(C)Lit Review: The Top 3 Sex Books I Read in 2019

I’ve done my share of sexy reading in 2019. Most of it has been for educational purposes, so I’ll save the discussion on ancient Persian erotic poetry for another day. And what a day it’ll be. However, here’s my roundup for 2019: the best sexuality books that I read, and the coolest lessons I gleaned from them. Happy reading, my friends.

The Ethical Slut, 3rd Edition (2017) by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy

If you’ve never read this classic of the genre, do yourself a favour. There’s a reason why it’s in its 3rd edition: with a new one published every 10 years or so, it’s as relevant today as it was in 1997. You don’t have to consider yourself a slut, or polyamorous, to get some gems from its wisdom. It’s for everyone committed to the ethical, joyful expression of their sexual selves – even when that expression is asexuality.

Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy identify as polyamorous, and the book definitely has that lens. However, you can be polyamorous and only have one sexual partner – because polyamory only means ‘many loves’, not many sexual partners. Sometimes people meet other needs of companionship, from a shared interest in crafting to a love of hiking. You can be asexual and align with this lifestyle…you may already be polyamorous and not know it!

“The Ethical Slut” celebrates all forms of consensual sexuality. I think our whole culture can learn from that level of sex-positivity. The book challenges conventional thought and invites the reader to expand beyond conditioned ideas of what’s acceptable in love and relationships. When polyamory is practiced ethically, it has lessons that are universally beneficial. Here are a few:

1. People aren’t property. Many of us are accustomed to thinking it’s romantic to possess/belong to someone, which is why so many love songs, books, and movies have this theme. But the most extreme manifestation of this expresses itself as harm. ‘Crimes of passion’ fall under this category: My lover was ignoring me ~OR~ I found my lover in bed with another, so I had to hurt/stalk/kill them.” Wait, what? Polyamory practices the tenet that people can share their bodies, minds, and souls with whomever they please. No one belongs to another.

2. Honest communication is the cornerstone of good relationships. Many people consider polyamory to be about a lot of sex, but first and foremost it’s about a lot of communication. There is a vast difference between cheating and ethical polyamory: the first involves deceit, while the latter involves a rigorous commitment to honesty. Though everyone is free to explore their love lives however they see fit, when there are agreements with others there is a commitment to communicate with truth.

3. Jealousy happens, and it won’t kill you. In fact, it might even make you stronger. In the book, Easton and Hardy teach that in moving through this painful emotion, we may find resources within us that we didn’t know we had. In a Dossie Easton interview I once saw, she used the analogy of sibling rivalry: siblings sometimes feel jealous of one another, yet in that realm we expect to get over it. Whether or not you are wired for polyamory, learning to share and to work with uncomfortable emotions are valuable qualities to cultivate.

Erotic Integrity: How to be True to Yourself Sexually (2016) by Claudia Six

Claudia Six has a PhD in Clinical Sexology, and approaches her book with that clinical lens. Having said that, however, this book is by no means boring! Perhaps it’s the subject matter. What struck me first about this book was Six’s warm writing tone and genuine sex-positivity.

What’s sex-positivity in this context? Sometimes there can be subtle signs that betray an author’s sex negativity: fear-based language regarding STIs, for example. A shaming tone regarding sex work. This author truly celebrates all forms of sexual expression, and compassionately helps people move into alignment with their erotic integrity.

Some of the language in the book could use a little updating, though to be fair language evolves pretty quickly when we’re talking about sex and gender. For example, she uses the term prostitute. Sex work is the preferred language of our day, as it reflects the fact that it is indeed work and should have the same rights and protections as other forms of employment.

Also, though she acknowledges transgender populations, many of the case studies fail to reflect much diversity, and the language could be more inclusive. One dangerous oversight in the book is talking about birth control only in the context of heterosexual sex. Many people who are not heterosexual also need birth control in order to avoid pregnancy. LGBTQIA2SNB youth are among those more likely to find themselves coping with an unplanned pregnancy – perhaps for the very reason that they thought they wouldn’t have to.

Despite these critiques, Six’s approach to cultivating erotic integrity is easy to follow. She goes by three tenets: self-examination, self-acceptance, and self-actualization. People begin by honestly examining who they are as sexual beings – what is true for them, as opposed to what they might have assumed based on cultural conditioning or social norms. I love that she normalizes monogamy, even: you don’t need to be freaky to have an open mind! You just need to honestly examine what is true for you. Next, people work on accepting themselves as they are, whether it is body image that needs some love, or a part of their sexual being that they fear will be rejected. And finally, self-actualization is about moving into one’s authentic being on every level – sexually and otherwise.

The concept of erotic integrity appeals to me, because I see a lot of people suffer when it’s lacking. Part of that is because we live in a culture that doesn’t yet talk about sexuality in an open and celebratory way. How do we approach a conversation about living our sexual lives with integrity, when we don’t quite know how to discuss it in the first place? This book is a wonderful way to invite that conversation and deepen one’s own sexual authenticity.

Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life (2015) by Emily Nagoski

Arguably the greatest gift that Nagoski brings with this book is the normalization of differing sexual expressions and desires. The author’s clinical background is in female sexuality – again, a big assumption with language that can be amended quite simply by saying people with vulvas. So this book is for vulva owners, and those who love a vulva owner, and those who want to understand vulvas better.

There are lots of educational gems in this book: one that stands out for me is the discussion about desire. People have different levels of desire – in Nagoski’s words, some people have a sensitive accelerator and almost no brake, while others are slow to arouse, if at all. And every manifestation is perfectly ok. She’s got great techniques and suggestions for how people with differing levels of desire can meet on the same page.

I think the biggest takeaway for me from this book, however, is her assertion that sexual desire is an incentive-motivation system, rather than a drive. The reason she gives for this is important: if sexual desire were a drive, like hunger or thirst are, then it would justify people doing whatever they needed in order to satisfy that drive. If someone needed sex for survival, it would even justify assault.

An incentive-motivation system is a fancy way of saying that a person is pulled by an attractive external stimulus. Meeting our sexual desires helps us to thrive, but we don’t need it to survive. As animal behaviourist Frank Beach once said, “No one has ever suffered tissue damage for lack of sex” (Nagoski, 2015, p. 230). I appreciate how this altered my perspective on sexual desire and brought me to a place of greater accuracy with my language about it.

So that’s it – that’s my 2019 (c)literary roundup. I hope this helps people who wanted to learn more about sexuality and didn’t know where to begin. The more we can begin, develop, and maintain healthy conversations about sexuality, the better off I think our whole society will be. So happy reading, and happy new year. In health and wellness, Deirdre.