousal is the dual control model. It was developed in the 1990’s at the Kinsey Institute by Erick Janssen and John Bancroft and explored in Emily Nagoski’s book, Come As You Are. We interview Emily Nagoski about the dual control model of arousal (and SO much more!) in podcast episodes 79 and 80.
When you embrace the dual control model of arousal, it puts you in the driver’s seat. You can learn to manage your turn ons and turn offs to create a more arousing erotic experience every time. As Nagoski says, you can learn to “turn on your turn ons and turn off your turn offs!”
Your turn ons are the gas pedal for your arousal. Your turn offs are the inhibitions that slam the brakes on your arousal. Most people focus on adding more gas – but this won’t work if your foot is slammed on the brake!
Both the Sexual Excitation System (the gas) and the Sexual Inhibition System (the brakes) respond to all sensual stimuli, your thoughts, fantasies and emotions. That means essentially EVERYTHING going on in your life will influence how easy or difficult it is to get turned on. Common inhibitions include stress, resent, guilt, shame and everyday distractions like laundry in the corner. Sensitive brake, no matter how strong the accelerator, is strongest predictor of sexual problems of all kinds. Learn what your specific inhibitions are and you can more easily manage them, paving the way for more arousal and a better sexual connection. You can also learn how to avoid “arousal contingency,” a common condition where everything must be “just perfect” before you allow yourself to get aroused. Arousal contingency is a big problem for a lot of people, but it can be overcome with the right mindset.
In this podcast, we share with you the dual control model of arousal and guide you in learning how to manage your sexual experience. Instead of waiting for the perfect moment to arise, you can actively design your life to be more conducive to getting aroused. You can minimize distractions, eliminate active turn offs and add in more of what works for you!
Transcript for Podcast Episode: Manage Your Turn Ons and Turn Offs
Chris Rose (00:01):
Hi, welcome to Speaking of Sex with the Pleasure Mechanics. I’m Chris.
Charlotte Rose (00:05):
Chris Rose (00:06):
We are the Pleasure Mechanics, and on this podcast we offer expert advice so you can have an amazing sex life. You can find our complete podcast archives at pleasuremechanics.com, where you will also find a wealth of resources for you to optimize your sex life.
Chris Rose (00:23):
Get started for free by going to pleasuremechanics.com/free where you will find our free mini courses. We just added our second free mini course, which is all about the pleasures of backdoor play, if you know what I mean. We have to be a little creative with language to get through the email filter sometimes, but if you like butt sex, anal sex, backdoor play, that free mini course is for you. And we also have one called the Erotic Essentials, which is our best sex advice for you to just jump start your sex life and start down the path towards more pleasure. And those mini courses are delivered free to your inbox. Why not go to pleasure mechanics.com/free and get started tonight?
Chris Rose (01:06):
On today’s episode, we are going to be talking about a really important framework for you to understand your arousal, and debunking some of the myths about arousal that apply to both men and women. And I really find that this framework helps you kind of take charge of your arousal.
Charlotte Rose (01:28):
I believe I’ve heard you talk about it as becoming the architect of your arousal.
Chris Rose (01:32):
Well, if you want to be highfalutin.
Charlotte Rose (01:34):
Which is quite a beautiful phrase. And a beautiful idea. And anytime we can have a little bit more say or control, because we all like control to some extent.
Chris Rose (01:45):
Charlotte Rose (01:47):
We can enjoy sex, we can design it and play with it more. And there’s just more room for fun.
Chris Rose (01:53):
Traditionally we imagine arousal as this linear path, where you get turned on by something and then you get more excited and then you build arousal, you have an orgasm, and then there’s this decline. And we’ve all seen the arousal charts. And a lot of people think of this is how sex works, for both men and women. And maybe women have a longer plateau stage. Traditionally, this is called the arousal plateau orgasm model. But it turns out that this isn’t necessarily true.
Charlotte Rose (02:25):
I don’t know if everyone has seen that model. Do you want to just describe what it looks like or do you think you’ve just explained it?
