Monday, May 9, 2016

Come as You Are

Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski (2015), narrated by the author

I had heard about this book from reviews, but it was the author's interview on the podcast now known as Smart Podcast Trashy Books that reeled me in. Emily Nagoski and the regular podcast ladies had a great conversation about women's sexuality, myths and misinformation, and what romance novels so often get wrong about sex.

Chapters cover topics such as basic sexual anatomy, the dual-control model of excitation and inhibition, the stress response cycle, and our cultural context. There is a lot of information here, but these were a few of the most interesting takeaways:

- All human genitals are the same parts organized in different ways
- Your brain has a sexual accelerator that responds to sexually relevant stimulation associated with arousal; it also has sexual brakes that respond to turn-offs. These are two separate controls, and the information is learned, not innate.
- What your genitals respond to and what turns you on are not necessarily the same. This is called sexual non-concordance and it's normal. Although our culture insists that being wet means being turned on, that is not only incorrect, but a dangerous idea.
- Sensation is context dependent. Think about being tickled when you're feeling playful vs. being tickled when you're cranky
- Sex is not a drive. This is important because the idea that it is a drive, and therefore necessary to survival, leads to sexual entitlement and violence.
- You are normal.

It's tempting to try and explain all of these ideas more fully to give you the context, but then I'd be repeating the entire book and this would be an extremely long post!

Throughout the book Nagoski uses some composite characters to illustrate all of these ideas and we follow their stories throughout the book. Exercises and worksheets are included to help the reader identify their own unique sexual map. Ultimately this is a guide to understanding sexuality in order to make your sex life better, but even if you're not looking for sexual self-help I would urge any women out there to pick up this book. You will learn something new, your experiences will be validated, and most likely something you pick up here will benefit you in some way. And not just in terms of sex - I would argue that the section about the stress response cycle is invaluable to any human.

I opted for the audio version because I was looking for an audiobook to listen to and thought it was the most likely way of actually getting around to reading this book. It was read by the author and I knew I'd be happy to listen to her voice because I had heard her on the podcast already. Strangely, there were a few times when quoted passages were narrated by some British dude, which was jarring and distracting and I can't imaging why this decision was made. But it was only a few times and didn't detract from the experience (much.) I can't say it was all super enjoyable to listen to because science, but I learned a lot (even though my mind may have drifted a few times.)

Although much of this information isn't new, it is not widely known. Our culture stubbornly insists on a lot of crazy ideas that we cannot seem to give up (and our sex education is deplorable), but Nagoski is doing her part to try and get the truth out there. She has also taken it upon herself to write an erotic romance novel, primarily driven by her hatred of 50 Shades of Grey (which she discusses in the book and, far more extensively, on her blog.) She calls her novel a "feminist, sex positive, science-driven erotic romance." Sign me up!

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