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Showing Revision 6 created 05/11/2018 by Brian Greene.

  1. [This talk contains mature content
    Viewer discretion is advised]
  2. My specialty, as a sex educator,
    is I bring the science.

  3. But my first and most important job
    is that I stay neutral
  4. when I talk about anything sex-related,
  5. no embarrassment, no titillation,
    no judgment, no shame,
  6. no matter where I am.
  7. No matter what question you ask me.
  8. At the end of a conference
    in a hotel lobby once,
  9. I'm literally on my way out the door
    and a colleague chases me down.
  10. "Emily, I just have
    a really quick question.
  11. A friend of mine --
  12. (Laughter)

  13. wants to know if it's possible
    to get addicted to her vibrator."

  14. The answer is no,
    but it is possible to get spoiled.
  15. A different conference,
    this one in an outdoor tropical paradise,
  16. I'm at the breakfast buffet,
    and a couple approaches me.
  17. "Hi, Emily, we're sorry to interrupt you
  18. but we just wanted to ask a quick question
    about premature ejaculation."
  19. "Sure, let me tell you
    about the stop/start technique."
  20. That is my life.
  21. I stay neutral when
    other people might "squick."

  22. Squick is an emotion
    that combines surprise
  23. with embarrassment plus some disgust
  24. and like, not knowing
    what to do with your hands.
  25. So, it's a product.
  26. The reason you experience it
  27. is because you spent
    the first two decades of your life
  28. learning that sex is a dangerous
    and disgusting source of everlasting shame
  29. and if you're not really good at it,
    no one will ever love you.
  30. (Laughter)

  31. So you might squick,
    hearing me talk about sex

  32. while you're sitting in a room
    full of strangers -- that is normal.
  33. I invite you to breathe.
  34. Feelings are tunnels.
  35. We make our way through the darkness
    to get to the light at the end.
  36. And I promise it's worth it.
  37. Because I want to share with you
    today a piece of science
  38. that has changed
    how I think about everything,
  39. from the behavior of neurotransmitters
    in our emotional brain,
  40. to the dynamics of our
    interpersonal relationships.
  41. To our judicial system.
  42. And it starts with our brain.
  43. There's an area of your brain
    you've probably heard referred to

  44. as the "reward center."
  45. I think calling it the reward center
  46. is a little bit like calling
    your face your nose.
  47. That is one prominent feature,
  48. but it ignores some other parts
    and will leave you really confused
  49. if you're trying to understand
    how faces work.
  50. It's actually three intertwined
    but separable systems.
  51. The first system is liking.
  52. Which is like reward,
  53. so this is the opioid hotspots
    in your emotional brain.
  54. It assesses hedonic impact --
  55. "Does this stimulus feel good?
  56. How good?
  57. Does this stimulus feel bad?
  58. How bad?"
  59. If you drop sugar water
    on the tongue of a newborn infant,
  60. the opioid-liking system
    sets off fireworks.
  61. And then there's the wanting system.

  62. Wanting is mediated
    by this vast dopaminergic network
  63. in and beyond the emotional brain.
  64. It motivates us to move toward
    or away from a stimulus.
  65. Wanting is more like your toddler,
    following you around,
  66. asking for another cookie.
  67. So wanting and liking are related.
  68. They are not identical.
  69. And the third system is learning.

  70. Learning is Pavlov's dogs.
  71. You remember Pavlov?
  72. He makes dogs salivate
    in response to a bell.
  73. It's easy, you give a dog food,
    salivates automatically,
  74. and you ring a bell.
  75. Food, salivate, bell.
  76. Food, bell, salivate.
  77. Bell, salivate.
  78. Does that salivation mean
    that the dog wants to eat the bell?
  79. Does it mean that the dog
    finds the bell delicious?
  80. No.
  81. What Pavlov did
    was make the bell food-related.
  82. When we see this separateness
    of wanting, liking and learning,
  83. this is where we find
    an explanatory framework
  84. for understanding what researchers call
    arousal nonconcordance.
  85. Nonconcordance, very simply,

  86. is when there is a lack
    of predictive relationship
  87. between your physiological
    response, like salivation,
  88. and your subjective experience
    of pleasure and desire.
  89. That happens in every emotional
    and motivational system that we have,
  90. including sex.
  91. Research over the last 30 years
  92. has found that genital
    blood flow can increase
  93. in response to sex-related stimuli
  94. even if those sex-related stimuli
    are not also associated
  95. with the subjective experience
    of wanting and liking.
  96. In fact, the predictive relationship
  97. between genital response
    and subjective experience
  98. is between 10 and 50 percent.
  99. Which is an enormous range.
  100. You just can't predict necessarily
  101. how a person feels
    about that sex-related stimulus
  102. just by looking
    at their genital blood flow.
  103. When I explained this to my husband,
    he gave me the best possible example.
  104. He was like,
  105. "So, that could explain this one time,
    when I was in high school, I ...
  106. I got an erection in response
    to the phrase 'doughnut hole.'"
  107. (Laughter)

