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Come As You Are: the surprising new science that will transform your sex life by Emily Nagoski is a must-read for anyone interested in human sexuality – and since you are here, we bet that is you!
This book introduces you to research-backed frameworks that help you understand your own experience of sex. You’ll get tools to understand the most essential lessons of all: you are normal, your body isn’t broken, and you can gain erotic joy and confidence over time. Come As You Are invites you to come home to yourself, just as you are, and that’s why it will always be one of our foundational texts and recommendations.
Nagoski shines in making even the geekiest science relatable and accessible for us all. With equal parts science and story, this book offers a wellspring of erotic knowledge that we all need – and need to share!
Join us as we welcome author Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. back to the Speaking of Sex Podcast for her third interview with us, this time celebrating the release of the newly revised and updated Come As You Are.
Tune in to find out what Emily updated in her essential frameworks of Spontaneous Vs. Responsive Desire, The Dual Control Model Of Arousal and Erotic Context – and about the new addition of Magnificent Desire!
Come As You Are is now out in a revised 2nd edition, and pairs fabulously with Nagoski’s companion Come As You Are Workbook – an interactive guide with plenty of space for you to explore your own truths.
Click here to get the bonus reel for even more incredible conversation – about the pandemic, the cycle of human connection and how pleasure can save us all.
Speaking of Sex Podcast Interviews With Emily Nagoski
- Emily Nagoski Interview On The Surprising Science Of Sex
- Emily Nagoski Interview on Burnout & The Stress – Sex Connection
Speaking Of Sex Podcast Episodes Covering Key Topics In Come As You Are
- Spontaneous Vs. Responsive Desire
- The Dual Control Model of Arousal : Know Your Gas and Brakes
- Your Body Is Good Enough
- Cultivate Your Erotic Context
- Before Pleasure Comes Safety
- Rethinking Libido
- The Stress & Sex Connection
Resources Mentioned On This Episode
- Emily Nagoski’s website and books: the newly revised Come As You Are, the Come As You Are Workbook and Burnout
- Check out the research on Optimal Sexual Experiences by Peggy Kleinplatz and her team, and their book Magnificent Sex
- Click here for the Bonus Reel from the interview
Full Podcast Transcript of Emily Nagoski Pleasure Mechanics Interview
Chris Maxwell Rose (00:00):
Welcome to Speaking of Sex with The Pleasure Mechanics. I’m Chris from pleasuremechanics.com. And on this podcast, we have honest and explicit, soulful and compassionate conversations about sex, love, pleasure, joy, and connection. Come on over to pleasuremechanics.com to explore all of the resources that we have been generating for you since 2006.
Chris Maxwell Rose (00:29):
If you are new to the community, go to pleasuremechanics.com/free and sign up for our free online course and join our community of over 10,000 pleasure seekers from all around the world creating a foundation of more pleasure, joy, and connection in their lives. That’s pleasuremechanics.com/free.
Chris Maxwell Rose (00:54):
If you love the show and want to support what we do, go to pleasuremechanics.com/love, and you’ll find ways to show your love and go a little deeper with us.
Chris Maxwell Rose (01:05):
On today’s show, I have the tremendous pleasure of bringing you our third interview with our dear friend and colleague, Emily Nagoski, PhD. Emily is one of our favorite thinkers in the field of sexuality. As I’ve said, we’ve had two previous interviews with her, and we will gather our interviews, her incredible TED Talks, links to her books, and other resources at pleasuremechanics.com/caya, that’s pleasuremechanics.com/caya, C-A-Y-A, which stands for Come As You Are.
Chris Maxwell Rose (01:44):
Come As You Are, is the title of Emily Nagoski’s groundbreaking book about the new science of sexuality. First published in 2015, this book quickly became a game-changing incredible companion for so many people. And Emily is joining us today to talk about the rerelease of Come As You Are in its second updated edition. What she has learned about pleasure, desire, arousal, and magnificent sex in the years since publication.
Chris Maxwell Rose (02:19):
There was so much in this conversation, we had to break it into two parts. So, here is the first part, our main conversation, about Come As You Are, about pleasure, desire, and arousal. And then, at the end, we talked on about the pandemic, and what we learned this year about sex, and human connection. And why there was not a pandemic baby boom. And you can find that conversation at pleasure,mechanics.com/caya. Here is our third Speaking of Sex interview with Emily Nagoski, PhD.
