Nov 032011

Arrite people. I’m now listening to Michael Pollen’s In Defense of Food: an eater’s manifesto, and it constitutes the fifth book I’ve read that says that really it’s the refined carbohydrates – flour and sugar, basically – that cause heart disease and overfat. (See also Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, and At Home by Bill Bryson, and best of all Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy by Walter Willett, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and therefore no wackanutty journalist but an honest-to-god expert.)

Now, this idea has been around a long time and there have been books written about it for several decades, but only now is it seeping so thoroughly into the mainstream that even *I* am unable to avoid it.

I, like you, grew up hearing that it was the fat in our diets that caused the negative health consequences (this is “the lipid hypothesis”), and it is simultaneously appalling and liberating to learn that that is wrong. It’s a revolution, and yet it makes perfect sense and feels very, very good.

Can you tell I’ve been reading a lot, and a lot about health? I’m totally That Crazy Lady with the Nutrition and Exercise Books. I always have been. My mother was an aerobic teacher before I was born (the fitness club was called a “figure salon” then) and sprinkled wheat germ on our food; there was a rotating library of diet and exercise books in the house; we watched PBS specials about food and exercise science (Covert Bailey FTW!)

But there were no sex books!! None! Despite that being a central component of my wellbeing as a person. (There were also no books or PBS specials about sleep, about which I’ve been reading a great deal and have strong feelings, but this is a sex blog. So.)

So tell me, peoples of the interweb: where are the revolutionary, liberating sex books?

What are you reading that makes you go, “Oh my god, I’ve been lied to, I’ve been manipulated, I’ve been made to believe things that have actually hurt me, when the truth is that all I need to do is be like a monkey!” or “Holy crap, all this time I’ve been worried about THE WRONG THINGS – and actually the main thing is I just need to worry less!” or “Ohhhhhhhhhhh… christ, if someone had told me this 10 years ago, I’d be in a really different place right now.”

Seriously. Tell me. I’m desperate to know.

Example of why I’m desperate to know: A week or two ago, I watched students reading Paul Joanides’ bewitching Guide to Getting It On (which is one of the textbooks for my class) and learning the kinds of things I forget people need to learn: what is erotica? Why is he in a wheelchair? What exactly is a vagina? I had no idea you could do it in so many positions!

Despite being intelligent, highly educated, and mostly middle-class or higher women, they were, to an astonishing degree, absolute, utter beginners. Through no fault of their own – no one ever told them this stuff, and shame on the world for allowing that to be true!

Indeed, I’ve gotten frustrated in the past because the occasional student will tell me, “Well I didn’t learn anything new [in your TWO HOUR LECTURE THAT IT TOOK YOU 10 HOURS TO WRITE, DURING WHICH PROCESS EVEN YOU, THE BONA FIDE EXPERT, LEARNED SOME STUFF]. But it was nice to have the review.” If you fail to learn anything during one of my lectures, you really, truly, seriously, are not paying attention.

But I don’t hear from the students who are sitting there having their mind blow by stuff that I assume everyone already knows – like what a vagina is, what erotica is, that people in wheelchairs have sex, etc.

So what is there in the world these days that lifting the veil and changing/improving the way you think about your sexuality? (And I’m most interested in the ones that improve just that, YOUR sexuality, as opposed to changing the way you think about sex culturally. The food books talk about the cultural/infrastructure issues related to food, but that’s not as important for my day-to-day life.)

I think Sexual Fluidity (a chapter of which is in my course reader) might be one of them.

What else? Tell me, tell me!

Emily Nagoski

  36 Responses to “what are the sex books”

Comments (36)
  1. Not a recent one, but my go to book for the basics is “What Your Mother Never Told You About Sex” by Hilda Hutcherson.

  2. Ok here we go: Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston – covers it ALL. Urban Tantra by Barbara Carrellas for the silly, mindful attention to bodies & the idea that sex is physical & needs a warm-up. Those 2 books changed my whole sexview for the better.

    Then, reading Full Exposure by Susie Bright for the emotional growth parts of sex & how really, it’s all about imagination & our bodies, not anything we can *buy*.

  3. Also Jaclyn Friedman just put out What You Really Really Want about sex & safety, not just what we’re told to want, but I haven’t started reading it yet.

  4. God, yes to “Sexual Fluidity.”

    I will also be forever thankful for growing up with my mother’s battered copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (introduction to masturbation AND same-sex relationships!). And while it didn’t come out until I was in my twenties, I am still grateful for Heather Corinna’s “S.E.X.” for being a sexual health book that begins with the premise of inclusivity of sex and gender identities and experiences.

