A brief book review by Kate Rancourt
Author: Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.
I’m surprised I didn’t know of Emily Nagoski prior to reading this book. My impression of her now can be summed up as such: an ah-may-zing (AMAZING) sex educator with an inspiring ability to make the science of sex an easy to understand topic for everyone. But that general opinion was probably better stated by Ian Kerner, author of She Comes First, who gave her this review: “Emily Nagoski is worth her weight in TED Talks”. We all know that means a lot.
Come as You Are is largely geared toward exploring, explaining, and myth-busting a ton of topics about female sexuality. If there is one message that Emily wants to give every single woman through this book, it is that your experience of your sexuality is both unique and completely normal. There are no two individuals who are the same, but that does not mean that anyone is sexually deficient, abnormal, or broken. This message is stated time and time again throughout the book, I presume because it’s an important message to reinforce for women, whether they currently experience problems with their sexuality or not.
Part one of the book begins by discussing the “basics” of sexuality, including genital anatomy, the dual control model of sexual arousala, and the role of emotion in sex. One of my favourite parts of the book was chapter one, where Emily talks about the general lack of differences between male and female genital anatomy, and also busts some myths about female genitalia. Emily taught me a new term in this chapter – ‘biological homology’ – which she describes as traits that share a similar biological origin, but serve different functions. Case and point: the penis and the clitoris. Oh, and my favourite quote from the whole book happened in this chapter, too: “You wouldn’t call your face or forehead your throat, so let’s not call your vulva or mons the vagina”. Well put, Emily.
Part two takes readers from understanding the “basics”, to applying them to two important contexts that often play an enormous role in women’s personal feelings about their sexuality. The first is the emotional context, including the impact of general stress, sexual anxiety, and romantic attachment on sexuality. The second is the cultural context, where Emily comments on negative cultural messages that women may internalize from moral principles, medical communities, and the media about their sexual selves. Oh, and need I mention that she also gives some tips and tricks for how to address some of these factors if they are influencing your sexuality in problematic ways?
Part three focuses on the nitty gritty of female sexual desire and arousal, and talks about some of the most fascinating science on female sexuality: (1) arousal nonconcordance (i.e., the idea that women’s actual genital responses are often not related to their own feelings of ‘being turned on’), and (2) the idea that despite what scientists thought for many years, sexual desire is not a biological drive (unlike sleep or eating, which are biological drives). She ends this section with some more strategies to help tap into your sexual desire.
The final section of the book focuses on more myth-busting, this time about orgasm. In the last chapter, Emily re-defines sexual pleasure as the complex connection between the body’s physical response, and other important factors like relationships, culture, and feelings. Importantly, she wraps up the book by talking about the role that expectations can play (or as I like to call it, your ‘sexpectations’) in either interfering with, or enhancing, sexual pleasure.
To sum up, Come as You Are is a sex-positive, very informative, and normalizing book about female sexuality. I believe that every woman could gain some valuable information from this book, though it does seem to be geared more towards teenagers and adults (it focuses less on potentially different sexual experiences of older adult women, like changes in sexuality with increasing age). Additionally, Emily acknowledges early on that the science of sexuality has primarily been conducted on cis-gendered women, and as such, some of the content of the book may not apply as well to trans* or genderqueer individuals.
If you are intrigued by the post and want to learn more about this book or other work by Emily Nagoski, I encourage you to check out her website, www.thedirtynormal.com, for some general perusing about sexuality (she has some excellent blog posts and resources on her site).
a A quick summary of the dual-control model can be found here: http://www.thedirtynormal.com/blog/2014/06/22/the-dual-control-model/