Emily Nagoski: An Interview about her workbook Come As You Are

Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and wrote a book called Come As You Are which was about how women can take back the shame and everything else that went along with intimacy. Women learn practical ways to enjoy and feel confident. In her workbook she writes out different ways and exercises to try alone and with a partner. There are even worksheets from the book listed on her website for free you can print out.

Here is Emily’s interview with me about her Come As You Are Workbook.

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Who are you and what do you do? 

I'm Emily. I'm a sex educator.

Emily on left and her sister Amelia on right posing for their latest book “Burnout” Photo courtesy of Emily

Emily on left and her sister Amelia on right posing for their latest book “Burnout” Photo courtesy of Emily

What made you come up with a workbook for Come as you are? 

Almost as soon as Come As You Are was published, I started hearing from therapists telling me they were "prescribing" the book to their clients, and from people who wanted to share what they learned from CAYA with their partners... but their partners were never going to want to read a hundred thousand words about affective neuroscience and all that stuff.


So I wrote the workbook as a practical guide to the science, for people who just want to make their sex lives better, today.

Why is it important and relevant that women have a safe place to write out their thoughts about their intimate lives? 

I have so many big feelings just reading that question and recognizing that the answer isn't instantly and powerfully self-evident to every person on Earth. Oh gosh. We live in a culture where, for millennia, women's bodies were the literal legal property of men. Only in the last hundred years have we begun to achieve anything approaching... not even equality, but just basic bodily autonomy. When was marital rape finally outlawed in the US and UK? 1991, 1992.  

If, on the day you're born, all the adults around you go, "It's a girl!" from that day on, you're told that you have a moral duty to be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others, sacrificing everything you have - your time, attention and affection, your hopes and dreams, your body, your very life - on the altar of other people's comfort and convenience. The workbook is a tool to help women build a relationship with their own body and sexuality based not on what other people want from them, not on "performing" sexuality the way a cultural script says they're supposed to, but based on what actually feels good inside their bodies. Women's pleasure - especially their sexual pleasure - is a revolutionary force because it defies the idea that a woman's body exists for anyone but herself. 

Women deserve and require all the opportunities they can get their hands on, to reclaim their own bodies, to value the pleasure their body can experience, and to explore what contexts in their lives facilitate that pleasure. Creating those opportunities is what I do for a living.

 What was the most empowering chapter you created in this book? 

They're all empowering, and which chapter is most empowering will vary from reader to reader. College age women have their mind blown by chapter 6, the arousal nonconcordance chapter, while women who've been in a relationship for many years find chapter 7, the desire chapter completely transformative. For myself, it's chapter 2, the chapter about the brain mechanism that governs sexual response, that changed my life.


 Why are you passionate about telling others about female sexuality? 

I honestly don't know why, of all the issues in the world, this is the one that I'm committed to. I think we all have a "Something Larger" to connect with, to create meaning in our lives. My Something Larger is teaching women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies. I don't know why, but that's what brings me to life.

 What challenges did you have when creating this book? 

I love the science. I want to talk about the science. This book was not about the science, it was about applying the lessons of the science to each reader's individual experience, so I had to cut sooooo muuuuuuch science. It was agony. I just had to tell myself readers could go read Come As You Are for the science.

 How did you come up with the concept of "sex-positive" outlook? 

I didn't come up with "sex positivity" in general, of course; that concept has been around for decades. (By my definition, to be "sex positive" as an educator and a person simply means that I believe unequivocally that every person gets to decide when and how they are touched.)


But I use the phrase "sex-positive context," hyphenated, to describe contexts that allow your brain to interpret the world as a safe, fun, sexy, pleasurable place. It comes from research in both animals and humans that shows how the brain interprets a sensation differently, depending on the context. Take tickling. If you're in a sexy state of mind, flirting and romping with your certain special someone, they might be able to tickle you, and it would feel fun and good and lead to other things. But if that same certain special someone tried to tickle you when you were pissed off at them... you'd want to punch them in the face.


It's the same sensation, but your brain interprets it differently because the context is different. A big part of the CAYA workbook is thinking through what contexts let your brain interpret a sensation as sexy and pleasurable - what I call "sex-positive contexts" - and what contexts make your brain interpret sensations as anything else, then working toward a plan that lets you create more sex-positive contexts in your life.

 What's next? 

This year I also published a book about stress called BURNOUT, which I wrote with my twin sister Amelia. It's for women who feel overwhelmed and exhausted by everything they have to do, yet still worry they're not doing "enough."  I'm spending a lot of the year traveling with Amelia, teaching about burnout.




Fun questions

1.If you were stranded on an abandoned island what five items would you have with you? (no rules)

No rules? (1) a fully fueled airplane (2) a pilot (3) kwells (motion sickness medication) (4) my phone, fully charged (5) a pair of headphones. The phone and headphones are so I can listen to audiobooks on the flight home. 



2. If you could have coffee with anyone in history who would it be? 

I'm gonna say Alfred Kinsey. I'd want to tell him all about the sex research that has happened since he died, and I'd want to ask him what it felt like to do his research, about the complicated and specific balance a sex researcher like him would have to have, between absolute nonjudgment and clear critical thinking, to put together tiny pieces of data into a larger picture.