Do you ever feel like the daily grind is grinding you down? Burnout – the feeling of never enoughness, of being locked in a non-feeling state of perpetual motion, of feeling like there is no candle left to burn from either end – is the lived experience of so many of us. Burnout is real – but so are the solutions, both personal and collective, that will lead us into a more honest and vibrant relationship with our lives.
Check out the schedule for Burnout book tour events, download reading guides and more at BurnoutBook.net
In this episode we cover:
- the stress cycle: what it is and why it needs to be completed
- the most efficient ways to complete your daily stress cycles
- the hidden costs of accumulated stress
- how the stress cycle impacts our ability to enjoy sex, relaxed intimacy and affectionate touch
- the meaning of finding meaning
- the importance of communal joy
- why self care is ultimately about social justice
- the Human Giver Syndrome – what it is, who has it and how we cure it together
- how addressing your burnout can help ignite your eroticism
This book is a GAME CHANGER – an answer to the underlying issue that drives so many of our collective struggles: Burnout. If you have ever felt complete overwhelm, a mounting state of despair and a sense of disconnection, you’ve felt the impact of Burnout.
Let’s start practicing the solutions, together. We will be doing community discussions, giveaways and (optional, at home) guided explorations with our Patrons as we explore these themes together in April. Join us on Patreon and let’s take collective baby steps towards ending the overwhelm, installing the good and learning how to savor more from life.
All the episodes in this series will be collected here.
Check out our interview with Emily Nagoski about sexuality, female orgasm and her book Come As You Are
Get more info about the book Burnout: the secret to unlocking the stress cycle from Penguin Random House
Transcription of Podcast Episode: Burnout Interview with Emily Nagoski
Podcast transcripts are generated with love by humans, and thus may not be 100% accurate. Time stamps are included so you can cross reference or jump to any point in the podcast episode above. Thanks to our supporters on Patreon for helping to make podcast transcripts possible!
Chris Rose: 00:00 Hi, welcome to Speaking of Sex With the Pleasure Mechanics. This is Chris from pleasuremechanics.com and on today’s episode, I am thrilled to bring you a conversation with Emily Nagoski. Emily Nagoski is author of one of our favorite sex books ever, ‘Come as You Are’. She’s been on the podcast before from a two-part episode about the surprising science of sex and we’ll link to that in the show note’s page. Because if you are new to Emily Nagoski’s work, you will definitely want to check that out.
Chris Rose: 00:36 Today, she’s here to talk about her new book, ‘Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle’. We talk all about how stress and sexuality are connected, how we all struggle in this culture to complete our stress cycle and find a sense of purpose and joy and belonging. It is an amazing book and we loved it so much, for the next four episodes of Speaking of Sex, we are going to be diving into a little miniseries, a four-episode exploration of the themes that emerge through ‘Burnout’ and this conversation around stress and sexuality. You can find all of our ‘Burnout’ episodes and resources at pleasuremechanics.com/burnout and join our free online course at pleasuremechanics.com/free.
Chris Rose: 01:31 All right, here we go with my interview Emily Nagoski. Welcome to the Speaking of Sex miniseries on sexual burnout.
Chris Rose: 01:41 Emily Nagoski, welcome to Speaking of Sex.
Emily Nagoski: 01:44 I’m so excited to be here.
Chris Rose: 01:45 I should say welcome back because you’ve been on the show before about your first book, ‘Come as You Are’, which is now widely considered to be one of the most important sex books in the field.
Emily Nagoski: 01:56 Is it?
Chris Rose: 01:57 Yes.
Emily Nagoski: 01:57 Wow.
Chris Rose: 01:59 I’m glad to be the one to tell you that. We refer it all the time. It’s one of those books that both professionals and our wide audience both say they have so many ah-ha moments with. Even they start with our interview with you on the podcast and then get the book and were like, “I have no idea how normal I was, how common these struggles I feel are, and how explainable they are.”
Emily Nagoski: 02:25 Yeah.
Chris Rose: 02:26 For anyone who doesn’t have ‘Come as You Are’ on your bookshelf, please get it now and while you’re there, order Emily’s second book, ‘Burnout’. I am so excited to talk to you about this book because you announced the topic of this book a few years ago and I would love to hear your journey of how did you go from writing this book about female sexuality and the science of sexuality to a book about burnout? What is burnout and what’s that link?
Emily Nagoski: 02:54 That’s an hour right there.
Chris Rose: 02:56 Yeah.
