Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Review: Come As You Are

Title: Come As You Are: the surprising new science that will transform your sex life
Authors: Emily Nagoski, PhD
Enjoyment Rating: 4/5
Source: Audiobook from Audible

We live in a sex-negative culture. As prevalent as sex seems to be (advertisements! TV! porn! magazine covers!), the culture ties sex to shame, especially for women. It is the reason you can go through years of sex education in the public school system, learn about conception, protection, and STDs, but never hear the word "clitoris." It is the reason you can grow up in a religious culture that holds marriage as the most important human relationship, but sends a steady message of shame about any sexual feelings that might lead to that relationship (every kiss you give is like printing a dollar bill, the more you kiss the less your kiss is worth! If you have sex, you are a chewed piece of gum no one will ever want!).

It was so refreshing to listen to a book that was so body-positive and sex-positive. I picked up Emily Nagoski's book, Come As You Are: the surprising new science that will transform your sex life, after a couple of friends of mine read and reviewed the book. Nagoski has a PhD in Health Behavior and a MA in Counseling. Stealing from her website here, "Emily's mission in life is to teach women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies."  This book is not a "how-to" manual with instructions on positions or methods of sex. This book, which uses a lot of helpful metaphors, is about pulling out the weeds of misinformation and shame that crowd the garden of sexual health and learning how to tend the garden with the right balance of factors to nurture it to its full potential.

Nagoski uses a combination of scientific research and the experiences of the many women and couples she has met with to explain how our brains and bodies respond to sex. Her primary message to women is that you are normal and beautiful just the way you are. When we are born, our bodies are loved and celebrated, and any shame or disgust or distrust is learned. Sexual response is context specific, and our response to a sexual situation will differ according to that context (status and health of a relationship, stress level, and how we feel about ourselves and our bodies are a few factors). The context determines whether  our brain hits the accelerators towards arousal/pleasure, or the brakes. Some people have more sensitive accelerators, some have more sensitive brakes, and everyone differs. It is all normal. What matters is understanding how you respond to sexually relevant content and creating the context that is best for you.

My biggest criticism is how the book is organized. Nagoski frequently raises an issue and says, "more on this in chapter 5," or "find the answer to this in chapter 7." I found it frustrating to hear that so often, and it made me think that if the questions and answers to certain issues are so fragmented, the book should have been organized differently.  But despite that issue, I found it a very worthwhile book.

 Since most of my blog readers are Mormon women, I'll give a content advisory for this one. The book is intended for adult women engaging in consensual sex, but otherwise, Nagoski withholds judgment for how people choose to seek sexual pleasure. She does not encourage the use of porn or multiple partners, but she does not condemn it either. Read the book with an open mind, and apply whatever limits or morals you want to your own sex life.