Readings in adult (and not adult) sex ed
This wouldn’t be my site if it didn’t have a list of books that I adore. There will be more, longer reviews later, but here’s a short list of sex ed books to check out if you are looking for something to read offline (or on your kindle, if you want to keep the cover art to yourself). Links are to my affiliates, Good Vibrations (most image links) or Amazon (text links), but you can get most of them anywhere.
Want to read about bodies and menopause?
You can start with the classic, Our Bodies, Ourselves, by the Boston Women’s Health Collective. They also have a special menopause edition, Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause. These books are comprehensive, well-researched, and the first one is a classic of women’s health and feminism. I have to admit, I don’t adore the menopause book as much as I thought I would. Reading from front to back can be a bit of a chore, but it is a fantastic reference.
The menopause book I do love, I didn’t expect to like much at all. I expected Christiane Northrup’s The Wisdom of Menopause (Revised Edition): Creating Physical and Emotional Health During the Change to be simplistic and pandering. It wasn’t. It was rich in information about exactly what is claims — physical and emotional health throughout the process of menopause. And even though it is very long (don’t drop it on your foot) it is very readable and engaging.
The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain and Illness , by Miriam Kaufman, Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odette is for a more specialized audience, but as we get older, more and more of us fit into the target audience, even if only for a while. The book offers concrete advice and emotional affirmation for living a sexual life when our culture and our bodies make it difficult.
Thinking more about pleasure?
The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone is another one that could cause serious injury if you dropped it on your toe. I have to admit that I haven’t finished this one yet. But that is only because I spend so much time flipping from one section to another. There is just so much content! Carol Queen and Shar Rednour have been writing and working in adult sex education for decades, and their new book, published last year by Good Vibrations, reflects an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge. It discusses anatomy, positions, identities, orientations, toys, erotica and porn, kinks, health, arousal and orgasm, and more in a list of pretty much any topic of human sexuality that I can think of. If you want one good sex ed reference to have handy when you need to look something up and your internet is down, this is the one you want.
If you have room for two books in your emergency sex ed bunker, you might want Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. It’s definitely in mine. Nagoski’s book is for anyone who has ever struggled with their own arousal or felt a mismatch in arousal levels with a partner. Or has wondered if they are broken for feeling how they feel. Though clearly aimed primarily at women, I have permission to share that this book was also incredibly liberating for my husband. Who read it willingly because I laughed out loud so many times while reading it. Extra bonus? It gave me a whole new understanding of stress reactions, which actually has changed my life a bit. Sex ed as therapy and entertainment really works for me.
Social history of sex appeal to you?
Hanne Blank writes a lot of great books on sex. Picking just one is tough, but for now I’m going with Virgin: The Untouched History. It’s a fascinating look at the different ways virginity has been defined and determined, who’s virginity has mattered, and a surprising (to me) discussion of the hymen.
Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships definitely has an agenda. Its thesis – that monogamy is not a natural state for humans – is the driving force of the book. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá present a case that non-monogamy was standard for humans before we developed agriculture. The book is thought-provoking, and makes some very strong points, but feels less like good science than a position piece. I don’t really trust it, but it gave me a lot to think about, which is kind of the same thing as fun at my house.
Got kids that you want to teach about sex?
Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and YOU is one of the most amazing books I have seen for children in a long time. Cory Silverberg’s friendly, inclusive text differentiates between body parts and gender in a way that I haven’t seen in any other children’s book. Fiona Smith’s gleefully energetic illustrations show a world of diverse people in a diversity of bodies. Though this book is aimed at elementary-aged readers, it would be valuable for a much wider audience. Especially readers addressing the idea of gender identity for the first time. The only quibble I have with it is that, for a sex book, it doesn’t actually have that much to say about intercourse and reproduction. Its focus is really on physical and emotional development.
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris (illustrated by Michael Emberley) has been the gold standard for body diversity and plain talk about sex for kids for over 20 years. Aimed at a slightly older audience than Silverberg’s book (older elementary and middle school), it is the book I used when teaching sex ed to middle schoolers. Now, I would use both, because this one is strong in the areas that Sex is a Funny Word is weak. It does a very thorough job discussing intercourse and reproduction. And its drawings are fairly realistic and explicit (there is a two-page spread of non-sexualized naked people of a variety of ages, body types, ethnicities, and disability statuses). Its major failing is its failure to discuss gender identity. Get both books and you’ll be fine. Maybe even until high school. Then you need Heather Corrina.
To say Heather Corrina’s S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College is comprehensive doesn’t really do it justice. Like Scarleteen, her sex education site for “teens and emerging adults,” it doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, and discusses many aspects of sexuality left out of other sex-ed books, including an extensive section on gender identity and orientation and discussions of both abortion and parenting. It is probably too much information for most younger teens, but there are other resources for them. This is for people who might be thinking about having sexual relationships of any kind.
That’s my basic list. I could (and probably will) go on about these books and the ones that didn’t make this list, but this seems like plenty to start with. And if you are wondering about the only book in the picture that I didn’t talk about, that is Erika Moen’s Oh Joy, Oh Sex Toy, volume 1. It’s a print edition of her online comics. If you are wondering whether you would like it, check out her website. But, before you go, be aware that her site contains some very graphic ads. If you are offended by pornographic images, or are reading where kids might see your screen, maybe don’t follow this link right now. Oh Joy, Oh Sex Toy.