Emily Nagoski: 02:57 There’s an origin story here. The usual next step for someone who’s written a book about women’s sexuality would be to write a book about men’s sexuality or couple’s sexuality or something like that, or relationships. When I was traveling around talking to people about ‘Come as You Are’ and the science of women’s sexual wellbeing, people were not saying to me, “Oh, could you write a book about men? Could you write a book about couples?” What they were saying was, “Yeah, Emily, all that sex science that’s really great, but you know what was really important to me was that chapter on feelings and stress.”
Chris Rose: 03:32 Yep.
Emily Nagoski: 03:34 I was surprised. I worked so hard on the sex science and people do appreciate that, but over and over it kept coming back, “You know what really changed my life was that chapter on stress.” I have an identical twin sister and I told her about this. She is a choral conductor who is a conservatory-trained, performance musician. I was like, “When I talk to people they’re like, ‘What really matters to me is this stress part.'” She was like, “No duh.” Because whoever teaches us how to feel our feelings? We grew up in a family that was pretty dysfunctional and we had to learn how to have feelings out of books.
Emily Nagoski: 04:16 I got a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She got a master’s degree in choral conducting. At a certain point, we realized we both got master’s degrees in how to listen and feel feelings, which probably says something about what we left home needing still. She had really struggled in grad school, so we were having this conversation and she said, “You know what? What I finally learned this whole completing the stress response cycle thing, I’m pretty sure it saved my life,” she said. Then, she looked at me and she goes, “Twice.”
Emily Nagoski: 04:48 That was the point when I was like, “Okay. Well, we should write a book about that.” That’s when we decided. It was October of 2015 that we had our first meeting with my literary agent about the next book is not going to be a book about men or relationships. It’s going to be about stress and women.
Chris Rose: 05:05 How timely its release now. I think in the past few years, this conversation about the toll of stress on our bodies, on our relationships, on our creativity, the conversations about gender imbalance of the daily micro-stress, about micro-traumas, all of this conversation has come to the surface in such a big way. This book lands on our laps like a revelation.
Chris Rose: 05:34 I cried when I read it. I’m just going to be totally honest with you. I opened up the pdf you sent and I cried because so much of our conversations with people are getting couples past this hump so they can be in this zone of enjoyment and pleasure together. We realized we had been talking to people for years about the enjoyment phase of sex when you can be in that sensuality, when you can be in pleasure, but that is inaccessible without this book, without the knowledge, the wisdom-
Emily Nagoski: 06:05 Without them dealing with the stress, yeah.
Chris Rose: 06:06 Yeah. So talk to us about that. What is the stress response cycle? What do we need to know about completing it?
Emily Nagoski: 06:12 Okay. There’s two parts I want to talk about. One is the stress response cycle and the other is the gender dynamic that traps women in particular in their stress. The stress response cycle … And, this is in ‘Come as You Are’, and it’s chapter one of ‘Burnout’. Physiologically stress is not just a stress response like you’re confronted with a stressor and that activates stress. It is a stress response cycle. In the environment where we evolved, our stress response was to help us deal with things like being chased by a lion or charged by a hippo.
Emily Nagoski: 06:46 Did you know hippos are the most dangerous land mammals on Earth?
Chris Rose: 06:49 Terrifying.
Emily Nagoski: 06:50 Hippos. You’re being charged by a hippo and your body sees this threat approaching you and it floods you with cortisol and adrenaline and changes your digestive system and your immune system and your hormones. Every body system is affected by this threat coming toward you. All of these changes are in preparation to make you do one thing which is to run like Hell to get away from that threat.
Emily Nagoski: 07:17 So, that’s what you do. At that point, there’s only two possible outcomes. Either you get eaten by the lion or trampled by the hippo or you make it home. You run back to your village and somebody opens the door and you slip right in and the hippo can pound against the wall but can’t to get you. You are safe. You jump up and down and you hug the person who just saved your life. That is the complete stress response cycle.
Emily Nagoski: 07:46 It is not, you’ll notice, getting rid of the stressor, the threat. It is getting through the stress response cycle by doing what your body is telling you to do in order to get to a safe place. These days, we are alas really very rarely charged by hippos. Instead, our stressors are things like our boss and our kids and our sexuality and our body image and traffic. Those are not things that you can literally, physically escape or can you literally physically fight them.
Emily Nagoski: 08:19 I’m an advocate for healthy expressions of rage, but you’re actually not allowed to punch anybody in the face, which is what your body wants you to do. The question is, how do we complete the stress response cycle itself when dealing with a stressor doesn’t do the trick? ‘Cause that’s the hard part, right? You’re confronted with your boss who’s kind of an asshole and your body responds with exactly the same physiological response, the adrenaline and the cortisol and glycogen, oh, my! And, your body wants to get up and run or punch him in the face or whatever, but it’s-
Chris Rose: 08:58 And, most of us have layers of daily, chronic stressors.
