Navigating Desire: Unveiling Brakes and Accelerators from Emily Nagoski’s book, ‘Come As You Are’

As part of my sex, love and relationship coaching certification I was invited to read Emily Nagowski’s book “Come As You Are’. 

This book is a must for all women to read; there were so many nuggets of profound wisdom shared within the pages that have changed the way I view my libido and body.

I want to share with you one concept, “Accelerators and Brakes.” 

This concept, as I’ll go on to explain today, really opened my eyes and had me feeling hopeful instead of frustrated about my low libido.

Exploring what Turns you on and Off

In the realm of human sexuality, understanding our desire and its ever-changing rhythm can often feel like deciphering a complex code. Emily, in her book, offers a unique perspective on this.

One of the central concepts she introduces is the interplay of brakes and accelerators, shedding light on the intricate dynamics that shape our sexual responses.

If you’re anything like me you’ve spent your sexual life either feeling turned on, grateful for the juicy energy, or turned off, frustrated and hating on your body for not being horny enough, (especially in a relationship where your partner wants more sex than you do).

From the time I was sexually active, I saw libido and desire as black and white. I was either horny (which was good) or I didn’t want to be touched at all (which was bad). I’m excited to share this with you now because it changed my black-and-white view of libido into a delicious rainbow of possibility and pleasure.

Brakes and Accelerators Defined

Nagoski presents the idea of brakes and accelerators as a metaphorical framework to explain the dual nature of sexual arousal. 

“Think of brakes as factors that inhibit or slow down our sexual response, while accelerators are elements that rev up our desire.” 

These metaphorical mechanisms work in tandem, influencing the ebb and flow of our sexual experiences.

Understanding Brakes

Context and Environment:

    • Our surroundings play a pivotal role in determining the presence of brakes. Stressful environments, unresolved conflicts, or uncomfortable settings can act as significant inhibitors to desire. Recognising and addressing these external factors is essential for creating a conducive atmosphere for intimacy.
  • For example: Having a messy bedroom, dirty clothes around and kids toys everywhere might activate your brakes. Coming home from a stressful day at work might activate your brakes. Remembering a fight you and your partner had last week that never reached an end point, might activate your brakes. Your partner not showering, being dirty, or smelling of BO, these are all things that might activate your brakes.

    Body Image and Self-Esteem:

      • Negative body image and low self-esteem act as powerful brakes. Society’s unrealistic beauty standards and personal insecurities can hinder the ability to fully embrace and enjoy one’s own body. Building a positive self-image is a crucial step toward releasing these brakes and unlocking one’s sexual potential.
    • For example: Are you about to get your period and feeling super bloated and unsexy, did someone comment on your body today, have you lost or gained weight and are feeling self-conscious, do you not believe that your partner thinks you’re attractive, maybe you don’t like the way your body looks or feels, maybe you feel shy, want the lights off and no eye contact, all of this can be activating your brakes.

    Past Trauma and Emotional Baggage:

      • Unresolved traumas, whether from past relationships or personal experiences, can serve as substantial brakes. Acknowledging and addressing these emotional barriers is vital for creating a safe space for intimacy. If you feel professional support might be beneficial to navigate and heal from past wounds please reach out to me. I am available for 1:1 coaching.
    • For example: Your ex forced you to do something in the past and when your current (loving) partner asks or tries something similar you don’t feel safe, you have old emotional wounds from childhood bullying that have never been addressed, how you lost your virginity was less than magical and this is being carried and lived out in your current intimate relationship (without you knowing), ALL OF THESE ARE BRAKES! 

      “I want to remind you here that you are NOT broken if you resonated with any of these things. A lot of these examples are my own personal brakes that I discovered after learning about brakes from Emily.”

      Understanding Accelerators

      Novelty and Excitement:

        • Novel experiences and a sense of excitement act as powerful accelerators. Trying new activities or introducing variety in the bedroom can stimulate desire. Open communication with a partner about desires and fantasies can contribute to creating a sense of novelty.
      • For example: sexy lingerie, sex toys, exploring kinks, discovering your erotic blueprint (seriously Google this and take Jaiya’s Quiz, Game Changer!), adding sexy music and dancing, spending more time on foreplay, sexy conversations about fantasies, reading erotica etc.

