The book Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Dr. Emily Nagoski has been highly regarded as one of the most important contemporary books about sexuality. Often thought of as the “sex bible” of this generation, Nagoski’s work comes jam-packed with the information necessary to completely transform sexual lives. It normalizes sexual experiences for those dealing with shame, helps us fill in the blanks and better understand ourselves as sexual beings, and offers practical tools to help us change and grow as humans.
It’s required reading for SCU students, due to its powerful information and suggestions for guiding, educating, and reframing the thought processes of our clients. The information in this book is absolutely vital for sex coaches (and any sexuality professional, for that matter).
Coming from the perspective of the PLISSIT model (permission, limited information, specific suggestions, and intensive coaching/therapy), Come as You Are arms sex coaches with an abundance of facts and data that can be translated into limited information and specific suggestions to help their clients. Perhaps most importantly, Nagoski’s book offers the permission that can normalize a clients’ experience.. Here I will give you an overview of some of those tools so that you can get a glimpse of just how powerful this book is for the profession of sex coaching.
The first concept we’ll be touching on is one that can produce profound ah-ha moments for our clients.
Arousal non-concordance is the idea that a genital response does not equal sexual arousal in every instance. In her book, Nagoski talks about an experiment done by researchers that measured the genital response of participants as well as their subjective reporting of arousal while viewing sexually explicit materials. The research found that in men there was about a 50% overlap between genital response and subjective arousal, while for women that overlap was only about 10%.
What this shows is that often a genital response (especially in women) is only an indicator of the body responding to sexually relevant stimuli, not necessarily sexually arousing stimuli. Desire happens in the brain, not just in the body—and the two aren’t always synced up.
Although this research isn’t new, it’s often overlooked or ignored in sexuality spaces and many people still perpetuate the myth that genital response = sexual arousal. Without the busting of this myth, our clients might feel shame for how their genitals respond to certain stimuli. They might feel confused by their experience, or misunderstand their genital response.
This one fact can be hugely transformative for our clients just by normalizing their experience.
We can use this to show our clients they aren’t broken when their brains and their genitals aren’t aligning. We can use this with our couple clients who have the belief that an erection, vaginal wetness, or lack thereof means something about their partner’s attraction.
In any instance in which our clients believe this mismatching of their bodily systems and their brains is an indication of something being wrong, arousal non-concordance can be a scientific explanation that eases their worries.
Brakes and Accelerators
Arguably the most popular and widely known aspect of Come as You Are is the concept of sexual brakes and accelerators. The idea is that desire works with two systems in the brain—our sexual excitation system (SES) and our sexual inhibition system (SIS). Excitation is the accelerator and inhibition is the brake.
Our SES receives sexually relevant information from the environment and in turn tells our genitals, “On!” Simultaneously, the SIS does the opposite, receiving potential threats from the environment and urging our sexual brain to turn “off.” Both systems are always working under the radar, constantly scanning our environment (and our thoughts/feelings) for information. Some people have sensitive brakes, while others have sensitive accelerators.
The first thing this concept does for clients is it normalizes their experience and offers them a concrete metaphor that allows them to better understand the way their sexual body and mind works.
But even more importantly—when we look at desire from this perspective, we are able to help our clients collect important data about the context of their life and how it affects their sexual experiences.
Is there too much pressure on your clients’ brakes? What is going on in the context of their life or relationship that is applying this pressure and what can they do to change it?
Is there not enough pressure being applied to their accelerator? What things really get them going and how can they increase those things in their daily life?
This is particularly useful for sex coaches because it allows us to work tangibly with our clients on either their brake or accelerator in order to optimize their sexual satisfaction. The concept of sexual brakes and accelerators is an amazing framework in which to work with clients on sexual function and satisfaction.
“Learning to recognize the contexts that increase your brain’s perception of the world as a sexy place, and having skills to maximize the sexy contexts, is key to increasing your sexual satisfaction.” (pg. 79)
Stress response cycle
One foundational understanding that sex coaches hold is that stress is the enemy of arousal and sexual pleasure. A highly stressed individual or someone who is experiencing chronic stress is likely to experience some form of sexual dissatisfaction (and hopefully seek out a professional to help).
Individual stress management is a huge component to resolving issues of sexual dissatisfaction, and it’s important. But it’s easier said than done.
Nagoski discusses the stress response cycle (fight/flight/freeze, action, resolution) and the way that our cultural attitudes toward emotions often thwart our ability to properly resolve this cycle. Due to this lack of emotional intelligence in our society, so many of us are stuck in the unresolved cycle that ultimately inhibits our sexual desire, arousal, and pleasure. To help our clients become “unstuck,” we can apply the evolutionary and biological perspective that is outlined in Come as You Are.
Some things Nagoski suggests that have been proven to resolve the stress response cycle include physical activity, affection, primal screaming or crying, mindfulness activities, and body self-care (like grooming or doing your nails).
She talks about how this is the difference between managing a stressor and managing the stress. We can help clients manage stressors with suggestions that prioritize time for intimacy, getting a babysitter, or taking a vacation—but we also need to consider helping our clients manage the actual stress in their bodies.
Understanding this biological function and different ways to work with it is key to helping our clients manage stress in order to optimize their sexual experiences.
Applying Come as You Are to Your Practice
There is so much more packed into this powerful and profound book than just these three items—such as how it is actually harmful to consider sex as a “drive”. Using scientific evidence and research as the foundation, Come as You Are gives us the tools we need as sex coaches to guide our clients toward true transformation. This article is just a brief overview, and in order to fully grasp the potency of this information, you have to read it in full.
So add it to your bookshelf, offer it as a resource to your clients, and utilize the profound work of Dr. Emily Nagoski in your practice.
*Sex Coach U has no affiliate relationship with Dr. Emily Nagoski and will not receive any financial remuneration if you purchase this book. We simply recommend it because we strongly believe in its power and usefulness for sex coaches.