Emily Nagoski: 09:02 It’s happening every single day that you have just the little things. Like your kids won’t put on their shoes and you stand over them and you tap your toe and you’re a good parent. Then, they put on their shoes and then you’re five minutes late for work. Then, your boss is a dick about it. It just accumulates and builds up. You’ve got all this stress living in your body and you manage it because you are a grownup and that is what we do, is we manage all of our stressors. Just because you’re managing your stressors doesn’t mean you’re managing the stress itself, the physiological change in your body.
Chris Rose: 09:35 You mentioned there finding the place of safety and then the jumping up and down. Can you bring us into those two moments? So, the safety piece and the movement piece, what are those about?
Emily Nagoski: 09:45 What the physiology of the stress response is saying is your body’s not a safe place right now. You need to do something to move your body into a safe place. You arrive in a place of social connection with someone you love and trust with safe walls around you. And, you’ve already done the running, so physical activity. When you’re being chased by a lion, what do you do? You run. When you are stressed out by your boss and parenting and political world and everything else, what do you do? You run.
Emily Nagoski: 10:17 Physical activity, any movement of any kind is the most efficient strategy. the language your body speaks is body language and what it wants is to move. It doesn’t have to be running. It can be dancing it out in your living room. It can be a Zumba class. It can be literally just jumping up and down. It can be lying in bed still and just tensing all of your muscles as hard as you can. Physical activity is the most efficient way, but there’s also, as the story points out, social connection is an incredibly important stress completing process for humans.
Emily Nagoski: 10:53 We are massively social species. We are basically a hive species. We’re a herd species. We are only safe when we are with our tribe. If you run to safety but you’re still alone, that’s not fully complete. When you run to safety and arrive to some loving affectionate other … in the book Amelia I call it the ‘bubble of love’ … then your body can relax because it knows you are safe with your tribe. This can take the form of small stuff. You know what? Just a happy little chat with your barista, a pleasant ‘hey, how are you doing’ with your seatmate on a train.
Emily Nagoski: 11:31 I know people believe that everybody wants to sit in silence on a train, but it turns out they’ve done research on this, and even though people believe that, if you actually have just a simple polite conversation, people feel better. Both people feel better if they’ve just had that little bit of social connection. It also can take the form of deeper intimacy like a 20-second hug is one of the recommendations. You wrap your arms around your partner and you just hold each other for 20 seconds in a row. That’s a long time to hug, but what happens is that it teaches your body that you are now in a safe place, you are in a place of safety.
Emily Nagoski: 12:11 Of course, this assumes that your partner is a safe enough person whom you can hold for 20 seconds in a row, which is sort of the point of the exercise. John Gottman recommends a six-second daily kiss. Again, that could be an awkwardly long … That’s not six one-second kisses, that’s one six-second kiss. You got to really like and trust your partner in order to make that a thing that can happen in your life. So, it reminds you. It sets your body in this place of safety and connection that I have this place to fall back on when things go wrong. I have a home to come to at the end of a difficult, stressful day.
Emily Nagoski: 12:50 That completes the cycle. It transitions you out of my body is not safe into a place of I am safe and at home now.
Chris Rose: 12:58 What do we know about the science of the connection between that physical embodied feeling of feeling safe and at home with things like desires and willingness to be erotic?
Emily Nagoski: 13:13 On the one hand, we know a lot. On the other hand, we know barely anything. We know for sure that a feeling of safety is pretty necessary for a lot of people to experience pleasure. Desire’s a little more complicated. 10 to 20% of people actually experience an increase in interest in sex when they are in a place of negative affect, stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, despair, repressed rage. We’ve all got it. The other 80 to 90% experience no change or else a reduction in their interest in sex. The second makes clear linear sense in the sense of is being chased by a lion a good time to be interested in sex? Probably not, right?
Emily Nagoski: 14:01 Clearly, when you’re feeling stressed out, having sex go away makes sense. But, it turns out for some people, our brains are just wired a little differently. Stress crosses into the activation of the sexual response. It does not increase sexual pleasure. In fact, it might reduce it, but it increases interest in sex because there’s an overall increase in arousability or sensitivity to having all the accelerators in your central nervous system activated. This actually puts people at increased risk for sexual compulsivity or risk-taking behavior that they would not engage in if they were not in a place of negative emotion.
Emily Nagoski: 14:45 The find themselves using sex as a way to manage their stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness instead of using these healthy things. It’s not bad until it feels like you are no longer in control of your sexuality. Your sexuality is control of you.
