I love reading books about sex! Whether they’re books about sexual politics, how-to sex books, BDSM books, relationship guides, position guides, sexy graphic novels, erotica, you name it, if it’s writing about sex, I want to know more!
This summer, I’ve had the chance to read a handful of new books to the Spectrum collection. Some of the books really resonated with me, others weren’t right for my personal collection, but I think there are gems in all of them that may apply to different audiences and for different needs. Check out my honest takes on these hot reads, which include: A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability, Sex From Scratch, Hurts So Good, Sex Again, and Daily Sex.
A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability by A. Andrews
A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability is all of the things its title claims to be and so much more. This approachable comic by Queer disabled cartoonist A. Andrews packs a wealth of disability education, sex and sexuality information, accessibility tips, myth-busting, sex-positivity, and more into a beautifully illustrated 70-page book.
Written by a disabled person with input from other disabled people and for disabled people and their disabled and non-disabled partners, this book is at once a practical how-to sex guide and a love letter to the richness of disabled sexuality. It starts with the simple and bold statement of fact: “Disabled people have sex!” and takes the reader through a learning journey about disability sexuality.
Andrews’ style feels intentionally accessible to people with different levels of understanding of disability, sexuality, and their overlap.
All too often, writing about disabled people and sexuality is either clinical or focused on traumas and disempowerment. Something I loved about the book was the emphasis on pleasure, desire, needs, and wants. Andrews’ style feels intentionally accessible to people with different levels of understanding of disability, sexuality, and their overlap. Starting by defining disability as well as sexuality and gender spectrums, the author sets the tone for a guide that is uniquely inclusive and thoughtful.
Like all good writing about sex, this book includes sections on communication, self-exploration, and aftercare, including an activity sheet to guide readers through their personal learning experiences. The book doesn’t shy away from mentioning some of the rougher points of communication, including coping with rejection and conversations that might feel awkward with doctors or caretakers, for example. It also includes suggestions for able-bodied partners regarding language and what kinds of questions to ask to learn more about their disabled partners’ needs and preferences.
The “Getting Down” section of the book builds on the strong communication tips offered earlier. In this section, Andrews talks about some of the practical considerations for getting down, like getting set up in a physical space, supplies, lube, barriers, and more. The subsequent sections on positioning and sex toys give us a primer for ways to use positioning pillows and toys for sexual accessibility and pleasure. In this section, Andrews also covers different access considerations based on different types of disabilities, offering some recommendations along the way.
This book can serve as a very basic but comprehensive introduction to disability sexuality for both disabled and able-bodied people.
I consider “A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability” to be essential reading for everyone. This book can serve as a very basic but comprehensive introduction to disability sexuality for both disabled and able-bodied people. The resource list at the end of the book makes really solid suggestions for further reading and podcasts to help you go a little deeper in your understanding of disability, disability justice, and disability sexuality.
Sex From Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules by Sarah Mirk
When I cracked open Sex From Scratch to look through the table of contents, I realized that this collection of essays was bound to be engaging and filled with bits of polyamory and other relationship wisdom. The list of authors is star-studded with sexuality and relationship experts that span generations, relationship styles, and experiences. With essays by Ev’Yan Whitney, Aya de Leon, Erika Moen, Michelle Tea, Betty Dodson, and many other writers and educators, this book covers a range of crucial relationship issues, from joyful singlehood to intentional partnership, to breakups and everything in between.
I particularly appreciated the first section of the book, Loving Being Single. This section isn’t just about what it means to not be in a relationship; it really focuses on what different kinds of connections are possible when you don’t compromise your own needs or desires. The essays in this section got me thinking about why we settle or shrink our needs to be in a relationship. It got me digging deep within myself about compulsory coupling and why we gravitate towards partnership even when our needs aren’t compatible.
With sections on feminist relationships and the messiness of gender, this book addresses issues of misogyny, gendered relationship expectations, race and gender, transitioning, and disrupting patriarchal expectations within and around relationships. The section on navigating open relationships offers a couple of different nuggets to think about, from examples of possible relationship structures to reminders about the importance of boundaries and saying no, to tips about staying connected to long-distance lovers, and more.
What are the possibilities if we don’t step onto the relationship escalator that says we meet “the one,” fall in love, get married, and have babies?
We’ve probably all heard a good deal about how younger generations are getting married less and having fewer or no children. Sex From Scratch has sections on being childless by choice and making the decision to not get married which offer the perspective of what happens when our relationship styles or life paths don’t follow a script (and from a multigenerational set of writers). What are the possibilities if we don’t step onto the relationship escalator that says we meet “the one,” fall in love, get married, and have babies?
