You’d think that women (and men) of a certain age would know all there is to know about what goes on between the sheets, that we’d be fiercely intimate with the landscape of our bodies and the shape of our desires—after all, we’ve been doing it for long enough.
Not so, I quickly learned when I started writing about this sensitive subject a few years ago. Overall, we in The Mid are better off than we were in our twenties, because we tend to care less about what other people think—that’s a good start. But there’s still a ton of information we just don’t know, info that’s essential to a well-fed and watered sex life.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., hopes to bring people of all ages up to speed, reintroducing us to the pleasure that is rightfully ours. She’s written an indispensable book about sex, and I’m demanding that all my friends, their partners, and yes, you, read it immediately.
Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life drops some actual science, unlike most books in this genre. It’s also eminently readable, and I suspect that it will be deeply comforting to many confused, distressed couples in sexless or nearly sexless marriages.
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The book’s chief premise is simple, and it can’t be repeated enough times:
Nothing is wrong with you. You are normal.
Nagoski starts with an anatomy lesson that fundamentally shifts the way we relate to sexuality as a whole. She then explains that the vast majority of what we believe we know about sex, desire, and attraction is grounded in culture, not biology. Then, she drops a bomb.
You Don’t Really Have a Sex Drive
Are you sitting down? Good. Allow me to blow your mind. According to Nagoski, you don’t really have a sex drive.
The layperson’s basic understanding of sexuality employs the idea, so deeply embedded in our consciousness, that all desire emerges spontaneously—like being thirsty or having to go to the bathroom. You think of sex, and then you want sex. You see something sexy—like your partner walking into the room, or a hot romp between Claire and Jamie on Outlander—and then you automatically crave sexy time.
But in up to 70 percent of women, it simply does not work that way. Women are very often turned on by touch, not external stimuli—this is what Nagoski terms “responsive desire.” We’ve been taught to understand sexuality—all sexuality—based on a “spontaneous desire” model, something that turns out to be fairly gendered. A large percentage of men experience spontaneous desire—an erotic idea precedes an erection, or five minutes of online porn does the trick. But many women, it turns out, need both the right context and the right touchbefore they experience any tingling in their loins.
The “Dual-Control Model” Changes Everything
An equally game-changing concept is the “dual control method”—the idea that we all possess a sexual accelerator (Sexual Excitation System or SES) and a sexual brake (Sexual Inhibition System or SIS). This neurological wiring determines when, where and how we respond to sexual cues in our environment. Some people have more access to their accelerator and others have more access to their brake. When you have more access to your brake than to your accelerator (very common and perfectly normal), it can take a bit more to get you revved up.
You can create a better sex life, according to Nagoski, when you learn to “turn on the ons, and turn off the offs.” This is a matter of modifying behavior and context, and it’s something you and your partner can do together.
Other Important Takeaways
· Women still don’t know enough about what they’ve got “down there.” Nagoski urges you to take a hand mirror and get all up in your own business, stat.
· “Arousal Nonconcordance”: It’s common for your body and brain not to be on the same page—but the book addresses it.
· There will probably never be a “pink pill“—because women are not “dysfunctional,” we just need to learn about the pulse of our own desires.
· It’s not about what you do in bed, it’s about how you feel about what you do in bed.
If you’ve been with your partner for a decade or longer, if you have young children and/or are currently breast-feeding, there’s groundbreaking knowledge to be had. If your desire has waned for any number of reasons, if you’re peri or post menopausal, if you’re currently single or newly dating post-divorce, allow me to gently suggest that Come As You Are should be on your night table right now.
Hell, I think you should read it even if your sex life is still going like gangbusters.
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