Chris Rose: 15:03 Again, the scientific knowledge and then self-mapping that onto your reality, I just talked to a guy who recognized he was doing just that. Using sex to relieve stress and using other people in that process. So, he started martial arts and-
Emily Nagoski: 15:21 Hooray!
Chris Rose: 15:21 … it transformed him. Yes, ’cause he had that physical outlet. It was like the touch, the rough, the rumbling around. Then he was like, “And, then I felt like I could choose when I wanted sex for other reasons.” It was like beautiful.
Emily Nagoski: 15:34 Yeah. Specifically, about martial arts, you mentioned the rough and tumble. Play is a primary process that is as natural to humans as sex, which is to say that it comes and goes depending on the context. But rough and tumble play and story play are both innate to humans and they fulfill something really deep inside us the same way that sex can. We can use sex as story play and as rough and tumble play, but if we’re getting enough access to play, that’s another way that we can help to transition out of the stress response cycle into relaxation.
Emily Nagoski: 16:07 We can complete that response cycle through play, rough and tumble play with your kids. Going on a bike race. Or, story play. Acting, creative self-expression, writing, story-telling, those are all other effective ways to complete the stress response cycle.
Chris Rose: 16:25 Okay, so we’re talking about this experience. So many people are now feeling that so deeply like, “Yes, this makes sense to me.” It makes sense to so many of us because it is not an individual experience, it is a cultural … I don’t know if you want to call it an epidemic. It’s a cultural moment we’re in where so many of us are locked in this stress response cycle.
Emily Nagoski: 16:49 I don’t think it’s even close to new. I think what’s new is that we’re noticing it and deciding that it’s actually not okay at all.
Chris Rose: 16:59 Do you think it’s accelerating with ever-on technology, with the pace of modern life? Do you think it’s more a problem now than it was 100 years ago?
Emily Nagoski: 17:10 I just don’t know ’cause 100 years ago we didn’t have antibiotics as well as not having phones. It’s really hard to be able … Our food environment was totally different and it’s impossible to compare. But, one thing that has stayed shockingly the same is this thing that Amelia and I call Human Giver Syndrome on the book.
Chris Rose: 17:32 Tell me ’cause I think I have it. Tell me.
Emily Nagoski: 17:36 Yeah.
Chris Rose: 17:37 What is Human Giver Syndrome?
Emily Nagoski: 17:40 We take the term from this book I highly recommend to everyone on Earth. It’s called ‘Down Girl, The Logic of Misogyny’ by a moral philosopher names Kate Manne, M-A-N-N-E. It’s really short but pretty dark. She suggests a world where hypothetically there’s two kinds of people. There are the human beings who have a moral obligation to be their full humanity, the human beings. Then, there’s the human givers who have a moral obligation to give their full humanity to the beings every moment of their time, every drop of their energy, their attention, their love, even their bodies. They’re morally obliged to give everything in service of the beings.
Emily Nagoski: 18:30 Guess which one women are? In this thing that we call Human Giver Syndrome, we have this belief that women have a moral obligation to be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the need of others, which includes not expressing any emotional needs of their own. We smile and are nice and try not to make anybody uncomfortable. In order to do that, we are not completing our stress response cycles ’cause we’re not allowed to. There is no space for us to express our fear, to move our bodies, to purge our rage.
Emily Nagoski: 19:10 If Amelia and I had set out to design a system to burn out half the population, we could not have designed anything more efficient. ‘Cause women are trapped in this role of smiling and being pretty and nice and not imposing any of their emotional needs on anybody. It is amazing to me how the Me Too movement keeps having the narrative switched onto look at what you’re doing to the men. Because women aren’t allowed to talk about their own feelings, their own personal experience. We just ignore that.
Emily Nagoski: 19:43 That’s not what the story is about. That can’t be what the story is about. ‘Cause women, that’s not part of how we think about women are too emotionally needy, which we’re not allowed to have any emotional needs. Of course, we feel stuck in the middle of all of these emotions and they’re setting up camp in our bodies. Everybody has a sense of what organs their stress lives in. It’s my digestive system. For Amelia, it’s her joints, her back, and her knees. Some people get migraine headaches.
Emily Nagoski: 20:14 Your stress changes your physiology. Emotions aren’t like these things, these ideas. They are physical events that happen in your physical body and they degrade your health. I have lost count of the number of people who told me, the number of women who’ve told me that they ended up in the hospital because of stress-induced illness and that includes my sister.
Chris Rose: 20:38 To broaden this out, it’s women and then it’s compounded by things like race, class, education-
Emily Nagoski: 20:45 Oh, God, yes.
Chris Rose: 20:46 … environment, where you live, environmental toxins. Yeah. Yeah.