Chris Maxwell Rose (02:55):
Emily Nagoski, welcome back to Speaking of Sex.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (02:58):
It is such a pleasure.
Chris Maxwell Rose (03:00):
For anyone who is about to have the pleasure of just meeting you for the first time, can you please introduce yourself and the work that you do?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (03:07):
Sure. I’m Emily Nagoski, I am a sex educator. My purpose in life is teach women, which is to say anybody who identifies as a woman, to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies.
Chris Maxwell Rose (03:22):
And you do it with science and you do it with these amazing books.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (03:26):
Chris Maxwell Rose (03:26):
And your groundbreaking book, Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life was originally published in 2015 and it just came out in its second edition. So, congratulations on that.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (03:41):
Chris Maxwell Rose (03:43):
This book, it’s not only one of our most recommended books, but the world responded to it with such open arms, and so many people call it things like, “Life-changing,” and, “Game-changing,” and, “Groundbreaking.” And so, much of that is resonating around these kind of simple messages that end up being so life-changing for people.
Chris Maxwell Rose (04:08):
And we’re 15 years into Pleasure Mechanics now, and again, and again, we have to tell people, “You are normal, you are not broken.” And these refrains, we would hope that they would be the starting point for so many of us. And yet, as you know, as we’ve discovered, it takes so much unlearning to even arrive at this place of, “I am normal. I am not broken.”
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (04:35):
And I am here for the people who need affective neuroscience to prove, “No, but you got to prove it, Emily.” “Well, let me tell you about this rat research.”
Chris Maxwell Rose (04:46):
But then, you translate that science into stories that makes it so accessible. It’s for the geeks and the people who are just like, “Why do I feel so alone in what feels so wrong with me?” And this book has ended up on the bedside tables of so many people and-
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (05:06):
Stolen by so many teenagers from their parents’ bookshelves.
Chris Maxwell Rose (05:10):
So, can you talk about how did you approach the second edition, and how did you think about what you wanted to revise and update? I have a few specific questions about some of the core themes. But can you just lead us into the process by which you kind of sat down again with this book and thought about the new emerging science, and the response to the book, and how did you sink your teeth into this?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (05:35):
It was a very deliberate. I instigated the update. My publisher didn’t come to me and say, “Hey, Emily, would you like to update Come As You Are?” No, I went to them and I was like, “Look, it’s been this long, there are some things that have changed. There are some things I have learned that I need to see represented in the book.” And, fortunately, because Come As You Are, has not sold the way books usually do, usually there’s a spike in the beginning, and then it sort of tapers off and stabilizes. But Come As You Are, has just grown and grown and grown in popularity. Every year it sells like twice as many as it did the previous year.
Chris Maxwell Rose (06:13):
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (06:14):
Chris Maxwell Rose (06:15):
That makes me so happy.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (06:19):
And as soon as the book came out in 2015, I started traveling across the country and, ultimately, around the world. I have now been from Maui to Moscow, talking to people about the science of sexual wellbeing. I have learned so much in the process of talking with people who listened to me, listening to the people who came to my talks, from the questions people ask, from the ways people responded to the book, from the things people got wrong about what I wanted to say in the book. Oh my gosh. I learned so much and, of course, the science changed.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (06:53):
So, there were a couple of key things that had to change. First of all, and I don’t talk about this very much because not many people care, the publishing industry has undergone a total revolution since 2014, which is when Come As You Are went to press. Which is that the Chicago Manual of Style, the sort of foundation, How to Write Book updated itself to include the singular, they.
