Some thoughts on books related to sexuality that I’ve read recently:
Mating in Captivity, by Esther Perel (2007)
This book uses case studies to highlight challenges that couples in long term relationships have maintaining a healthy sex life. Esther provides a great perspective in realistic ways that many people can relate to. Most of the relationships are heterosexual, and seem to represent a middle/upper class population. The audience for this book is really adults in general, and there are probably plenty of people that may benefit from reading this book. My favorite chapter was the one on fantasy, offering a fresh take on a common, yet often unacknowledged topic.
Not Under my Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex, by Amy Schalet (2011)
Not Under my Roof uses Amy Schalet’s research with parents and teens in the US and the Netherlands to reflect on the similarities and differences of attitudes about sexuality. The main question asked of parents was would you allow your teenage son/daughter to have their boyfriend/girlfriend spend the night. The book starts out very academic, although once you get into the testimonials, it is more accessible. Overall, the book offers perspective on cultural difference, and a bit of ‘where did this cultural attitude about sex come from’, but not so much what do we do about it.
Yes Means Yes! Visions of female sexual power & a world without rape by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti (2008)
Yes means Yes is a collection of essays written by feminists, bloggers, educators, academics, and individuals with a vested interest in changing the way we talk about rape. The essays range from very personal accounts of being sexually victimized to very heady academic approaches to preventing rape, and more importantly, talking about consent. I feel like this book is an essential text for anyone even thinking about teaching about sex, and maybe even anyone thinking about sex! It’s also an approachable read, since if you struggle with one essay, it doesn’t go on forever! But seriously, this book is a critical publication in the effort to examine how violence impacts someone’s capacity to experience pleasure, and to move towards a more sex-positive society.
Big Sex, Little Death by Susie Bright (2011)
Big Sex, Little Death is a memoir by Susie Bright, an influential feminist, most known for her role in helping produce On Our Backs, the first female-produced erotic magazine in the US. In the book, Susie talks about her childhood and the influence of some key young adult experiences that shaped her. However, it’s less about erotica, sexuality, and feminism than one would suspect- there’s more about being a radical and a communist than there is about being a pioneer in the field of sexuality.
A Mind of Its Own: A cultural history of the penis by David M. Friedman (2001)
A Mind of Its Own is exactly what the subtitle says- a cultural history of the penis. Friedman leaves no stone uncovered when looking for descriptors of the penis, and various cultural obsessions with the penis. The book is like a string of facts and factoids from throughout history, and at times overly detailed and disturbing. It’s chock full of random tidbits though, and a few things included in this book have come up since then (such as the story behind the photo titled, Man in the Polyester Suit), so I can’t say it’s irrelevant.
What Do Women Want? by Daniel Bergner (2013)
In this book Bergner responds to the age-old question, what do women want, by highlighting results from a range of research efforts. Bergner’s journalistic approach makes the book read far more than a journal article though, and has a story-telling feel to it since he shares his own experiences doing research on the research. It’s a thought-provoking read, tackling issues of gender and stereotypes about sexual activity and performance. However, it remains a book about women written by a man, which some people may take issue with!
The Feminist Porn Book: The politics of producing pleasure Edited by Tristan Taormino, Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Constance Penley, Mireille Miller-Young (2013)
The Feminist Porn Book is a series of 26 essays written by people who produce porn, make porn, sell porn, and study porn- a unique combination of viewpoints that are both critical of the mainstream porn industry and in search of a more ‘feminist’ approach to pornography. (It’s NOT a book filled with porn, it’s a book about porn!) While I would prefer the title to be the Ethical Porn Book, because I found that so many of the arguments made in the book really point to a question of ethics, not feminism, I appreciated learning about the history and politics of the porn industry that would be hard to come by otherwise. I have found myself recommending this book regularly, and inspired me to write the values clarification lesson plan Porn, Porn, Everywhere!, published in the curriculum Sex Ed in the Digital Age.
Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us by Jesse Bering (2013)
Perv is a walk through time with lots of stories of deviant behavior. Another book that will be loved by those who like random tidbits and facts. The content will most likely make anyone who isn’t having sex with animals feel like their sexual experiences are incredibly vanilla. Jesse Bering is clearly a journalist, though, and I felt like he was wagging his tail and showing off about what stories he could tell. I should disclose that I only made it through chapter 5 (out of 7).
The Ethical Slut: a practical guide to polyamory, open relationships and other adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy (2009)
The Ethical Slut is considered one of the bibles of polyamory. I’ve heard people suggest that couples who are in an open relationship (or want to be) should sit down with this book together with a highlighter and pen ready and use it as a way to construct their relationship. This book had been on my to-read list for a long time, and I’m glad I read it- it’s an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning anything about polyamory, or even healthy relationships in general. There are some golden suggestions on communication and handling feelings of jealousy, as well as establishing boundaries. However, along with those suggestions you’ll hear quite a bit about the authors’ experiences with polyamory with their multiple partners, and each other! My take home about this book- it’s not just for the polyamorous!
The Whipping Girl: a transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity by Julia Serano (2007)
The Whipping Girl is a book about transsexual and transgender-identified individuals, by a transsexual. Julia Serano offers her own personal experiences as a take-off point to explore gender, sexism, and transphobia in a myriad of ways. This is a pretty big-thinking book, and encourages the reader (even a reader with a strong background in sexuality and sexual health) to think critically and in new ways about how society treats gender, especially how gender is related to trans-identities. There’s also a ton of history about how the psychological field has treated trans patients that has truly stuck with me. I’ll remember and use this book often in my work- although it IS 362 pages, so you might want to read it in batches!
New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation by Chris Bobel (2010)
New Blood is a book about feminism, using menstruation and menstruation products as a platform to review the movement. In my opinion, this academic book requires determination and focus to get through, and is not for the feint-of-heart. It is incredibly insightful and informative- I learned a lot about the iterations of feminism (unfortunately, I did not take any feminist theory classes in school, so much of the content was new for me, but might not be for those who were women’s studies majors). This book IS available as a PDF that you can download from the internet, so you don’t have to pay $58 for it. But then you have to read it on a screen, rather than my preferred reading experience, on paper.
The Wimp Factor: gender gaps, holy wars & the politics of anxious masculinity by Stephen J. Ducat (2004)
Masculinity is one of those topics that I believe needs to be addressed as much as possible. An often overlooked influence, Stephen Ducat reviews masculinity in politics. He makes some interesting observations that have been staring us in the face, hidden in plain sight. While a little difficult to get into in the beginning, once you’re in, you’re in! I particularly appreciated his chapter, Vaginas with Teeth and Castrating First Ladies. This book isn’t just about men, it’s about how anxious masculinity impacts society’s view of women, particularly women with power.
The Sex Diaries Project: What we’re saying about what we’re doing by Arianne Cohen (2012)
The Sex Diaries Project is exactly what is sounds like, a collection of sex diaries- anonymous diaries from around the globe, representing seven days of sex in an individual’s life. This book includes excerpts from about 40 diaries, along with some commentary and analysis. Some of the entries are just entries, and don’t give much explicit descriptions, and some you may blush if you’re reading this book on the subway! In addition to the stories that may inspire or irk you, Arianne Cohen describes three general types of relationships- lovers, partners, and aspirers. This framework is fresh, and is basically based on tons of qualitative research (although university-based researchers may disagree, but whatever!), so warrants our attention! This is a quick, engaging read that will encourage the reader to think about their own relationships and ‘diary’!