Come As You Are

Come As You Are, written by Emily Nagoski, is a New York Times bestseller and an eye-opening book about how to maximize a woman’s sexual well-being. Dr. Nagoski wrote this book with the intention of educating women on the scientific truth about their sexuality, with reassurance and encouragement that each is normal and healthy just the way they are. The main audience Come As You Are was written for is women; however, the partners of those women can benefit from reading it as well because of the wealth of information, explanations, and understanding that can be gained. The book is divided into four main sections packed full of information and also intertwines the stories of four women, Olivia, Merritt, Camilla, and Laurie, and how their increasing understanding of sex helped them make positive changes in their sex lives. The stories of these women give the reader a real-world view of how the information shared can affect real-life relationships. Dr. Nagoski was the Director of Wellness Education at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts for eight years before moving on to writing and speaking full-time. She now travels all over teaching and training college students, professionals, and others about the science and art of sexual well-being (“Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.,” n.d.).
Come As You Are begins with an introduction by the author which basically explains the meaning of the book and why she decided to write it. The reader is drawn into the book by the natural, everyday language used by the author. Nagoski’s writing style also lends the reader a sense of normalization for a topic in which some might feel uncomfortable or awkward about, with encouragements all throughout. In the last paragraph of the introduction, the author makes it very clear that reading this book will provide insightful information “that will improve your sex life and transform the way you understand what it means to be a sexual being” (Nagoski, 2015, p.11).
Part one, titled “The (Not-So-Basic) Basics,” is divided into three chapters. Chapter One gives the reader a comprehensive, down-to-earth lesson relating how everyone basically has the same genital parts, but they are organized and put together in different ways. Detailed descriptions of the genitalia by the author contain scientific information, explanations on how each part works, and reassuring words relating that everyone has unique genitals that are supposed to look different from any other individual’s (Nagoski, 2015). In Chapter Two, Nagoski (2015) introduces the reader to the dual control model of sexual response, which proposes that an individual has a sexual accelerator and sexual brakes. “Our accelerators and brakes learn to respond through experience” (Nagoski, 2015, p.69). The author explains how sexual inhibitors and excitors (brakes and accelerators) influence sexuality. A sexual temperament questionnaire is also included in this chapter, which allows the reader to get a sense of how sensitive her own sexual brakes and accelerator are. Chapter Three explains how implicitly context influences sexual response. Nagoski (2015) describes context as being made up of two things; external circumstances and internal brain state at the moment presented. “In the right context, sexual behavior is arguably the most pleasurable experience a human can have” (Nagoski, 2015, p.92). Nagoski (2015) also explains the idea of the emotional One Ring, which is made up of the cluster of enjoying, expecting, and eagerness, and how it is related to sexual responsiveness. Worksheets related to context and sexual experiences are provided at the end of the chapter.
Part two, titled “Sex In Context,” is comprised of two chapters. Chapter Four focuses on the emotional context of sex, specifically on how feelings of stress and love impact the sexual experience. Nagoski (2015) explains how stressors and stress are different, along with how allowing the stress cycle to complete itself aids in stress management. Healthy stress management leads to healthy sexuality and more pleasure. Sexual trauma and how it affects sexual behavior is also discussed, as well as strategies for coping with the aftereffects of sexual trauma. The author continues this chapter by discussing how attachment style and sex are closely related and the importance of that relationship. “We can’t understand sexual well-being without understanding attachment, and we can’t maximize our own sexual wellbeing without learning how to manage attachment in our relationships” (Nagoski, 2015, p.141). Nagoski (2015) also explains how sex is a way to attach to our partner emotionally and can reinforce emotional bonds in unstable relationships. The last sentence of Chapter Four is extremely encouraging for the reader, and it moves the reader to continue wanting more information. Nagoski (2015) states that to have more and better sex, give yourself a compelling reason to have sex, something important to move toward (Nagoski, 2015, p.150). This chapter concludes with worksheets that aid the reader in analyzing stressors, stress, and stress management in order to positively impact sexual experiences.