    • My mother handed me Our Bodies, Ourselves when I was a young teenager, because she thought I’d find it interesting and/or useful.

      It was amazingly empowering, reading so many different women’s experiences, and also being exposed to the idea that people can have different, but still valid, experiences from those that outsiders might expect.

  5. Honestly, just this blog. I went back and read every single post, then passed it to my lady, and my closest friends. It has been most useful to me, and I am very grateful that you took the time to write all of this. So from me, and all my friends, thank you Emily.

  6. For me too, it was Heather Corinna’s S.E.X, especially the parts about relationships. The idea that there is no obligation to have them in any particular way, be it forced modesty or forcedly-liberated wildness [spontaneous modestly and spontaneously-liberated wildness are allright :) ], and that I am, for real, permitted to have the inhibitions, too, and to not go further that I want to… has blowed my mind. That book is incredibly good at inclusion and acceptance. I wish I had found it earlier.

  7. For me, the book that really turned the light over my head on was Jack Morin’s The Erotic Mind.

    Then, later, the matched set of The New Topping Book and the New Bottoming Book by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton.

  8. Wasn’t Sex At Dawn a major mainstream hit recently, like Good Calories Bad Calories, etc?

    Also, I would be very surprised if the carbohydrate hypothesis holds up in the long run any better than the lipid hypothesis. There frequently seem to be explosions of popular media revolving around the espousing of an idea that’s not taken terribly seriously by scientists on the subject. See Whole Health Source, the blog for his commentary about Good Calories/Bad Calories.

  9. I forgot to mention Shere Hite’s “The Hite Report.” I realize it’s very 70s and that her methodology has been challenged from a sociological perspective. But what was so valuable for me about it was all the first-person testimony about what it feels like to orgasm and what specific women did/do to experience it. It was reading their first-person accounts that finally helped me understand how to pay attention to my own physiological responses and encourage them successfully so that I was able to come. I know it sounds hoplessly intellectualized … but I’m so grateful that the book existed and I was able to get my hands on a copy. It truly was liberating!

    • In my first week in college, I sat in the sex section of the university library and read The Hite Report from cover to cover – well almost, since there were chunk of it removed! Totally normalized my own sexuality and introduced me to the great diversity (yet normality) of other women’s sexual experiences. So good.

  10. We’ve been married 12 years and have recently decided to pursue “swinging” (aka “The Lifestyle”). Being science geeks ourselves, we decided to read some books on the subject before jumping in. We can’t say enough positive things about The Swinger Manual by Just Ask Julie. So much helpful advice about how to keep your committed relationship strong and top priority when venturing out as a couple into sexual relations with others. The book is great at helping you to think through your motivations or potential hang-ups to decide whether or not the LS is a good choice for you, your partner and your relationship. We feel like reading the book, talking it over (and then talking it over a ton more) and actually being involved with another couple has only improved our communication, closeness and intimacy, which we were both very satisfied with before! Excellent book!

  11. SEX IS FUN is wonderful, and on Amazon. Its comic book style makes it fun to read, while its inclusion of ideas for gay people reduces my discomfort with gays. My wife and I have had lots of fun, learned a lot, and look forward to further reading.

  12. Em and Lo’s guide to sexual ettiquite, I forget the name. It was funny, and I think all sex books should be funny.

  13. You, Emily, you change lives <3

  14. Everything by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton has been absolutely golden for me. I’ve also gotten a lot out of the On Our Backs guides.

  15. Your blog, Emily, has normalised my sexuality and also enabled me to start up dialogue with my party about stuff I hadn’t felt comfortable talking about. I’ve been able to say, hey read this, this is what I want to talk about. That has made all the difference to me. Thx

  16. I was 14 when I found The Joy of Sex, and it completely transformed my understanding of sex. I read it so many times that the book fell apart.

    And when I went to college I left it at home and my mum read it, and it completely transformed her understanding of sex too…

  17. I see the many things in the sex blogosphere, but no books in years. I can parse and make progress with the ideas in a short essay far more effectively than I can a full length book.

  18. “The Whole Lesbian Sex Book” blew my mind the first time I read it primarily for the illustrations, which feature all kinds of bodies. May be obvious, but seeing it in picture form made me realize, much too late that
    1) There is no platonic ideal of “sex” or “person having sex”
    2) Despite what I believed about myself, I’d been thinking and talking to myself as if there was.

