A (By-No-Means-Comprehensive) Reading List for Sexy People

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I like to read and think about sex and sexuality.  But even after several years of this being true, I still feel a little bit awkward buying “The Multi-Orgasmic Couple” at Shakespeare and Co, or reading “Your Brain On Sex” on a crowded subway car.  The culture of stigma and shame is so pervasive, it makes sense that there is residue of it in most of us.

This same stigma and shame keeps us from communicating as fully and openly in our intimate partnerships, and subsequently, there can be misunderstanding and heartbreak where there could be joy and growth.  You do not need to read several books about sex in order to be great at sex and great at communication about sex, but I also think that it is absurd to believe that we will just be skilled at those things by stumbling into them.  And sometimes, reading books can be a great start! So here are some of my favorites from my years of reading. I’d love to hear about your favorites, too.

Super Extra Highly Recommended- 3 books that have most shaped my worldview:

*Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino

(I encountered this book after I had already spent a few years practicing and thinking about the ideas it espouses, and I still found it valuable.  However you feel about the monogamy spectrum, and whatever the shape of your partnerships, I recommend this book as an excellent foundational guide about authenticity and communicating openly about needs and wants in the context of romantic/sexual relationships.  I think this should be read in every high school sociology class.)

*The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life by Michael Warner

(If you are at all passionate about progressive sexual politics, this book is a must, whether or not you identify as queer.  It is an extremely trenchant cultural analysis, full of precision and full of heart, radical without ever being holier-than-thou.  Raises wide and important questions about the fight for gay marriage and U.S. sexual health policy, through the lense of commitment to transcending stigma and shame.)

*The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World by Michelle Goldberg

(This is a meticulously researched treatise on how women’s rights and reproductive rights are deeply embedded in just about every macro-struggle for justice and equality.  I had already read a great deal about things like birth control, female genital mutilation, and abortion rights, but this draws connections between all of these things (and more!) in ways that have significantly galvanized me.)


Highly Recommended – Practical Guides:

*The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us by Felice Newman

(This book hugely delivers on its title! Super comprehensive and inclusive and thorough (about topics ranging from details of anatomy to creating lasting relationships))

*She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide To Pleasuring a Woman by Ian Kerner

(To anyone who is excited about female orgasm, but especially to the gentlemen out there: run, do not walk, to acquire this book!  It is a gorgeously-written 250 page tome on cunnilingus, written in the context of a progressive philosophy of pleasure.)

*Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the 21st Century by Barbara Carrellas and Annie Sprinkle

This book upturns misunderstandings (about tantra as primarily about day-long orgasms) by espousing a philosophy of the erotic as present in every aspect of life.  After reading this book, I was able to give myself an orgasm with no touching, just from breathing! You’d probably get a lot out of “Urban Tantra” if you feel more aligned with somebody while breathing in sync with them, in the context of any kind of intimacy, sexual or not.  It also contains one of the better chapters on safer sex that I’ve ever encountered. And huge points for queer and kink inclusivity!!)

*The Multi-Orgasmic Couple: Sexual Secrets Every Couple Should Know by Chia and Abrams

(This is rooted in Taoist ideas about sexuality (related to but distinct from Tantra), and it contains lots of powerful/practical exercises about communication and channeling sexual energy (for solo sex and for partnered sex). I am aligned with the philosophies that sex can be a practice, much like a yoga practice, and that sexuality is deeply connected to aliveness and vitality. If those ideas appeal to you, you will probably get a lot from this book! The only major drawback is that it only gives a slight nod to gender complexity in the form of: everyone has masculine and feminine energies within them, but beyond that, it is definitely situated firmly in the heteronormative.)

*The New Topping Book & The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy

(For anyone with any fascination with or interest in power play and/or sensation play and/or bondage (and let’s face it, that’s most of us!), regardless of your level of experience, I think these books are must-reads. They are short and sweet and practical, written with a delightfully exuberant tone. I think it is worth reading both of them, even if you err more on the side of dominant or more on the side of submissive.)