The book closes with a section about breakups. How do we know when it’s time to end a relationship? What can we do to prepare for a breakup? How do we navigate the loss and grief of ending a partnership or romantic connection?
Sarah Mirk continues the thread that feels consistent throughout all of the essays in this section: it’s important to stay tuned in to your needs and honor them, to prioritize your happiness and wellbeing. Breaking up is hard and can sometimes uproot big parts of your life, but as all of the writers remind us throughout this book, staying true to yourself and what you need and desire should be at the center of building your relationships, regardless of what your relationship style is.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to ... expand their understanding of relationships, and not just romantic ones.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to do some reading to help expand their understanding of relationships, and not just romantic ones. With such a diversity of voices and a range of topics, this book contains some wisdom for many readers who are interested in breaking the relationship mold.
Hurts So Good by Leigh Cowart
Hurts So Good is a stunning delve into the world of pain on purpose. Author Leigh Cowart brings together their experience as a science journalist with their own interest in pain for pleasure to create a well-rounded picture of the biology, psychology, and eroticism of intentional pain.
Cowart covers a range of historical and scientific subjects that are all joined together by the common thread of pain.
In Hurts So Good, Cowart covers a range of historical and scientific subjects that are all joined together by the common thread of pain. Cowart sets the tone for this exploration by defining a normalizing description of masochism, “Today when I use the word masochist, I am describing something universal, timeless, human: the deliberate act of choosing to feel bad to the feel better. To feel pain on purpose.” they write, “People have long used this tactic, consenting to suffer so that they can enjoy the deliberately engineered biochemical relief that follows painful stimuli. It’s not weird. And it’s not rare.”
Here we begin to understand why an action that can feel terrible in one setting can feel so delicious in others.
Cowart explains in a thorough yet somehow accessible way the difference between nociception and pain. In this exploration, they (and we, the readers) are left to muse upon the revelation that while nociception is a neurological response, pain is subjective. They continue this exploration with a group of scientists comparing the ways self-identified masochists’ brains respond to painful stimuli. Here we begin to understand why an action that can feel terrible in one setting can feel so delicious in others.
In addition to this neurological approach to studying masochism, the author also takes us through historical accounts of pain before some sort of pleasure or relief. They cover, for instance, religious self-flagellants and ascetics. Paired with this historical exploration, they share stories of both erotic and non-erotic examples of masochism. Notably, they share the stories of a Muay Thai fighter and former fellow ballerina, a competitive chili pepper eater, ultramarathoners, and more.
Cowart also writes about something that I think has come up as a question for many of us who enjoy pain: where is the line between self-harm and pain that is benign? The stories shared in this section and the questions posed by the author engage the reader in a conversation about harm and boundaries.
This exploration is at once a scientific and social journey and a personal one.
Throughout the book, the author weaves in stories about their own personal experiences and desires that make the story feel relatable and personal. This exploration is at once a scientific and social journey and a personal one through which they are understanding their own desire and eroticism. And the stories shared are sexy, intimate, and in many ways, quite sweet.
Hurts So Good is an excellent read for those of us who enjoy pain. While reading this book, I was able to make a lot of connections that aligned with some things I just kind of speculated about before in exploring my own experience with intentional pain. It was an interesting way of understanding the biochemical and neurological responses we experience through pleasurable pain and within the social, relational, and romantic context in which we do the thing we do. I would highly recommend this book to sadists, masochists, pain-curious people, and anyone who is interested in learning more about how pain works.
Daily Sex is an illustrated book of sex positions and activities. True to its title, this book offers 365 options of sexy things to try. If you’re ambitious, you might be getting busy every night of the year. A perk of this book is that it doesn’t have dates, so you don’t have to wait until the new year to resolve to try something new in the bedroom.
When I first saw the book, I assumed it would be a novelty book with impossible, gravity-defying positions, relegated to being a gag gift at a white elephant party. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the content of this book, beginning with a thoughtful introduction.
Seddon encourages readers to step outside their routines and try new things in an attempt to build more intimacy and connection with their partners.
To set the tone for the book, author Jane Seddon writes about the importance of consent and being able to change your mind even if you have committed to having daily sex, checking in with yourself about what you’re interested in trying, and making adjustments to meet your needs. Seddon encourages readers to step outside their routines and try new things in an attempt to build more intimacy and connection with their partners.
The positions illustrated throughout the book assume a certain level of mobility, but they are intended to be a little more accessible than other more acrobatic positions in different position guides. You don’t have to be an athlete to try most of these out.
