Come Together by Emily Nagoski

Come Together Book Cover

Emily Nagoski at Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

Come Together: The Science (and Art) of Creating Lasting Sexual Connections

by Emily Nagoski, PhD

Reviewed by Mac Marshall

 

What is the key to passionate sex over the long term? Frequency? Orgasms? Novelty? Monogamy? Being a “skilled” lover?

Wrong, says Emily Nagoski, PhD in her new book, Come Together: The Science (and Art) of Creating Lasting Sexual Connections. Her goal is to give us the key to long-term satisfying sex. She writes,

Great sex in a long-term relationship is not about how much you desire sex or how often you have to do it. It’s not about what you do, in which position, with whom or where or in what clothes, even how many orgasms you have. It’s whether or not you like the sex you are having.

 

Pleasure Is the Measure” is a major theme of Come Together.  Pleasure is all about “how much you like the sex you’re having.” Most of the book teaches how to create access to pleasure with a long-term partner. Mutual admiration and trust are essential to this creative process.

Most of us seek both connection and pleasure in sexual relationships. But the excitement we feel when a relationship begins often fades as time goes by. Partners in committed relationships such as marriage frequently drift apart sexually. Typically, this is due to work pressures, the demands of family, and our physical changes as we age. Nagoski gives us helpful guidelines to revive and maintain connection and pleasure for the long haul.

Two chapters focus on what she calls “your emotional floorplan.” She bases this on the dual control model that she introduced in her best-known book, Come As You Are: turn-ons—the accelerator—and turn-offs—the brakes. The floorplan consists of seven emotional spaces that affect your sexuality: lust, care, play, rage, panic+grief, fear and seeking. She offers advice on how to navigate these emotional states as we construct a safe space with our partner for mutual sexual pleasure.

When people “come together” in partnerships Nagoski finds they seek:

  • connection,
  • shared pleasure,
  • being wanted by another,
  • freedom to feel full immersion in an erotic moment.

These are especially pertinent for relationships between seniors. Aging usually changes our needs for erotic connection. It is potentially empowering. For example, Nagoski observes:

[Aging provides] a context that encourages you to explore. Try new things. Shed all the preconceived ideas about how sex “should” work and experiment with all the ways it can and does work for you and your partners, in the bodies you have right now.

 

 Come Together centers on persons of any gender in long-term relationships. She shows us ways to create partnerships that sustain a strong sexual connection. The partnership characteristics she focuses on are:

  • they are friends
  • they prioritize sex
  • they pursue what’s genuinely true for them—what works in their unique relationship—rather than accepting other people’s opinions about how they’re supposed to do sex.

These characteristics flourish by avoiding “the desire imperative” and “the sex imperatives”:

  • “The desire imperative” is the notion that we should feel a “spark” of spontaneous craving for sexual intimacy when a relationship begins. And if we don’t continue to feel that sparky desire, we’ve failed. The desire imperative pooh-poohs planning or preparing for sex, and if we and our partner don’t just spontaneously want each other effortlessly, we must not want each other enough. Against this “mess of wrongheadedness,” Nagoski centers pleasure as the alternative measure of sexual well-being.
  • “The sex imperatives” that endanger lasting sexual connections are many, including these:
    • the coital imperative (penis-in-vagina sex)
    • the variety imperative (manual, oral, and anal play as well as PIV)
    • the performance imperative (enhancing your sexual skill set)
    • the monogamy imperative (you should only have one sexual relationship at a time)

Fixation on any or all of these can thwart success in building lasting sexual connections.

 

Change is an unavoidable given in life and relationships. Among the changes most of us encounter are illness, pain, and aging. Nagoski writes,

 The key to sustaining a strong sexual connection over the long term is to adapt—with confidence, joy, and calm, warm curiosity—to the changes brought by each season of our lives.

To join together in a successful sexually rewarding long-term partnership, Nagoski champions trust, admiration, confidence and joy. She gives these tips for achieving mutual lasting pleasure and connection:

  • Seek authenticity.
  • Plan for and embrace the changes that will always occur.
  • Find adaptations and adjustments that work for your unique situation.