*The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy

(This was the first book that I read about polyamory.  The tone of it is a little bit crunchy granola for me, but the heart of it is great. I recommend “Opening Up” more heartily, as it was written more recently and its language jives with me better, but “The Ethical Slut” is still worthwhile.)


Highly Recommended- Books About Ideas:

*Mating In Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel

(This is a profound investigation into why it tends to be so difficult to sustain and cultivate desire in the context of long-term relationships plus practical ideas about how to shake that up, on individual and also widespread cultural levels. I love her frame: that most people want their partnerships to be both their anchors and their waves.  It reads a little like a self-help book, so if you are turned off by that, it may not be for you.)

*Your Brain On Sex: How Smarter Sex Can Change Your Life by Stanley Siegel

(Rooted in psychology and not at all in neuroscience (for the latter, try “This Is Your Brain On Sex” by Kayt Sukel, which I have not yet read), the thesis of this book is something I love: that we need to think and talk and learn more about sex and desire- It is not something we can just stumble into being good at. I like Siegel’s concept of ‘intelligent lust’: a deep understanding of your own desires and how to communicate about them.  This also reads a little self-helpy, and I disagree with Siegel’s insistence that ALL fantasies and desires are shaped from past experience (I think sometimes desires can just be taken at face value), but I think it’s still good.)

*Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex by Pat Califia

(This is a collection of eye-opening essays about the incendiary intersection of sex and politics.  Califia unflinchingly takes on child pornography, sex in public, putting the sex back into sexuality, and the often unexamined aspects of the AIDS crisis.  These essays have shaken up my thinking in many ways, even though I am not sure if I wholeheartedly agree with some of the theses.)

*How To Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton

(“We don’t think too much about sex, we’re merely thinking about it in the wrong way.”  Amen to that, the tagline of this book!  This short pop-philosophical treatise is thought-provoking and beautifully written, full of passages that frame things in ways I haven’t thought of before…  And full of things I disagree with, like any good pop-philosophical treatise.)

*Sister/Outsider by Audre Lourde

(This collection of incisive essays delves into intersections of race, class, sex, sexuality, and gender.  Lourde is one of my favorite thinkers, and she consistently blows my mind.)

*Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire by Several Authors!

(Sitting in two complex and highly contested terms: “queer” and “anarchism”, this welcome, though sometime uneven, collection of essays inspired me to underline things and make stars in the margins all over the place!  Especially “Queering Heteronormativity”.)

*Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein

(This is so so good.  Part essay, part coming-of-age story.  I think that if it were read in every high school sociology class, the world would be a better place!)

*Sex At Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means For Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

(Many people I respect have great esteem for this book. I actually don’t love it, as I am suspicious of evolutionary psychology and playing into philosophies about noble savages (“Guns, Germs, and Steel” falls into those things, too).  But nevertheless, I hugely appreciate the ways in which this book is provocative; I think we need more things like this that poke at the supposed naturalness of marriage and monogamy, and “Sex At Dawn” has had great mainstream reach.)

*Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz

(A fascinating history of sex laws and sex politics through the ages.  Great perspective for those of us who fight for sexual freedom these days. It acknowledges that it is Western-centric.)


Highly Recommended- For kids and parents:

*And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

(the heart-warming story of the gay penguins at the Central Park Zoo, and the baby penguin they raised together. I have it on my coffee table at home.  Oh man, this book makes me smile.)

*It’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie Harris

(Admittedly, I also have this book on my coffee table! I learned about these three, by Robie Harris, during trainings I did at Planned Parenthood about young people’s sexuality.  I wish I had encountered books as celebratory and thorough as part of my sex ed when I was a kid.)

*It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie Harris

*It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris

If you end up reading any of these on my recommendation, I would love to know what you think!  And this list is by no means comprehensive – there are so many books on these topics that I still want to read.  What are your favorite books about sex and sexuality that are not included here?