I’m slowly but surely working my way through this book, Come as You Are, by Emily Nagoski. The book is a guide on female sexuality, written for women who struggle with sexual intimacy. The purpose of the book is to teach women to understand their own motivations and mental barriers in order to have and enjoy better sex. The book is divided into four parts, and I just finished the first part.

Part one is all about context, how the conditions of a setting and event can affect the way we respond to stimuli. In a neutral environment, positive stimuli encourages forward interest, excitement, and negative stimuli triggers backwards interest, fleeing or apprehension. However In a fully safe environment, negative stimuli can also trigger forward interest and enjoyment. This is why pain can be so pleasurable under the right settings. In a hostile environment, even pleasure can be a turn off. It triggers apprehension and disgust.

This has informed my wife and I significantly on some issues we’ve had. Without going into detail, our sex life hasn’t been what it used to be, and it wasn’t clear why until the book mentioned that a significant and exhausting event, such as a birth and the care of a newborn child, can leave a woman in a stressful context that makes any attempt at intimacy trigger that backwards interest. The exact stimuli that once would fire her up now causes revulsion and anxiety.

We not only had a birth and a baby that refused to sleep on his own, but also had the whopper event of my transition. Processing the grief my wife went through following my coming out has left her with very bad memories, even tho she is now well past her grief and we are significantly better as a couple. In short, my wife has been in a “hostile” context since January of 2017, so most of my attempts to initiate intimacy trigger that negative interest. It’s nothing wrong with her and it’s nothing wrong with me, it’s just a situation that we are in, and will resolve with time. This was very useful to know, but also not very surprising, we pretty much knew something like this was happening.

However, what really rocked my world was a revelation that came about myself. Before my transition there were several things, certain stimuli, that were always instant turn offs for me, things that made absolutely no sense. I could not stand to have my nipples touched during intimacy, for example, it just immediately made me feel uncomfortable. I also very strongly disliked giving oral to my wife, despite desperately wanting to because I love her and find her incredibly attractive. It induced a revulsion reflex in me that I simply could not sufficiently explain. I conjured reasons for it that best fit the feeling I had (aversion to bodily fluids, couldn’t stand getting hair in my mouth, felt claustrophobic, etc), but none of them really felt right.

Both of those things completely reversed after I started hormone therapy. Suddenly nipple play was awesome, and I could not get enough of going down on my wife. I got good at it, really good at it (thanks, Girl Sex 101). It made no sense, why did this thing that previously caused me so much distress suddenly become so loved? Once again I developed theories: Perhaps my own repressed desire to have a vagina caused me to resent hers and triggered some kind of jealous antipathy, which I wasn’t able to process until I accepted my own feelings.

Some of that still might be true, but now I know a better explanation. Context. My body was wrong, my brain was in a place that left it confused and scared, so stimuli that it wanted to enjoy made it freak the fuck out. Accepting myself as a woman and starting transition freed me from that bad context, and switching estrogen pushed me into a safe environment. I now get turned on at the drop of a hat, I’m practically in a constant state of desire for my wife (it’s actually kinda frustrating).

In the introduction, the author explicitly says that she doesn’t know if this book is useful for trans women, because there just hasn’t been enough research in that area. Well, I can say definitely, yes, it is already helping me, and I’m not even a quarter of the way into the book. Thank you, Emily, you have solved the biggest mystery of my entire transition.