Just as Nagoski’s Come as You Are is a ground-breaking book for women understanding their sexuality and achieving sexual pleasure, Come Together is the book you need to enrich the sexual joy in a long-term relationship. Read it — your sexual relationship will thank you!

 

 

Purchase Come Together at your local independent bookstore or order from Bookshop.org or Amazon.

 

 

Mac Marshall, PhD is a retired anthropology professor, researcher, and author who is delighted to explore sexuality studies at this time of his life.

 

 

Interview with Ann Anderson Evans, author of The Sweet Pain of Being Alive

photo Ann and Terry

cover Sweet Pain of Being Alive

 

I never worried that Terry would leave me. Having married in our sixties, we felt we’d captured an unexpected shower of fairy dust. For all our fourteen years together, we frequently joined hands for a warm, smiling moment. We were so lucky to have each other!

But one night, he did leave me. He placed a plastic bag over his head. The thin kind used to bag vegetables in the grocery store.

 

So begins The Sweet Pain of Being Alive: A Memoir of Love and Death by Ann Anderson Evans. Why did her husband Terry die?

“People are not always, maybe not ever, what they seem,” writes Evans. In The Sweet Pain of Being Alive, she unravels Terry’s pain and expands her own understanding of gender identity, shame, marriage, and the facades we build.

Evans was willing to share some thoughts with us here:

 

Q:  Ann, The Sweet Pain of Being Alive, deals with the death of someone you loved who had a secret. Why was it important for you to reveal what Terry had kept hidden?

photo Ann EvansI wanted to honor what Terry had gone through as it became clear, after his death, that he yearned to be a woman. “Imagine what it took just for him to get through every day,” one person told me.

The secrecy around his gender dysphoria contributed to his suicide, and I refuse to keep this toxic secret. I want to lend my voice in support of people, especially those of my generation, who feel they must hide who they are.

 

Q: What did you understand about Terry’s gender dysphoria while you lived together?

There were many signs, but I didn’t know what I was looking at. I was shocked when I found a box of women’s clothes under the bed, for example, but didn’t know what to make of it. He also didn’t have the kind of sexual drive men usually have. But he was so much more than sex for me that I was willing to adjust to that, without realizing it was a symptom of dysphoria.

 

Q: This was more than cross-dressing. You say he wanted to be a woman, yet he kept that secret, even from you. How far do you think he wanted to go?

Terry didn’t realize how much transition would entail. Just wearing women’s clothes is barely a beginning. He would have to learn how to dress, do his hair, walk, and laugh. Men pretty much walk where they please. Women don’t. He’d have to develop the protective sense that women have as they move through the world. This is difficult choreography. He knew he would likely lose a lot, possibly including a job he loved and even his marriage, Maybe he didn’t want to risk that.

 

Q: What do you understand now that you didn’t before?

Terry never sat me down and said, “Ann, either I die or you become a lesbian,” but if he had, I think I would have tried to adjust, though I’m not sexually attracted to women. His transition would have required me to make deep changes in myself that I had not agreed to. I don’t know how that would have played out. I had not calculated the demands of transition on the person’s partner.

All the transgender people I know have been uncomfortable in their body from childhood. It is a condition as old as humanity. The challenge is not for them to pretend they are as we want them to be, but it is for us to make space for them. The acceptance of gay marriage and other deep societal changes prove that this can be done.

In my experience, there is a refreshing insouciance to transgender women. They’ve been raised as boys, had their fights in the schoolyard, been in the competitive locker rooms, carried expectations of professional achievement. They have an often humorous sense of the arbitrariness of many of our cultural habits. If we started out with the attitude that “Every member of the tribe counts,” then transgender people would be free to create roles that we have never imagined.

 

Q: How are you now?

Suicide is very common, yet the shock of it doesn’t wear off easily. There is an element of betrayal—a loved one has abandoned you.

Every death is unique and revisits every grieving person differently and in its own time. Three and a half years after Terry’s death, I sometimes feel untethered, left behind. This may be true of people whose loss does not include suicide, but in my heart, it is connected.

