The first lesson in this essential, transformative book by Dr. Emily Nagoski is that every woman has her own unique sexuality, like a fingerprint, and that women vary more than men in our anatomy, our sexual response mechanisms, and the way our bodies respond to the sexual world. So we never need to judge ourselves based on others’ experiences. Because women vary, and that’s normal.
Second lesson: sex happens in a context. And all the complications of everyday life influence the context surrounding a woman’s arousal, desire, and orgasm.
Cutting-edge research across multiple disciplines tells us that the most important factor for women in creating and sustaining a fulfilling sex life, is not what you do in bed or how you do it, but how you feel about it. Which means that stress, mood, trust, and body image are not peripheral factors in a woman’s sexual wellbeing; they are central to it. Once you understand these factors, and how to influence them, you can create for yourself better sex and more profound pleasure than you ever thought possible.
In medicine there’s a knowledge translation gap. Information about a new treatment or a better way of doing things takes, on average, fifteen years to become standard practice. Fifteen years! In the realm of human sexuality, though, the gap feels more like thirty years. Nagoski navigates that chasm by taking clinical research, wrapping it in a bit of self-help, and presenting it in an approachable way.
And the information is so important. She busts sexual myths and beliefs that media, medicine, and moral authorities have perpetuated in our culture. Women rarely experience spontaneous desire, so they’re broken (nope, it’s probably responsive desire instead). If a woman is wet, she’s aroused (nope, there’s this thing called non-concordance – genitals don’t always match mood). If a woman is too stressed to be into sex, she should just lighten up (nope, but completing the stress cycle may help). If you have or interact with a vulva there’s lots of ideas and exercises that help, as the title states, to transform your sex life.
Nagoski is a professor and the book feels a bit like a sexuality 101 lecture given to incoming freshmen. The tone is informal, she drops in references to Snapchat and Facebook, and the main ideas get repeated a ton. This probably works very well over the course of a semester-long class but squished into 400 pages it feels like a bit much.
I didn’t mind the informal tone, perhaps because I listened to the audiobook. The author reads it herself and her investment in and passion for the material come through loud and clear. While some things still irked me (“feels” regularly substituted for “feelings”, for example) sex can be an offputting subject and the tone will make it more accessible to more people, something I’m all for.
I’m also all for the way she acknowledges and accepts people of all sexualities and orientations. One of the four couples followed through the book is lesbian. There are shoutouts when what she’s talking about won’t match the experience, say, of trans or polyamorous people. Sections dealing with violence against women are marked so you can skip them if you’d like.
Reading this book has helped me reexamine my sex life and given me tools to go about fine tuning things I’m not happy with. Even if you’re completely happy with what happens in the bedroom you’ll still learn about how a woman’s body works, which is valuable to pretty much everyone. Read and rock on, sister.