Come as you are....
I recently saw Emily Nagoski present at a conference about the science behind her revised and updated book, Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. She was so funny and smart and quirky and passionate about her work (which is to spread the good word about how best to have good sex, based on SCIENCE!), that her book instantly moved up to the top of my reading list. And just my luck, I was able to get ahold of the recently updated version at the Erie County Public Library! Thank you to our awesome Librarians for looking out for our sexual pleasure. There are only two copies, so hurry up and place a hold on it, Erie folks! I'm only about a third of the way through, but I love it, so I thought I'd share some of the interesting stuff she's talked about so far. Here are some of the takeaways:
Yes, you are normal. Nagoski opens with this statement, then goes on to explain that in her experiences teaching and educating, this is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING her students seem to take away from her lectures and classes. We're all thinking that there's something weird or wrong about us; about our bodies, about our sex drive or lack thereof, about how our bodies function. And she assures all of us that, unless we are in pain, "then your genitals are normal and healthy and beautiful and perfect just as they are." She discussed how basically our culture, religions, upbringings, etc., have given us a whole bunch of wrong information (usually unintentionally) about our bodies, sex, and relationships, and that all of that has given us all of the problematic ideas that lead us to think there's something wrong with us. She then spends the book explaining the wrong stories, and telling us the accurate stories.
Same parts, organized in different ways. No two alike. A theme Nagoski will repeat throughout the book. Everyone's genitals, regardless of their sex, are made of the same parts, but each of us has our parts organized in a way that is unique to us. All babies have the same parts, and as they develop in the womb, some babies develop parts we tend to think of as "male" and some develop parts we tend to think of as "female," and some of us develop somewhere in between (intersex), but they are all the same parts. For instance, the penis and the clitoris are the same part, just developed differently, as is the scrotum and the labia majora. Everybody's genitals look unique, with variations in color, shape, size, hairiness, etc., but unless you're in physical pain, your parts are NORMAL. There is nothing wrong with them if they don't look like the genitals you see in porn. Most people's genitals DO NOT look like that.
Sexual Accelerator/Sexual Brake. Nagoski explains how each of our brains has a sexual accelerator and a sexual brake that is always running along in the background, processing and responding to stimuli in our environment; everything we taste, see, smell, touch, or imagine. The accelerator is responding to "sex-related" stimuli that our brain has learned to associate with sexual arousal. It tells us it's time to get turned on by something. The brake is also responding to that same stimuli, telling us it's a BAD time to get turned on by something (like worry about pregnancy or STIs or fear of being interrupted). Each individual person varies in terms of how sensitive their brakes and accelerators are, which means some folks are more easily turned on, and some folks need more stimuli. Some folks are more responsive to the "off" signals because their brakes are more sensitive. It's all normal, just a natural variation. Each individual person just needs to figure out what the deal is with their accelerator and brakes. As the book goes on, she helps readers assess what's up with their accelerators and brakes, and helps folks craft strategies to determine how best to have a satisfying sex life based on your unique combination. There are worksheets! Sex worksheets! She also emphasizes that no stimuli is inherently sexual or inherently a sexual threat (brake). It's all learned, and what each of us learns is sexy or NOT sexy is unique to us. There is a funny story about sexy and not sexy rats that she uses to explain this. She also talks about how sometimes our accelerator and brakes are giving us conflicting signals. We may have our sexy, amazing partner right there in front of us, and find them arousing (accelerator), but our brakes are also kicking in because of a whole pile of life stressors we're distracted by, or a bunch of emotional baggage we picked up along the way about sex or body shaming, or some other junk. So we can be aroused and wanting sex, while our body is also putting on the brakes, counteracting that wanting. And her book helps us figure out what to do about all of that.
If you want to read more, go pick up this book! Nagoski also has lots of videos and podcasts on her website, if you're not a reader, and you just wanna listen or watch. She's definitely an enjoyable speaker. You can feel the energy coming right off of her. Happy learning, team!