Everything you think you know about sex, desire, and sexuality is wrong.
That’s one of many lessons to take away from Emily Nagoski’s new book Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.
Combining science and psychology with the stories of women she has helped over decades of work as a sex educator, Nagoski attempts to debunk cultural myths surrounding human sexuality in order to help women accept their body and sexuality just as they are, today.
For a book written with an intended audience of cisgender, (mostly) heterosexual women, the information in Come As You Are is founded in the idea of “same parts, arranged differently” and therefore can be extrapolated to a variety of experiences and identities. It makes sense to write a book directed at women specifically, however, since female sexuality bears the brunt of our patriarchal culture’s stigma and shame. Additionally, as Nagoski points out, more research needs to be done on the experiences of transgender and intersex individuals before any definitive claims can be made about those populations. So for a book rooted in scientific rigor, I am willing to give Nagoski the benefit of the doubt as far as doing the best she can with the information that is currently available.
If you are a sexuality and/or psychology and/or communication nerd, most of the information in Nagoski’s book will actually probably not be “new” to you. It is, however, weaved together in an accessible and convenient package which is handy for quick reference, as well as shoving into the hands of clients or friends who might not be so knowledgeable.
Since the book has an intended female audience, for the sake of brevity, I will use the word “women” for the remainder of this review. Having already established that the information in this book can be extrapolated to apply to anyone, if you do not identify with that word, please substitute whatever noun you find most appropriate instead. Okay?
Nagoski begins with an anatomy lesson as a way to reassure women that whatever their parts look like, they are normal. Or actually, that diversity is the hallmark of human sexuality so “normal” isn’t exactly the right word to even use in this case. One of the most important points Nagoski makes throughout the book is that while there are differences between men and women with regard to sexuality, the differences among women (or men) are actually greater. In other words, if you didn’t already know it, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” is utter bullshit. Both men and women are from Earth, and have more in common with each other than not.
From there, Nagoski dives into the brain – the arousal center of the human body. Much of the rest of the information in the book is founded in an understanding of human stress response and attachment drives, and how those influence sexual response. Nagoski frames sexuality as a system which includes both brakes and an accelerator. The information she provides is intended to teach women how to “turn on the ons” and “turn off the offs.”
While most women probably have some understanding that stress and sex don’t combine well, it can be difficult for women to find effective ways to reduce stressors – especially if they are bearing the brunt of child-rearing and housekeeping responsibilities after growing up in a sex-negative, slut-shaming, body-hating culture. This is where the personal composite narratives Nagoski includes come in handy. By moving from broad generalizations to specific situations, she provides readers with tangible ways to reduce stress, learn self-love, and increase sexual desire and pleasure in their own relationships.
A few other toxic myths Nagoski examines include sex as a drive (it’s not!) and the prevalence of arousal non-concordance (lubrication is not consent). The book provides worksheets to help women discover which contexts will help them reduce stress, increase self-compassion, and learn to overcome the situations and obstacles which might be thwarting sexual desire and fulfillment.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about human sexuality, attachment/love, and the psychology of desire outside of the myths our sex-negative culture attempts to propagate. Especially if you own a vulva/vagina or are in a sexual relationship with someone who owns a vulva/vagina, this book will help you understand the potential causes behind any sexual dysfunction which may be manifesting in your relationships and offer tools and knowledge to help increase pleasure and sexual satisfaction – no pills necessary. Even if you aren’t currently experiencing any dysfunction in your sexual relationships, this book will help you understand your own sexuality a little bit better. And that’s a very good thing.
Buy at your local independent bookstore, please!