Chapter Five discusses the cultural context of women’s sexuality, which is broken down into three targeted core messages; “the moral message (you are evil), the medical message (you are diseased), and the media message (you are inadequate)” (Nagoski, 2015, p.156). Cultural context is learned, and the negative aspects focused on women seem to permeate every aspect of our society. Negative body image and sexual disgust resulting from buying into the cultural messages are factors that can affect women, their sexuality, and their sexual pleasure. Nagoski (2015) offers evidence-based strategies to the reader which promote maximizing sexual potential and sexual healing from the effects of the cultural context that women deal with. The power to choose which things to believe and disbelieve about oneself is also supported and promoted. The ability to notice your “yuck” responses and how they influence your sex life is also another important aspect the reader is pointed towards (Nagoski, 2015).
Part three, titled “Sex In Action,” begins with Chapter Six which focuses on arousal, starting with nonconcordance. Nagoski (2015) explains nonconcordance as “the relationship between the peripheral system – the genitals – and the central system – the brain: two separate but interconnected systems” (p.197), which are different for men and women. Nonconcordance is also stated as being related to different emotional experiences and is not fully understood by emotional researchers (Nagoski, 2015). This concept explains three important cultural myths about women’s sexuality. The first is that women’s genital response equals the state of being “turned on,” second that women’s genital response indicates enjoyment, and third that nonconcordance is a problem (Nagoski, 2015). It is not a problem; it is a biological process. The author brings it all together by tying everything back to context, which is the vital ingredient to a woman’s sexual experience. This chapter also ends with an impressive, powerful, and awe-inspiring statement. “The best way to tell if a woman is aroused is not to notice what her genitals are doing but to listen to her words” (Nagoski, 2015, p.222).
Chapter Seven is about desire, which can be responsive, spontaneous, and invariably dependent on context. Desire varies by individual. Nagoski (2015) defines desire as arousal in context. When women learn about the different styles of desire and where they fit, feelings of relief are common. On the other hand, some women feel disappointment if they do not fit in with the cultural dominant spontaneous desire category. Nagoski (2015) also emphatically explains and dispels the myth that sex is a drive. Sex is not a drive, it is an incentive motivation system which pulls one towards a compelling, external stimulus (Nagoski, 2015). Nagoski (2015) then explains strategies on building intensity in the One Ring, which increase arousal and acceleration, strategies to prevent hitting the brakes, and strategies for implementing therapy-like approaches in order to break the monotonous sex cycle. Encouraging the reader that nothing happens overnight and that utilizing scientifically-proven strategies can improve the sexual relationship are also important aspects of this chapter. Worksheets for increasing sexual desire, pleasure, and intensity are included at the end of this chapter.
Part four, titled “Ecstasy for Everybody,” begins with Chapter Eight, and is basically geared towards teaching women how to own their sex lives and increase ecstasy in their sexual experiences. Chapter Eight explains what the orgasmic experience is and is not, reassuring the reader that it is different for everyone. Orgasmic difficulty and distress are also discussed, with the focus that orgasm is not the goal, pleasure is (Nagoski, 2015). “The most pleasurable orgasms happen when every part of you is present and collaborating in pursuit of one shared goal: ecstasy” (Nagoski, 2015, p.285). In Chapter Nine, the final chapter, Nagoski (2015) brings everything together with the statement that how a woman feels about her sexuality is more important than her sexuality itself (p.294). This concept is presented as a woman’s meta-emotions; how a woman feels about how she feels. Nagoski (2015) explains that creating positive meta-emotions can be challenging, but is extremely rewarding in the long run. Non-judging is a difficult concept to grasp, uncomfortable, and can also be distressing. Through emotion-coaching, non-judging meta-emotions can be developed, which can lead to understanding feelings and self-acceptance. “When you give yourself permission to be and feel whatever you are and feel, your body can complete the cycle, move through the tunnel, and come out to the light at the end” (Nagoski, 2015, p.330). When a woman reaches this point, the sexual experience can be rewarding, exciting, and pleasurable.
