Is arousal a mental or a physiological thing?
I want the entire world to read Emily Nagoski‘s book Come As You Are.
I mentioned her work here, with a link to her TEDx talk which summarises the most important principles from her book.
One of the things which she explains in her book, which is what I would like to discuss here, is the term Arousal Nonconcordance.
What is Arousal Nonconcordance?
Sexual arousal, according to the Cambridge dictionary, is the state of sexual excitement.
And excitement has two aspects to it: mental (eroticism) and physical.
Most of us believe that when we are mentally excited, the body responds accordingly. In other words, we see the mental and the physical aspects of arousal as concordant. This can be true sometimes, but guess what? A lot of times, they are not.
There is a difference between what our body sees as sexually relevant, and what our mind interprets as sexually appealing.
The body responds to sexually relevant stimuli, regardless if this stimulus is to our liking or not. I’ll start with an extreme example just to be super-clear. Here’s a quote from the book Woman — an Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier:
“…physiological arousal says little about meaningful sexual motivation… …for some women will lubricate during rape, and Ellen Laan, of the University of Amsterdam, has shown that women’s genitals congest robustly when they watch pornography that the women later describe as stupid, trite, and distinctly unerotic.”
In fact, according to Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are, research has shown that women’s genitals respond to a vast array of stimuli that are sexually relevant. But there was only 10% overlap between the bodily response and what women describe to be arousing.
It’s true for cases where women do not feel mentally excited but are surprised to realize that their body is signalling otherwise. It’s also true for those times when women feel completely ready for sexual activity but their bodies do not show it.
Why is it important to know about arousal nonconcordance?
How many times were you excited and interested in a sexual encounter but was not lubricated enough? You might have thought that there’s something wrong with you. Perhaps you were worried that your hormones are out of whack. Maybe you even started doubting that your mental arousal — your eagerness to have sex — is not as strong as it used to be.
So now you see, this is actually a completely normal experience. If you want to have sex, you don’t need to wait for a certain bodily indicator to have sex. If you want to have penetrative sex and you are not lubricated enough, there’s nothing to worry about. There are many ways to lubricate. Just make sure you are using the right lubrication for your situation.
If you don’t feel excited or ready enough, and your partner points out that you are lubricated — please do not doubt your mental arousal. This is how our bodies work, that’s all. Some people might have tried to convince you that you are into some sort of fetish or kink because your body is responding to images it sees. Please take no notice. Tell them about arousal nonconcordance, too.
And by the way! Men also experience arousal nonconcordance. Just not as frequently as women. (50% vs. 90%).
If my body is not a good indicator of my arousal levels, how can I tell if and when I’m ready for penetration?
There’s no way around it. You need to trust your inner voice. That one that is silenced way too often.
I like Diana Richardson’s take on things. In her book Tantric Orgasm for Women she describes that when you are truly ready for penetration, you will feel an inner YES. It’s a mental sign, not a bodily one.
And remember that sex does not have to include penetration. When we look at sex as another form of experiencing intimacy between a couple, it doesn’t have to include anything. Just an exploration, connection, and joy.
For more about enjoying a lifetime of fulfilling sex, join the free e-course and learn how to truly, wholeheartedly enjoy lovemaking.
Arousal Nonconcordance: was originally published in P.S. I Love You on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.