Book review: Come as you are by Dr Emily Nagoski

I’m a voracious reader and tend to devour books rapidly.  It’s a rare and special book that causes me to slow down and give myself a chance to really digest the content.  But that’s what happened with Come As You Are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life.  It took me a full month to get through this book, because after each chapter I felt as though I needed to pause and reflect.  Each piece was a treasure, a segment of a bigger roadmap of sexuality.  And once I was finally done reading, the next thing I wanted to do was tell everyone about this book.

I’m quick to recommend books to my friends and family.  But this book made me want to do more than just recommend it.  It made me want to race out, buy a thousand copies and distribute them to everyone I knew.  I wanted to rain chapters down upon people on the street, so that they’d each have a chance to read and absorb the findings presented in this book.

I first came across Dr Nagoski during the Explore More Summit two years ago.  Her talk was one of the most enlightening of the summit, and it’s no surprise that it was made available for a second screening following an avalanche of requests.  I marvelled not only at the topics Dr Nagoski covered, but at the way she presented her findings. Her manner was jovial, she explained things fully without using a lot of technical language.  She made a very complex subject easy to understand.  When I learned that she had published this book that expanded on the topics of sexuality and desire, I knew that I had to read it.

The book combines two of my great loves: sexuality and science. I have a psychology degree and am fascinated by behaviour and the reasons we think the way we do.  My interest was instantly piqued at the possibility of learning more about sexual attraction and desire through a scientific lens.  Even though the book presents some very in-depth scientific research and findings, the way it’s presented is easy to understand and very readable.  Unlike many books that examine sexuality, this doesn’t read like a dusty textbook.  The prose flows well, there are loads of real-life examples and the findings are presented in a way that doesn’t feel stuffy or pretentious.

Come As You Are covers a range of topics, but it is largely centred on sexual arousal in cis-gender women.  However, I should point out that this book isn’t only useful for that audience.  Whether you’re a cis woman wanting to know more about your sexuality, somebody who sleeps with cis women eager for answers about arousal or just a sex geek looking for a fascinating read, then this book is for you.  While there are plenty of findings that really do apply only to cis women, there are other lessons contained therein that will be useful to any reader.

The book touches on a huge number of facets of arousal and dispels some of the myths about how women experience desire.  It talks about the individual differences in arousal, the variables that might impact arousal and the fact that what’s going on in our mind and what’s happening in our genitals doesn’t always match.  Most importantly (for me) it discusses the impact of anxiety on arousal, and gives some fantastic advice for using science to assist you to manage anxiety.  Although the entirety of the book was fantastic, I found this chapter in particular the most useful.  Although the context of the chapter was related to sexuality, these principles could be applied much more widely to managing anxiety in other contexts.  This book changed the way I view my own anxiety, and gave me some great strategies that I can use to diffuse panic when it arises.  If you suffer from anxiety, I strongly suggest that you get your hands on a copy of this book.

Another thing I like about Come As You Are is the fact that it doesn’t attempt to offer a quick fix for the issue of arousal.  Dr Nagoski is very plain about the fact that our sexuality is massively complex, and that a huge number of factors are at play when it comes to navigating arousal and desire.  The book breaks down the processes that are at work, and makes suggestions for addressing each one, but doesn’t pretend that it’s possible or even desirable to “fix” your sexual drives.  Instead, it offers a freeing concept that everyone is different, and that sexuality exists on a massive spectrum.  Anyone at any point on this spectrum is normal and healthy, and you’re not “broken” if your sexuality doesn’t look the way we believe it’s “supposed to”.  Come As You Are recognises the toxicity of the cultural messages regarding women’s sexuality, and offers the freedom to understand yourself better and accept your sexuality.

Come As You Are truly did transform my sex life.  It didn’t magically rev up my libido, give me earth-quaking orgasms or make me more adventurous in bed.  The transformation came from within, giving me a more intimate understanding of how my brain and body work and allowing me to feel comfortable with my own pattern of sexuality.  This book transformed the way I think about sex, the way I view my own body and my ability to feel confident that I’m not broken.  Reading this book was a very healing experience and I felt so empowered when I closed the cover for the final time.

If you’re feeling stuck around your own sexuality, you should read this book.  If you worry that you don’t get turned on often enough, or that your libido is out of control, you should read this book.  If you feel like stress and pressure has stifled your sex life, you should read this book.  Dr Nagoski has blown my mind with her research findings, and this book is a rare treasure. It’s a must-read for any sex geek regardless of gender and I guarantee that you will learn something new from it.

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