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Individual and Couples Counselling in Calgary

  • Writer's pictureRovena Magidin

Let’s Talk About Sex: Dual Control Model

Did you know that when it comes to sex you have an accelerator and a brake pedal…. in your brain!


What is she talking about?

Also called the Dual Control Model, this concept is brilliantly introduced in Emily Nagoski’s book “Come as you are”.

Think about it as an ON and OFF switch; What turns you ON (accelerator) and what turns you OFF (brake) .

Think about it this way - you're talking to this guy, he says you remind him of his mother - screech (sound of the brakes). But then you start talking to one that looks like Jason Momoa with his shirt off - vrooooom (gas pedal).

What activates those pedals? Practically anything - words, smell, body language, hormonal changes, environment, trust or lack thereof, stress, your to-do list, the way your relationship has been lately, are the dishes done… you name it.

Pain - nothing hits the brake as fast. (of course in the right circumstances, with 2 consenting adults, some kinky version of pain or an illusion of pain can be a huge turn-on - Accelerator)

Anxiety and pressure are one of the biggest brakes, understandably.

A certain smell can be a gas or a brake, depending on the smell and on your erotic wiring.

Stress level - absolutely. While for 75% of us high stress equals no sex drive, for other 25% it means greatly increased desire.

Environment - most definitely. Crazy example here, it’s summer, your honey is hot and bothered, you start heading towards the bedroom and then you have a thought cross your mind - “the windows are open, what if the neighbours can hear us?” For some of us - that’s the gas pedal. That thought is exciting. Just thinking about it gets you going. For others - that’s a 100% turn off. Full on brakes. Nothing is going to happen.

And for the rest of us it’s neither here nor there, you won’t even think that thought, and if you did, it wouldn’t matter. Or you just get up and close that window.

So it’s not that important what the cue is, it’s more important how your brain and body react to it. What’s “foot on the gas” for one person might be “foot on the brake” for another one.

And for some, to find an ON button we need to take the foot off the brake first.

It is important to understand that it’s not good or bad, right or wrong. It’s not about “what’s wrong with me or what’s wrong with my partner”. Nothing is wrong. You are wired in a certain way.

From this perspective, the key to marital bliss and sexual satisfaction is to find and do things that press the gas pedal for both of you and examine and stop doing things that activate the brakes.

You and your partner need to find a way to talk about it without blame or guilt or shame or fear of judgement.

Easier said than done!

Hopefully this will give you a language to have conversations about sex that are fun and positive and don’t invoke criticism or defensiveness.

If you have a very sensitive accelerator(many things will turn you on) and an insensitive brake (not many things will turn you off), arousal and sex is easy(easier). It’s easy to get started and it’s easy to keep going.

If it’s the other way around, you have a very sensitive brake and a very insensitive accelerator - it’s hard to get aroused and it’s very easy to get thrown off. It doesn’t mean it’s a problem, it means you are that type of a person and it could be a fun project to figure out how to navigate it with your partner.

Most of us are gonna find ourselves in the middle of the spectrum. Are we wired like this, is it set in stone?

Past traumas, upbringing, physiology, past relationships, as well as the meaning we assign to those things are all going to have an impact.

How much of it can we change?

Some things can be healed, some things will change naturally in a safe relationship, and some things probably won’t change all that much.

Can that be ok? Can both partners see themselves and each other as unique individuals, fascinating and spectacular, yet very different. Can we see our partner for who they are, without trying to change them, to make you be more like me.

I’m very passionate about this conversation. I think it’s super useful. I think it gives people a new language to talk about sex and desire. A new way of understanding what’s happening in the relationship and in the bedroom and a new way of accepting yourself and your partner.

And if you need support talking about it or discovering your own brakes and accelerators - book your free consultation for Couples Counselling in Calgary and online. Every couples is going to deal with sex and intimacy challenges at some point in their relationship, and this can be a very helpful conversation.

Examples of inhibitors and accelerators

How we approach each other:

  • Are we emotionally connected? (Accelerator)

  • Have we been fighting (Brake) (for some of us, fight could be an accelerator)

How we initiate sex

  • I wanna “Bleep” your “Bleep” (Brake or Accelerator?)

  • I’m gonna do the dishes, you go take a bath (Accelerator ... or Brake?)

  • I desire you, you are beautiful, you are very sexy (Accelerator or Brake? It depends on the meaning we give to these worlds. If my mind translates it “ he just wants my body, or all he cares about is sex" - brake.)


  • Too much foreplay or not enough (brake).

  • Erogenous zones touched too soon or not soon enough (brake).

  • Touch that leaves you longing for more - accelerator. ( does your partner know how to touch you like this? Do you? Can you tell them?)

What happens during sex

  • you make no sounds (brake... or, maybe at times, accelerator)

  • your partner is talking non stop (break or accelerator?)

  • you make sounds of pleasure (accelerator)

What happens right after

  • your partner falls asleep right after. Is it endearing and you stay there watching them sleep feeling blissed out, or are you disappointed, frustrated and feeling left alone?

These are just a few examples of course! My intention is to help you start a conversation about it.

Set your partner up for success , give them a map, figure it out together, but don’t leave them guessing please. Help them win, make it easier. Go on a journey to explore together.


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