Worthwhile sex books

Posted by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

Not long ago, I did a little survey to find out what folks' favorite non-fiction sex books are. Here are the results.

5 people said The Guide to Getting It On by Paul Joannides. I have assigned this book in my class and I am wholly in agreement that this is one excellent starting point for thinking about sex. Here is what survey respondents liked about it:

It's comprehensiveness

While the book is somewhat heteronormative, it is full of information. As a counselor I keep it as a broad reference with lots of definitions and basic techniques.

Gave useful information for what to expect, helped break down stereotypes and myths about sex and sexuality.

It underscored the importance of communication with your partner. I enjoyed the occasional illustrations as well, especially a cute one of a couple mutually masturbating on a couch.

I loved the positivity of it and the emphasis on joy and sex as an experience to be treasured with one's partner

4 people said Bonk by Mary Roach

Well written, good examples

It's a fascinating compilation of sexual science, history, and anecdotes mixed through brilliant story-telling. You can't put it down and you can't keep from laughing.

It had a good blend of solid information and lightheartedness.

Interesting facts presented in a humorous way.

3 people said Ethical Slut, and one person said, "Anything Dossie Easton."

Practical guide to non-monogamy and how to process the complications that come with that.

Straightforward and reasonable.

I liked learning practical things to improve my relationship with how I navigate my and others' sexualities.

They make sense, they're specific, they are fun and because they are narrow they can be somewhat in-depth. Also, they have a lot of "how-to-talk-about-it", which is useful.

3 people said Sex at Dawn. Just because the science is poorly reported and the reasoning is inadequate, which make it the worst book about sex I personally have ever read, doesn't mean it didn't do good things to some people's brains. Here is what people said:

Critique on evolutionary psychology results especially the standard mixed dating strategy meme.

It made links between present sexual practice in humans and other cultures and societies back to pre-civilisation. Basically it placed human sexuality in an evolutionary context that helped make sense of things for me. Plus it was interesting to learn an alternate view of history.

2 people said S&M 101 by Jay Wiseman.

DIRECTIONS! I am a confused new domme. I have no idea what I'm doing. He gives you step-by-step instructions while remaining clear that they are just one way of handling S/M.

It's fun and sexy while still being really informative even if you aren't into BDSM specifically.

2 people said She Comes First by Ian Kerner

Good anatomical descriptions, plus techniques that worked right away.

Clear guide to female arousal. Lessened feelings of awkwardness around cunnilingus.

2 people said Hanne Blank's Big, Big Love

Accepts that sexuality is diverse and doesn't assume everyone is "typical". Gives equal weight to kinky, queer and other sexual identities, and various relationship styles, rather than just starting from heterosexual monogamous mostly PIV centred as the default and mentioning everything else as an exception or afterthought. Not gender-essentialist. Addresses sex in a holistic way including things like self-confidence, body image, dating, social norms etc, not just the physical act.

That it takes the whole of sexuality into consideration, not just the physical aspects of having sex but the emotional ones. My favorite is the diagrams because, as a fat lady, I get a little self conscious and the diagrams make me bold.

2 people said Yes Means Yes! Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti

Its main goal: Promoting the humanist idea that it needs two+ consenting people that actually want to have intimacy to initiate sex and other things.

At the same time visionary and practical. Putting ideas into my head about how sex can be great, and how great, and helping me express things I had felt but was unable to put into words for a long time.

2 people said The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort

It approaches the topic with the pleasant perspective that it's a recipe book for having fun together.

Well, I liked it fine -- but I haven't read that many non-fiction books about sex, so it's my favorite by default. (The other options given above didn't describe me, either.)

In no particular order, other books folks named, with respondents' comments:
Married Man Sex Life by Athol Kaye. "Taught me a new dimension about sex. A little one-side, but a good corrective for me personally."

The Erotic Mind by Jack Morin. (I never heard of this one, but it looks REALLY good. I'll definitely be reading it.)
"I read it a long time ago so am fuzzy on the details, but I think I recall it felt quite inclusive, was positive about female sexuality, and provided case studies that I found arousing."

How to Make Love to Adrian Colesberry
"It gave me a rich understanding not only of all the ins nad outs of Adrians sexuality but really drove the point home that men are (of course?) not the simple "anything with tits" morons they are often made out to be in the mainstream. THey are quite as complicated as I am. ALso the howtomakeloveto.com site where you can make your own version of the book is so so rad. Also, it has graphs! And is funny!"

Female Sexual Fluidity by Lisa Diamond (This one's in my own top 5, too)
"I appreciated the mix of personal voices from study participants and analysis, and I appreciated the way that Diamond began with the participants own experiences of desire rather than prescriptive notions of what women's sexuality should look like or how women should behave sexually. While limited by its examination of only women (cis- women if I remember correctly?), I did appreciate its openness to ground-up exploration of human sexual variation. In general, the fewer assumptions researchers make, and the more willing they are to actually listen to individual experience the happier I am."

Dr Tatiana's sex advice to all creation by Olivia Judson (another one on my own list)
"it was really excellent for showing the diversity of sexual behaviors and anatomy across different species. it was also really funny."

Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch (another fave of mine)
"I love that it's about sex and love together, how they are meshed and how they affect each other. And also that the way they work together is not what we instinctively assume."

The Whole Lesbian Sex Book by Felice Newman.
"Very thorough - gives a sense of the range of activities possible. I like the tone, too. It's quite dry/non-judgemental, while still encouraging experimentation."

Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom by Christiane Northrup.
"It teaches women to pay attention to our bodies and honor the body's intuition!"

Night Thoughts by Avodah Offitt.
"Talks about real human issues"

The Big Bang: A Guide to the New Sexual Universe by the writers at Nerve.
"It was readable, playful, not forceful or "judgy" of ignorance and still contained science I could trust."

Sex for One by Betty Dodson

What your mother never told you about sex by Hilda Hutcherson.
"Lots of information and answered questions that would be hard to ask someone about."

Come Hither by Dr. Gloria Brame.
"I like it's thoughtful and humorous tone, it's non judgemental and frank without being graphic. It covered a variety of topics without feeling too brief and inspired me to investigate further into those that were intriguing."

Sex sex and more sex by Sue Johanson.
"The Q&A format made it quick to find information I was looking for on any given subject"

My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday.
"Learning that pretty much nothing was out-of-bounds when it came to fantasies. That, and reading the fantasies is pretty fun, too "

The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States by Ed Laumann et al.
"Data data data!"

Women's anatomy of arousal by Sheri Winston
"I liked that she explained how women's sexuality does not function like men. I felt like she gave me permission to slow down, to acknowledge what my body needs, and be realistic about sex. I liked how she explained anatomy in painstaking detail without being boring. And I liked how she used real language alongside "mystical" language, and gave a roadmap to using everything we're given to have sex that feels great. I was also intrigued by her descriptions of yin and yang, and the differences in "male" and "female" energy."