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Come As You Are Book Summary, Review, Notes

Come As You Are is a scientific book about female (and some male) sexuality. The book covers the basics of arousal, desire, emotions, and sex using new scientific research.


Book Title: Come As You Are
Author: Emily Nagoski
Date of Reading: May–June 2017
Rating: 4/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said In Detail:

Come As You Are is divided into four major themes and a total of 9 chapters : 

The (not-so-basic) basics

  • Anatomy: No Two Alike
  • The Dual Control Model: Your Sexual Personality
  • Context: And The “One Ring” (to Rule Them All) In Your Emotional Brain

Sex in context

  • Emotional Context: Sex in a Monkey Brain
  • Cultural Context: A Sex-Positive Life in a Sex-Negative World

Sex in action

  • Arousal: Lubrication Is Not Causation
  • Desire: Actually, It’s Not a Drive

Ecstasy for everybody

  • Orgasm: The Fantastic Bonus
  • Meta-Emotions: The Ultimate Sex-Positive Context

Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:


“Well. The frustrating reality is we’ve been lied to—not deliberately, it’s no one’s fault, but still. We were told the wrong story. For a long, long time in Western science and medicine, women’s sexuality was viewed as Men’s Sexuality Lite—basically the same but not quite as good.” 

“But if you really want to understand human sexuality, behavior alone won’t get you there. Trying to understand sex by looking at behavior is like trying to understand love by looking at a couple’s wedding portrait . . . and their divorce papers.” 

According to their “dual control model,” the sexual response mechanism in our brains consists of a pair of universal components—a sexual accelerator and sexual brakes—and those components respond to broad categories of sexual stimulations, including genital sensations, visual stimulation, and emotional context. 

And the sensitivity of each component varies from person to person.”

“We’re all made of the same parts, but in each of us, those parts are organized in a unique way that changes over our life span.” 

“It turns out what matters most is not the parts you are made of or how they are organized, but how you feel about those parts.”

Part 1 – The (not-so-basic) Basics 

Anatomy: No Two Alike

“The reasoning went like this: Women’s genitals are tucked away between their legs, as if they wanted to be hidden, whereas male genitals face forward, for all to see. 

And why would men’s and women’s genitals be different in this way? If you’re a medieval anatomist, steeped in a sexual ethic of purity, it’s because shame.”

“Homology is also why both brother and sister will have nipples. Nipples on females are vital to the survival of almost all mammal species, including humans (though a handful of old mammals, such as the platypus, don’t have nipples, and instead just leak milk from their abdomens), so evolution built nipples in right at the very beginning of our fetal development.

It takes less energy to just leave them there than to actively suppress them —and evolution is as lazy as it can get away with—so both males and females have nipples. Same biological origins—different functions.”

“Unlike the penis, the clitoris’s only job is sensation. The penis has four jobs: sensation, penetration, ejaculation, and urination.” 

“But the hymen doesn’t break and stays broken forever, like some kind of freshness seal. If a hymen tears or bruises, it heals. And the size of a hymen doesn’t vary depending on whether the vagina has been penetrated. 

Also, it usually doesn’t bleed. Any blood with first penetration is more likely due to general vaginal tearing from lack of lubrication than to damage to the hymen.” 

The Dual Control Model: Your Sexual Personality

“Your central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord) is made up of a series of partnerships of accelerator and brakes—like the pairing of your sympathetic nervous system (“accelerator”) and your parasympathetic nervous system (“brake”). 

The core insight of the dual control model is that what’s true for other aspects of the nervous system must also be true for the brain system that coordinates sex: a sexual accelerator and sexual brake. (Daniel Kahneman wrote of his own Nobel Prize-winning research in economics, “You know you have made a theoretical advance when you can no longer reconstruct why you failed for so long to see the obvious.” 

So it was with Kahneman’s prospect theory, and so it is with the dual control model. I stand ready to send Erick and John large fruit baskets on the day the Nobel committee gets its act together and recognizes the importance of their insight.) So the dual control model of sexual response, as the name implies, consists of two parts:” 

“Sexual Excitation System (SES).” 

“Sexual Inhibition System (SIS).”

“The short answer is: Reduce your stress, be affectionate toward your body, and let go of the false ideas about how sex is “supposed” to work, to create space in your life for how sex actually works.”

Context: And The “One Ring” (to Rule Them All) In Your Emotional Brain

“Suppose you’re flirting with a certain special someone, and they start tickling you. You can imagine some situations where that’s fun, right? Flirtatious. Potentially leading to some nookie. 

