Emotional Health

Sex Educator Emily Nagoski and the New Science of Sex (Part Two)

In addition to these three, which can be overwhelming to some, both individually and collectively, many women fight a deep sense of disgust about sexuality that they learn at a very early age. Nothing can make you hit the brakes like a murky soup containing all these ingredients, which, unfortunately, is exactly what many women are raised on.

Going into the mechanics of sexual response, Nagoski explains the most current research that differentiates female sexuality from their male counterparts. Researchers have found that there is around a 50 percent concordance between the measured blood flow to a man’s genitals and the way he feels. “There is only a 10 percent overlap between blood flow to a woman’s genitals and how turned on she feels.” In other words, women are not always aware that they are physiologically aroused, and the “nonconcordance” between what a woman experiences in the moment and what may actually be happening can be striking. A woman can “feel excited” without blood flow and/or lubrication, and vice versa. Just because her body indicates she’s “excited,” in her mind it’s not necessarily so, and the mind is that counts.

Also detailed here is the important research by Rosemary Basson and her colleagues, indicating the large difference between the sexes when it comes to the experience of sexual desire. Women are more likely to experience “responsive desire” rather than, “spontaneous desire,” which is reported by only 15 percent of them. Once sex is under way, many women respond, but they are sometimes confused by the fact that they don’t feel arousal out of context, as their partners often do. Clarifying this alone can be a great relief to many couples.

The most powerful antidote to experiencing sexual pleasure, besides the stress responses already described, is “spectatoring.”  This is defined as “worrying about your body and your sexual functioning while you’re having sex.” Self-consciousness, as we all know, is not helpful to the experience of pleasure, and women are subject to all kinds of fears when it comes to getting in the moment. Here, Nagoski is a big advocate of “mindfulness” training. As anyone who has tried it can tell you, it is not easy to let yourself experience your thoughts and feelings without responding emotionally but this is just what is called for here. “Non-judging” is the key, she says. The trick is to allow yourself to experience a thought or emotion and then let it go as if it is just an observation without placing any value on that. So instead of having the thought/fear “what if I can’t reach orgasm?” and experiencing anxiety/worry about it, she recommends responding by saying “there’s that intrusive thought again,” and letting it drift away without judgment about the content. She uses the metaphor of imagining a flock of birds escaping from a predator. Do not be concerned that they will fly away forever, just allow them to fly away from the danger (judgment) until it is safe to come back.

Full of worksheets and questionnaires, “Come As You Are” is both an informative, science-based discussion of the latest research as well as a direct self-help book. Accessible, colloquial, and immensely readable, Emily Nagoski is a true crusader in women’s fight for pleasurable sexuality. Best of all, you can start right away, she says: “The most important thing you can do to have a great sex life is to welcome your sexuality as it is, right now.” The new normal is just that: “It’s all good”: accept yourself, and the rest can follow more easily than you might think.



Basson, Rosemary. “The Female Sexual Response: A Different Model.” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. 26, o. 1 (2000).

Nagoski, Emily: “Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.” (2015).

Porges, Stephen. The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation. (2011).


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