Chris Maxwell Rose (07:19):
Yes. Thank you.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (07:21):
So, in 2014, I had to fight through multiple rounds of copy edits to include the singular they in Come As You Are. And I think Come As You Are, might’ve been the first book published by Simon & Schuster to consistently use the singular they because I was just like, “No, this is part of my message. Everyone’s included. I’m not going to categorize people by gender.” I had to fight really hard for it.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (07:46):
And then, by 2018, when Burnout came out, we didn’t have to fight at all because it just changed. So, in this version, I pushed even harder on the gender stuff, about being trans inclusive in my language, about not categorizing people by gender based on which body parts they have. I mean, chapter one is the anatomy chapter for crying out loud-
Chris Maxwell Rose (08:12):
And that shows like the emergence of the field and how rapidly both the field of science and our sex culture is changing.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (08:20):
To be clear, it was the sex culture and not the science that changed. A question I’ve been asked is like… because when I travel, I give this caveat about my [gender-y 00:08:29] language, that it’s based on the science and the science is really cis centric and binary reinforcing. And so, I am necessarily stuck in this framework, but I believe that in the next 10 years it’s going to get a lot better. And so, people on Instagram are always asking me, “Is it a lot better now?” No, the science has not come remotely as far as I thought it would have by now. All of the change has come from the social discourse, which is that’s how it goes. That’s how the de- [medical-ization 00:09:03] of homosexuality happened was pressure from activists against the American Psychiatric Association’s definition, the 81 word definition of homosexuality as included in the diagnostic and statistical manual.
Chris Maxwell Rose (09:19):
And this might be a good moment to pause then, when we think about all of the things we have to unlearn, you give us these three Ms of the moral, the medical and the media.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (09:29):
Chris Maxwell Rose (09:29):
These institutions that have so much sway over who we feel we are.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (09:34):
So, much power, yeah.
Chris Maxwell Rose (09:38):
So, one of the things that I think you brought to the new revision, and I would love to hear you talk about, it was something that came up in the conversations in our community was that responsive desire doesn’t mean just do it.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (09:51):
Chris Maxwell Rose (09:51):
Can we dive into that?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (09:53):
Chris Maxwell Rose (09:54):
We will put links to our previous conversations about spontaneous and responsive desire, but what has emerged for you around this framework?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (10:04):
So, it sort of happened in two phases, the development of the way I talk about responsive desire. First, I had this very important conversation with some people, who they were in a long-term relationship, they had two small children, and they were sort of asking just casually, “How do you sustain a strong connection in a long-term sexual relationship?” And I said, the thing I said, which unfortunately it turns out what people hear is just do it. And what I say is, “So, you put your body in the bed. You let your skin touch your partner’s skin. And your brain goes, ‘Oh right, I like this. I like this person, right?'” And as I said this, one of the partners in this couple I’m talking to leans away from the table with a facial expression of total disgust and horror. And I was like, “Okay so, what’s happening here is not a problem with desire, but a problem with pleasure. You don’t like the sex you are having. The idea of letting your skin touch your partner’s skin fills you with disgust. That’s your problem, not the desire.”
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (11:08):
And I had already begun reading Peggy Kleinplatz’s research at this point, so here’s the second stage. So stage one, I recognized that the basics of responsive desire are not enough. And the original version of chapter seven, which is the responsive desire chapter says, “Look, we all learn that desire is spontaneous. It’s supposed to appear out of the blue. But it turns out responsive desire is normal too. But I know we all got taught that spontaneous desire is better. And so, here’s some strategies for sort of like accessing spontaneous desire, if you want to. And some other ones for making the most of responsive desire.” I cut all of that and replaced it with Peggy Kleinplatz’s research on optimal sexual experiences.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (11:56):
So, here’s the thing, Peggy and her team interviewed dozens of people who self-identify as having extraordinary sex lives. So, the questions you have for these people are one, what does extraordinary sex look like? What does it feel like? What do you do? And second, how do you get to be a person who has extraordinary sex? That’s what I wanted to know. And then, the third question that follows, once you know those answers, is are there lessons that we can communicate that we learn from the extraordinary lovers that apply to people who are having sex that’s just fine? And even to people who are having sex where they’re really struggling, like they haven’t had sex with their partner for 10 years?
Chris Maxwell Rose (12:41):
Right. How do we hear that term even, and feel invited in rather than left out.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (12:47):
Rather than this is just another sort of culturally constructed, aspirational ideal that I can never live up to. So, when you actually read the research, and one of the beautiful things that happened in 2020 is that Peggy’s book, Magnificent Sex was published and it’s intended for a general audience. It’s pretty science heavy, so for somebody like me, it’s awesome. It’s not neuroscience heavy, but they’re like, “Let us tell you about our research method so that you know this is really legitimate. We worked really hard to make sure we were not imposing any of our own personal stuff on what we heard these people saying.”
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (13:30):
And what they heard them saying was that, first of all, the typical age at which their dozens of participants first experienced magnificent sex, 55.
Chris Maxwell Rose (13:44):
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (13:46):
Right? That’s accessible.