Chris Rose (02:31):
Well, the chart that kind of looks like a little mountain peak where you get turned on and then you climb towards arousal and you plateau a little bit and it’s kind of flat and then you spike towards orgasm and then it drops off.
Charlotte Rose (02:44):
Chris Rose (02:45):
And if you were playing with edging, it might be you climb, you plateau, you climb, you plateau, you climb, you plateau. And it’s a useful chart to think about getting turned on. But what it doesn’t account for is turnoffs.
Chris Rose (02:59):
And we want to talk about the dual control model of arousal. And colloquially, I think we think about this as turn-ons and turn-offs, but we don’t really give turn-offs a lot of credit once you’re in the act of sex. You might think of, it really turns me off when someone has bad breath. But maybe that’s a reason I wouldn’t initiate sex with that person or wouldn’t date that person or it’s a real turnoff for me if someone’s arrogant. We kind of think it’s, turnoffs is like things that stop us from-
Charlotte Rose (03:27):
Getting together with people. Yeah.
Chris Rose (03:29):
Getting together with people or being in the mood for sex, maybe. But it turns out that turn ons and turn offs are constantly at play. And as we’re getting aroused, there’s this interplay between things that excite us and things that inhibit us.
Chris Rose (03:46):
And this model was developed in the 1990s at the Kinsey Institute by Eric Johnson and John Bancroft. And then it was explored in Emily Nagoski’s amazing book Come as You Are. And we interviewed Emily Nagoski and she has so much to say that we actually divided into two episodes. So you’ll find that at episode 79 and episode 80, over at pleasuremechanics.com you’ll find our complete podcast archive. And if you look for episode 79 and 80 you’ll find our interview with Emily Nagoski and we talk a little bit about the dual control model there. But we want to dive a little bit further into it now.
Chris Rose (04:25):
So dual control model, the easiest way to think about this is the gas pedal and the brake pedal of your car. As you’re driving along, you naturally use both of these pedals to modulate the speed of your car. It turns out in our bodies, there’s a gas pedal and a brake pedal for our arousal as well. And like in your car, they’re constantly working together to excite you and bring you down, excite you, and bring you down. And so traditionally we think that to have better sex, we just need to add more arousal, we need to add more gas and go faster and get more excited. Things like lingerie, lighting candles, more touch on your genitals, faster touch on your genitals, licking your nipples like, more and more and more.
Chris Rose (05:13):
But as it turns out, you can add lots and lots of gas to your system. But that doesn’t matter if your foot is also slammed on the brake. And the dual control model suggests that most of us and most sexual problems and dysfunctions come from too much pressure on the brake. Too much sexual inhibition. And when I say inhibition here, I don’t want you to think of feeling shy or feeling prudish, which is often how we think, “You’re so inhibited.”
Chris Rose (05:44):
Sexual inhibition here is a scientific term used to indicate anything that puts pressure on your brake pedal, anything that stops your nervous system from firing your arousal system. And so each of these systems, the sexual excitation system, your gas, and the sexual inhibition system, your brakes, respond to all of your senses. Touch, taste, smell, sight. What am I missing? Touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. And also your thoughts and imagination.
Charlotte Rose (06:23):
Chris Rose (06:25):
And emotions. All of those things are constantly at play and your brain is interpreting any signal as either something that’s exciting you and bringing you further into arousal, or something that’s inhibiting you and tamping that down. And so it’s constantly a little bit of gas, a little bit of brake, a little bit of gas, a little bit of break. And it turns out the interplay between these systems is what creates your overall arousal experience.
Chris Rose (06:50):
And so most of us don’t need just more gas, more gas, more gas. We need to become mindful and aware of and in control of the things that put the brakes on our arousal.
Charlotte Rose (07:01):
And that is extremely important and extremely particular and specific for each of us. And there’s real power in exploring for yourself what turns you off, what gets in the way of you feeling arousal. And if you really take some time to reflect on this, you might find some answers and then you can do something about it, either in either just internally or practically in your life.
Chris Rose (07:27):
Let’s explore some of these things. We all kind of understand what excitations might be. Your partner looks hot in those tight jeans.
