I found a list online recently that detailed all the books necessary for a sex-positive feminist. I’ve since lost the list, or else I would link it, but one of the books listed was Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. I had a gift card to Barnes & Noble, so I figured I should add it to my bookshelf.
Even though the introduction notes that it’s mostly directed as cisgendered women, it should be on your bookshelf if you identify as female, or if your partner identifies as female. Even if you don’t identify as female, but your factory installed parts include a vulva and vagina, the anatomy portions of the book still may interest you. Emily Nagoski manages to stuff this book full of scientific– yet still accessible and fun– knowledge and understanding. Reading this book feels like sitting down and having a deep, honest conversation with your best friend about your sex life.
It’s no secret that I’ve been working through sex issues for a while. This blog helps, therapy helps, and my personal blog helps. Dealing with trauma, along with depression and anxiety, is never an overnight endeavor, but this book has become instrumental for me. It helps to reframe a sex drive as a sex desire, not as something that “should be innate” or running my life. I may or may not have cried while processing things that came up while reading this book. (I definitely did.)
“Give Partner B space and time away from sex. Let sex drop away from your relationship– for a little while– and be there, fully present, emotionally and physically. Lavish your partner with affection, on the understanding that affection is not a preamble to sex. Be warm and generous with your love. You won’t run out.” (255)
Reading this passage felt like getting the wind knocked out of me. The bolded emphasis is mine, and even though this was directed at someone who experiences a higher sex desire, something I specifically don’t experience, I put myself on the receiving end of those actions. I sat on the couch and I cried loudly at my cat. He looked at me like I was absolutely batcrackers.
If my relationships were based on the understanding that affection is not a preamble to sex, I would experience so much less stress and anxiety about sex. Half of the reason I don’t enjoy it all the time is because there’s so much pressure to actually have sex that I can’t enjoy simple affection because I’m worried about what it will lead to.
Sex is important, don’t get me wrong. It can be fun and full of curiosity and desire and goofiness with the right person. But sex brakes are real. These are things that trigger your brain’s response of “now is NOT the time for sexy things”, like depression, work stress, kids, location, physical stress or injury, any number of things. And for someone (like me) with really sensitive sex brakes, just about anything can convince my brain that it’s not time to get busy right now. So whenever my partners display affection, I immediately assume they’ll steer our activities towards sex, and for a variety of reasons, my brain has decided it’s just not time. So I seize up and am unable to accept their affection for what it is. They feel rejected, and it’s this whole cycle of terribleness. But now I can start to figure out what’s really going on, and communicate that to my partner. That’s empowering.
It’s not just about sex brakes and accelerators, though. Sure, it talks about the science behind desire and arousal, and how sensation works in your brain, but it also delves into how to deal with various emotions that may arise during sex or masturbation, or even just in relation to sex. It really was inspiring and enlightening to be told that my responsive desire is normal and healthy– since I’ve been focusing so much on the fact that spontaneous desire is “normal” and I was therefore “abnormal”, it was really wonderful to hear that no, I’m not broken, I’m normal.
I’ve been thinking about meta-emotions a lot lately as well. How I feel about how I feel. It’s come up frequently in my meditation recently, and then lo and behold, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to meta-emotions in Come As You Are. Observation, Nagoski notes, is important, but perhaps even more important than observation is the act of being non judgmental towards what you’re observing. Important during sex, but also outside of your sexual life. I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for a long time, and sometimes I can feel bad, but feel worse about feeling bad. (Yuck.) Now I can better remind myself to step back and be non judgmental about what I’m observing.
That’s the great thing about this book. It’s giving me the words to put to my feelings and emotions, and the vocabulary to be able to describe that to my partners and ask for what I need. It’s helping me dismantle myths I’ve understood to be true for years around sexuality and sex brakes and accelerators.
This will be one of those books I read once a year because my perspectives will change and I’ll be able to absorb new and different things on each read. Absolutely my favorite and most impactful read of 2017 so far. You can buy it on Amazon if you’re interested.