Book Review: Come As You Are By Emily Nagoski

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Do you ever sit down and wonder how much you know about yourself? I am a very introspective person. However, each time I learn and discover something about myself I also wonder whether I am feeding on the right narrative. Before we get any deeper I will tell you how all this came about and why you need to quickly grab an audio version of this book written by Emily Nagoski, Come As You Are.

Recently I had an epiphany when I wrote this article about vajacials and someone mentioned that you do not do the vajacial on your vulva but around. I wondered what’s the difference if not the preposition? I didn’t ask. Not because it wasn’t a valid question but because the thought was overtaken by a more deep-seated question that resurfaced. Lynda, how much can you say about your sexual wellbeing? Deep huh, considering its a preposition that led to this unnerving question.
So I did what the next person would do. I went exploring my first point of contact being the book Come As you are. You may wonder why I went for this book specifically. Well, aside from it being dubbed, the new surprising science that will transform my sex life, it was on my read list.

So during the weekend, I got down to some serious biology, science, sex and sexuality education and this is what I discovered.

 1. It’s all starts from within

Cliche as it may be, especially since this is the mantra from every self-help book, what you believe is the key to owning your sexuality and wielding that power as it is. Emily Nagoski who gives a very good example about gardens, flowers and weeds highlights that both men and women have unique genitals but arranged in the same way. Drawing even closer to home, all females are the same but each is unique. Just like what may be good for the gander may not be good for the goose. So how does the garden come in?

Emily posits that as children, we are each born with a garden. Since we are still dependent on our parents and caregivers, they, in turn, take the liberty to cultivate our garden. By the time we hit puberty and we are aware of what’s happening around us we may find that the garden wasn’t cultivated as well as we would like or that it contains more weeds than flowers. This could be through the messages we hear from parents, our teachers, the media, religion, culture and even science. That is where our job begins.

To own your sexuality and cultivate sexual wellbeing, therefore, becomes a task you have to undertake not by accepting everything’ that’s said about/around the subject but by first cultivating a healthy sex-positive mindset. This happens by enriching your mental, emotional and physical health.
What you identify as pleasurable, as desire, as sensual has to begin from getting in sync with your body what it likes/wants rather than accepting what the world deems normal, standard or acceptable. The book so rightly highlights that a garden full of tomatoes will not thrive on the same conditions as a garden full of aloes. Which is okay. Whether you’re the Aloe or the tomato, all that matters is knowing your garden and how to cultivate it accordingly.

 2. The male is not the default sex and vulvas are not vaginas

In the first chapter, Emily begins by illustrating and naming all parts of the male and female anatomy and showing how they develop when a baby is still in the womb. Duh, that’s like the science we learnt in class 6. However, what didn’t stick is that what we see is the vulva, not the vagina.

Additionally, the male is not the default sex and women’s sexuality is not men’s sexuality- lite. That to mean sexuality for both sexes – especially the female which has been perceived through the lens of a man for centuries, instead of what the female is – shouldn’t be affirmed through the assumptions and myths that have taken root in our society. Instead what each individual needs/likes/wants should account for what they do and how they explore their sexuality.

For example, contrary to popular belief the size of a man’s member doesn’t determine performance. Females don’t have to orgasm or squirt to experience sexual pleasure. Bodyweight doesn’t determine health and being wet doesn’t mean someone is aroused. We could go on listing the examples but Emily summarises by saying that when each gender takes the time to learn about their sexuality, the opposite sex’s all while debunking on the myths formed about each, a sex-positive environment is created. This in turn facilitates sexual well being empowering individuals and strengthening relationships.

Her mantra is we are all the same but organised in different ways.

   3. Being wet doesn’t signify arousal

According to the author who is also a sex educator, wetness which occurs in both male and female happens because it is sexually relevant. For instance, a man might get hard involuntarily even without thinking about anything sexual but it doesn’t signify arousal/desire. A woman might get wet because it’s normal, or just because the genitals recognise a scenario as sexually relevant but it doesn’t mean she is turned on. The opposite is also true, she might be turned on but her female parts could be dry. This is known as arousal non-concordance.

