I always thought having mind-blowing sex would be synonymous with finding a mind-blowing partner. So, like many 20-somethings, I started my hunt for great sex with a hunt for the right boyfriend. That led to an almost constant feeling in the pit of my stomach, which grew every time I rolled over to find a distant and non-committal person in my bed.
In truth, books have been more sexually empowering than any partner I’ve had. Like any other young woman living in Berkeley, California, “The Ethical Slut” became my Bible. Having a woman my mother’s age describe a successful polyamorous relationship the way she’d describe doing the laundry made sexual exploration seem like the new norm. Esther Perel’s book “Mating in Captivity,” and everything written by Ian Kerner, made sexual mediocrity and monogamy seem completely irrational.
But it was conversations with my female friends that made the sexual revolution real for me. Finally bold enough to admit that the sex I was having wasn’t great, I heard a resounding “I know, right?!” from my lady friends. As we swapped stories and advice, I began to raise my standards and explore sex without another person in bed. Ironically, it was revolting against mediocre sexual partnerships that made me wake up to pleasure and adventure.
Having a close-knit crew of open-mind women kept me accountable for my sexual misadventures. They kept me from going home with the wrong men, and they gladly played wingwoman on occasion. I quickly discovered the power of the intimate one-night stand and learned not every relationship has to be a forever relationship. I recognized my pleasure was worth just as much as giving my partner pleasure. That may seem obvious to some, but as a lifelong people pleaser, it was a hard and messy truth to learn.
Books! Friends! One-night stands! Sounds fun. But please, don’t think exploring your sensuality is just a fun and lighthearted experience. Sexual revolution is slow and slipshod. I’ve made more terrible decisions than good ones. It’s raised more questions than answers about who I am and what I’m doing. It has made dating normal, nice-enough people almost impossible.
But my god, when I roll over satisfied and sexually fulfilled after an amazing romp with someone I like being around, all of the mayhem seems worth it. And for that fulfillment I have a mishmash of people to thank. (I also owe a special nod to The Rolling Stones, whose music first planted the possibility of true love and depth of sexual experience long before I caught on.)
While I can certainly name the partners who shared my best sexual experiences as I experimented my way into sexual intelligence, it was actually my friends and a stack of books that ushered me unceremoniously into my sexuality.
Lovers Book List
“The Ethical Slut” by Dossie Easton & Janet Hardy
I learned more about love in the first two pages of this book than in my entire teenage years. Even if you never plan on being in an open relationship, it teaches you a ton about being a good partner.
“She Comes First” by Ian Kerner
This may be shocking to some of you, but some men don’t know how to make a woman orgasm. This book is the “thinking man’s guide to pleasuring a woman.” If that isn’t interesting to you, you’re reading the wrong book list.
“Mating in Captivity” by Esther Perel
Perel is my true love and a master of brilliant curiosity. She makes you question assumptions about relationships and monogamy. This book gives you permission to feel dissatisfied with your relationship without blowing it up. A must read.
“Future Sex” by Emily Witt
The most recent book I’ve read on the subject, and one of the best. Without giving away the story, Witt realizes there is no “normal” sexual relationship nowadays.
“Healing Love Through the Tao” by Mantak Chia
This was a game changer. Just when you think you’re “good at sex” you read this and realize sexuality is a lifelong practice and it can get better. Way better. This is the one I come back to again and again.
“A Billion Wicked Thoughts” by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gamman
Nobody is honest about their sexuality in real life. We sugarcoat things or keep them to ourselves. But the internet doesn’t lie. This book examines what big data can tell us about what people are really into.
“ABZ of Love” by Inge and Sten Hegeler
A vintage book of illustrations and snippets by a Danish couple. This is both kooky and enlightening. It covers all topics from birth control and bidets, to disappointment and lazy Sunday sex. My “stranded on an island” book.
Susan Sontag’s Illustrated Meditations on Love
Not a book, but a very cool series of diary entries by the wonderful Susan Sontag. Daydreams on love, romance and sex. Find it on brainpickings.org.
Emily Straubel is a writer and ceramic artist living in Portland. Writing about design and technology by day, and the unpredictable world of love and dating by night, her work is driven by curiosity and FOMO.