  108. Did he want to have sex with the doughnut?

  109. No.
  110. He was a teenage boy
    flooded with testosterone,
  111. which makes everything
    a little bit sex-related.
  112. And it can go in both directions.
  113. A person with a penis may struggle
    to get an erection one evening,
  114. and then wake up the very next
    morning with an erection,
  115. when it's nothing but a hassle.
  116. I got a phone call from
    a 30-something friend, a woman,

  117. she said, "So, my partner and I
    were in the middle of doing some things
  118. and I was like, 'I want you right now.'
  119. And he said, 'No, you're still dry,
    you're just being nice.'
  120. And I was so ready.
  121. So what's the matter, is it hormonal,
    should I talk to a doctor,
  122. what's going on?"
  123. Answer?
  124. It's arousal nonconcordance.
  125. If you're experiencing unwanted pain,
    talk to a medical provider.
  126. Otherwise -- arousal nonconcordance.
  127. Your genital behavior
    just doesn't necessarily predict
  128. your subjective experience
    of liking and wanting.
  129. Another friend, back in college,
  130. told me about her first experiences
    of power play in a sexual relationship.
  131. She told me that her partner tied her up
  132. with her arms over her head like this,
    she's standing up and he positions her
  133. so she's straddling a bar, presses up
    against her clitoris, like this.
  134. So there's my friend, standing there,
    and the guy leaves.
  135. It's a power play.
  136. Leaves her alone.
  137. So there's my friend, and she goes,
  138. "I'm bored."
  139. (Laughter)

  140. And the guy comes back
    and she says, "I am bored."

  141. And he looks at her
    and he looks at the bar
  142. and he says, "Then why are you wet?"
  143. Why was she wet?
  144. Is it sex-related to have pressure
    directly against your clitoris?
  145. Yeah.
  146. Does that tell him whether
    she wants or likes what's happening?
  147. Nope.
  148. What does tell him whether
    she wants or likes what's happening?
  149. She does!
  150. She recognized and articulated
    what she wanted and liked.
  151. All he had to do was listen to her words.
  152. My friend on the phone --
    what's the solution?
  153. You tell your partner,
    "Listen to your words."
  154. Also, buy some lube.
  155. (Laughter)

  156. (Applause)

  157. Applause for lube, absolutely.

  158. (Applause)

  159. Everyone, everywhere.

  160. But I want to tell you a darker
    listen-to-her-words story.
  161. This one comes from a note
    that a student sent me
  162. after I gave a lecture
    about arousal nonconcordance.
  163. She was with a partner,
    a new partner, glad to be doing things,
  164. and they reached a point
  165. where that was as far
    as she was interested in going
  166. and so she said no.
  167. And the partner said, "No, you're wet,
    you're so ready, don't be shy."
  168. Shy?
  169. As if it hadn't taken all the courage
    and confidence she had
  170. to say no to someone she liked.
  171. Whose feelings she did not want to hurt.
  172. But she said it again.
  173. She said no.
  174. Did he listen to her words?
  175. In the age of Me Too
    and Time's Up, people ask me,

  176. "How do I even know
    what my partner wants and likes?
  177. Is all consent to be verbal
    and contractual now?"
  178. There are times when consent is ambiguous
  179. and we need a large-scale
    cultural conversation about that.
  180. But can we make sure we're noticing
    how clear consent is
  181. if we eliminate this myth?
  182. In every example I've described so far,
  183. one partner recognized and articulated
    what they wanted and liked:
  184. "I want you right now."
  185. "No."
  186. And their partner told them
    they were wrong.
  187. It's gaslighting.
  188. Profound and degrading.
  189. You say you feel one way,
  190. but your body proves
    that you feel something else.
  191. And we only do this around sexuality,

  192. because arousal nonconcordance
  193. happens with every emotional
    and motivational system we have.
  194. If my mouth waters
    when I bite into a wormy apple,
  195. does anybody say to me,
  196. "You said no, but your body said yes?"
  197. (Laughter)

  198. And it's not only our partners
    who get it wrong.

  199. The National Judicial Education Program
    published a document
  200. called "Judges Tell: What I Wish
    I Had Known Before I Presided
  201. in a Case of an Adult Victim
    of Sexual Assault."
  202. Number 13:
  203. On occasion, the victim, female or male,
    may experience a physical response,
  204. but this is not a sexual response
    in the sense of desire or mutuality."
  205. This brings me one step closer
    into the darkness,
  206. and then I promise
    we will find our way into the light.
  207. I'm thinking of a recent court case
    involving multiple instances
  208. of non-consensual sexual contact.
  209. Imagine you're on the jury
  210. and you learn that the victim had orgasms.
  211. Does it change how your gut
    responds to the case?
  212. Let me remind you,
    orgasm is physiological;
  213. it is a spontaneous,
    involuntary release of tension,
  214. generated in response
    to sex-related stimuli.
  215. But the perpetrator’s lawyer made sure
    the jury knew about those orgasms
  216. because he thought the orgasms
    could be construed as consent.
  217. I will also add that this was a child
    being abused by an adult in the family.
  218. I invite you to breathe.