Now imagine that you are feeling annoyed with that same special someone and they try to tickle you. It feels irritating, right? Like maybe you’d want to punch that person in the face. It’s the same sensation, but because the context is different, your perception of that sensation is different.”

“It’s true in all your other senses, too, not just the basic five you learned in elementary school. We’ve all experienced it with thermoreception: Imagine your car has run out of gas one mile from the gas station, on a scorching-hot, sauna-humid day. 

You walk the mile through the sludgy air. You get to the air-conditioned gas station, chilled to seventy-two degrees, and it feels like a frigid blast, a powerful relief from the heat. 

Now imagine your car runs out of gas in the same place six months later, and it’s a bitterly cold, bitingly windy day, and you trudge the same mile to the gas station. That same seventy-two degrees now feels like a warmed oven, a powerful relief from the painful cold. Context.” 

“On the contrary. In a study of cocaine addicts, research participants’ mesolimbic systems responded to images related to cocaine that flashed on a screen for thirty-three milliseconds. 

If you asked them what they saw, they wouldn’t be able to tell you, because the images flashed too fast to be “seen” consciously, but it was long enough to light up the addicts’ eagerness systems. The research subjects were not aware of having seen the images, yet their emotional brains responded.” 

Part 2 – Sex In Context

Emotional Context: Sex in a Monkey Brain

“Second, our emotion-dismissing culture is uncomfortable with Feels. Our culture says that if the stressor isn’t right in front of us, then we have no reason to feel stressed and so we should just cut it out already. 

As a result, most people’s idea of “stress management” is either to eliminate all stressors or to just relax, as if stress can be turned off like a light switch. 

Our culture is so uncomfortable with Feels that we may even sedate people who’ve just been in a car accident, preventing their bodies from moving through this natural process; this well-intentioned medical intervention has the unwanted consequence of trapping survivors of traumatic injury in the freeze, which is how PTSD gets a foothold in a survivor’s brain

Emily Nagoski Quote

Cultural Context: A Sex-Positive Life in a Sex-Negative World

“We’ll start with three core cultural messages about women’s sexuality that my students grapple with as their established ideas about sex are challenged by the science: the moral message (you are evil), the medical message (you are diseased), and the media message (you are inadequate). 

Hardly anyone fully buys into any of these messages, but they are there, encroaching on our gardens,”

“One day in class, I read aloud a couple of definitions of “sex.” First I read from Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique by T. H. van de Velde, from 1926. 

He wrote that “normal sexual intercourse” is that intercourse which takes place between two sexually mature individuals of opposite sexes; which excludes cruelty and the use of artificial means for producing voluptuous sensations; which aims directly or indirectly at the consummation of sexual satisfaction, and which, having achieved a certain degree of stimulation, concludes with the ejaculation—or emission—of the semen into the vagina, at the nearly simultaneous culmination of sensation—or orgasm—of both partners. 

Then I read from The Hite Report, published in 1976, from the chapter titled “Redefining Sex”: Sex is intimate physical contact for pleasure, to share pleasure with another person (or just alone). You can have sex to orgasm, or not to orgasm, genital sex, or just physical intimacy—whatever seems right to you. 

There is never any reason to think the “goal” must be intercourse and to try to make what you feel fit into that context. There is no standard of sexual performance “out there,” against which you must measure yourself; you aren’t ruled by “hormones” or “biology.” 

You are free to explore and discover your own sexuality, to learn or unlearn anything you want, and to make physical relations with other people, of either sex, anything you like.″


“The Media Message: “You Are Inadequate.” Spanking, food play, ménages à trois . . . you’ve done all these things, right? 

Well, you’ve at least had clitoral orgasms, vaginal orgasms, uterine orgasms, energy orgasms, extended orgasms, and multiple orgasms? And you’ve mastered at least thirty-five different positions for intercourse?”

“And it’s messing with our orgasms, our pleasure, our desire, and our sexual satisfaction. There is a direct trade-off between sexual wellbeing and self-critical thoughts about your body. 

A 2012 review of fifty-seven studies, spanning two decades of research, found important links between body image and just about every domain of sexual behavior you can imagine: arousal, desire, orgasm, frequency of sex, number of partners, sexual self-assertiveness, sexual self-esteem, using alcohol or other drugs during sex, engaging in unprotected sex, and more.