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Desire which fuels arousal comes from the mind. However, genitals too can act accordingly because a scene is sexually relevant without meaning that the mind is in on it. Emily highlights that this condition, explains wetness is possible in case of sexual assault. It doesn’t mean the victim anticipated it, wanted it or enjoyed the violation.

   4. Orgasm is not a must and definitely not a sign of pleasure

Our narratives are fed from culture, media and science. But when one of the mentioned channels gets louder than the rest, the truth which is often quiet gets distorted. Case in point, romance novels, porn and mainstream media have always championed the idea of women having an orgasm as the ultimate sign of pleasure and satisfaction. However, it should be noted that just like it happens in arousal non-concordance, discussed above, context matters for orgasmic experiences to qualify as pleasure. Otherwise, its just muscle movement.

In the book Come As you Are Emily doesn’t negate that indeed orgasms are good and they symbolise satisfaction. However, she stands against the ultimate importance placed upon them which creates pressure, for women who don’t – causing them to feel as if they’re frigid.

Ultimately neither does failing to orgasm mean that one is broken/non-sexual. The key point is that we are all the same but still unique in how we respond and express ourselves sexually.

   5. The hymen is just a tissue nothing more

Many people might be surprised to know that the hymen which for centuries has been valued as the sign for virginity is only as important as nipples on a man’s chest. In other words, neither does the hymen symbolise virginity, nor can it be used to tell if one hasn’t had sex or not. The blood which has otherwise been used as a symbol of breaking one’s virginity often comes from forceful or painful penetration, stretching of the hymen- if someone has a thick tissue, but not the breaking of any hymen.

What’s all the fuss about virginity?

As with body shapes, or the colour of the skin or height and weight, people are born with different hymens. Some are very thin and some are thick. Rarely do people have hymens that cover the entire vaginal opening and during the first time of vaginal sex, the hymen just stretches. Other occasions where the hymen also stretches is when someone is riding a bicycle, doing sports, wearing a tampon and basically living.

   6. Context matters

Aside from the arousal non-concordance which is a contradiction between what the mind and the body want, Come as you shed light on why women may exhibit different responses to sex without necessarily meaning that one has a medical issue or broken.

Sex which directly/indirectly involves psychological, emotional and physical aspects cannot be optimised if these same factors are not reconciled and the individual cultivates a healthy mindset around them. The author communicates this message literally through the book’s title come as you are highlighting that acceptance and making peace with one’s self is the key to experiencing the best sex that’s often read about in books and seen in movies.

So why would I recommend this book?
1. It sheds lights on the different ways both males and females are the same and yet unique when it comes to human sexuality.
2. The book stands against shaming and the idea that women are less sexual beings thus should not want more sex.
3. Its a key to understanding both the male and female’s sexual responses and sexuality. Additionally, the book encourages open and constant communication around matters involving sex making it ideal for couples who want to understand what turns on/off their partners and the ways to navigate such scenarios. This practice promotes sex wellness and positivity which results in fulfilling sex life.
4. It will help you get in touch with your sexual identity and help you prepare/cultivate your metaphorical garden in a way that befits you.
5. Ultimately it places importance on the fact that women and men are different yet both are sexual beings who deserve to explore sexuality without the interference of culture, outdated science and unhealthy pop culture trends, myths and messages.

Just like Po in Kungfu Panda who finds the key by looking in the mirror, Come As You Are advocates taking an introspective approach to work on your sexual wellbeing. As the author says, this is the secret ingredient to unlocking orgasms that make partners see the stars, ocean ruptures and volcanic eruptions.
Who wouldn’t like that?

Understanding What Being Sex Positive Means and Parenting: 4 Tips For Talking To Kids Openly About Sexuality

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