Charlotte Rose (07:36):
We talked about lingerie, we talked about some people will have visual stimulation, getting the mood right with the right music, the right lighting.
Chris Rose (07:45):
And then of course touch.
Charlotte Rose (07:47):
The right kind of touch.
Chris Rose (07:48):
Yes. The skilled, amazing, confident touch you’ve learned from your Pleasure Mechanics courses.
Chris Rose (07:56):
There’s all of those things that arouse you. What are some of the things that might put the brakes on your arousal?
Charlotte Rose (08:02):
Well, I know for myself, yes, my mother or my daughter being within a one mile radius of where I’m trying to have sex.
Chris Rose (08:10):
Charlotte Rose (08:10):
I have learned.
Chris Rose (08:10):
We’ve tried to be intimate with them going on a walk by our house and-
Charlotte Rose (08:14):
I just can’t do it now. Even, my mom used to live down the hill, a few hundred feet away. And that was not far enough for my psychic space to relax. And this is a very, she moved a few miles away now and I feel like I have more space to really think about myself as an erotic being.
Chris Rose (08:31):
Charlotte Rose (08:32):
And that is a very practical and very strange psychic thing.
Chris Rose (08:35):
Well it’s not that strange, because if you think about it, the sexual inhibition system is there for a reason. It’s there to prevent us from getting turned on where it’s not socially appropriate.
Charlotte Rose (08:44):
Chris Rose (08:45):
So the presence of family members for most people is a strong inhibitor. And just the possibility that they might walk in is a strong inhibitor. So that makes sense.
Charlotte Rose (08:55):
And I think that’s a really important thing for mothers and families to figure out. How much space do you need from your children to be able to feel like a sexual erotic being, separate from being a mother or a daughter?
Chris Rose (09:07):
And that might be different for different people.
Charlotte Rose (09:09):
Chris Rose (09:09):
Some people it’s just being in a different room. Some people want a lock on the door.
Charlotte Rose (09:13):
Chris Rose (09:14):
Okay, so other turnoffs? Let’s get personal. Bad smells for me really will do it. Can’t cook fish in the house if we want to get turned on.
Charlotte Rose (09:24):
I really prefer to have sex after a shower. I don’t feel like body smells are bad or wrong or any of that, but I just feel like I can relax more freely.
Chris Rose (09:33):
I think it’s more about hygiene.
Charlotte Rose (09:34):
Chris Rose (09:35):
It’s not really about funky smells, it’s bacteria.
Charlotte Rose (09:37):
I just like, I can relax a lot more and that inhibition is just not there.
Chris Rose (09:43):
Especially for people who like butt touch, knowing their butts are clean and there’s no poo that might be hanging out or a little piece of toilet paper, that was a huge inhibition.
Chris Rose (09:53):
For other people, it’s just stress. Mental to do lists like, “I didn’t pay the electricity bill and I think it’s due tomorrow and am I going to get an overdraft?” Those kinds of mental chatter can be a huge big foot on the brakes for your arousal. For other people it’s like clutter in the room or laundry in the corner. It’s a no go.
Chris Rose (10:15):
So are you getting the idea here? It’s all of these things that distract us, pull us away or actively turn us off sexually. You might love the way your partner smells, but a certain kind of smell, not so much. For each sensory experience there’s pluses and minuses. Gas and brakes.
Charlotte Rose (10:34):
Certain kinds of music can really be a turn off. Certain kind of music can be a real turn on. And this is like an exploration, but sometimes a song will come on in a playlist.
Chris Rose (10:45):
Yeah. Recently we were listening to a playlist and it was good and we were vibing with it. It was great. And then this one song came on, I was like, I feel like a Disney princess.
Charlotte Rose (10:52):
Yeah. We were both like just not in the mood.
Chris Rose (10:54):
Charlotte Rose (10:54):
We were like, all right, we’re done now. And that was valuable information. We won’t be using that playlist again. And it’s so particular.
Chris Rose (11:02):
And so with all of this information, the task here, your homework is to really think about your own erotic experiences and start thinking for yourself and cataloging all of your things that are turned on, all of your excitations, all of the things you can purposefully add in to add more gas to your experience.
