Title: “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life”
Author: Emily Nagoski
Genre: Non-Fiction Self Help
Preface: This book is aimed at supporting cis women and their partners who are curious about women’s sexuality and/or who are concerned about something they perceive as a problem with their sexuality. Spoiler alert: unless you are experiencing pain, Nagoski says you have no problem, just a puzzle to solve.
Review: The book begins with a great section on male and female genital anatomy. I told a friend after finishing it that I hadn’t read anything so enlightening in a long time. Nagoski tells us why men have nipples and why women have orgasms, and she creates a great metaphor for engaging our sexual desire: she calls it “turning on the ons and turning off the offs.” While each of us, men and women, has a certain set of genitals to work with, we are individually unique in what revs our sexual engine and what puts on our brakes. Common misconceptions that “all women like this or that” or “men love this” are just one example of a mainstream culture that gives us very few examples of what actual sexuality is like for any specific individual. Nagoski offers exercises so we can explore what our “ons” are and what our “offs” are, aimed at cutting down on stress and increasing opportunity for sexual arousal. Basically, there is nothing wrong with you that tweaking your life can’t help, but you do need a willingness to look at what Nagoski calls the “context” of your life in order to make better and more space for sex. There is no magic pill.
The book’s second section goes into great detail about different stressors that affect our context, such as the broken culture which we have relied upon until now to teach us about our sexuality; the trauma of sexual assault; the types of attachment styles we have with romantic partners; feelings about our bodies; learned disgust at certain sexual behaviors or body parts; and others. Again there are exercises to help maximize the things that attract us sexually and explore a little more deeply the things we reject. The main point is to get to know our sexuality better.
In the third section, Nagoski cites some powerful research about how men and women differ when it comes to the concordance between their genitals responding to sexual stimuli and their brains responding. On average, men’s genitals and brains correspond about 50% of the time, while women’s correspond about 10% of the time. This is a big deal! It’s why a women’s vagina may lubricate even during a sexual assault and why that is not at all a sign of interest or consent. In general, men’s genitals are relatively specific in what they respond to and so are their brains. Women’s genitals are relatively general in what they respond to and their brains are much more sensitive to context. When interacting with a male or female partner, what is the best way to find out if they are aroused or enjoying what’s happening? Ask! The fact that the science so beautifully supports that consent is always the best way to move forward is another great thing about this book. Two harmful myths are busted: genital response does not equal turned on; and genital response does not equal enjoying, for men or women.
The third myth that Nagoski busts in this section is that nonconcordance between genital response and brain response, in either gender, is a problem. This is where many women will have thought themselves broken. “Why do I want sex less and less the more my partner pursues me for it?” …and other worries that plague us when our sexual desire isn’t jiving with our partner’s anymore. Nonconcordance is not a problem, it is a fact and a reality. Solving the puzzle of what turns us on now, where we are in life now, and what stressors we need to cut out of life now is the constant work of a sexual relationship. It can seem daunting, but Nagoski gives examples of how couples have explored and learned new things about each other in the process.
One last important thing that Nagoski underscores in this third section is that sex is not a drive, like hunger or sleep. No one would die of lack of sexual release, though they might feel frustrated, man or woman. The misconception that it is a drive that mainly men can’t control has had dire consequences for women and for male-female relationships. Sexual desire is just that, a physical desire, and some people have spontaneous desire, in that it seems to pop up out of nowhere, while others have a more context dependent, or responsive, desire style. Men have historically been assumed to all have a spontaneous desire style (incorrect), and that style has been assumed to be the default normal (also incorrect). It is not the default normal for many men and for many women. There are exercises in this book to help us reflect on what our style might be, and then work with it. If we don’t have spontaneous desire, we are not broken. We are normal, for us, and hopefully our partners are willing to let us be us and explore ways to cause our responsive desire to ignite. Again, no one is broken and no one is normal or not normal. We are all unique.
The fourth and final section of this book goes into more detail on how to play towards achieving orgasm if that has been a challenge for us in the past. Nagoski also talks more in depth about not judging ourselves for the feelings we may need to express along the path of understanding our sexuality better. And she ends with some very practical yet compassionate advice about accepting that this body, this sexuality that we have, “this is it.” Now is a better time than any to start learning to work with it rather than against it and enjoy our sexual selves.
Nagoski says, “I wrote this book to teach women to live with confidence and joy.” Reading the book was exciting—I told a friend that the book was making me feel like a million bucks. If you are at all curious about sexuality at its core, and especially if you feel that you might be broken, I really recommend this book.
Lesley Walker is a Sacramento local and sexuality junkie, especially interested in the following aspects of/things that influence sexuality: relationships, pregnancy and birth, talking honestly to children and youth (and adults!) about sex and healthy relationships, body image, gender equality, balance, and authenticity. If you want to ask questions or just geek out with her about any of these things, write her at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/lesley.walker.7921)