“Measure of gravity. Look: • Want to lose ten pounds without diet or exercise? Cut off your leg at the knee! I guarantee, the next time you step on a scale, you’ll weigh less. • 

Or, hey, want to lose five pounds of fat? Have your brain removed—its mass is almost 100 percent fat! • You know who’s always thin? People who’ve been living in a prison camp! • Quick and easy weight loss! Fly in a plane! Better yet, go into space! They don’t call it “weightless” for nothing!”

“Jonathan Haidt and his team have found that there are six “moral foundations” in the human brain, each of which is a solution to a particular evolutionary problem our species has faced. 

Of the six, it’s the “sanctity/degradation” moral foundation I find most relevant to sex. The sanctity foundation is about contaminant avoidance, and it’s powered by disgust. 

Humans have generalized from avoidance of physical contaminants (we’re innately grossed out by rotting corpses) to avoidance of conceptual contaminants (we can feel grossed out just by the words “rotting corpses”). 

You can visualize sanctity as a vertical axis, with stigmatized and taboo behaviors described as “low” and “dirty,” and socially sanctioned behaviors as “high” and “pure.” 

We judge as wrong anything associated with lowness. In the Judeo-Christian ethic, bodies are low and spirit is high, animal instincts are low and human reason is high, and very often women are low and men are high. 

Sex draws attention down to the base, the animal, the contemptible, and it, therefore, triggers the disgust response.”

“That’s why sex educators and sex therapists go through an educational process of intensive exposure, deliberately designed to minimize our own judgment, shame, and disgust reactions, so that we can respond with open neutrality to whatever students or clients bring into the room.” 

“Exposure to media that reinforces body self-criticism increases body dissatisfaction, negative mood, low self-esteem, and even disordered eating. 

This is perhaps most clearly illustrated by a multi-year study of the impact of Western media—especially television—on young women in Fiji. 

In a culture where there had been “a clear preference for a robust form,” after three years of exposure to late 1990s American television (think Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210), rates of disordered eating among teenage girls rose from 13 percent to 29 percent, with 74 percent reporting that they “feel too big or too fat,” in sharp contrast to pre-TV culture. 

And this wasn’t just a blip—ten years later, rates of disordered eating still hovered around 25-30 percent.”

“It goes wrong only when you try to apply what you picked as right for your sexuality to someone else’s sexuality.” 

Part 3 – Sex In Action

Arousal: Lubrication Is Not Causation

“What this research suggests is that a woman’s emotional experience is more likely to line up with her facial expression and her vocal inflection, while a man’s emotional experience is more likely to line up with his heart rate and blood flow.”

“Every guy, at some point in his life, has the experience of wanting sex, wanting an erection, and the erection just isn’t there. 

In that moment, the erection (or lack of erection) isn’t a measure of his interest—he might even wake up the very next morning with an erection when it’s nothing but an inconvenience.” 

“Genital response, which happens between your legs, is expecting. Arousal, which happens between your ears, includes enjoying.”

“So, E. L. James, if you’re reading this: Lubrication means it was sexually relevant, which tells us nothing about whether it was sexually appealing. Therefore I humbly request that in the next edition, Grey says to Ana, “Feel this. 

See how sexually relevant your body considers physical contact with your buttocks and genitals, Anastasia. That gives me no information about whether or not you liked it. 

Did you like it? No? Double crap, let me make it up to you by reading Emily Nagoski’s book about women’s sexual wellbeing so that I have a clue next time.” Thank you.”

“If that’s true, then when your doctor taps your knee’s patellar tendon and your leg kicks out, that must mean you actually want to kick your doctor. 

Or when you have an allergic reaction to pollen, you must hate flowers. Or when your mouth waters around a mouthful of moldy, bruised peach, you must find it delicious.” 

“Don’t get me wrong—you might want to kick your doctor and you might hate flowers and you might enjoy moldy, bruised peaches. But your automatic physiological processes are not how we would know that. No. Automatic physiological processes are, ya know, automatic, not sincere.”


“This brings me to a sentence every undergraduate who takes a research methods class will memorize: “Correlation does not imply causation.” 

It refers to the cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy—” with this, therefore because of this”—which means that just because two things happen together doesn’t mean that one thing caused the other thing.”

“The quintessential example in the twenty-first century is the relationship between pirates and global warming. This is a joke made by Bobby Henderson, as part of the belief system of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. 

Henderson wanted to make a point about the difference between causation and correlation, so he drew a graph that apparently plotted an increase in global temperature with the precipitous drop in the number of seafaring pirates. Did the loss of pirates cause global climate change?” 

