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Jan. 10, 2022. Last week threw me for some unexpected loops. After experiencing flu-like symptoms, I tested positive for COVID-19. Fortunately, my case was very mild, but I haven’t been able to return home after the holidays as planned.
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, but I’m scheduled to fly home soon. In the meantime, I’m staying optimistic and doing some reading, creating, and writing. Emily Nagoski’s bestselling book on women’s pleasure, Come As You Are, has certainly been the main feature of this unexpected downtime.
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
Come As You Are has been on my shelf for weeks. While the circumstances are far from ideal, I’m so glad I was finally given the time to read it.
The first half of the book was a lot of review for me. With my sex coach certification course not quite faded from memory just yet, I was able to skim over things like anatomy, sexual context, and body acceptance.
The Dual Control Model, however, was an interesting framing for something most sex coaches already know.
Anyone who has worked with clients with arousal and desire issues has had to talk about the unique things that act as “blocks” or inhibitors for an individual. I liked the acknowledgment that pressing on the gas with things that fuel desire won’t work unless a person figures out how to release the brakes.
Then I learned some new terms.
Come As You Are is written with an audience of cisgender women in mind. While I often approach coaching and education from a more gender-neutral perspective, I found the next bit of information useful:
Conversations about arousal vs. desire have held a prominent place in adult sex education for a long time. But Nagoski’s alternate framings offer a modern audience more clarity. She describes this phenomenon as being more like:
- our bodies expecting sex (genital arousal) vs. us enjoying sex (desire)
- information being sexually relevant (seeing porn) vs. appealing (porn we like)
She goes on to compare our genitals and brain to two friends looking for a restaurant to eat at. One friend (representing the genitals) recognizes all restaurants, and maybe even non-restaurants that happen to have food. The other friend (the brain) can discern whether a restaurant is desirable to eat at based on context (cleanliness, reputation, type of cuisine, etc.).
Men’s genitals and brains have more overlap when it comes to finding things that are both sexually relevant and sexually appealing. Women’s genitals and brains have less overlap–and that’s okay. It just means taking more time to find it.
This was admittedly a very important lesson for me. I’ve sometimes fallen into the trap of thinking, “Well, women would have more overlap if our culture allowed them to.”
Even if this is true, it’s kind of beside the point for my clients. Women today live in the culture they’re living in. For them to reach more sexual satisfaction in this lifetime, acknowledging the need to spend time seeking this overlap area rather than trying to change entire cultures is much more productive.
(I’m still going to keep fighting for more sex-positive culture, though.)
Incentive Motivation System
I also learned that desire is not a drive like hunger or thirst. It is an incentive motivation system. We are pulled by an attractive external stimulus (sex) rather than pushed by an unpleasant and risky internal state (hunger).
We won’t die without sex, but we want it anyway. It’s like wanting delicious food from a restaurant even when we’re not hungry and there’s food in the fridge.
We may feel internally unpleasant when we’re not getting laid. But this is just how we feel about coping with the draw of sexuality and not fulfilling that desire for sexual expression. We want to see progress that matches our efforts to have the sex we want, and when we don’t, it feels frustrating.
All this frustration really means, though, is that you aren’t having your “favorite meal” (the sex you want) tonight. You can choose how to cope with that, be it through finding something else to do, masturbating, or continuing to try.
If you choose to keep trying, Nagoski recommends asking yourself these questions to determine how to best direct your efforts:
- Is this the right goal for me?
- Am I putting in the right kind of effort, as well as the right amount?
- Am I realistic in my expectation about how effortful this goal should be?
I’ve still got a little bit more to read to finish this book, but even without finishing it—it’s already well worth the read. I highly recommend it for people of all gender identities interested in better understanding sexuality, arousal, desire, and how to get more in tune with your body for great sex.
If this review made you want to get the book, you can support my writing by getting it here or tapping the image below. Thanks!
Worksheets and Resources
In addition to reading Come As You Are, I also took some time to write last week about how we as sex educators can improve on the yes, no, maybe list format. With a little extra effort, we can make these lists more digestible and easy for our clients to use.
You can read the post and access five free yes, no, maybe lists here. You can also visit my Resources Page for worksheets, book and podcast recommendations, and even free retreats designed to help attendees cope with sexual trauma.
That’s all for now. Hopefully next week I’ll be back in New Orleans with fresh new resources and content. ‘Til then…
…stay sexy. <3
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