SEX WITH EMILY
Emily Morse wants to talk about sex, baby. And she wants to make sure everyone does too. With her doctorate in Human Sexuality and a pioneer in the podcast scene with weekly episodes for the last 13 years, Emily has spent the last decade and a half working to release stigmas around sex, pleasure, and what turns us on in general. She truly embodies what it means to "eat clean, and play dirty" — by living without boundaries or judgment when it comes to pleasure, and by keeping a grounded practice in meditation, eating to engage her senses, and taming the largest sex organ: her brain. Explore further to read some wilder moments Emily's had in the name of research, why we need to escape "mental prisons," and the ultimate reading list for great sex.
Can you share your journey, and how you earned your doctorate in Human Sexuality, and started your podcast in 2005?
Yes, I started [my podcast] and I've never missed a week, I don't think. I started my process in 2005, but before that, I was a documentary filmmaker and my film crew was working in politics in San Francisco. I worked for the mayor of San Francisco at the time, I used to run political campaigns, but after a while I became disillusioned with politics. From there, I started a documentary about San Francisco and why people vote and I interviewed hundreds of people.
I've always been a seeker, and I've always been on a search. 'What do I love doing and what could have the biggest impact in the world and what am I good at?' I realized after this documentary, what I loved the most was interviewing people. I feel like everyone has a story to tell and I realized that I had a knack for it because I truly love listening and people always opened up to me. When the documentary was done I was like, 'I loved this'. Everything else, like producing and directing, I wasn't as into and I thought, 'What's the thing that I'm most curious about now? What do I want to learn and what could help others?' I had always been very confused about sex and relationships, and thought that I wasn't normal, or something was wrong with me. People and friends were always saying, “I had the best sex of my life last night. Sex was amazing.” I thought I'd had good sex, not amazing sex, but I'm also an overachiever. I decided to find out how to have the best sex.
I heard about podcasting, probably that month, and thought, wow I could just interview, without a camera, and talk to people one-on-one because there's much more anonymity with audio. I could invite friends to my house in San Francisco to my living room and just start interviewing them about their sex lives and their relationships. And we’d talk for like, six hours. I got some recording equipment off Craig's List and I just interviewed people. I realized in that moment that I felt the magic in the room. I felt that people were so open to talking about sex and sharing their experiences about love and relationships, that there was this spark. I realized I found my passion. I found something that could really impact people's lives because I knew that we all learned from each other's stories and this is something that we don't get to talk about— for me, I had no sex education. I was so confused by it. I had been having sex for a while but there was so much I didn't know and I had this hunger for it.
I spent my time talking with people, reading books, looking into research and studies that just kind of helped direct my path. It was all self-taught at that time. I read hundreds of books about sex and interviewed hundreds of people the first two years. People were really interested in learning, and I thought about how to further the mission. I got my doctorate in Human Sexuality in San Francisco, and it took me about five years.
It wasn't because I had this amazing foresight that podcasting would be a thing. I just so enjoyed the medium and the platform that it gave for people to really speak openly. There’s this sudden intimacy and openness and vulnerability that comes through with podcasting.
Did you have any mentors or teachers along your way, people you were inspired by?
Really, up until about three years ago, I really had to explain to people. There was nobody in podcasting, but there have been other sources of inspiration. For one, the store Good Vibrations has really been a pioneer with sex and I bought my first vibrator there. Carol Queen, she's been a huge pioneer with sex and relationships. I remember having her on one of my first shows, and I was so nervous, because she was like the godmother of sex. Ian Kerner's book, She Comes First, is a great book. Dossie Easton wrote a book called The Ethical Slut. It was really one of the first things I had read about giving permission to women, to own your sexuality and not to label yourself as a slut and be okay getting what you want in bed. That really opened up a lot for me.
Since then I've really loved Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan. That book talks about challenging what we believe about monogamy and suggesting that perhaps it’s not for everybody. Sex For One is another great book by Betty Dodson. A Passionate Marriage is a great book by David Schnarch. It's a great book about love and intimacy that couples can use as a tool to navigate through their relationship.
How can we explore pleasure and sex in a deeper way, within ourselves?