Desire: Actually, It’s Not a Drive

“If sex were a drive, like food appetite, then the 30 percent of women who rarely or never experience spontaneous desire for sex are . . . well, what would we call a person who never experienced spontaneous hunger for food, even if she hadn’t eaten in days or weeks or months? 

That person is definitely sick! If sex is a hunger and you never get hungry, then there’s Something Wrong With You. And when you believe there’s something wrong with you, your stress response kicks in.  And when your stress response kicks in, your interest in sex evaporates (for most people). 

Insisting that sex is a drive is telling a healthy person with a responsive desire that she’s sick—say it often enough and eventually, she’ll believe you. And when she believes you, suddenly it’s true. The worry makes people sick.”

“It’s your criterion velocity being unsatisfied. In other words, it’s not how you feel . . . it’s how you feel about how you feel.” 

“What I like most about curiosity as an analogy for sex is that it means your partner is not an animal to be hunted for sustenance, but a secret keeper whose hidden depths are infinite. Sexual boredom can happen only if you’re no longer curious.”

“They both are—depending, I think, on how you conceptualize “desire.” Remember back in chapter 3, the distinction between eagerness and enjoying? 

For Perel, desire is eagerness. Wanting. Seeking. Craving. The discrepancy-reducing pursuit of a goal, to put it in romantic terms. And for Gottman and the couples in the research he cites, desire has more to do with enjoying. Holding. Savoring. Allowing. 

Exploring this moment together, noticing what it is like, and like it. If you’ll allow a food metaphor, Perel’s style is about hunger as the secret sauce that makes a meal delicious. 

Gottman’s is about arriving home from work and cooking dinner with your partner, having a glass of wine while you cook, feeding each other all the strawberries you meant to keep for dessert, then sitting down together and savoring every mouthful. 

In the Perel style, you come to your partner with your fire already stoked. In the Gottman style, you stoke each other’s fire.”

“In season 2 of the Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows, theater director Geoffrey Tennant coaches a pair of young actors struggling to play Romeo and Juliet. 

He tells them to run as fast as they can around the block, chasing each other, then intermittently do push-ups while breathlessly painting their way through the text of the balcony scene. 

“Juliet’s” assessment of how this technique changes her appreciation for the text: “Wow it’s just . . . passionate, it’s . . . really poetic, but it’s really, um, sexual, too,” she gasps.”

“Strategy 1: Stuff That Raises Your Heart Rate.” 

“Strategy 2: Meaningful Challenges.”

Part 4 – Ecstasy For Everybody

Orgasm: The Fantastic Bonus

The most pleasurable orgasms happen when every part of you is present and collaborating in pursuit of one shared goal: ecstasy.

Meta-Emotions: The Ultimate Sex-Positive Context

“But perhaps the biggest challenge is that when the map and the terrain don’t match, our brains try to make the map true, forcing our experience into the shape of the map. “No, no, this is the trail,” we say as we stumble through the thicket. “It says so on the map.”

“When the map (the script) doesn’t seem to fit the terrain (your experience), the map is wrong, not the terrain. • Everyone’s terrain and everyone’s map are different from everyone else’s.” 

“What these two rules mean is that your best source of knowledge about your sexuality is your own internal experience. When you notice disagreement between the terrain and the map—and everyone does, at some point—always assume your body is right. 

And assume everyone’s body is different from yours—as are everyone’s maps. Which means everyone’s journey from lost traveler to master navigator will be different.”

“We’re an example of how even genetically identical gardens, planted with very similar seeds, may still grow into very different terrains. It turns out she’s got a slightly more sensitive brake than I do, and I’ve got a slightly more sensitive accelerator. 

So perhaps the Media Message was a slightly better fit for my native sexuality and the Moral Message a slightly better fit for Amelia’s, and so different ideas took root and grew.” 

“I used to think that it was the awareness of your internal state that mattered, but in study after study, “observation” of the internal state is not a significant predictor of wellbeing. No, the best meta-emotion predictor of wellbeing is a variable known as “nonjudge.”

“Symptoms, nor were they more aware of their internal state—the “observe” factor. Nope. The people who were less impacted by their symptoms were those who were more nonjudging! 

In other words, it isn’t the symptoms that predict how much anxiety disrupts a person’s life, it’s how a person feels about those symptoms. It’s not how you feel—it’s not even being aware of how you feel. 

It’s how you feel about how you feel. And people who feel nonjudging about their feelings do better.” 

