Come As You Are

I spent two days reading “Come As You Are” book by Emily Nagoski recently. And this is how I felt when I was reading it: “OMG OMG OMG, where have I been all this time?”. First of, this is a book about sex. Feminine sexuality, specifically.

The book starts off by addressing insecurities of many women. It goes into extraordinary lengths to convince readers that their bodies are normal. The effort of the author, a sex educator, puts in into this showed to me how insecure and ashamed women are about their bodies and genitalia. It then quickly remarks on the myth that hymen is an indicator of virginity. OK… but nothing mind-blowing.

The mind-blowing things start in Chapter 2, where the author introduces the dual control model. Sexual response is governed by two systems: Sexual Excitation System (SES) and Sexual Inhibition System (SIS). SES is the accelerator: it receives information about sexually relevant stimuli in the environment, such as smell, touch, taste or imagination, and sends signals from the brain to the genitals to tell them “Turn on!”. It is a subconscious system that is always at work. SIS is the sexual brake. Things like risk of STI transmission, unwanted pregnancy, social consequences or… your grandmother walking into the room activate it. The implications of this dual control model are immense. If you are having troubles getting aroused, you need to identify whether your accelerator is too unexcitable or your brake is too sensitive. If your brake is too sensitive then things need to be just right for you to get in the mood and if your accelerator is too insensitive then you will only respond to specific stimuli. Apparently hormone levels don’t actually affect the sensitivity of neither SES nor SIS. Also, a sensitive brake is the strongest predictor of sexual problems of all kinds. And… women tend to have more sensitive brakes compared to men. Men, on the other hand, have more excitable accelerators. Which explain a lot! It should help men understand how to turn women on in their bedrooms: be more mindful about their SIS.

Further the book introduces the idea of context. The idea of context is best understood through tickling. Being tickled can be enjoyable if you trust the person who is tickling you yet downright torturous if you don’t. Same sensations, different context. Another example can be: watching your partner do laundry. If you feel overall supported and connected, then seeing your partner doing the laundry may act as a cue for erotic thought. However, if you are feeling resentful because you’ve been doing a disproportionate amount of the laundry lately, then seeing your partner do laundry may feel satisfying - “it’s about time” - without feeling sexy. This context idea explains why it is sometimes difficult to recreate some passionate nights between couples: the expectation to have sex may ruin the context.

The concepts of enjoying, expecting and eagerness systems are explained in the book. The enjoying system is responsible for the reward of the experience, the expecting process is linking what’s happening now and what should happen next; whereas eagerness is the intensity of the emotion. These three can apply to any emotion, however the book obviously discusses those in the context of sex. Expecting system explains why certain people might get aroused even when it is inappropriate to do so (e.g. witnessing an assault); eagerness explains why certain people enjoy make-up sex a lot: eagerness is high after the feeling of losing your partner. What is also interesting is that stress can increase eagerness for some people but decrease it for others. And how you can be expecting sex but not enjoying it; you can also be eager to have sex but not enjoy it.

Further down “Come As You Are” (yes, I know it’s a Nirvana song, goddamit!) introduces a very important concept of… nonconcoradance. And TL;DR; of nonconcoradance is that genital sexual arousal is often not in line with that of the brain’s. AND IT IS ALSO EXTREMELY COMMON, ESPECIALLY IN WOMEN. A dry vulva yet turned-on brain isn’t a sign of brokenness: simply get some lube. It is significantly less common in guys, however it is still present.

Then the book differentiates between two types of desires: spontaneous and responsive. Spontaneous desire is when you want sex out of the blue whereas responsive is when you only want sex when something erotic is already happening. Spontaneous desires are much more common in guys compared to women and only about 15% of women have spontaneous desire. I personally used to have spontaneous desire that morphed into a responsive desire only. These days I only get turned on when there’s an intention on somebody’s part to actually turn me on. Watching erotic material/porn has become incredibly dull.

The book then goes into the discussion of feminine orgasms and how hard they are to achieve during vaginal sex and finishes up with its persistent “YOU’RE NORMAL” message to make readers feel more secure and good about themselves.

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in having a more satisfying sex life (assuming they have a partner rather than just a blog!).