In sixth grade, I often joined my friend Jenny and her parents at family group therapy. It was fascinating stuff: A group of 20 sat in a circle and shared their feelings. There was anger, resentment, frustration, and often one adult or another voiced her or his concern about their sex life. Sex wasn’t a problem for Jenny’s parents. They did it daily, announcing to whomever was around, “We’re going to have ‘our time’ now.”
During “our time,” the door to their bedroom was closed, and we weren’t to knock unless there was an earthquake measuring over 5.0 (we lived in California, after all). Even at age 11, I wondered how two people could do naked things together while kids lip-synced to the soundtrack from “Funny Girl” only a wall away. When her parents were gone, Jenny liked to take me into the master bathroom where there was a copy of The Joy of Sex. On the floor, our backs against the shower door, Jenny would show me her favorite pictures. If hearing adults talk about sex was strange, looking at scratchy pencil drawings of them doing it was even stranger. Despite the fact that my parents went to naked swim parties and frequented a nude beach, the bodies in The Joy of Sex still shocked me with their abundant hair—he of the bearded face, she of the bearded crotch—and strange positioning. It all looked a little … well, smelly.
The Joy of Sex has been reissued and updated many times since its original 1972 printing. The latest edition, issued in 2013 (Random House, 288 pages, $14 eBook), has photos of an epilated white couple engaging mostly in a standard married couple’s routine. That smelly look is gone; instead, the models resemble those from a “How to Please Your Guy” essay in Cosmo. In other words, the book doesn’t take into account the changing and changed racial and sexual landscape of America today.
Here are three modern books that deal with who we are, what we do and what we can do with our bodies whether we’re alone or with others.
S.E.X.: The-All-You-Need-to-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, by Heather Corinna (Da Capo Press, 427 pages, $18 paperback), begins with a frank explanation and graphic drawings of anatomy. One would think anatomy would be unnecessary when you can see everything on the internet or HBO. But anyone (like moi) who’s ever had a person frantically rub the tendon of their inner thigh instead of a more essential spot knows that identifying parts is an important start. This book covers subjects from STDs to phone sex in a “what it is” and “how you do it” way. Parents who have not yet caught on to the current “genderpalooza” should read Chapter 5, “So Much More Than Either/Or: Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation,” so that when your 13-year-old announces at the dinner table that she’s “gender fluid,” you’ll know what she’s talking about. (FYI: This year’s Associated Writing Programs conference registration had 11 additional boxes to choose from after “male” and “female,” including “a gender not identified here,” lest any human with or without genitals of any kind feel ignored.)
Action: A Book About Sex, by Amy Rose Spiegel (Grand Central Publishing, 206 pages, $16 paperback), is a hip, youthful, playful manual on sex, relationships and intimacy. Written with both humor and grace, Spiegel’s book sticks to what she knows and gives an unabashed account of her own experiences with men and women. Spiegel is a feminist at heart who mixes lessons on consent and power with tips on cleaning your room quickly before a hookup, and what to do when a man’s viscous matter lands in your eye.
Oh Joy Sex Toy: Volume 3, by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan (Oni Press, 312 pages, $30 paperback), started out as a blog that reviewed sex toys via a quirky, joyful comic strip. But it didn’t take long for this refreshingly genuine and unpretentious couple to expand their comic into something far more comprehensive. Moen and Nolan use themselves as guinea pigs as they explore every angle of sex and sexuality by visiting a queer porn studio, joining a sex party and trying out gadgets and experiences that push even their own limits of comfort and acceptance. With an insightful, humorous narrative, the authors question why they feel apprehensive when they do, and enthusiastically show the reader how to have just as much fun as they do. This whimsically illustrated book is inclusive of all sexual orientations.
I also recommend Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex, by Deborah Roffman (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 296 pages, $12 paperback). Roffman teaches sex education at Baltimore’s Park School.