  19. People have already suggested Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, but I’ll third: The Ethical Slut is one of my all time favorites, even for people not interested in consensual non-monogamy. S/M 101 is also good: the first half is excellent( lots of safety and why would you want to), the second half is just ok.

    Just as the Hite report for others, I found “My Secret Garden” by Nancy Friday: after that, I was pretty sure none of my thoughts were unusual!

    • SM101 definitely. So much good stuff about consent and having fun being compatible with being safe.

  20. “Joy of Sex” and “Our Bodies Ourselves”.

    Guess that kind of dates me now, doesn’t it?

  21. “Bisexuality, a reader and sourcebook” is the one that leaps to mind. That was one of the moments when I went “oh wow, *that’s* what it’s called”. I can’t recall whether “polyamory” as a word was used in that book but it also fed into my ideas.Of late it’s been “59 seconds” and “How to Be an Adult in Relationships”. I’m not sure I actually read sex books per se, I tend to get my sex ed from the internet and partners these days, and in the past from listening to people and watching. But relationship books definitely help improve my sex life. So far “Wild side sex” is proving less informative than even casually browsing the stickies on fetlife, making me glad I didn’t pay to see Midori present when I had the chance.

  22. Even before I started reading the comments from others I knew the answer. There is no modern book that truly does what can and should be done.

    Do not see this as a bad thing. Instead, see it as the open door that gives you the opportunity to walk in with that book. YOU can and should take up this challenge. Having been an avid reader for some time now I know you have the basic skills needed to do a fantastic job.

    To get the perfect book will take long hours and no doubt tons of research. But you love learning about sex so all that hard work will not be a chore. Quite the opposite. Get moving today writing that book we all want to read.


  23. Babeland’s book “Moregasms” is pretty amazing. It has great photos of real sex, talks about anatomy, disbands some myths, and also reinforces that orgasm doesn’t have to be the goal of good sex. Though, it’s a little hedro-centric. I also really love “Are We Having Fun Yet: An Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Sex by Marcie and Lisa Douglass. First, I think it’s awesome that sisters decided to write a book about sex together. It does a great job of explaining the similarities between female and male anatomy, which in my experience really helps people understand how to pleasure the opposite sex, because it helps you better imagine with your own body the stimulation a partner receives from certain actions. Though, it is a little outdated and the anatomy illustrations aren’t easy to decipher.

  24. Definitely Our Bodies Ourselves! I’m sure it’s been updated since then, but I read that thing cover to cover several times in late elementary school and junior high (early to mid 90s) and it really helped me get a handle on the whole “sexuality” thing.

    Looking forward to reading some of the books people have recommended here!

  25. It’s not a sex manual, but I like “Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships,” because it helped me understand my own errr…sometimes polygamous impulses apart from the usual moralizing about women having to “stand by her man.”

    • I’ve been trying to work myself up to reading Sex at Dawn, butinterviews I heard with one of the authors made me fear that it was just as bullshit as the models of human sexuality it refutes – in particular in paying attention to attachment (I was worried about it), and now I that have a copy of the book in my possession I looked in the index and attachment isn’t even listed at all. Does they talk about attachment? Please tell me they talk about attachment, because you really, seriously, definitely can’t understand human monogamy and non-monogamy without understanding attachment.

  26. The Multi-Orgasmic Man, by Mantak Chia and a co-author whose name I can’t remember right now permanently and for the better changed the way I understood my body and its pleasures, along with the way I think about sex in general.

  27. Two of note, recently:

    A Billion Wicked Thoughts (although I know it’s controversial in some quarters and the research is less than stellar), a book about examining internet porn and romance novels for clues to sexual desire and arousal among straight and gay men and women.

    And this one is blowing me away: Athol Kay’s Married Man Sex Life Primer. Kay’s a nurse and a figure of note in the Manosphere, and his blunt, casual style and nerdy explanations really bring the science of sex into practical reach for those of us without doctorates. It’s about the best male-friendly relationship and sex manual I’ve seen for straight men in years.

  28. When I was a teen it was easier to sneak in reading internet material than it was to sneak in books — my mother snooped in my room but was totally computer illiterate. I remember the FAQ being very enlightening indeed, as were the FAQs for the BDSM and foot fetish newsgroups. I got a surprisingly inclusive, sex-positive education that way, including the idea of enthusiastic consent.

  29. The Ethical Slut was totally life-changing for me, although these days I’m more likely to recommend Opening Up to folks exploring those ideas.
    Nothing But the Girl blew my mind when I found it in the university library. Thinking about it now I am wondering why I don’t own a copy…

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