I often say we haven't scratched the surface of our own sexual depth because so many of us don't even understand our own beliefs around sex and where they came from. I think it's important to understand your deeply ingrained beliefs about sex, like shame or trauma or judgment, that you place on yourself, or maybe from parents or society or religion, and recognize what your foundational beliefs around sex are. Then, recognize that they probably don't serve you anymore, [for example] "sex is something that's dirty or wrong or only for procreating". I feel like it's important to understand your baseline and then wipe that slate clean. Once you release yourself from your own beliefs, and society’s beliefs, only then will you be able to look deeper and then truly explore the nourishing, intimate and pleasurable sides of sex. I feel like that's the process for going deeper. Go deeper by talking about it. Be interested in sex, and understand that it's not something that happens to you. No one gives you your orgasm. No one decides to have sex with you. We create our own sexual roadmap. The more that we talk about it, the more we keep it top of mind, the easier it will become to embrace and make it our own. I really think it's important to talk about sex, work on our sex life by masturbating, learn to love our bodies, understand how it works, why it works, and what works for you.
What does it mean for you and how do you personally seek it out?
Pleasure is about being in the moment. Pleasure is a very external thing, whereas happiness is internal. For me, pleasure is about finding joy in little things. Things that make you feel good, sensory things. If it's great music, or wonderful food, or a massage. I think pleasure is self-love. It's about allowing yourself joy in ways without attaching to it, without judging it. Our brain is our largest sex organ. We can all learn to have a regular masturbation practice, have a regular self-love practice, touch practice, and keep sex top of mind. I think it helps to employ as many senses as possible. That's what pleasure means to me.
Eating really good food is very pleasurable for me. Like having a great, satisfying meal. I know what I like, I know what doesn't feel good to me. It's having wonderful sheets, having great scents in my home like lighting candles, getting a massage, being with my boyfriend. I'm really into touch and affection. To me, it's seeking out people, places, things that just feel really good in the moment.
What are the best tools in order to "understand what works for you"?
You can read anything about sex and make it very intellectual. You need to actually do your own work— especially women. Men need this too, but for example, I was raised to believe "that someday my prince will come, and so will I". He's going to ride up on this white horse and he's going to understand my body. He's going to know exactly what to do and then it's all going to work out. And that's just not true. I had to do my own work around understanding my body.
Learn how to communicate. I think that's the other way we can go deeper is by not keeping it to ourselves. People always want to know, when is the right time to talk about sex with your partner? You talk about it always, like you talk about your kids. When you're in a relationship, the second you have sex with someone, it's time to talk about it. When your clothes come off, talk about it. But not, like, 'Let's talk about the state of our sex life.' Instead ask, 'What do you want? What feels good to you?' Focus on being present with how you feel in the moment and what your desires are, this is how we go deeper. The more we talk about it, the easier it becomes.
How has being a “sexpert” helped you in your own personal life and what have you taught partners along the way?
I realize that I had done all the things I talk about. I did all the things that I hear people today still doing. Like, I used to fake orgasms. I used to just kind of go through the motions. And I would care about my partner's pleasure, and not my own. Since I started my show, I decided I couldn't be a hypocrite, you know? I just had to start saying and asking for what I wanted, and not be afraid to pull out the lube or use toys or use condoms. I realized that's actually what people want. I think we all want our partners to be happy. We want to please them and I realized right away that my sex life got better because I was taking control of it. I was no longer passive.
The key thing, too, is talking about it all with partners. My main thing is 'communication is lubrication'. I feel like with my partner, it still gets better for me. I've been in a relationship now, for about 9 months, and it always gets better. It becomes this really fun living thing in our relationship that we share. I think that there's this notion that sex should always be amazing without having to work at it. That it’s the one thing in our life that we don't have to work at; it should be great all the time. That's such a myth. It's a myth that sex could be amazing and pleasurable for both parties if you don't talk about it.
The more comfortable we are, the more it actually becomes our shared thing, like how couples talk about movies they love or gossip about literature or TV, right? Like my boyfriend and I talk about how we're obsessed with Handmaid's Tale and the new toy I got. Or the different kind of sex that we’re trying.
We often talk about the power and shift that happens when you feel good in your body, this whole new sense of freedom opens up. What does freedom mean for you?
