Sam Holstein

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“Come As You Are” by Ph.D. Emily Nagoski Can Cure Your Struggles with Sexuality

Sex doesn’t seem complicated. You have natural urges to have sex sometimes, and in the right contexts, you act on them. Have sex when you want and don’t when you don’t. Simple, right?

But then all sorts of questions pop up. What if my partner doesn’t want sex and I do? What if I want to want sex but can’t seem to get in the mood? Or what about those bizarre times my body feels aroused but I don’t want sex? Why do I need lube if I want it? Why am I wet if I don’t? These questions and a million more fill Google’s search bar every day.

In Come As You Are, Dr. Emily Nagoski teaches readers that the reason these questions pop up for us is that we have a totally erroneous understanding of sexuality. We think desire works in one way — either we want it or we don’t — and that orgasms work in one way — if we are having a good time, we have one, and if we aren’t, we don’t. In reality, like anything else physiological, sexual pleasure relies on the proper functioning of a myriad of different stimuli, both external (what’s happening to your body) and internal (how you feel about what’s happening).

My Five Favorite Quotes

“In the very best relationships, we’re allowed to experience all forms of stress — anger, fear, shutdown — and receive the loving presence of our partner sitting still and quiet through the storm.”

“If you have sex because you have to or you feel like you’re supposed to, you won’t have much sex and you probably won’t enjoy it when you do.”

“Sex can be a powerful, pleasurable way to connect in the face of the “I’m lost” signals so that you can find your way home. Together. But this feels pleasurable only if you can give each other time and space for [feeling your feelings].”

“Many women try to be desirable, but only as a lesser alternative to being lovable.”

“A lot of women trust their bodies less than they trust what they’ve been taught, culturally, about their bodies.”

What This Book Taught Me

The lessons Come As You Are taught me about sexuality are lessons I will remember for the rest of my life.

People don’t have a “high” or “low” sex drive. This is a myth. A better metaphor is a car. People have a gas pedal that makes them desirous and a brake pedal that holds them back. Sexuality comes together when the gas pedal is on and the brake pedal is off. If you struggle with not wanting sex in your relationship, ask yourself: is your brake pedal on, meaning you want it but you’re too stressed to relax, or is your gas pedal off because your environment simply isn’t stimulating enough?

There are two types of sexual desire, not one. The first one, “spontaneous desire,” is what we think of as typical desire. We look at our lover and decide we want sex. The second, “responsive desire,” is what we experience when someone makes sexual approaches toward us and we decide we will accept their overtures. Many women only experience responsive desire, and this is a totally normal sexual variation. Many women worry they are broken because they only experience responsive desire, but Nagoski is happy to tell us this is not true.

Women’s bodies do not reflect their conscious desires. Studies show that, for the most part, when men are erect, they also want to have sex. But vaginal wetness has little-to-no relationship to sexual desire. Women experience vaginal wetness when they don’t want sex and are sometimes dry as a bone when they do want it.¹ This phenomenon is called nonconcordance.

The greatest predictor of sexual pleasure is a nonjudgmental attitude. There is a wide amount of variation in healthy sexual functioning for women. Many women experience only responsive desire, need to use lube because they don’t get wet, and experience significant pleasure without orgasms. (Or even find orgasms annoying!) But women who don’t fit the spontaneous-desire-multi-orgasmic expectation often judge themselves for being broken or lesser. Unsurprisingly, a self-judgmental attitude seriously gets in the way of enjoying healthy sexuality. The best thing women — or anyone — can do to improve their sex life is to stop judging themselves and accept themselves as they are.

Who I’d Recommend This Book For

Almost anyone, honestly. Sexuality touches everyone’s life in some way. The vast majority of people either are a woman or are partnered with a woman, meaning the vast majority of people can benefit from a grounded and effective understanding of women’s sexual functioning.

This is especially important because so much of what we “think” we know about sexuality is actually just about male sexuality. The notion that orgasms are a product of pleasure only? Male sexuality. The notion that healthy people should experience spontaneous desire on a daily or weekly basis? Male sexuality. The notion that nonconcordance is a medical condition that needs treatment? Male sexuality again.

If you want to bust myths about sexuality you aren’t even aware you believe in, Come As You Are is a great book for you.

1: No discussion of trans people was present, but I wouldn’t be surprised if trans women on HRT also experience nonconcordance. Nagoski tells us nonconcordance has something to do with hormones.

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