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Doing The Nasty

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Source: Je Andre ©

Emily Nagoski says it perfectly: “Everyone has something that grosses them out sexually, everyone’s yucks are different” [1]

We can all think of a few things that seem disgusting to us. Smells, tastes, images, sounds or behaviors that gross us out. Especially when its accompanied by an unpleasant bodily sensation or experienced as a bodily response, it’s easy to assume that we are experiencing a natural response to an innately “nasty” thing.

But what if I told you that science has found that disgust is actually a social emotion?[2] What that means is that we learn from experience and association to distinguish what’s sexually relevant, what’s a potential threat to our wellbeing and what’s acceptable.

Here’s how this works:


You would probably agree with me that our family and culture instill in us certain attitudes, habits and thoughts about love, safety, sex and bodies— and due to the fact that we grew up in a predominantly sex-negative culture –full of body shaming, sex stigma and “no” messages —we have been taught to be a bit too critical and judgmental about our bodies and our sexualities.

There are essentially 3 types of negative cultural messages:

  • Moral messageyou are damaged goods: Inherited beliefs (cultural or religious) that there’s a right and a wrong way to approach sexuality.

  • Medical messageyou are diseased: Sex can cause disease and pregnancy, sex is dangerous, sexual functioning should happen in a particular way.

  • Media messageyou are inadequate: Your body is not adequate. If you are not doing [whatever] you are frigid or a prude. You are doing [sex] wrong.

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Source: Alexa Coe ©

“We’re raising women to be sexually dysfunctional, with all the ‘no’ messages we’re giving them about diseases and shame and fear. And then as soon as they’re eighteen they’re supposed to be sexual rock stars, multi-orgasmic and totally uninhibited. It doesn’t make any sense. None of the things we do in our society prepares women for that.”

–Robin Milhausen



Disgust is a parasympathetic “freeze” response that slows your heart rate, stops your gut, and closes your throat. Disgust can function as a social emotion because it is a learned withdrawal response from things that are considered “gross”. Therefore, it can act as an inhibitor, generating avoidance behavior and shutdown. In other words, disgust hits the sexual brakes [3] (more on the sexual brakes in a later blog).

However, there’s no innate sexual stimulus or threat, our brains have simply learned to associate particular stimuli with arousal or inhibition. Basically, we learn about what aspects of the world are disgusting by reading the responses of the people around us.

It’s sort of like learning a language. What turns us on (or off) is learned from culture just like we learn vocabulary and accents when we are children. Sadly enough, most of us are exposed in our childhood to too many people who communicate to us that sex is bad, filthy and/or dangerous. AND, as most of you can guess, the learning process is QUITE different depending on whether you’re a boy or girl.

The good news is that this [acquired] framework about what is considered sexually relevant continues to change as we experience new things AND our responses can change.

“We were raised in cultures that say our own sexual bodies are disgusting and degrading, and so are the fluids, sounds, and smells those bodies make, as are a wide array of the things we might do with our own bodies and our partner’s.”

–Emily Nagoski

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Source: Teenage Hotdog ©


By now it should be clear that we are taught how to feel about our genitals and their secretions. To complicate things even more, culture sends women very mixed messages about genital fluids [i.e. squirting is hot and at the same time you should cover up all your natural odors].

The interesting question then is:

Can we accept the fact that genitals are

sometimes aromatic and sometimes sticky?

People with vaginas “get wet” because their Bartholin’s glands (at either side of the mouth of the vagina[4]) release fluid during sexual arousal in order to reduce the friction of vaginal penetration and, it is thought, to create a scent that communicates health and fertility status.

The Big Surprise:

Science has shown again and again[5] that unlearning these sex-negative messages and training ourselves to love [accept or be at peace with] our bodies –cheesy and impossible as it may sound- will result in more intense arousal and desire and “bigger, better orgasms”.

What we can do about it

[Based on scientific studies*]:

To help you choose whether or not to continue believing those sex-negative messages, you must first recognize how your learned disgust response is interfering with your sexual pleasure. And then decide whether its something you want to let go of.

There are 3 research based strategies for positive change


Which [amongst other things] means treating ourselves gently and with caring, also means viewing our suffering as something that connects us with others & being non-judgmental about whatever is happening in the present moment.

Cognitive dissonance

This is a technique centered in observing and letting go of self-critical, judgmental thoughts, and replacing them with self-appreciating thoughts. Yes, this is hard at first & must be done over and over, day after day, until it gradually becomes a mental habit.

Media nutrition

Limiting your exposure to media that makes you feel worse about yourself, and actively look for, follow, support performers, artists and media outlets that are full of sex-positive messages [kinda like Howl <3].

The point of these strategies is to learn to see your body –its forms, fluids and fragrances– as normal and healthy. Eventually you might even find them beautiful and enticing. We’ll explore these strategies in detail in an upcoming blog so stay tuned!


You were not born feeling uncomfortable with your genitals or sexuality. That is the product of decades of sex-negative culture. Lets regain the sense of delight and satisfaction we were born with!

What we are proposing is the radical notion that our fetiches, our physiology, our behaviors, tastes & desires are n o r m a l ! [6]

That variety is probably the only

universal characteristic of human sexuality.

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Source: Frances Cannon ©

“Remind yourself that the day you were born, your body was a cause for celebration, for love without condition, and that’s just as true today as it was then.”

–Emily Nagoski


[1] Nagoski, Come as You Are, 170.

[2] Mesquita, “Emoting: A Contextualized Process.”

[3] Tybur, Lieberman, and Griskevicius, “Microbes, Mating, and Morality.”

[4] Vagina = reproductive canal Vulva = external genitalia Mons = area over the pubic bone where hair grows

[5] Woertman and van den Brink, “Body Image”. Pazmany el al., “Body Image and Genital Self-Image.”

[6] unless they are actually harming or hurting you, in which case you should consult a doctor.


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