Explained: The Dual Control Model of Sexual Response

You may not know this, but when it comes to sex, you have something in common with a car. Now, human sexuality is way more complex than a simple machine and each person’s sexuality is different, but one thing we all have in common is that we all have accelerators and we all have brakes.

The accelerator is a part of us that is constantly scanning our environment for sexual information. Much of the time, we don’t even know it’s running. It sits in the background waiting for a sight, sound, touch, taste, or thought that might turn us on and start us down the road of sexual arousal. Different experiences and situations push our accelerators softer or harder, affecting how quickly and easily our motors start turning and we become aroused.

Have you ever been in the middle of a hot sexual moment, all revved up, running on all cylinders, when something happens to stop you in your tracks? Yup, those were the brakes. Maybe it was one of your children knocking on the bedroom door saying “I’m thirsty”. Or maybe it was a loud noise? A certain smell? Or maybe it was something more internal? Like worrying about how your body looks, or worrying that you won’t “get it up” or have an orgasm?

Each of us has a different set of accelerators and brakes. Some are very sensitive and some are not very sensitive at all. Sensitive accelerators mean we are able to become aroused fairly easily and quickly. Sensitive brakes mean we are more likely to have something reduce our arousal. This combination of sexual excitation (accelerator) and sexual inhibition (brakes) make us our unique sexual selves. And, if you want to be fancy, you can refer to it as the dual control model of sexual response.

Take a minute to ask yourself: How sensitive is my accelerator? How sensitive are my brakes? What are the things that push my accelerator? And what hits my brakes? What about your partner? I encourage you to talk with your partner about their accelerator and brakes and about your accelerator and brakes. You each may discover some new and critical information!

If you want to know more about this dual control model of sexual response, I highly recommend this book:

Nagoski, E. (2015). Come as you are. Simon & Schuster.

–Matt Todd MA, LCMHCA

Matt Todd, MA, LCMHCA is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate in North Carolina and a former employee at Carolina Sexual Wellness Center. To schedule an appointment one of the therapists at CSWC, call 919-297-8322.

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