Come As You Are is a down-to-earth and informative book that both encourages and inspires the reader as far as sexual well-being and sexual experiences go. Not only did Nagoski (2015) dispel several myths concerning women’s sexuality, she also provided several key points and concepts that kept my personal interest level high while reading; the basic anatomy lessons, the dual control model in action, sex in context, arousal, desire, and orgasm. The research and science included throughout the book also made the information provided that much more powerful and impactful. Come As You Are contains critical sexual foundations and facts that cannot be refuted. Nagoski (2015) has almost two hundred and fifty references for the information presented, and also offers a section in the back of the book containing notes on the information in each of the chapters, what others in the field have found, and how her information corroborates with past and current research. I also found the information in this book to be applicable in my own personal life, therefore I am living proof that implementing it in a therapeutic setting will aid my clients as well.
I found the dual control model of sexual responses, which Nagoski (2015) introduced and referred to throughout the book, to be a relevant, validated, and refined approach when studying sexual arousal. This model was created with the intention of aiding in the understanding of individual differences in sexual response, function, and behavior (Janssen & Bancroft, 2006). Janssen and Bancroft (2006) reported that this model postulates that sexual arousal and associated behaviors depend on the balance between sexual excitation and inhibition (p.1). Although this model was originally developed for the male sexual dysfunction area of study, Janssen and Bancroft (2006) proposed that the concepts of excitation and inhibition are just as relevant, if not more, to women’s sexual responses (p.3). I believe the dual control model is most assuredly applicable to women’s sexuality, and Nagoski’s (2015) utilization of it relating to women’s sexuality was spot-on.
Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, although a thoroughly factual, insightful, and informative text for those in the sexual therapeutic community, does not provide the reader with a comfortable, welcoming read. Binik and Hall (2014) approach sex therapy in a very clinical, diagnostic fashion; whereas Nagoski’s (2015) writing style appeals more to the reader’s emotions, drawing continued interest in the information presented. Binik and Hall (2014) provide much of the same information as Nagoski (2015); however, the analytical delivery of Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy does not lend itself as an easy read to those who are not in the therapeutic community as well as Come As You Are does. Nagoski (2015) captivates varying audiences, from ordinary women seeking more information and self-help to therapists in the counseling community looking for a practical and realistic approach to sexual problems commonly seen in the therapeutic setting. I realize the intended audiences are not the same for both books, as Binik and Hall (2014) target the more clinical side of the counseling population. As a therapist, I would much rather read and utilize the down-to-earth methods provided by Nagoski (2015) than the succinct, clinical applications provided by Binik and Hall (2014). Another aspect I noticed when comparing the two texts is the number of references both contain. Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy was written for more of the clinical, medical audience yet it presents only forty seven references for the scientific information explored. As stated previously, the fact that Come As You Are attributed information to almost two hundred and fifty reliable and validated references indicates the thoroughness with which the author bestowed on her text in order to create an accurate resource for not only the clinical, therapeutic community but the average individual as well. This was most impressive in my book.
I believe that professionals in the therapeutic community, especially those dealing with sexual dysfunction and couples, should have the information provided from Nagoski’s (2015) book. Come As You Are was written with today’s society in mind, with pertinent information not just for women, but also other populations with varying gender and sexual orientations. The incorporation of the intersex discussion in Chapter One gives dignity, respect, and validity to the activists promoting this idea because it makes biological sense. Women and those in relationships with women will benefit tremendously after reading this book. I believe the perspective on women’s sexuality that is gained from this reading is truly life-changing and phenomenal. I personally completed some of the worksheets and strategies provided and had successful results. For example, one of the activities my husband and I completed was the sexual cues assessment provided at the end of Chapter Three. We have since implemented two of the changed identified, and we have noticed a positive increase in our sexual experiences, as well as increased spice, so to speak, in our sex lives. Therefore, as a professional therapist, I would definitely consider assigning this book or parts of it as reading homework for individuals, partners, and/or couples facing some of the challenges Come As You Are addresses. I admit I was skeptical when I started reading it, but after implementing some of the concepts presented in my own sexual relationship with my husband, I cannot deny the success of its real-life application.