Joan, as you write in your book, Sex After Grief, widows and widowers are vulnerable for quite a while after their loss. We can be struck out of the blue. My special kind of loneliness is reliving of a situation where I thought I knew where I was, but it was just an illusion.

I have learned that suicide has its own agenda, unrelated to the gender dysphoria, and I do not feel responsible for his death. I know that he never for one minute had occasion to doubt my love for him, and I never doubted his love for me. We both did our best, and I don’t say that lightly. We took the best care we could of each other every day.

 

Purchase The Sweet Pain of Being Alive: A Memoir of Love and Death from Bookshop.org or Amazon. Learn more about Ann Anderson Evans at https://annandersonevans.com/.

The Vagina Bible by Jen Gunter: book review

Vagina Bible front cover

The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina—separating the Myth from the Medicine by gynecologist Jennifer Gunter is a lively, educational guide separating information from misinformation, presented in a clear, smart, sassy style.

“There’s a lot of money in vaginal shame,” writes Jen Gunter. She is known as the clever and outspoken OB/GYN on Twitter (@DrJenGunter—follow her!) who challenges celebrities and companies trying to sell us unneeded (and sometimes harmful) solutions for invented problems. She rips their claims and substitutes solid facts. All of this book is educational, revealing, and empowering. Examples:

  •  “[T]he other problem with doctors not asking about sex is women who have medical conditions that interfere with their sex life, typically conditions that cause pain with sex, end up minimized. Many women suffer for years not realizing they have a medical problem that has a diagnosis and treatment.”
  •  “It is hard to overestimate the damage done by Sigmund Freud in popularizing the myth of the vaginal orgasm. Only one third of women are capable of achieving orgasm with penile penetration alone…so the idea that everyone should be having orgasms this way results in two thirds of women believing there is something wrong with their sexual wiring when really they are perfect. Not orgasming with unassisted penile penetration is not a flaw, it’s a feature.”
  •  “MRI studies looking at anatomy during heterosexual sex reveal that the clitoris can be compressed by the penis, which is why some women can orgasm with penile penetration.”
  • “Vulvar cleansing has never been studied. That is interesting, considering the array of products that claim to be gynecologist tested or approved…Some of these washes make claims they can reduce bacterial vaginosis (BV). They can’t. An external wash cannot possibly impact the inside of the vagina, and washing internally with one of these products (some women do that—please don’t) could definitely increase your risk of BV by killing good bacteria or irritating the vaginal mucosa.”

Parts of The Vagina Bible are so hilarious that you’ll want—as I did—to read them aloud to a companion:

  •  “Almost every woman has been told at least once…to wear white cotton underwear as a medical recommendation to prevent yeast infections and other vaginal mayhem. This makes it sound as if vaginas and vulvas are accidents waiting to happen. The vulva can handle urine, feces, and blood, and vaginas can handle blood, ejaculate, and a baby, so this idea that a black lace thong is the harbinger to a vaginal or vulvar apocalypse is absurd.”
  • “I have read about plastic surgeons who do labiaplasty [surgical reduction of the labia minora] so women can look ‘sleeker in so-called athleisure wear.’ I know some people call this look ‘camel toe,’ but I prefer ‘labial cleavage,’ and the answer is not surgery—it is better-fitting athletic wear.”
  •  “I’ve stared at more male butt cracks (gluteal clefts) than I care to remember…What I never hear is that men should seek out plastic surgeons to get their gluteal clefts sewn shut. I also can’t imagine a similar industry for men that profits from surgically trimming penises so they look better in tight jeans.”

Table of contents, second half of Vagina BibleThe second half of this book is a serious, comprehensive, scientific resource about infections, conditions, symptoms, and treatments. Dr. Gunter has been treating vulvar and vaginal diseases for nearly 30 years. If you have discomfort, pain, or other symptoms that might be a medical issue, read the relevant chapters of this book, then, armed with this information, take it to your doctor.

This guidebook to the care and functioning of the vulva and vagina by cheeky gynecologist Jen Gunter should be on your bookshelf. Thank you, Dr. Gunter, for this much-needed resource: The Vagina Bible.