You might find that some of the positions look very similar but have slight variations, like, for example, how far apart one of the partner’s legs is spread or the angle at which they’re leaning. Though this might at times feel a little redundant, it can actually be a great exercise to learn things like what angles of penetration feel best for you or what slight adjustments might make a position easier to hold for extended periods of time.
This book is focused on PIV (penis in vagina) sex, and the language used in the book focuses on a male partner with a penis and a female partner with a vulva. I think many of the positions in the book could be adapted for strap-on or manual stimulation as well, but if you’re put off by cis and hetero language, I would not recommend this guide.
It’s clear that the intention of the book is to support couples in being playful together.
The tone of Jane Seddon’s writing is really playful in each of the descriptions of the positions. She uses humor without being off-putting and describes the details and benefits of the positions without getting boring. It’s clear that the intention of the book is to support couples in being playful together. I also appreciate that she doesn’t just focus on the details of getting into the position but also describes other areas of each other’s bodies that become accessible in different positions, with tips and suggestions on how to stimulate them.
I think this position book would be a fun addition for any couple that’s looking to shake up their sex routine and try out some new positions or sex games. It would also make a great anniversary gift or bachelorette gift, and it’s not even too serious to bring to that white elephant party anyway (just remember it’s NSFW)!
Sex Again: Recharging Your Libido by Jill Blakeway, LAc with Colleen Kapklein
Sex Again takes a multi-faceted approach to reawakening sexual connection for couples that are based primarily on Taoist teachings about sexual and erotic connection. In fairness to the author, I will admit that I realized right off the bat that I am not the intended audience for the book. Sex Again focuses on monogamous, heterosexual, cisgender couples. As someone who inhabits none of those identities, I did find most of the content irrelevant to my relationship style and needs, but it might meet yours!
The approach includes solo and partner work and is laid out in a 6-week plan (the Sex in Six plan).
If you happen to be a cis, straight, monogamous person in a relationship in which you wish to increase your sexual connection and have more sex, then this book may offer a structured approach with practical exercises and tips for increasing your libido and reigniting a sexual connection with your partner. The approach includes solo and partner work and is laid out in a 6-week plan (the Sex in Six plan). Stories from Blakeway’s clients sprinkled throughout the book help add context to the techniques she is describing and offer a perspective that feels personal and relatable. I might recommend this book for folks who need a tangible plan, but not without a few caveats.
Tips include everything from breathing exercises to masturbation techniques to food and herbal medicine recommendations.
Sex Again is written with a cis female reader as the main audience. Its approach guides women through some self-exploration first: finding the sources or your disconnection to your libido or sexual self, tips for managing stress and other Qi-blocking factors, and nourishing, increasing, and balancing yin and yang. The tips include everything from breathing exercises to masturbation techniques to food and herbal medicine recommendations.
My main caveat is that the author relates issues of self-esteem, stress, and arousal to yin deficiency without really taking into consideration all of the external factors that affect our relationships to body image, real-life issues that cause disproportionate stress, and relational issues that may be directly impacting how and when we become aroused. Admittedly, despite my philosophical differences with this framework, I did think that having exercises for self-reconnection, including very well-guided tips on touch and meditation, was really helpful, and the exercises were clearly and thoroughly explained.
They beckon male partners to also put in work to rekindle the sexual connection in their relationship.
The book’s many asides “for the guys” are written primarily by Blakeway’s husband. They offer complimentary tips and insights for cisgender male partners. The benefit of these sections is that they beckon male partners to also put in work to rekindle the sexual connection in their relationship, as well as encourage them to have a more mindful connection to their solo sex practices.
I found it pretty difficult to get through some of these sections because they assume that straight cis men have a less emotional connection to sex and sexuality than straight cis women and that men generally need or want to do less work. Though this is a very common way of thinking about male sexuality, I find it really limits the possibility of men having more complex relationships with their own sexuality, desire, and connection. I think the intention here is that the average male reader will find the tone and approach relatable, but I’m not sure it really hits that mark.
The Sex in Six plan builds throughout the book, with all of the phases building up to 2 versions of the plan, one that is done individually and one intended to be done together with a partner. The well-laid-out plan references earlier exercises (and thoughtfully uses page numbers, so you don’t have to go digging or feel pressure to remember) and has a nice build-up from solo exploration partner exploration.
Reading through these books reminded me of the diversity of human sexuality and all of the different approaches we can take toward having fulfilling sex lives. Check out our book section to keep exploring, reconnecting, and learning more!