Chris Rose (11:26):
And then more importantly, what are all the things that might take you away from the experience? What are all your turnoffs? What puts the brakes on your experience? And I didn’t mention, for some people trauma, past experiences, grief, there are these bigger forces that can be like a handbrake. That it’s not just tapping on the brakes, it’s your parking brake is engaged and that takes a longer time to really work on and ease the pressure off of that.
Chris Rose (11:54):
And so not all of these things can be directly instantaneously managed, but some of them can. And that’s what’s so important because all of the pressure you take off your brakes allows that gas to work better. We’ve heard from so many couples who they’re pouring gas on the fire. I keep wanting to use like gas on the fire, but we’re talking about gas in a car but same.
Charlotte Rose (12:15):
Fuel on a fire, yes.
Chris Rose (12:16):
They’re putting more and more arousal, more and more excitation, and they’re not understanding why they’re not getting further and they’re not getting to orgasm. They’re not getting as excited as they used to and they’re not thinking about this whole category of things that are inhibitors, things that are turning them off, things that are just bringing them down a little bit. This can be medical, this can be life situations, it can be financial. All of these things that add up in life have an effect every time we try to get turned on.
Charlotte Rose (12:45):
And that’s kind of annoying. I wish every time we entered the erotic zone, we were just like blank slates that just could be filled with arousal and it was all simple and just a matter of stroking the right part of your body and bam, we’re there. We’re not that easy.
Chris Rose (13:01):
Yeah. And that’s a blessing too. We’re complicated erotic beings, but part of that is managing the things that inhibit your arousal system.
Chris Rose (13:13):
If you know laundry in the corner is going to distract you, you need to take some time, prepare for sex, or rearrange your house so the hampers not in your bedroom.
Chris Rose (13:23):
And a lot of people could work on their bedrooms as more erotic zones and we maybe should do an episode about that because having the TV on with the news certainly isn’t going to be conducive for wanting to make love that night. How do you create the space, manage all of those sensory inputs to optimize for your sexual experience?
Chris Rose (13:44):
And you’re two people, probably, maybe three, I don’t know. But most people are two people in the sexual experience. And so if she is really into soft feminine colors and frilly things and scented candles, he might find that a turn off.
Chris Rose (14:02):
You need to collaborate on this. I think a lot of people go too far in feminizing the bedroom and then wonder why the guy can’t get a lot of mojo up. Maybe they need a little bit more of a powerful masculine space. And that’s totally gendered. I know. But my point is that it takes two, and so you have to negotiate and make sure that that sensory input is meeting as many of your mutual needs as possible.
Charlotte Rose (14:28):
Yeah. And that we have to be erotic detectives and architects and have those conversations to design something like a space and a time that is conducive to both of you getting it on.
Chris Rose (14:43):
Right. The architect thing is more, it’s about more than just your space. It’s also about designing your erotic experiences. And so you think about if you set a date night, if you know the kids are out of the house on the weekend, or if you know on Thursday nights we have a little bit more time together because of our schedules, you want to start designing your lifestyle to make it more conducive that you’ll be in the erotic zone.
Chris Rose (15:09):
And so this is, yes, about managing all the physical things, but it’s also about managing your physical energy and your mindset. And so if you know for yourself that you’ve been stressed out that week, maybe you want to take some time and decompress, go to a yoga class, take a bath, go on a walk with your friend and chat it all out. Then, when you’re with your partner, you don’t feel like you have to vent about your annoying boss. You can be present.
Chris Rose (15:34):
When we talk about being an architect of your own arousal, it’s taking into account all of these factors and it’s almost like laying it all out on the table and being like, all right, what can I manage?
Charlotte Rose (15:46):
Chris Rose (15:47):
What’s out of my control? Okay, there’s going to be some pressure on the brake, but that’s okay. This isn’t a fragile thing. You don’t have to get all of the inhibitions out of the way. Your body can overcome some inhibition, but as many as you can manage, all the better. And then what can I add to the experience? What inputs can I create that will create more excitation?