“Emotion coaching teaches you that • You can recognize lower intensity emotions so that you can manage them before they escalate. • Negative emotions are a natural response to negative life events. 

Because negative life events are sometimes inevitable, so are negative emotions. • Because negative emotions are a normal part of life, they are discussed, given names, and empathized with. 

“It’s normal that sometimes it feels hard,” “When you feel bad, we love you just as much as when you feel good,” and “You cry all you need to, honey.”  Your sadness, anger, and fear are signs of being human.”

“Emotion dismissing, on the other hand, teaches you that feelings aren’t a tunnel, they’re a cave . . . with a river of cyanide . . . and a thousand rats . . . in the dark. Where you’ll be trapped forever. So whatever you do, KEEP OUT.”

“But uncomfortable feelings happen. They are the normal, healthy response to negative life events. When you experience injustice, anger happens. When you experience a loss, sadness happens

When you experience obstacles in your progress toward a goal, frustration happens. When you experience a threat, fear happens. 

And even if you only anticipate any of these things, you may very well experience the emotion, and it will be just as uncomfortable as if the thing were actually happening.” 

“there’s no point feeling it.” Yes, there is. The point of feeling a feeling you can’t do anything about is to let it discharge, complete the cycle so that it can end.”

”All I can tell you,” I said, “is that everything you’re experiencing, all the contradictory feelings and all the pain, is a normal part of the healing process. 

Everyone goes through it differently, and there’s no way to know how long it will last. It sucks for a while, and then gradually it gets better. But I can tell you this for sure: Every single survivor I’ve ever known has found their way through it.”

“Neither of you chose your feelings—but both of you choose how you feel about those feelings.” 

“Feelings aren’t dangerous . . . though they can be used dangerously. One of the central messages in emotion dismissing meta-emotions is that feelings are inherently dangerous—toxic and hurtful to yourself and the people around you. 

People may believe this if they grew up in a world where people used feelings to injure or manipulate others—and using your feelings to deliberately hurt people is against the rules. Most important: You’re not allowed to use your own feelings to injure or manipulate yourself! (Self-compassion!) 

Nor are you allowed to use them to injure or manipulate your partner or others—and other people, including your partner, aren’t allowed to use them against you, either.” 

“This is as literal as it gets: It’s not how you feel (pain). It’s how you feel (tolerant or not) about how you feel.” 

“Human experience, that what’s on our map is the same as what is on other people’s maps. “We’re all just trying to belong somewhere.” We want to know that we are safe within the bounds of shared Remember what Camilla said way back in chapter 1: belong. 

I think that to feel normal is to feel that you. Why is normal the goal? What do people really want when they want to be normal?” 

“And finally, she became much gentler with herself when she noticed herself being self-critical about her body or feeling guilty about pleasure. She didn’t say to herself, “Stop it!” She just thought, “Yup. There are the self-critical thoughts again.” She practiced nonjudgment.” 

“It’s not how you feel. It’s how you feel about how you feel.” 


“We live in a Top 5 Tips world, where there are twelve new techniques for mind-blowing fellatio each month, followed by six sexy new positions he’s always wanted to try. This world is full of fun, exciting, entertaining things that draw and hold our attention. 

But the structure of the truth is quieter, slower, more personal, and so much more interesting than mere entertainment. 

And it lives exclusively inside you, in the quiet moments of joy, in the jarring moments of worry, in the torn moments when the flock that is you is trying simultaneously to fly away from a threat and toward pleasure.” 

Book Review (Personal Opinion):

This book is trying to be many things and because of that, it fails at all of them. It’s trying to be a little it of Gottman and Perel and at the same time tries to be Mark Manson, but it fails at all of them. 

If you want to learn self-compassion, read Mark Manson. If you want to read about having a good marriage, read John Gottman. If you want to read about desire and sex, read Esther Perel. 

Also, Nagoski makes plenty of Pre/Trans Fallacies. I would recommend you to skip this book altogether. 

Rating: 4/10

This Book Is For (Recommend):

  • A gender-studies student
  • Someone who enjoys arrogant humor 
  • Anyone who wants to see that citing a lot of studies doesn’t make a good book

If You Want To Learn More

Here’s Emily Nagoski on a podcast discussing the book. 
Dirt in Your Skirt

How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book

There’s a single good sentence from this book: 
It’s not how you feel, it’s how you feel about how you feel. 

One Small Actionable Step You Can Do

Next time you have an emotion, observe what it is and try not to judge that emotion. Let it do its thing and it will pass. 

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski - Summary Infographic