      Feeling Safe and Connected:

        • Emotional intimacy and a strong sense of connection with a partner can serve as accelerators. Feeling safe and secure in a relationship fosters an environment where one can be vulnerable and explore their desires without fear of judgment or rejection.
      • For example: Explain to your partner that when they do something (like spank you) it triggers an unsafe memory from your sexual past, and if they want to spank you they ask for your consent first. If you say no, they respect this, if you say yes they start lightly and ensure that during the act of spanking, they are also hugging and kissing you treating you with love and creating an environment of safety in your body. It’s all about communicating these needs before and during lovemaking so that you are feeling seen, safe and understood. BONUS: add some time after love-making for a debrief; chat about what was great, what was confronting, what you didn’t say that you wanted to etc.

      Physical Well-Being:

        • A healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and proper nutrition, can act as an accelerator. Physical well-being contributes to increased energy levels, improved mood, and a positive body image – all of which are crucial components of a satisfying sexual experience.
      • For example: We all know what it feels like in our bodies when we spend days in bed recovering from an injury or illness. We reenter the world fuzzy, dazed, confused, unmotivated etc. But when we start to move again, whether it be a walk outside, dancing, yoga, or swimming in the ocean, we start to create and release oxytocin (the love hormone) back into the body. The same can be said for eating nutritious foods. I’m not telling you to become a dietitian or anything but making sure you are fueling your body with fresh food and cutting back on fast food, processed foods and refined sugars plays a huge role in your body’s ability to access pleasure.

      Emily Nagoski’s concept of brakes and accelerators offers a valuable framework for understanding the complexities of human desire. By recognising and addressing the factors that act as brakes, and actively incorporating accelerators into our lives, we can navigate the intricate landscape of sexuality with greater awareness, understanding and satisfaction. ‘Come As You Are’ serves as a guide, encouraging individuals to embrace their unique desires and fostering a more fulfilling connection with both themselves and their partners.

      Real-life Strategies for Couples with Mismatched Libidos

      Navigating a relationship where you have mismatched libidos presents its own set of challenges. However, the framework of brakes and accelerators offers valuable insights and practical strategies for couples looking to create a more harmonious intimate life despite their differences.

      Open Communication

      • One of the most crucial aspects of addressing mismatched libidos is open communication. Partners should feel comfortable discussing their desires, concerns, and boundaries without judgment. By sharing individual brakes and accelerators, couples can better understand each other’s needs and work towards creating an environment that caters to both partners.

      • Real-Life Example: Sarah and Mark found success by establishing a regular “check-in” where they openly discussed their sexual desires, concerns, and fantasies. This practice not only improved communication but also created a sense of shared responsibility for their intimate life.

        Exploration and Variety

        • Introducing variety in the bedroom can act as an accelerator, reigniting the spark in the relationship. Experimenting with different activities, trying new things, and being open to exploring fantasies can create excitement and appeal to the accelerators for both partners. 

        • Real-Life Example: Alex and Jamie, a couple with mismatched libidos, discovered that incorporating new experiences, such as weekend getaways or trying new hobbies together, helped reignite their connection and desire for each other. Also taking sex off the table for a certain amount of days or weeks and focusing on foreplay only, building sexual energy without the pressure of actually having sex. JUICY 😛

        Understanding Eachothers Brakes

        • Recognising and respecting each other’s brakes is crucial for creating a safe and comfortable space for intimacy. Partners should be aware of external factors that may stump each other’s desires and work together to move through these challenges.

        • Real-Life Example: Lisa and Mike learned to navigate Mike’s stress-related brakes by implementing stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness exercises (like meditation and yoga) and regular relaxation rituals (like massage and walking in nature). This proactive approach helped create a more conducive environment for intimacy.

        Embracing Emotional Intimacy

        • Building emotional intimacy is a powerful accelerator. Fostering a deep connection based on trust and understanding can enhance the overall quality of a relationship and contribute to a more fulfilling intimate life. 
        • Real-Life Example: Emily and Chris focused on strengthening their emotional connection by prioritising quality time together. Regular date nights, shared experiences, common goals and expressing gratitude helped them create a stronger bond that positively influenced their sexual connection.

        Professional Support

        Seeking professional help, either as a couple or individually (or both), can be a valuable resource for couples dealing with mismatched libidos. A trained professional can provide guidance, facilitate communication, and offer strategies tailored to the unique dynamics of the relationship. Again, reach out to me if you’d like to explore this more. 

        Real-Life Example: Mark and Olivia sought the assistance of a sex coach to navigate their mismatched libidos. The coach helped them explore individual desires, improve communication, and develop practical strategies to meet each other’s needs.

        Interested in having me support your relationship and libido journey?