Review: Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

This is a book about sex, specifically female sexuality, although most men I know would get a lot out of it, too. Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and has given us probably the most useful book I’ve read on sex. (Caveat: if you are recovering from sexual abuse, there are some others that are more specific, but I just mean books on general sex, desire and pleasure).

Nagoski sets out to dispel a LOT of myths about sex and female sexuality. She starts with a discussion of the anatomy itself, complete with charts and pictures! Her main point here and in the rest of the book is “everyone is normal and everyone has all the same parts, but we might just be organized in different ways”. If you’ve ever asked “am I normal?”, Nagoski thinks you are!

The most revolutionary discussion of the book is her “dual controls” analogy – basically, we are like a car; we have an accelerator and we have a brake. We have things that turn us on and get us going, and we have things that pump the brakes. Therefore, if you are having any kind of sexual issue, you can just look at these two components to find the answers. Maybe you have trouble getting going, a slow accelerator, and this is a problem if your partner has a revving engine. So, brainstorm ways that you can get yourself revved up. Or, maybe the problem is that you love your partner and want sex, but something is pumping the brakes. Maybe kids, exhaustion, a history of abuse, lack of trust between partners, etc. So if you can resolve the issues that are pumping your brakes, then your natural desires can take back over.

Nagoski covers some things that aren’t specific to sex but are notorious “brake pumpers” – things like stress, being stuck in a “freeze” cycle, and attachment issues. Also, self-confidence and self-compassion are helpful because self-criticism pumps the brakes. And media messages and “urban legend” type information about sex can also be harmful.

She talks quite a bit about desire, since desire is the #1 reason people seek help for sex. Some people do experience a spontaneous desire for sex (usually: men), but many women experience more what she calls “responsive” desire. They have desire, but only in response to something that happens, not just on its own. This would be helpful information for partners, understanding that they have to set the stage and “advance the plot” as Nagoski says. She also discusses orgasms themselves and the myths surrounding them, especially for women.

Each chapter has helpful exercises at the end to figure out how to maximize the information, and there is also a workbook available. I do wish there was a little more information about how sexual abuse/assault affects women’s sexuality, since this is a fairly common issue for women. But when she mentions it, she does give reference to the other books that explore this topic in depth, like The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz. All in all, this book kind of blew my mind, and helped me look at this issue with new eyes. I’ve worked a lot with sexual issues as a couples counselor, and I now feel like I have even better resources to do that. This book is not new, but there is a recent updated version and it is available now.

Disclaimer: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a small compensation from orders placed with this link. Summaries are not intended to replace the purchase of this book, but simply to save you time reading.

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