Come Together: The Science (and Art!) of Creating Lasting Sexual Connections by Emily Nagoski

This is a book about sex but also more than sex. Specifically it is about sex in long-term relationships. But if you are looking for quick tips and techniques, you best search elsewhere. The focus here is on the long-term relationship then the sex in that relationship.

The text builds on the author’s previous book Come As You Are. The focus of that text is that you are normal and sex is normal. Come Together extends those lessons and applies them to long-term relationships. The core idea of both of these books is that “pleasure is the measure” of good sex. If everything is consensual and it give you pleasure, it is good sex. Too often we focus on desire rather than pleasure. This is a challenge for us as our bodies grow (old) and change. But if we focus on pleasure, the problem goes away. After all, isn’t it more important to enjoy the sex we have over the amount of sex?

This book requires self-examination and work to get the most out of it. The author encourages learning about one’s own “floorplan” of emotions and how they relate to one another. In this way, one can learn how to move out of less desirable states like fear and grief toward more pleasurable ones like play and lust. The book is also filled with anecdotes of how others have applied these principles to improve their intimate relationships. I haven’t even begun the work recommended in the book, and it has already helped shift my thinking about sex in long-term relationships into a more healthy space. I’m looking forward to even more improvement once I begin the work.

My rating: 4/5

A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister

A Victorian man in a suit on one knee examines a standing woman with her arms crossed. He holding up her dress with his left hand while examining her with his right.

My previous post was a book about the history of sex. This one is too. While both are introductions to this history, this one isn’t quite as cheeky. It is a more straightforward approach with more scholarly references. Dr. Kate Lister, the author, is a lecturer at Leeds Trinity University. She won the Sexual Freedom award for publicist of the year in 2017 and is on Twitter as @WhoresofYore and @k8_lister.

The text covers a variety of topics and their intersection with sex and its history. These include:

  • words
  • vulvas
  • penises
  • food
  • machines
  • hygiene
  • reproduction
  • money

The details within these areas include sexually transmitted infections, words for body parts, the selling of sex, and why we considers some body parts “icky”.

The text is easy to read and very informative. While delivering the information, it never feels like a textbook or a lecture. There are photographs and illustrations throughout. While the previous book I reviewed touches on the more controversial aspects of sex history, this book addresses the nitty gritty and quotidian aspects of the subject. They complement each other nicely.

My rating: 4/5

Been There, Done That by Rachel Feltman

A naked woman on top of a naked man in mid-coitus while they are flying through the air. The subtitle obscured the area of actual coitus

I recently came across two books on the history of sex. Interestingly, they were both published in the UK. The first is Been There, Done That: A Rousing History of Sex by Rachel Feltman. While it is written from a British perspective, this rarely shows through. After all, sex is a universal human activity.

The book is a primer on the history of sex . It does not cover everything. For instance, it does not cover asexual people (those who have no interest in sex at all). However, it does hit all the high points: what sex is, how normal heterosexuality is (or isn’t), how many sexes there are, masturbation, reproduction, birth control, and porn. In the early chapters it also covers the topics not just for humans but for the entire biological world.

This book is not strictly a science book, and it sure doesn’t read like one. It is funny throughout and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I would even say it is playful. But it is absolutely grounded in facts. The book has extensive end notes for reference, though most of these are more news stories that are based on science than scientific articles themselves. If you want a tongue-in-cheek introduction to sex as it is understood today, this is a good place to start.

My rating: 4/5

Women Are Not Flawed Versions of Men

Come As You Are book cover

I heard Emily Nagoski, author of Come As Your Are, interviewed on a podcast recently. She was very articulate and down-to-earth. I liked that what she said was grounded in science, so I decided to read her book. This book is for women and focuses on women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure. That said, not only should every young woman read it but so should every young man. It dispels all kinds of wrongheaded ideas of how sex works for women.

There are a few ideas that the author literally goes over again and again in the hopes that they will stick. One of these is that all genitals have the same parts organized in different ways. Because of this, unless you are experiencing pain, your genitals, while unique, are normal and beautiful just the way they are.

Another concept she shares is that of nonconcordance. Just because your body is reacting sexually does not mean that you are turned on. Also, you may be turned on while your body is not reacting sexually. Again, this is normal.

The last idea I want to share is that women have a sexual accelerator and a sexual brake. These are separate and have separate sensitivities. All combinations are normal. The trick is to understand your own and how to work with them.

The book is filled with a lot of other useful information as well as worksheets to help you. While this book is about sex, its focus is that you are normal and helping you learn to be comfortable in your own skin and with your own pleasure.

Facts and Compassion

The End of Gender book cover

There is a lot of heat and emotion around the subjects of sex and gender. This is most visible in the national debates around the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, but particularly around those concerning transgender individuals. While my own thoughts about such issues have centered on compassion for others, I have been confused about what is really going on for these individuals. Not being a member of this community, I must admit that I do not understand all of the issues. But I long ago concluded that I don’t need to. It isn’t about what I think or understand but about accommodating and caring for people wherever they are and however they see themselves.

Hoping to better educate myself, I recently read the book The End of Gender by Debra Soh, a former sexology researcher who left academia to pursue a career in journalism. The book is a straightforward look at what the science of sexology says about sex and gender and many of the public issues surrounding them. It is an eye-opening book that is likely to both challenge and confirm your views on these subjects, no matter how you feel about identity politics.

This is not a political book, or at least it is not meant to be. It is grounded in published sexology research and takes the position that we ought to be open and clear about the science even if it goes against what we believe or is popular. Some may think this is a license to abuse minorities. The author disagrees. It isn’t the science we should take issue with but how some people use it as a weapon of hate.

The book is organized around nine myths about sex and gender. Two of these myths are “There are more than two genders” and “Sexual orientation and gender identity are unrelated”. Due to the sensitive nature of these topics, you likely reacted strongly to one or both of those statements. I highly encourage you to read this book from a well-educated scientist who uses research to inform her compassion. One of the major concerns she raises is the number of transgender individuals who transition and later change their mind and detransition. Perhaps a better understanding of the science behind sex and gender can lead to better outcomes for those struggling with identity issues.