Chris Rose (16:13):
And you do your best, right? This isn’t another thing to put pressure on your sexual experience. It’s just a way of thinking about it that kind of gives you a little bit more control over all of those factors that may be holding you back in bed that when they go unnamed, it’s kind of like, “Well, why didn’t I enjoy that as much? And my partner put so much effort in and we’re both trying, but it’s just not feeling as good.”
Chris Rose (16:36):
Because if you’re just thinking of it that way, you can start making up problems and thinking that it’s about you and your partner and your dynamic and maybe your relationship is getting boring and sex is never going to be as good as it used to we kind of spin out and make it very personal.
Chris Rose (16:52):
But when we think about, okay, so I’m stressed out at work, my mother’s sick, my sister’s coming for a visit next week, there’s laundry piling up.
Charlotte Rose (17:01):
There’s a bit of debt.
Chris Rose (17:03):
My house smells like fish. Some of those things can be managed, and some can’t. And when you name things specifically and recognize that all of these factors have an impact on your arousal in each moment, you can start being in charge a little bit more, in the driver’s seat, if you will.
Charlotte Rose (17:27):
Yeah, I mean it’s amazing that we ever manage to be turned on at all with the complications of life, but it’s about trying to carve out space and get ourselves in the mood and understand that we are flawed, complicated beings. We do not need everything to be perfect by any stretch, but we are going for good enough and connecting from that place.
Chris Rose (17:51):
And some people react to these strategies like, “It makes sex so clinical and you shouldn’t have to think about it so much and shouldn’t it just be spontaneous and amazing?” And all of these messages come to us from this romanticized erotic culture where we think that the best sex is spontaneous and in the moment, and you never have to think about it. But that’s just not the way life works for anything and any physical experience. If you want to get fit, you just don’t exercise spontaneously and all of a sudden you are fit and muscular and a star athlete. It’s not how it happens.
Charlotte Rose (18:25):
Yeah. It’s just a myth, and it’s this complicated.
Chris Rose (18:29):
But it’s part of sex negativity, right? It’s like, you shouldn’t have to put any effort into great sex. But if we thought that way about exercise and physical fitness, people lay out their clothes for the gym, pack the gym bag, work it into their schedule, that they’ll get to the gym before work, walk home instead of taking the bus.
Charlotte Rose (18:47):
Yeah, you schedule it.
Chris Rose (18:47):
They manage their diet-
Charlotte Rose (18:49):
Chris Rose (18:49):
You put all this effort into it, if you want results. And you have to be willing to put a little bit of effort into your sex life, and a little bit of thought and planning and get to know yourself, what works for you specifically, if you want to see results and have a better sex life. And yeah.
Charlotte Rose (19:08):
I think that’s useful.
Chris Rose (19:09):
This is one of the great tools for doing that is getting to know yourself and what are your accelerators and what are your breaks?
Charlotte Rose (19:17):
I also want to mention that we did, I thought a pretty great episode on distractions. So there’s some overlap here, and that was episode number 54. And we talked a lot about preparing for sex more mentally and some of the strategies around that. I think that’s a useful pairing to this podcast.
Chris Rose (19:37):
As I said before, in all of the studies they’ve done with this framework, they found that a sensitive brake pedal, no matter how strong your accelerator, is the strongest predictor of sexual problems of all kinds.
Chris Rose (19:52):
You can be someone who gets really turned on. But if you have also a sensitive brake pedal, if there’s a lot of things that inhibit you, that’s the strongest predictor that you’re going to have an unhappy sex life. And so this is really important that we start managing our brake pedals, so to speak.
Chris Rose (20:10):
And these studies also found that one of the patterns is what they call arousal contingency. This idea that everything has to be just right for you to get turned on. There have to be fresh flowers in the room and the room has to smell like fresh daisies, do daisies smell? Like lavender, and the lighting has to be just right and everything has to be just so before I get turned on. And this is a kind of preciousness that if you get too attached to it, can really inhibit your sex life. And it puts a lot of pressure on you to create all those conditions.
Chris Rose (20:46):
And so as we tell you to manage your brake pedal, it’s not necessarily about making everything just so and just perfect and it has to be this precious, perfect, fragile thing. It’s more about identifying these things and managing them so you can forget about them.
