Even when clients are coming into therapy for a multitude of other reasons, sex is one theme that tends to inevitably arise. Sex shows up with my clients who are recovering from their eating disorders and rediscovering their bodies in new ways. Sex comes up with clients who have lived through rape and sexual assault and are working to untangle pleasure from trauma. Sex arises up in couples sessions and individual sessions and across ages. Because it is such a centrally human theme, I am always on the lookout for good resources to share with my clients and Emily Nagoski’s book is currently the top of my list.
She uses research as her primary method of exploration and yet captures these dense findings in beautifully approachable metaphors. She touches on attachment theory, advanced biology, social constructs, feminist theory, Health At Every Size and cutting edge trauma research to name just a few of her lenses. Emily weaves in workbook-like activities to guide the reader through the content as it applies to oneself.
Throughout her book, the thesis remains front and center, “you are normal.” The fear that there is something irreparably wrong or damaged when it comes to sexual response and arousal is one that I hear women echo frequently. There are many reasons behind this pervasive and nagging fear, not the least of which is the vast difference between how things are portrayed in the media and what is real and true for most women. Among many other common concerns, she addresses the concepts of nonconcordance, arousal vs desire, spontaneous vs responsive desire and scientifically sound strategies for arriving at orgasm.
All of these themes I hear in my practice are usually blanketed under a deep layer of shame. While this book tackles sexual experience from a mainly biological perspective, her psychological theory and explanation is invaluable and truly shame busting. One of my favorite examples of this is where she makes it a point to explain how meta-emotions impact sexual experience. While she goes into depths explaining the science behind this concept, this quote sums it up beautifully,
“feeling okay about how you feel-even when it’s not what you expected- is the key to extraordinary sex.”
I’ll end with one of my other favorite quotes, both biologically accurate and psychologically freeing,
“sex is not a drive, like hunger. It’s an incentive motivation system, like curiosity…so stay curious.”