Freedom is acting without limits. Freedom is the ability to do what you want, when you want, in a very physical sense. I've realized that most freedom really comes from understanding our minds. We all sort of keep ourselves in a mental jail. True liberation from suffering in life and distress and what gives us the most freedom is to understand that our thoughts are not ours. Cultivating awareness, and self-awareness to our minds and whatever we're thinking gives us the opportunity to live much richer, fuller lives. Once we recognize this, we can live without being reactive to our bodies. I've been in situations where everything seemed wonderful and great and everything lined up. I think many people's lives look perfect from the outside but internally, are still suffering. I think a lot of what meditation does for me is that it makes me realize that I don't have to be trapped in my mind. It's not me, and the more that I train and use it well, and use it mindfully, the more freedom I have.
What got you into mediation?
It's funny. About 20 years ago, I was backpacking through Southeast Asia. I was 25 and I just bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok and went backpacking for nine months across Southeast Asia. My Dad died when I was 19, and I had a therapist say to me once, you really should meditate. And I was like, 'Yeah yeah, that seems really hard.' But there were all these retreats there. I was on an island in Thailand, I think it was Ko Pha-Ngan, and I walked up to the retreat center with a bunch of monks and I just signed up for this ten-day retreat. I sat there for 14 hours a day, ten days in a row. You meditate from 4AM to 10PM at night. I really learned then that my mind was like a wild animal in the jungle and that I needed to learn how to tame it. I could learn to tame it through meditation.
And for me, I do things intensely. I didn't just start a podcast, I jumped in, made it my life, quit my job. I had no money. I had to learn. Some people are like, I'll take a course. I'm like, 'No no no, make me suffer to get it.'
You went from 0 to 14 hours of meditation, how did that first day go?
The first day was so hard. Here's the thing about meditation, though— it's not like you can't move. There's walking meditation, there's sitting meditation, and also standing meditation. You would meditate from like 6AM to 8AM and then you'd get a break and then 10AM to 12PM. It was hard. All my things came up. It was the longest day ever. I also noticed, my negative self talk would say, 'You'll never make this, you're not doing it right, you're breathing wrong, you're meditating wrong.' Especially after 10 days of it, I started making problems where there weren't any, like assuming that the person next to me was trying to breathe loud to upset me. I was creating this drama in this very safe space. There was healthy food. There was a place to sleep. It was free. It was donation based. Yet I was having the same amount of stress and distress that I would have if I was in San Francisco. And I thought, this isn't right. This can't be right because all I am asking to do is fucking not think. And to breathe. How can this be so hard?
It was challenging but what I learned through that was that it's just about sticking to it. It was also one of the things that I look back on and realize it was one of the most transformative processes of my life.
It seems like there are lots of obstacles and preconceived notions for people surrounding meditation...what's your advice to making it more accessible?
There can be a lot of dogma. When I left the retreat, they told me you have to wake up and meditate for an hour and do it at night for an hour. And I thought to myself, great. I'll do it, I feel so great right now. You're on such a high when you leave there, but I literally never did it when I got back to San Francisco. My whole life washed over me. I was 26 years old, and thought, 'What am I doing with my life? What's my purpose?' And I remember feeling like I was failing if I didn't do what they said. It took me years to realize there was no right way to meditate, except to just do it and do it regularly. I've given myself permission to allow it to count as meditation, even if it's three minutes or five minutes or even ff it's just some breaths. The fact that I just consciously decided to shut off my mind and my phone for 10 to 30 minutes is powerful. It doesn't have to look any sort of way. There is no right way of meditation.
The other great tip that I learned was from Deepak Chopra. Someone said to him, "What is the key to meditaion, how do you do it every day?" And he's like, RPM. He said, "Rise. Pee. Meditate." You can say well like, can I get coffee first? No. Rise pee, meditate. Can I walk my dog? No. And I think about that when I want to get back on track. I'll just like do it for three minutes when I wake up.
What are some other ways we can own our sexuality and feel comfortable within our bodies?