  219. That kind of story can give a person
    all kind of feelings,
  220. from rage to shame to confused arousal
  221. because it is sex-related,
  222. even though it is appalling.
  223. But even though I know it's difficult
  224. to sit with those feelings
    in a room full of strangers,
  225. if we can find our way through
    all of the messy feelings,
  226. I believe we will find our way
    to the light of compassion
  227. for that child,
  228. whose relationship
    with her body was damaged
  229. by an adult whose job it was
    to protect it.
  230. And we'll find hope
    that there was a trustworthy adult
  231. who could say, "Genital response
  232. just means it was a sex-related stimulus;
    doesn't mean it was wanted or liked,
  233. certainly doesn't mean
    it was consented to.
  234. (Applause)

  235. That compassion and that hope
    are why I travel all over,

  236. talking about this
    to anyone who will listen.
  237. I can see it helping people,
    even as I say the words.
  238. I invite you to say the words.
  239. You don't have to say "clitoris"
    in front of 1000 strangers.
  240. But do have one brave conversation.
  241. Tell this to someone you know
    who has experienced sexual violence --
  242. you definitely know someone.
  243. In the US it's one in three women.
  244. One in six men.
  245. Almost half of transgender folks.
  246. Say "Genital response means
    it's a sex-related stimulus.
  247. It doesn't mean it was wanted or liked."
  248. Say it to a judge you know
    or a lawyer you know,
  249. or a cop or anyone who might sit
    on a jury in a sexual assault case.
  250. Say "Some people think
    that your body doesn't respond
  251. if you don't want
    or like what's happening,
  252. if only that were true.
  253. Instead, arousal nonconcordance.
  254. Say this to the confused
    teenager in your life
  255. who is just trying to figure out
    what, even, what?
  256. Say, if you bite this moldy fruit
    and your mouth waters,
  257. nobody would say to you,
  258. "Well, you just don't want to admit
    how much you like it."
  259. Same goes for down below,
    arousal nonconcordance.
  260. Say it to your partner.
  261. My genitals do not tell you
    what I want or like.
  262. I do.
  263. (Applause)

  264. The roots of this myth are deep

  265. and they are entangled with some
    very dark forces in our culture.
  266. But with every brave conversation we have,
  267. we make the world
    that little bit better, a little simpler
  268. for the confused teenager.
  269. A little easier for your friend
    on the phone, worried that she's broken.
  270. A little easier and safer
  271. for the survivors, one in three women.
  272. One in six men.
  273. Half of trans folks.
  274. Me too.
  275. So for every brave conversation you have,
  276. thank you.
  277. (Applause)

  278. Thank you.

  279. Thanks.
  280. (Applause)

  281. Helen Walters: Emily, come up here.

  282. Thank you so much.
  283. I know that you do this all the time,
  284. and yet, still, I'm so grateful to you
    for having the courage
  285. to come and talk about that on this stage.
  286. It really took a lot
    and we're very grateful to you.
  287. So thank you.
  288. Emily Nagoski: I am grateful to be here.

  289. HW: So in your regular day job,

  290. I imagine, as you put
    at the top of the talk,
  291. you get asked a lot of questions.
  292. But what's the one question
    that you get asked all the time
  293. that you can share with everyone here
    so you don't have to answer it 1000 times
  294. throughout the rest of the week?
  295. EN: The question I get asked most often

  296. is actually the question underneath
    pretty much all the other questions,
  297. so, can you get addicted to your vibrator,
  298. please help me
    with my erectile dysfunction?
  299. Underneath every question is actually
    the question, "Am I normal?"
  300. To which my answer in my mind is,
  301. what even is normal and why is that
    what you want your sexuality to be?
  302. Why do we only want to be normal
    around sexuality?
  303. Don't we want to be extraordinary?
  304. Like, do you just want normal sex
    or do you want awesome sex in your life?
  305. I think, though, there's a lot of fear
  306. around being too different sexually.
  307. When people are asking me,
  308. "Is this thing I'm experiencing normal,"
  309. what they're actually
    asking me is, "Do I belong?"
  310. Do I belong in this relationship,
  311. do I belong in this community of people,
  312. do I belong on earth as a sexual person?
  313. To which the answer is always
    a resounding yes.
  314. The only barrier there is,
    the only limit there is, there are two:
  315. one, if you're experiencing
    unwanted sexual pain,
  316. talk to a medical provider.
  317. And two: As along as everybody involved
    is free and glad to be there,
  318. and free to leave whenever they want to,
  319. you're allowed to do
    anything that you want to.
  320. There is no script,
    there is no box you have to fit into,
  321. you're allowed, as long as there is
    consent and no unwanted pain,
  322. you're totally free to do
    whatever you want.
  323. HW: Amazing. Thank you so much.

  324. EN: Thank you.

  325. HW: Thank you, you're incredible.

  326. (Applause)