Emily Nagoski: 20:52 Yeah, human givers … The book itself is about gender, but she very clearly acknowledges the ways that people of color in the United States especially, but all over the world, are expected to smile and be nice and accept their own servitude. When we tell stories like in the media about people of color, the stories we celebrate are the times when people of color forgive white people or rise above it. The shooting in the church in South Carolina, we told these celebratory stories about how forgiving these Christians were of this boy who killed so many members of their community, which is a beautiful thing and nobody has a right to expect that of anybody.
Emily Nagoski: 21:43 People are allowed to be enraged and despairing when tragedy strikes their life. How many of us would feel equally comfortable … I’m talking in particular about white people like me. How many of us would feel genuinely, equally comfortable with an expression of rage and despair from the black community at this kind of violence as opposed to forgiveness and generosity and Christian spirit and rising above? I think that the more we can do to create space for the rage and despair of the people who have over generations pulled themselves against white people’s will into a position of any sort of power to have a conversation with us … We need to create space for them to have all the feelings that they have. It’s our moral duty. It is our obligation to allow all of that stuff to complete and to bear witness to the pain that has been inflicted over generations.
Emily Nagoski: 22:45 Am I getting too preachy about this?
Chris Rose: 22:49 I came to this middle section of the book and I said hallelujah out loud because you put in this book these issues of the chronic micro-stressors, the chronic daily traumas that so many people have to embody. It’s a conversation that has been missing from a lot of the self-care narrative of take a bubble bath and it will be okay. Not okay if there’s not food in the pantry for my kids.
Emily Nagoski: 23:17 Right. I talk about you close the door and you’re in a place of safety. What if there’s no such thing as a place of safety for your body in this society? What if you’re a trans woman of color in the United States? Where do you go? where do you put your body where your body is actually going to be genuinely safe? There’s going to be just little narrowly defined places where you can feel genuinely safe.
Emily Nagoski: 23:40 One of the things, I talk about it in the book, is you can gradually build up a way that your body can be a safe place for you to be even when your body is not in a safe place. The more you can build that sense of relationship with your own body … and, it happens most efficiently when you build it in connection with safe people in that bubble of love we talked about … the more you can be protected and inoculated against the noxious environment in which you have to put your body every day to live.
Chris Rose: 24:19 Can you explain this to me? I was thinking the other day of how especially when we get involved in movements or in social causes, we can do extraordinary feats of labor and come home at the end of the day and feel energized and joyous and great. Then, in other moments, especially if we’re doing work we resent or we don’t feel seen for, it doesn’t even have to be that much exertion and we can feel so depleted. So many of us want to rise to get involved but we feel like, “God, I can barely make it through my own day.”
Emily Nagoski: 24:54 Yes.
Chris Rose: 24:56 What is the purpose of tapping into something bigger?
Emily Nagoski: 25:00 Yeah. Okay. The first three chapters of the book are in a section we call ‘What You Take With You’, which is … It’s the Star Wars reference of Luke asking Yoda about the cave, what’s in there. And, Yoda says, “Only what you take with you.” He’s talking about so what is it inside you that you’re going to carry with you into this battle? It’s both the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff. The things we carry are our stress response cycle that lives in our body, our capacity to experience frustration, grief, and joy, and the third thing is our sense of meaning and purpose. We call it your ‘Something Larger’.
Emily Nagoski: 25:39 Meaning is not something you find generally. It is something you make. You make meaning by connecting with something larger than yourself. Sometimes that’s a spiritual something larger, like a God you believe in. Sometimes it is a cultural or ideological something larger, politics or science. Sometimes it’s a social something larger like your family. Sometimes it’s a combination of those things. Sometimes it’s something else entirely. For my sister, it’s art. You find the thing that brings you meaning. There’s a series of three different exercises you can do if you don’t know what your something larger is.
Emily Nagoski: 26:18 You connect with your something larger and that brings you a sense of meaning which makes it easier to continue working hard. There are some days when the ways we engage with our something larger feel intensely rewarding and we really see the difference that we made. Those are the days when we get home and we’re like, “Yeah! I did it.” Even though we haven’t completely … Racism isn’t over. Sexism isn’t over. Not everybody’s having all are orgasms they want to have. Our job isn’t done yet, but we made progress today. Then, there are the days when you work really hard and you’re trying to engage with your something larger and you just don’t feel like you’ve done anything and you feel on empty.