Chris Maxwell Rose (13:47):
I want us all to hear that, the best might be yet to come.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (13:52):
And that’s just the most typical age. It means approximately half of people had their first extraordinary sexual experience after the age of 55. So, this is not an unachievable goal for a lot of us. But-
Chris Maxwell Rose (14:06):
So, one of our pleasure pod members, I just want to pause, and their question to you is, “How do I not feel like time is running out for me?”
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (14:15):
There’s no such thing.
Chris Maxwell Rose (14:16):
Yes. Thank you. Yes.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (14:18):
And there’s nothing but progress available to us. Every step you make in the direction of ecstasy is a step in the direction of ecstasy.
Chris Maxwell Rose (14:31):
So, what else was from that research that felt so important that you revised this massive chapter?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (14:37):
Yeah so, let’s take our couple where one of the partners was disgusted and horrified at the idea of putting their body in the bed and letting their skin touch their partner’s skin. It’s going to sound so like, no, duh, Emily, when I say it. But this is the transformative idea. Peggy is a sex therapist and she would have couples come to her who hadn’t had sex for 10 years. They’re still together, they’re angry and frustrated and hurt. And she says, “Well, tell me more about the sex you don’t want.” And they would describe the sex that they do not want. Peggy’s conclusion, and again you’re going to be like, “No, duh,” but it is revelatory. What we have been calling low desire might actually be a normal, healthy response to dismal and disappointing sex.
Chris Maxwell Rose (15:29):
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (15:30):
If you don’t like the sex you are having, it is not pathological not to want that sex.
Chris Maxwell Rose (15:37):
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (15:38):
So, the person I was talking to who was horrified at the idea of letting their skin touch their partner’s skin is not broken. She does not suffer from low desire. She suffers from disliking the sex that is available to her. And the question Peggy would ask her is, “So, tell me, what kind of sex is worth wanting?” This is the research. These are the questions that Peggy’s magnificent lovers present to the couples who are struggling. It has nothing to do with desire. It has no relationship at all to how much you crave sex out of the blue, or how often you wish you are having sex. It has everything to do with whether or not you like the sex you are having.
Chris Maxwell Rose (16:30):
Right. And then from there we would ask, what are you wanting in this moment? What does your body need? And how do we kind of recalibrate towards pleasure? And, again, we’ll drop a ton of additional episodes in the show notes, because a lot of these conversations are dovetailing on previous conversations. So, if you’re feeling like your mind is blowing up a little bit-
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (16:51):
There’s so much available now.
Chris Maxwell Rose (16:52):
There’s lots of time to let these ideas sink in and feel how they’re relevant for you.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (16:59):
So the new title of chapter seven, chapter seven is the desire chapter. And it used to be called, Actually, It’s Not A Drive, because one of the important ideas is that sex is not a drive, which is to say, it’s not a biological need without which you will die. It’s an incentive motivation, which means it’s like curiosity instead of being like hunger, that’s normal. But now the title is Spontaneous, Responsive and Magnificent. And spontaneous desire is that sort of story we were all told about how it just appears out of the blue, kaboom! Erika Moen, the cartoonist who illustrated Come As You Are draws, spontaneous desire as a lightning bolt to the genitals. Kaboom! You just, “Hello partner, I have some kaboom. Would you like to kaboom?” That’s spontaneous desire and it’s normal.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (17:49):
Then, there’s responsive desire. Where spontaneous desire emerges in anticipation of pleasure, responsive desire emerges in response to pleasure. This is the, you put your body in the bed. You let your skin touch your partner’s skin and your body and brain go, “Oh, oh right, this is really good. I really like this.”
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (18:08):
Magnificent desire is where your desire is not just for the pleasure of it. Your desire is not spontaneous. Your desire is for something bigger and deeper. Your desire for sexual experience is a desire to be known more deeply and seen more fully as a human. And to know your partner or partners more deeply, and see them more fully. It is to take hands and jump off the edge of everything you know about sex and gender, and bodies and pleasure, and love and safety into the unknown together because the trust is so deep and profound. And your curiosity to explore is that profound. That’s magnificent desire. And again, typical age of first experience, 55. If sex feels like a gateway to something essential in yourself and your relationship, if sex feels like a journey you could go on to the center of the universe and the meaning of what it is to be a human that’s magnificent desire.