Charlotte Rose (21:09):
And there’s no shame in having all of these things that you would like to have taken care of.
Chris Rose (21:16):
No, but there’s the balance there. This arousal contingency, a lot of the studies say that that is one of the biggest things that is creating sexual dysfunction and sexual unhappiness. And so you can go too far with trying to manage everything. I think it’s this idea of, I don’t know, it’s, I want to encourage people to take their brakes seriously and try to put effort into creating the conditions for great sex.
Chris Rose (21:47):
But at the same time, you have to also understand that it doesn’t have to be fragile.
Charlotte Rose (21:53):
It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Chris Rose (21:55):
Yeah. For me, like the smell thing, I used to just be so strongly identified with that, that I was like, “You can never cook fish in the house because it just disgusts me for days.” And now it’s kind of like, “Well, you really like fish and I know it’s going to be a little unpleasant for me, but if I know that I can kind of manage it a little better. So go ahead and cook fish a couple of times a week.” But it’s just like I can manage it better having identified it, and then let it go a little bit.
Chris Rose (22:22):
Or if you take that laundry and shove it in the closet, the laundry is still there and you can fixate on it if you want to and be like, “Well, the laundry didn’t get done today, so there’s no way I’m going to get turned on.”
Chris Rose (22:34):
Or you can shove it in the closet and be like, “I’m going to take care of you later.”
Charlotte Rose (22:38):
I’m just not going to think about you right now.
Chris Rose (22:40):
Charlotte Rose (22:40):
Chris Rose (22:42):
There’s this way of managing things to try to get them off your mind instead of making the, giving them more power. So by managing them, you give them less weight in your erotic experience rather than more.
Charlotte Rose (22:57):
And then you choose, you can choose to manage what you can manage and then choose to focus on allowing the arousal to build and to pay attention to them and to let them grow in your body and mind.
Chris Rose (23:10):
And this is even, I’m going to go a little bit bigger for a second, when dealing with the big things that can inhibit you like trauma. One of the most useful things for me in my recovery from sexual trauma was acknowledging everything that had happened to me and instead of letting myself fixate on it during a sexual experience with a new person and thinking about it and, “Am I broken?” And it’s like there’s this way it can overcome your mind and it’s actually all you’re thinking about and there’s no way you’re getting turned on from that place.
Chris Rose (23:40):
You can think about it and manage it and then set it aside and choose to be present and actively create a story like “I’m with this person now, I am safe, I am choosing this and consenting to it.” And you change the direction of your mind, you change what you’re focusing on. And so that’s another way of taking the pressure off the brake pedals. I’m not going to focus on the laundry, I’m not going to focus on the trauma. I’m going to focus on my lover’s face, because that’s an excitation.
Chris Rose (24:09):
I’m going to focus on his smell because I really love the way his armpits smell right now. And so you’re putting more focus of your attention on things that are giving you gas. Partly it’s also about mindset and training your mind to focus on the gas instead of the brakes.
Charlotte Rose (24:25):
You’re directing your neural pathways.
Chris Rose (24:28):
Okay. I think we’ve given you enough. I would love to hear from you about if this framework is useful to you and what are some of the things that you can manage to give yourself more gas and less breaks in your arousal system?
Chris Rose (24:42):
Come on over to pleasuremechanics.com and be in touch with us, and remember to go to pleasuremechanics.com/free for our free ever-growing collection of free mini courses where we deliver our best advice straight to your inbox. And you can get started tonight, changing your sex life.
Chris Rose (25:01):
And if you’re ready to go beyond the free mini courses, check out our premium online multimedia erotic mastery courses where we guide you stroke by stroke in mastering new erotic skills. Everything from couples massage to foreplay to spanking and much more. You can check them out at pleasuremechanics.com and use the code speaking of sex for 20% off the course of your choice.
Chris Rose (25:27):
Charlotte Rose (25:28):
And I’m Charlotte.
Chris Rose (25:29):
We are the Pleasure Mechanics.
Charlotte Rose (25:30):
Wishing you a lifetime of pleasure.