Emily Nagoski: 27:03 Here’s the difficulty. The thing is, when that happens, it’s usually because we’re trying to get our sense of connection with our something larger from something outside of us. When, in fact, our something large is not actually something out there. It’s not actually the God out there or the art out there or the science out there or the kids out there. Our something larger lives inside us. It is the representation of art and science and political change and the environment and our kids that lives inside us so that when bad things happen, it can feel like we’re losing contact with it.
Emily Nagoski: 27:40 I use this analogy in the book that when you’re in an airplane and you hit a pocket of turbulence, you grab onto your chair as if you could hold the plane still by holding onto the chair. You know that that’s not how it works, but your hands don’t know that that’s how it works. Your hands are pretty sure if you grab onto the chair, you’re going to be holding onto something really important. That’s what happens during windows of turbulence in our lives. We grab onto our something larger and hold onto it and it helps the same way that holding onto your chair helps during turbulence.
Emily Nagoski: 28:15 When things get really bad, when tragedy strikes, when really terrible things happen, when the plane crashes, it can feel like we’ve lost contact entirely with our something larger and that’s never actually true. Only if we believe our something larger is outside of us so we really lose contact. When people reconnect with the something larger as it lives inside them, then the fire can never go out. Does that make sense?
Chris Rose: 28:45 Is this a feeling of that belonging feeling? We talked about the very physical embodied feeling of safety and belonging, is what we’re talking about a sense of belonging in the human family?
Emily Nagoski: 29:01 We actually had a really hard time separating the meaning chapter from the connection chapter, in fact. Yeah. A lot of the research there’s this one, I can’t tell if it’s desperately sad or hilarious, study where okay, so you’re a subject in a study and you’re supposed to make a greeting video for your partner who’s in a different room and they’re making a greeting video for you. Then, you watch your partner’s welcome video. Hi, we’re about to be partners. Then, your partner watches your video of them. Your partner watches your video of yourself. Then, you get word back ’cause you’ve been in different rooms all this time.
Emily Nagoski: 29:39 The researcher comes back and says, “Hey, your partner had to leave. They had an emergency.” Or, they say, “Hey, your partner had to leave. They decided they did not want to participate with you. Could you do this one more thing? Just take this one little survey for us?” The survey is an assessment of a person’s sense of meaning and purpose in life. As simple and small a feeling of social rejection as not being welcomed into an experiment with a stranger significantly reduces a person’s sense of purpose and meaning. Our sense of meaning is absolutely connected to our feeling of being welcomed into connection with other people.
Emily Nagoski: 30:28 ‘Cause most of our something largers are about service to our community, to the people we care about. If we’re not allowed to be part of that. If we’re not welcome as part of our community, what purpose is there?
Chris Rose: 30:45 Right now, I know when we talked about the Human Giver Syndrome, we talked about the role of gender there. Right now, I’m thinking about the rejection so many men are feeling right now and just acknowledging the hurt in them often comes from this disconnection with a sense of purpose because they’ve been told their humanity, their manhood, their worthiness is connected to their careers and their erections primarily.
Emily Nagoski: 31:13 Their ability to get access to women’s bodies.
Chris Rose: 31:17 Through their worthiness, right?
Emily Nagoski: 31:18 Yeah, yeah. They can measure their value on Earth by whether or not a woman says yes to them.
Chris Rose: 31:25 As a sex scientist, does it surprise you that we’re having these conversations? If someone just tuned in in the middle of this podcast, if it was on public radio, they might think they’re talking to two spiritual explorers. We’re talking about some really big ideas, but you come at this through the science, through the evidence. How are you thinking? How are you feeling about you’re about to … I think this book is going to be very popular and I hope you have lots of interviews about it in the coming months. How are you straddling this line between science and these bigger questions of belonging and human joy?
Emily Nagoski: 32:04 You know, it’s interesting. Most of the places where I get interviewed, nobody cares about the science, nobody wants to talk about the science, which is fine. I am happy not to talk about the science if that’s not what’s going to persuade people. If I’ve learned anything over the last … No, I’ve learned so much over the last five years, I can’t say that. One of the important things I’ve learned over the last five years is that very few people are big ole nerds like me. Very few people are really excited to talk about the brain science underlying the sense of meaning and purpose. Very few people want to talk about the neurochemistry and the rat research about gendered experiences of stress. Mostly they just want ideas and help.
Emily Nagoski: 32:47 People want help enormously and we trimmed the book hard in order to get it really focused on helping people feel better so that they could do something to get out of these traps.
Chris Rose: 32:59 Can we please put out a geek version?
Emily Nagoski: 33:03 We cut-
Chris Rose: 33:04 Director’s cut?
Emily Nagoski: 33:07 … more than twice as much actual … Yeah, there’s at least 100,000 words of stuff we cut including most … Including a lot of the trauma stuff.