Chris Maxwell Rose (19:25):
And that’s Pleasure Mechanics community right there. So, thank you for that.
Chris Maxwell Rose (19:32):
I want to ask a couple of quick sub questions. First, do you understand spontaneous desire as still context dependent?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (19:40):
Chris Maxwell Rose (19:41):
Like it still emerges within the context of your own psyche, your own day, lightning come out of nowhere.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (19:48):
When you talk to the researchers who get real pedantic about this stuff, what they say is there’s actually no such thing as spontaneous desire. There’s just a different threshold of awareness.
Chris Maxwell Rose (19:57):
Okay. And then when you say responsive desire-
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (20:01):
And I used to say it that way too. But the moral of the story for Come As You Are and the whole process of writing is that I try to use language that relates to actual humans’ experience. And the fact is people experience their desire spontaneous, so sure let’s call it spontaneous. Seems unnecessary to stick to the language that the researchers use, if that’s what helps people understand themselves.
Chris Maxwell Rose (20:23):
So, talk to us about one of those kind of hills you climbed with language, and your insistence on differentiating between pleasure and arousal, and how important that is.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (20:35):
Yeah. This, oh boy, it all started with a conversation I had with a journalist about the idea of responsive desire because of the risk of it sounding like, just do it, just have the sex. So, the research that I read in 2012 through 14, leading up to Come As You Are going to press, all says that arousal comes first and then desire. And, for some people, arousal increases and it’s still below the level of conscious awareness, but it clicks into awareness of desire. And those are the folks who experienced their desire as spontaneous. It’s not actually spontaneous. Their arousal has been ticking up in response to like low-level stuff that’s been happening. Some sex-related stimuli has been floating around in their brain. They saw a sexy person, they thought a sexy thought and it clicked over into what they experience as spontaneous, out of the blue desire.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (21:30):
For some people, the level of arousal that is required in order to tick into responsive desire is much, much higher. They’re very aware of being aroused before they’re aware of experiencing desire. And so, they experience their desire as being in response to their arousal. So, when scientists use the word arousal, it turns out they mean what I always heard because I got trained by those scientists. They mean excitatory impulses in the central nervous system. Is that what you mean when you use the word arousal? Turns out, no. Turns out what most people hear when they hear the word arousal is genital response.
Chris Maxwell Rose (22:10):
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (22:11):
So, when I said that arousal comes first then desire what this journalist and many other people were hearing was, if you just start diddling the genitals and turning on the genitals, arousing, stimulating the genitals desire will necessarily happen. And that’s not great. But here’s where it gets super dark, and I’m going to put it like, hey, feel free to skip over the next 30 seconds if you don’t want to hear about the extra dark stuff. There is a standard narrative in porn dating back as far as I can find porn about just starting to have sex with the woman, grabbing her against her will, and having sex, and she will not be able to help herself in responding and liking it. That’s gross, and horrifying, and untrue and just a rape myth.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (23:04):
And this is the part where people can start to listen again, if they had to skip forward 15 seconds or whatever. So, when I said arousal first then desire, people were hearing that just do it message. That it has nothing to do with whether you like it or want it. It just has to do with whether or not it is sex-related enough to result in some tingling of your parts. That is not what I meant, but that’s what people read.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (23:36):
So, instead I changed the language so that I use the word arousal, the way regular people use the word arousal, which is genital response. And when you change the language, what that means is it’s not arousal first then desire. It’s pleasure first then desire. And this has to do not with whether or not your genital blood flow is increasing, but whether or not you like what is happening. Just because your genital blood flow is increasing and you’re experiencing a tingle doesn’t mean that you like what is happening. And this all goes back to chapter two in the dual control model, and chapter three and the arousal context sensitivity piece. The super short version of this is the tickling analogy. I know tickling is not people’s favorite, but even hypothetically you can imagine a scenario where you’re like super turned on, and playing, and doing fun, exciting things, and your partner can tickle you and it will feel exciting and make you go, “Ah!” And actually feel fun and good, and lead to other things.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (24:43):
But if that same certain special someone tries to tickle you when you’re in the middle of an argument with them…
Chris Maxwell Rose (24:49):
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (24:50):
Not so much. More like you want to punch them in the face a little bit, right? And so, that’s context sensitivity. It’s the same stimulation, it’s the same person, but because your emotional context is different, literally, the way your brain activates in response to that same stimulation is different from if you were responding to it in a different emotional context. That’s basically chapter three, in a nutshell. Pleasure only emerges in response to sensation in the appropriate context. So, when I say pleasure first then desire, I don’t just mean genital sensation then desire. I mean, genital sensation and sex related stimulation in a context that allows your brain to interpret that sensation as pleasurable, fun, safe, sexy, trustworthy.
