Friday, November 11, 2016

Coming without changing a thing

I just finished reading Come As You Are, written by Emily Nagoski, a book about women's sexuality.  It focuses on the way that women work, doing a great job of walking the line between saying 'women work like this!' and 'individual sexuality is all over the place, who knows!'

Thing is, there are real differences between how male and female sexuality function.  It is much like height in that women and men have a significant difference in their average height, but we should not forget that the range of heights within women is much greater than the difference between men and women on average.

Nagoski covers a lot of territory and manages to cover both the hard science about biology and also the social pressures that are so important in talking about this subject.  She makes it clear how much of the struggles she sees in her clients as a sex therapist are due to sexism and cultural conditioning and effectively communicates the ways that adopting feminist principles can help.

One of the best things in the book is her coverage of nonconcordance.  This is something I kind of knew but hadn't really thought out explicitly, but after reading her take on it the subject became blindingly clear.  Nonconcordance is when physical signs of arousal such as an erection or vaginal lubrication do not move together with the mental experience of arousal or desire.

I know that these things don't always go together.  Nearly every day I wake up with a big ole hardon, and it isn't because I am desperately turned on.  Much less frequently I am turned on, but the erection part of the equation isn't quite working out.  I also know both from theory and experience with female desire that this is true for people regardless of sex.

And yet I didn't quite grasp it somehow.  I read a study a few years ago measuring people's reaction to porn by checking their genitals which concluded that women were mostly bisexual and men either straight or gay.  They made these distinctions by ignoring the reported arousal of the test subjects and treating the genital measurements as the true test.

This is ridiculous.  We know that erections and lubrication are correlated with desire, but not that well correlated.  And yet I didn't dismiss this study out of hand at the time.

Nagoski got me to understand the issue correctly.  For example, she talked about how genital reactions are often to sexually *relevant* stimuli rather than actual desire, and that of course sometimes they don't seem to be a reaction to anything at all.

Nagoski also talks a lot about sexual desire in terms of accelerator and brakes.  Breaking down struggles with desire into that framework is really helpful, because knowing where your issues lie is a good first step to solving them.  Maybe you need to be more turned on, or maybe you need to figure out what is making you be turned off, but knowing that those are different systems that work in different ways for each person is useful.

The weakness of the book is that Nagoski does sometimes overuse metaphors.  Metaphors can be helpful at times, but they can be pushed to try to do too much, and at points I thought that the author was really going too hard to try to make the metaphor work and it cost her in terms of both clarity and precision.

One thing I did see in Come As You Are that I think wasn't handled quite correctly is the discussion of female Viagra.  Lots of people talk about the search for that mythical beast and I think the discussion is almost always a complete disaster.  We *have* female Viagra.  It is called lube.  It works consistently, has no side effects, and is cheap.  People often refer to female Viagra when they actually mean they want a pill that revs up a woman's libido, but that is a completely different subject and serves only to confuse what Viagra does and what problems women might be encountering.  We also don't have a pill that ramps up male libido, it should be noted.

No matter your sex or gender I think this is a book worth reading.  It helped me understand myself a little (I have an extremely sensitive sexual accelerator and no brakes to speak of!) and it helped me understand other people in my life too.  Several women I know who have read it got a ton of value from it and they thought other people would too.

Read Come As You Are.  Maybe don't try to follow all the metaphors all the way, but most of the rest of the book is excellent.

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