Knowledge is power and that applies just as well to knowledge about your sexuality! Let’s be real: Human sexuality is complex, confusing and can be riddled with conflict. It’s hard crafting your ideal sex life when there are so many factors working against you. The following books aim to lend some help.
They provide insight on everything from how women’s sexuality works, to the ways society is damaging women and their attempts to build a healthy sex life (and what you can do about it). Put these books at the top of your reading list. You’ll be glad you did!
What it’s about: This book explains female sexuality using the latest sex research and brain science. Author Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., argues that every woman is unique in her sexuality (with much more variety among women than found in men).
She also points out that sex occurs in a context, and surmises many factors affect that context—from your relationship with your partner to whether you are currently hungry. The problem is often not desire (or lack thereof), but that women need more positive things hitting their accelerator and fewer negative things hitting their brakes.
The whole book seeks to leave readers with a thorough understanding of what does (and doesn’t) work for them in the bedroom.
Why you should read it: I describe this book as my favorite read of all time. It truly changed my life! As I read, I kept experiencing “a-ha” moments. The concepts are simple, but they aren’t ones often discussed. This book helps you understand how your unique sexuality works so that you can create an empowering, fulfilling sex life.
There’re even guided journal exercises for those who love to verbally process. It’s the kind of book you can read—and re-read—at any point in your life and gain something new.
Who Wrote it: Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. She's a sex educator and since 1995 has studied topics such as psychology, sexual trauma, communication and sex education. Using her diverse background alongside the latest research, she offers a well-researched handbook for women to understand their bodies and build their ideal sex life.
“I am done living in a world where women are lied to about their bodies; where women are objects of sexual desire but not subjects of sexual pleasure; where sex is used as a weapon against women; and where women believe their bodies are broken, simply because those bodies are not male. And I am done living in a world where women are trained from birth to treat their bodies as the enemy.”
What it’s about: This is likely one of the most controversial books on sex you could ever pick up. The basic premise is that our current understanding and narrative of human sexuality is wrong and that our commonly held beliefs are less informed by science than we are led to believe.
Many of the behaviors that are portrayed to be evolutionary programming are really societal adaptations (such as the notion that women are programmed to use sex to lock down a man for his resources, while men are programmed to use sex with as many women as possible to carry on his genetic line).
Why you should read it: The book provides meaningful context as to how our society arrived at these incorrect conclusions and uses anthropology, archaeology, psychology, sociology and biology to offer a different narrative altogether. It will flip your understanding of sexuality upside down, but in the best possible way! It is an empowering and informative read that is a defender of women and a critique of our society.
Who wrote it: Married couple and writing duo Cacilda Jethá, M.D. and Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. Jethá is a practicing psychiatrist and previous physician. Ryan has a Ph.D. in psychology and is a contributor to Psychology Today and HuffPost. Together, they offer a thorough perspective backed by quality research and analysis.
Notable quotation: “Societies in which women have lots of autonomy and authority tend to be decidedly male-friendly, relaxed, tolerant and plenty sexy. Got that, fellas? If you're unhappy at the amount of sexual opportunity in your life, don't blame the women. Instead, make sure they have equal access to power, wealth and status. Then watch what happens.”
What it’s about: This is arguably the most well-known book on human sexuality, but it discusses a range of topics. You’ll find everything from party etiquette to marriage advice to the iconic sex advice.
But if you’re looking for ways to spice up your sex life check out Part Two. There are so many ideas you’ll likely want to take notes so you don’t forget any of the things you want to try! One of my favorites was the “Peacock’s Foot,” which is a way of gently scratching the breast with five nails.
Who wrote it: An Indian philosopher named Vātsyāyana.
Why you should read it: Sometimes, to get something new, you must look to the old. See what you can gain from ancient wisdom to spice up your sex life! The book is an engaging practical guide to great sex.
Beyond the sex strategies, the other sections offer a fascinating perspective on what the ideal life means and how to achieve it. You may not agree with every tenet, but it is intriguing to read nonetheless.
The entire text is also online and free thanks to Project Gutenberg. Find the Kama Sutra here.
Notable quotation: “A man should gather from the actions of the woman of what disposition she is, and in what way she likes to be enjoyed.”
What it’s about: This book takes a deep, hard look at how society approaches female sexuality and treats women in their expression of it. The reader is left with some shocking facts. One being that men describe good sex as being pleasurable, while women describe it as the absence of pain.
Women have always been charged with being the gatekeepers of male desire, but they are also increasingly charged with providing release for it, too (with pressures to have sex when they don’t want to, give oral when they don’t want to and so on). The orgasm gap is even worse than you might think (Seventy-five percent of men climax during sex while 29% of women do). The facts go on and on.
Why you should read it: This book is a jarring analysis of society that provides some valuable context and insight into the world you are living in. It shines a light on the ways society is harming women, from constant damaging messaging to unjust treatment to warped perspectives of what it means to pursue feminist equality. It leaves you with newfound understanding and practical ways to live sexually empowered in a world that pushes you to do the opposite.
Who wrote it: Peggy Orenstein, who is one of the Columbia Journalism Review’s "The Divine Sisterhood" (40 women who changed the media business in the past 40 years). Her work receives honors from notable organizes such as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She is a contributor for organizations such as The New York Times, The New Yorker and NPR. She applies a journalistic background to the research and writing of this book, which results in a fact-based and thorough understanding of the unfortunate status quo.
Notable quotation: “Some girls bragged to me that they could 'have sex like a guy,' by which they meant they could engage without emotion, they could objectify their partners as fully and reductively as boys often objectified them. That seemed a sad, low road to equality. What if, instead, they expected boys to be as sexually giving as girls? What if they were taught that all sexual partners, whether total strangers or intimates, deserved esteem and generosity, just as people do in any human interaction? What if they refused to settle for anything less?”
What it’s about: Think of this as a textbook for How to Have Amazing Sex 101. It covers every topic you can think of in almost 1,000 pages! Topics include talking to your partner about sex, masturbating in front of your partner, how your gender affects your experience of sex, how to explore kink and what to do when things go wrong.
Why you should read it: Everyone stands to gain by learning more about sex. You’ll come away with plenty of tangible strategies to put into action alongside new understanding about all things human sexuality. It takes medical, psychological and sociological approaches to leave you with a thorough perspective about your sexuality and all the factors that influence it.
Who wrote it: Paul Joannides, Psy.D. He’s a Psychoanalyst on the editorial boards of the Journal of Sexual Medicine and the American Journal of Sexuality Education. He earned the Professional Standard of Excellence Award from the American Associate of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. He’s a much better source of sex education than your high school gym teacher!
Notable quotation: “In much of America we still try to equate morality with whether you keep your pants on...Morality, from this Guide’s perspective, is respecting and caring for your fellow human beings. It has little to do with the way you enjoy your sexuality, unless what you do breaks a special trust or violates the rights of others.”