Chris Maxwell Rose (25:45):
A bunch of years ago, we were making a Pleasure Mechanics sticker set and we wrote to you for permission to use a term you coined, that’s become kind of an anthem for a growing movement of people who acknowledge the fundamental goodness of pleasure.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (26:02):
Chris Maxwell Rose (26:03):
Pleasure is the measure.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (26:05):
I have that sticker on my computer. I am looking at it right now.
Chris Maxwell Rose (26:09):
Can you talk a little bit about pleasure is the measure, what that means to you, and what it means to you that this is really gaining kind of some traction in the world?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (26:20):
I mean, that specific conversation I had with that journalist where she was like, “Do you mean that we mentioned just go ahead and have sex they don’t want to, or like?” And I was like, “I don’t know how to explain this more clearly to you,” because I was still using the scientific language. And so, my sister who was there for that conversation was like, “I think she just can’t get over the idea of needing to desire sex spontaneously and out of the blue.” And I just kept thinking, “How can I communicate this more clearly? How can I be clearer?”
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (26:51):
One of the things I learned in the process of writing Come As You Are, is people believe stuff more when it rhymes, they remember it better and they believe it more. So I was like, “How do I help this be central?” So I made it rhyme. Pleasure is the measure of sexual well-being. It is not how much you crave it. It’s not how often you do it, who you do it with. Even how many orgasms you have. It’s whether or not you like the sex you are having. This was the transformation of language that began the rewrite of Come As You Are, pleasure is the foundation of everything that has changed in Come As You Are.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (27:28):
The title of chapter eight, the orgasm chapter, used to be The Fantastic Bonus, because of the biological and evolutionary research that suggests that orgasm in female bodied people is a fantastic bonus. It’s just a side effect. It’s not for anything except pleasure. It’s a fantastic bonus. And I changed the title of the chapter to Pleasure Is the Measure because one, I had that language now. And two, the measure of your orgasm, as with arousal non-concordance from chapter six of Come As You Are, and as with desire, not having anything to do with having great sex, but pleasure having everything to do with great sex, the quality of your orgasm is not measured by the number of contractions of your pubococcygeal muscle. It’s not about how high your heart rate is or your blood pressure, or anything else like that. It’s whether or not you wanted and liked the orgasm.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (28:24):
Pleasure is the measure, the only measure of the quality of your orgasms. Did you want and like the orgasm you had? Then, you’re doing it right. And it has helped a lot of people reframe and stop worrying so much about desire and performance. I mean, in the same way that one of the most common barriers to sleep, when people struggle with insomnia, one of the most common causes of insomnia is being really worried about your sleep. And being really worried about your sexual performance is a very common interference with sexual pleasure. So, if we try on the idea that do I like what’s happening right now, is the ultimate measure, because people need some kind of measure, am I doing this right? Am I failing?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (29:18):
Sex is a social behavior. And how do we learn every other social behavior in which we engage? How do we learn table manners? How do we learn how to make new friends? How do we learn how to play a game? By observing how other people behave. And we don’t get a lot of that when it comes to sex. So, we watch porn, and we read books, and we listen to podcasts and we learn ways to measure whether or not we’re doing it right. “Do I fit? Do I belong? Am I part of the human community? How can I tell?”
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (29:49):
I listen to the podcast too, and I watch the things and I read the books and I love all that stuff. But one of the things I hope people take away from Come As You Are, especially the new edition, is that however fascinating all that stuff, is the ultimate answer to the question of, “Am I doing this right? Do I belong in the human family,” comes from inside your own internal experience. When we can listen with kindness and compassion, patience and courage to what our body and mind are telling us, that is how we know we are doing it right. And it is normal to look up and out into your partner’s eyes, into your culture, into the world to see, “Am I participating in the way that people expect me to participate?” But the realest answer, the one you can trust only comes from inside, pleasure is the measure.
