I actually first heard about this book from Alyssa Cole. When she visited the Tucson Festival of Books last year, I went to a panel she was on about consent being sexy, and she mentioned that she was reading it, and had learned a lot of things people assume about women’s sexuality was wrong. I put it on my TBR but just never got around to it, despite sexuality being one of my favorite things to read about. Luckily one of my IRL book club members picked this for our next read, and I was immediately excited (one of the other members, my longtime friend, wasn’t paying attention because she was chasing after her toddler, so when the book arrived in the mail from Amazon with its suggestive pseudo-vagina cover, she got quite the shock; this story has no point, I just like it, and the text exchanges were very amusing to me).
The book wasn’t quite what I was expecting, though. I was expecting an informative, science-based book, aimed at educating the public about how sex really works, with a feminist focus. And it was that! But, it is also a self-help book. This makes sense, because Nagoski is a sex therapist, and she wrote the book not only to educate in a general sense, but to literally help anyone who reads the book to have a better, more satisfying sex life through understanding how their sexual responses actually work.
Will note here, as the book does up front: there just hasn’t been enough research on trans women’s bodies, or those people who identify as non-binary, for Nagoski to have drawn conclusions about how their bodies work, if there are differences. So this is a book focused on sex responses in cis women (and to a much, much smaller extent, cis men).
The main premise of the book is that most of our cultural understandings about sex treat women’s bodies and sexualities the same as men’s, and that if women’s bodies are seen to work in ways that are different, they are considered broken. Nagoski’s main thing is to prove that for various social, genetic, and other environmental factors, women’s bodies work different than men’s when it comes to sex. Her other main thing is stressing that unless you are in pain, your body and your reactions are entirely normal. There is a huge range of diversity built into human sexuality, and no matter where you are on the spectrum, you do not need to be “fixed”. Instead, through evidence based techniques, she shows you how to adjust your thinking and your environment (your “context”) instead of thinking you are broken and trying to fix yourself. The main focus is definitely on the individual (and the individual’s partner), but she does stress that cultural change would make a lot of this easier for everyone.
I thought the two strongest chapters were when she talked about nonconcordance (the idea that bodily reactions do not always correspond to actual arousal; in men concordance only happens 50% of the time, in women 10%), and the chapter where she talked about stress. I’m not even going to try and go into the details, because her arguments live in those details that she provides, and I will bungle it. I will just say that she provides some really neat shifts in perspective that seem like they would be incredibly helpful. And all of it is backed by actual science, and explanations for how and why the body does what it does.
Highly recommend this one!