I did Somatica, and it's sex therapy training. It was really about learning how to be in your body, be present, to feel what you're feeling and then how to express it to your partner. How, when you get aroused, what happens in your body. How does your mind work - everything starts in our mind but how do you cultivate healthier thoughts. I also really think movement is important and I tried Sheila Kelly's class. She teaches S Factor and she's been doing it maybe 18 years. She was the first person to make pole dancing an athletic endeavor. I used to make fun of it, thinking, 'Okay well now everyone's getting on a pole doing these sexy dances for their boyfriend.' But, really it's about women being in their bodies and learning how to express eroticism and sensuality within ourselves. Through Somatica, I learned that we trap so many emotions and feelings in our bodies and once you can learn to move in a way and feel your body, you can release so many of the negative thoughts and constructs that hold us back from really being sensual, erotic beings.
Do you have any tips on how nutrition plays a role in all of this? Are aphrodisiacs real?
Here's the thing about aphrodisiacs, first of all, it's the foods that kind of stimulate all of our senses, right? Again, it's like smell, taste, touch. And I don't think it's necessarily that you're eating an oyster that you're all of a sudden going to rip your partner's clothes off and have an orgasm. The act of eating good food and the act of eating something sexy with your partner and sharing chocolate and delicious, sensual foods can absolutely stimulate your brain and your body to get you more turned on.
As far as health and good food, it's everything. Taking care of your body is self-love. The more you're giving yourself really healthy, nutritious foods with most of your diet based on lots of greens, the more you're just going to feel better. You're putting gas in the engine, good gas. You're revving yourself up. It has to be connected. A lot of the sexual challenges that are prevalent, have to do with the fact that we're not taking care of ourselves in a healthy way. If we are stimulating the blood flow through our body we're going to be more turned on, everything's working correctly.
What are some of the wildest things that you've done for research for your career?
Oh my God. Well when I started, I was the guinea pig because I had done nothing. I had my first threesome. I went to a sex party. I did OM (Orgasmic Meditation). I got my clitoris stroked for the weekend and then I brought the guy on my show on Monday. I was like, 'Let's talk about stroking my clitoris.' In 2008, that was like what are you doing? My boyfriend at the time was like, "You did what?" I'm open to doing it all and then talking about it without shame. I've done erotic massage. I did a tantric retreat. I always want to learn more. I guess I'm just never done.
I think that toys are an example in incredible advancement, especially even in the last 13 years, they're even available at Walgreens. There was a study in 2009, where over 50% of women own a vibrator and 75% have used it with a partner. I'd love to see a recent study about the percentage now. It's amazing. I mean, there are fucking ancient toys. I can't remember, it's like in Greece, there's the oldest dildo. Like thousands of years old. I think that women need to be willing to put in the work to discover their own sources of pleasure. And however you do that, I am totally for it.
How do you feel like changed the conversation and kind of broke the rules when it comes to sex?
It's been 13 years, and I'm breaking the rules by having no shame in my sex game. By literally telling everyone what I do, no matter what religion, what age, no matter who they are to me. Someone's like, what do you do for a living? I'm a sex therapist. I really will talk to anybody about it who'll listen. I have no fear about that. I know that by my talking about it, it's disarming and not aggressive. I think I stay really positive around sex. I'm not angry about it. I'm very open. I'm not judgemental, at all. I was raised that way. My mom was that way, and I think that's really served me.
I think that my show breaks the rules by being a safe place. It’s a place for people to know that they will be accepted and that anything they want to talk with me is on the table. I'm going to help them figure out how to own their sex life, to be their own personal advocate, and to continue to break the rules by asking for what they want. You have to control your sex life.
Your sexual health is so important and that when we ignore it, whatever you resist persists. So, if you don't feel comfortable in your own body, or talking about sex, or even having sex, you're not going to have the sex life that you deserve.
What is the legacy or mark you'd like to leave on the world and your bigger vision for "Sex with Emily"?
I want to leave on the world knowing that I made sex easier to talk about. I would love it to be taught in schools. I would love masturbation and pleasure to be taught in schools. I would love parents to feel comfortable talking to their kids about it, like they do in the Netherlands. That's one place in the world where they talk about pleasure and they talk about safety. Here we only talk about fear-based tactics. I think it's all about having sex education part of the curriculum.
I think my bigger vision for "Sex with Emily" is to reach more people in whatever way I can, through the podcasts, radio, television, video. I'd love to go on the road with it, do more live shows, meet my listeners. But really just continue to make the show available to people everywhere in the world, to reach more people, have a higher impact. The more people that can listen to it, the more people are having better sex, and I know that it helps people.