Chris Maxwell Rose (30:43):
And that brings us full circle back to the title of the book, Come As You Are [inaudible 00:30:48] at this. And I’d love to hear what those words mean to you. And the, as you are a piece, all of the science you present, it is not aspirational. It is not about fixing what is broken. It is about coming home to who you are. So, why Come As You Are?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (31:08):
For exactly that reason. Titling the book was difficult. We went through a dozen titles and they were all sort of like meh. And I found Come As You Are by Googling the word cum and letting it auto-complete. And I saw the phrase Come As You Are, which I know both yes, from the Nirvana song and also from a Come As You Are party, which is the kind of party that I had when I was in junior high. And I was like, “That’s it, that’s the one.” Specifically because of the, as you are part like, yes, there’s the pun of cumming, but then there’s the, as you are. And I had to fight for it. My editor literally asked me to write a list of 10 reasons why Come As You Are was the right title for the book once I was like, “This has got to be the one. You’ve got to get this.”
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (32:01):
The editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster was reluctant. He said, it wasn’t aspirational enough, to which my response is, it is the single most aspirational idea for a woman that she is already enough. That she is allowed to and capable of enjoy pleasure just as she is right now today without losing weight, without putting on makeup, without having more partners, without having fewer partners, without getting married, without coming out. There’s nothing she has to do to deserve pleasure. She can come as she is. And I still have that list of 10 reasons why Come As You Are is the answer. But it was a fight in the same way that I had to fight for the singular day. I had to fight for the idea that it is actually the most aspirational and really the only goal that matters is welcoming who we are right now to create space for the sexuality we already have.
Chris Maxwell Rose (33:04):
Well, thank you for all of your work. I think it really is an offering to this world. And shows that well chosen language are tools of liberation for us personally, and for us to create a culture where we all are home in our inherent dignity and worth.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (33:20):
See, this is why I love talking to you. That’s our whole podcast right there in one sentence. Yes.
Chris Maxwell Rose (33:28):
Thank you so much for spending this time with me. I know we could go on. Is there any final closing thoughts, or have we done it?
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (33:37):
I don’t know. Do we do it?
Chris Maxwell Rose (33:39):
So, I hope you enjoyed that interview. And, as I said, we went on to talk more about the pandemic and what we learned this year. So, if you want to hear more of that conversation, come on over to pleasuremechanics.com/caya. That’s pleasure mechanics.com/ C-A-Y-A. And we’ll deliver the bonus reel directly to your inbox.
Chris Maxwell Rose (34:02):
And here are just a few clips from that continued conversation with Emily Nagoski. First, we talked about what she learned about stress and the stress-sex connection during this unprecedented year of stressors for us all. Here’s a clip from that conversation.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (34:21):
So, when we think about what counts as a stressor it’s not just, “Am I in immediate danger.” It is, “Is the world a safe place?” And it is helpful for us to remember this when we’re thinking about a sort of [inter-section-ally 00:34:39] feminist approach to sex education, the world is not equally safe for everyone.
Chris Maxwell Rose (34:44):
Chris Maxwell Rose (34:45):
And then, she went on to talk about the cycle of human connection. And this was such an important point, we’ll talk about it more in future episodes. But here’s how she talked about the disparities we’re experiencing in human connection during the pandemic.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (35:01):
We are designed to oscillate into connection and then back out into autonomy, and back into connection and back into autonomy. And we were living in this world where one in three households in the United States, for example, is a single person household. And those people were being slowly starved to death from inadequate connection. And then, there’s another group of people who, like me, are trapped at home with their favorite people on earth. And it’s like being tied to a chair and having chocolate shoveled into your mouth constantly. “This is my favorite, but I need it to stop immediately.”
Chris Maxwell Rose (35:39):
And, finally, we talked about how pleasure is a potent force to fight fascism. Here’s a little clip from that and, again, you can find the rest of the conversation at pleasuremechanics.com/caya. That’s pleasuremechanics.com/C-A-Y-A.
Chris Maxwell Rose (35:57):
All right, here’s Emily Nagoski on fighting fascism with pleasure.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. (36:01):
And the more of us there are, and the more seriously we take this work that our pleasure, it’s not a frivolity, it is foundational. Our autonomy and our pleasure, and our free expression of sexuality is the ultimate anti-fascist action. That is what I learned from the pandemic.