Chris Rose: 33:15 That’s another book waiting. It’s another book.
Emily Nagoski: 33:16 Yeah.
Chris Rose: 33:17 Because I hear you saying that about science, but I also feel like when people have these ah-ha moments, like when we explain the dual model control of arousal for example, and they can map it … And, you do such an amazing job telling stories around the science. Because when people can map this and feel the truth of this in their bodies, it helps them feel more human.
Emily Nagoski: 33:39 Yeah. And, we do talk about the … Neither Amelia nor I could tolerate talking about … Because neither of us is a person of faith. We are not and I know that a lot of self-help books lean hard on the author’s face. We have this chapter on meaning and we talk about how spirituality and connection with God can be a source of meaning and purpose. It can also be a way to complete the stress response cycle. A lot of people experience their connection with the divine as a loving presence that helps them to feel safe. The reason we say people experience that is because they’re accessing the loving, kindness, and compassion inside their own brain, which is changing their biochemistry. It’s changing how their brain works. It’s reducing the stress hormones in their brain when they pray.
Emily Nagoski: 34:32 When you feel supported and loved, it doesn’t matter why. The fact is, that feeling is real. It’s happening in your body and it’s good for you.
Chris Rose: 34:42 You give these options for how to access it. One of the ways we’ve been talking about it is communal joy.
Emily Nagoski: 34:48 Yes.
Chris Rose: 34:48 What is the space of communal joy and that could be birdwatching, right?
Emily Nagoski: 34:53 No, it literally … Yes, most of the examples we give tend to be musical ’cause that’s where Amelia lives.
Chris Rose: 35:01 I was watching a Taylor Swift concert on Netflix the other day just to see what the vibe was like and I was like, “Oh, these teenagers, these young people are experiencing communal joy.”
Emily Nagoski: 35:12 Yeah.
Chris Rose: 35:13 And, we flock to these experiences and sometimes it’s like, “Why do you pay so much money for music you could listen to at home?” We go. I also think about the constellations of pleasure and how do we follow our constellations of pleasure to these places where we feel at home?
Emily Nagoski: 35:31 Yeah.
Chris Rose: 35:31 That could be a video game world competition where you’re … So many of us have not been told to pursue communal joy.
Emily Nagoski: 35:42 Yeah, we don’t even name it as the thing that it is. If I had to name a one thing that is the opposite of burnout, it’s that experience of communal joy. It is literally moving your body in time with other people for a shared purpose. That could be a Taylor Swift concert. It could be singing in church. It could be our rugby team. It could be a Black Lives Matter march. Moving your body in time with other people for a shared purpose brings together all of the things that are most important for fighting burnout. It is physical activity. It is social connection. It is a sense of meaning and purpose. It is the ultimate battery charger. It is the ultimate counterweight against burnout.
Emily Nagoski: 36:38 The only other thing that’s as powerful as rhythmic movement of your body with other people for a shared purpose, the only other thing that’s as powerful is sleep.
Chris Rose: 36:50 I love that answer. I was waiting with bated breath like, “What is it going to be?”
Emily Nagoski: 36:54 What is it?
Chris Rose: 36:55 My two favorite things. And, why sleep?
Emily Nagoski: 36:58 [inaudible 00:36:58].
Chris Rose: 36:58 what does sleep offer?
Emily Nagoski: 36:59 What I love about the shared movement is you don’t … You need to spend a lot of your life asleep. You spend a third of your life asleep, but you only need to do this shared rhythmic thing occasionally, just big moments of it scattered through your year can be enough to maintain a battery charge.
Chris Rose: 37:20 Yes, and I’m also … I’ve started this practice of finding little moments of connection and joy with random people throughout the day. Like you said, the barista, the cashier. I am amazed at how profound those moments are adding up to be. When we recognize, “Oh, you’re a human in a room with me and we both matter.” This is where it’s taking me and the connection then to sexuality. People just feeling, seen, and appreciated especially those bodies that are not seen and appreciated and loved and honored and cherished day to day.
Emily Nagoski: 37:55 Yes.
Chris Rose: 37:56 Bringing some extra love to those interactions has been so life-changing to me.
Emily Nagoski: 38:02 This is one of the places where the science just barely exists for five years maybe 10 years worth of two-person neuroscience where they measured two people’s brains simultaneously while they’re engaged in some sort of shared activity. It turns out what it takes to get two people’s brains to begin in training, which is to say moving at the same rhythm is mere co-presence. Two bodies sharing a physical space will automatically begin to change each other. We are always co-regulating each other all of the time.
