Accelerators and Brakes: What We Know About Intimacy and How to Connect

Accelerators and Brakes: What We Know About Intimacy and How to Connect

Accelerators and Brakes: What We Know About Intimacy and How to Connect

A relatively new concept was developed by Dr. Emily Nagoski, author of Come as You Are. She assured me that it is not a play off the Nirvana song. In her book, she describes the analogy of accelerators and brakes in relation to sexual desire. It may seem simplistic but here is the low down. A car accelerator is used to move the car forward and the brakes are used to slow the car down. Now imagine the same thing occurring within a human, except for humans, we have brakes and accelerators for every aspect of our sexual story and they are heavily influenced by both external stimuli (sexual imagery, masturbation, foreplay, etc.) and internal stimuli (feelings and thoughts about life, perception of sexual stimuli, feelings and thoughts about body image, etc.). The accelerators and brakes may vary.

Some brakes may turn in to accelerators (for example, maybe intercourse was painful at one point but now it isn’t) and some brakes may become alleviated enough that they don’t cause a lot of pain or pressure when tapped (i.e., a stressful project is now complete). In some circumstances, both may even be tapped simultaneously (i.e., it feels good to be touched but I feel bad for liking it).

It is important to explore what accelerators and brakes exist for us and our partners. From here, we can help ourselves learn how to identify more effective ways to communicate needs associated with accelerators and brakes surrounding sexual desire. So how do we identify the accelerators and the brakes? Let’s think about what is going on in life.


Oh yeah, this crazy social distancing THING!!! In fact, I think if you find yourself lately, feeling kind of funky, or have trouble sleeping, or forgetting what day it is, or feeling down, insecure, unsure, unsafe…then my guess is that you may be experiencing adjustment disorder (that is, unless, you have experienced these feelings for more than six months). These struggles can also be considered internal ‘brakes’.  Fortunately, like adjustment disorders, mentally things can level out. You just have to be aware of what is going on and then take action to center yourself despite these isolating times.

Let us also consider the annoying everyday things about life that are externally exhausting. Right now, we can’t go anywhere, do anything, frolic, play NOTHING – no snowboarding, no social hiking, no play dates, no dinner outings, and no hookups beyond those in your home. And even in your home, masturbation can be considered a brake or an accelerator depending on the person and the person’s mood and beliefs surrounding masturbation. Outside of social distancing, we also have external brakes such as bills, debt, family troubles, kids, work, etc. All of these things can influence a person’s sexual desire.

So, how do we get back on track? We need to move forward in our thinking and consider all elements “outside the box”. The hope is to have more accelerators than brakes. As such, we need to consider how to balance our life’s stressors in order to let the accelerators work! How do we do that?

What is YOUR YUM! With ourselves, we need to be honest about where we are in life and what we need. This can be done in a myriad of ways. Similar to the flight attendant’s warning to ‘save yourself before saving the baby’, I think it is very important to first explore your own ooh’s and ahh’s by getting to know your body. For women this can be especially challenging because female genitalia are more hidden than male genitalia. This can also be difficult for trans women and men who are learning how their new genitalia feels to them. EXPLORATION is KEY!

How can we ask others to enjoy us if we do not know how to enjoy ourselves? If we take performance off the table and simply explore, what might we find out about our own erogenous zones (parts of our body that when stimulated make us feel a zing of excitement)? Ogden and Whipple identified 35 non-genital erogenous zones, meaning, there are 35 potentially arousing spots on your body that you can explore right now!

Once we have learned our own kinks, our own desires, our own erogenous zones, we are better equipped to communicate those to our lover(s). And they will APPRECIATE IT! Let me tell you. There is nothing more anticlimactic than to be expected to mind read your partner’s pleasure points. If you find yourself intimidated by the idea of communicating your needs with your partner, then you might want to consider what that is all about, as well as, your level of interest in moving forward in receiving and giving pleasure to your partner. These strategies will only help you transition brakes into accelerators.

WHAT IS YOUR LOVER’S YUM! Lastly, listen to your partner’s needs as well. What are their brakes and accelerators? Do they like to be swooned or caressed…do they like foreplay…do they like a little kink? When we take the time to hear what our lovers want, we communicate that they are important and that our love making/hooking up is important.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Intimacy is Important too! I like to consider all the elements of intimacy humans experience. Because in reality, I don’t think that everyone has just one special person in their lives who fulfills them entirely. Holy pressure, Batman! Intimacy can be shared among friends or lovers. When it comes to your lovers, in what ways do they fulfill you intimately and vice versa?

People tend to think of intimacy as purely physical and that is okay. Physical intimacy is awesome but there is also the potential for pressure and expectations to build up in this category. That is, unless folks take the time to broaden their definition of physical intimacy. For example, hand holding, butt caressing, and breaking the skin barrier are all ways to enhance the scope of physical intimacy. As we get older and our bodies change, we will inevitably need to broaden our script to include more physical acts than penetration. It is just part of life.

How about experiential intimacy – meaning, you enjoy doing activities together. I was always struck by a friend’s parents who made it a priority to walk every day after dinner. Every day. Rain or shine. That was their way of sharing intimacy with each other. Activities can also be sporting activities, reading together, watching movies (sometimes, unless you really get into movies and like me, get lost in the movie), walking, hiking, biking, creating art, music, etc.

Or perhaps do you engage in intellectual intimacy – my love language is nerd! I love nerding out on topics that are important to me. Cars, meh. Climate, sexuality, social justice topics – yes mama! I love it! When it comes to your lover, how do they intellectually turn you on? Or do they? Have you considered how intellect is involved (or not) in your relationship when communicating desire or intimacy?

Lastly, what about emotional intimacy?  For some of us, we find comfort in our friends to provide emotional intimacy, but we can also receive emotional intimacy from our partners. Emotional intimacy requires a layer of vulnerability and support unlike the rest. It is important to consider how to be a good lover when it comes to emotional intimacy as it may include supporting our partner(s) in times of need, when they themselves feel vulnerable or exposed. Emotional intimacy primarily involves communicating to your partner that they are number one in your life. In my own world, I call that a bottom dollar bitch – someone who will always see you as their number one priority (besides themselves) and loves and respects you; someone who communicates love to you despite your flaws and strengths but is able to challenge you to be a better person; and someone who is able to care for you and still, they don’t lose themselves.

To sum it all up, it is important for all parties to become familiar with their own brakes and accelerators and to proactively work to decrease the brakes/ increase accelerators that exist in their lives. And all the while communicating those aspects to their partner AND creating the same space for their lovers to be heard.


Dr. Angela Schubert is a licensed professional counselor in Colorado and Missouri. She has a doctoral-level education in counseling education and supervision, a master’s degree in mental health counseling, and a graduate certificate in gender studies. Her clinical training is primarily in eating disorders and sexual concerns, and her doctoral dissertation examined the prevalence and acceptance of aging sexual expression in nursing homes. She has experience treating adolescents, adults, and couples from diverse backgrounds and with a range of mental health concerns. Her primary interest is working with individuals with concerns related to body image, sexuality (the umbrella term), gender identity, intimacy, and eating disorders.

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