Emily Nagoski: 38:38 One of the reasons an introvert like me finds New York or another big city really challenging is that we are all co-regulating each other all the time so I’m feeling the energy and moods and state of mind of all of these bodies around me all the time. They’re regulating me even as I am regulating them. Whereas when I just have a couple of people around me, that’s not too intense and overwhelming an amount of people, which is different from-
Chris Rose: 39:06 I also suspect you choose people who know how to self-regulate.
Emily Nagoski: 39:09 Yeah. Yes. I’m pretty specific and I’m also totally fine when I’m teaching because when you’re in a leadership position, your job is to help the whole group entrain into one big unit. It’s just one pulse instead of being 70 different people’s pulses. You just get everybody in the room moving at one shared rhythm. Amelia does that for a living as a choral conductor, obviously. And, it turns out I do the same thing as a sex educator. I’ve got a group of therapists and needed them to come with me into some deep science, which means I need to get their heartbeats all beating at the same pace as mine.
Chris Rose: 39:49 Okay. So this has been hour one of our conversation about burnout. Thank you so much for this. Can you just bring it home to the bedroom? I really feel like this book is the how-to manual human bodies need right now. If one was to take this book seriously and pull these strategies into our lives and project a year out of embodying these strategies, what would you expect to change in someone’s sex life?
Emily Nagoski: 40:18 Oh, my gosh. Can they read both books? Can I imagine if they read both?
Chris Rose: 40:24 Yes. They’re next to each other on your bedside table, yes.
Emily Nagoski: 40:28 Perfect. They actually go. The covers of the American books are very coordinated. That’s not on purpose. What would happen in a year if you practice the things in the book is your physiological state would down-regulate a couple of notches. Whatever level of stress you feel right now, imagine I gradually just … Just gets a little … Your body gets softer, your muscles get more flexible and responsive, your sleep gets deeper and more restorative, your ability to make eye contact and engage kindly and compassionately with all humans will grow more powerful, and that includes with the people with whom you share your life. If that’s your children, yes, more patience, more kindness, more smile and laughter, less …
Emily Nagoski: 41:25 And, with your partner, more patience, more kindness, more laughter. It also means the sex you have may or may not be more spontaneous. There’ll probably, I hope, be more physical affection even if it’s not sexual. More hugging, more kissing, more holding hands and sitting next to each other, which builds a foundation, a bedrock of friendship and trust on which you can build an erotic connection that’s as comforting or as exploratory and wild as you and your partner feel good building together. The reason I want people to read both is so that they can play with what counts as sexual for them.
Emily Nagoski: 42:13 It’s not just about building safety and trust. It is about building and safety and trust but from there, launching into exploration. The other thing I did this year, which I probably should have mentioned earlier, is there’s now going to be a workbook to go with ‘Come as You Are’. It’s called ‘The Come as You Are Workbook’. It’s coming out in June. It includes worksheets where people think through their sexual history and their breaks and accelerators like you were talking about. I talk about the rituals of play and homecoming that you can use to deepen your sense of connection.
Emily Nagoski: 42:49 The last thing I want to say about what will change a year from now. I want people to know how and have the skill to create a magic circle for sexuality in their lives where they shed the parts of their identity that they don’t want to bring into an erotic connection and they step into their protected social space of connection and joy and play and imagination that can only exist in a place of safety and trust. So that they can connect with a partner in the imaginative space, a spiritual space if that’s right for them, and an exploratory space where this touching of your skin isn’t just the touching of your skin, but the touching of these two people and lives that are tangled together in probably more than just one way.
Emily Nagoski: 43:45 Letting yourself explore that together in a protected space because you are not so overwhelmed by the rest of your life that you can find space for that. Does that make sense?
Chris Rose: 44:00 Yes. What an invitation. What an invitation. Emily Nagoski, thank you so much for your time today and we will link up all of these resources, both of these books in the show notes page at pleasuremechanics.com for this episode and so much more to come. Emily Nagoski, thank you so much.
Emily Nagoski: 44:18 Thank you.
Chris Rose: 44:21 All right, I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Emily Nagoski. Just a reminder, we are going into a four-part series exploring some of the themes in ‘Burnout’, so be sure to grab your copy of the ‘Burnout’ book. There will be links in the show notes page. And, join us next week for a conversation about the connection between sex and stress and how we can all prevent sexual burnout.
Chris Rose: 44:46 Come on over to patreon.com/pleasuremechanics to show your support for this show. That’s patreon.com/pleasuremechanics. And pleasuremechanics.com/burnout for all of the resources related to this miniseries.
Chris Rose: 45:03 All right, I am Chris from pleasuremechanics.com wishing you a lifetime of pleasure. Cheers.