We'd all love to be our best, most confident selves — in bed and out. But the truth is that everyone has their baggage and hangups. Some of us are insecure because of prior scenarios in relationships, or simply due to being in untried waters. If you feel this way, you're 100 percent not alone. Wipe the sweat from your brow.
What that all boils down to? It means that not all of us are as good in bed as we'd like to be.
The nice thing, however, is that many of the aspects of the mating game are a skill, and can be taught, nurtured, or improved. So like with any life skill we desire improving, the answer may be to study. That's right — you can turn to books! Read up on some of these titles below to get tips, tricks, and peeks into the psychology behind what drives your sex drive, and you may find the way you approach what happens between the sheets can shift in ways you never imagined. These books by Esther Perel, Christopher Ryan, Jaclyn Friedman, and others will give you a whole bunch of new ideas to mull over:
Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan
A lot of how we relate to each other — in bed and out — is all about human nature. This book delves deep into the science behind our interactions, using spins on conventional wisdom to show us how to be better at loving — and better lovers while we're at it.
"We are at war with our eroticism," the authors write in the introduction. "We battle our hungers, expectations, and disappointments. Religion, politics, and even science square off against biology and millions of years of evolved appetites. How to defuse this intractable struggle?"
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel
You've likely heard her podcast, seen her TED talks, or read articles about her, but have you read Esther Perel's books? In Mating In Captivity, the acclaimed therapist, writer, and thinker examines the challenges of maintaining desire in long-term relationships.
"I'm less inclined toward a statistical approach to sex — whether you're still having it, how often, how long it lasts, who comes first, and how many orgasms you have," Esther Perel proclaims in the introduction. "Instead, I want to address the questions that don't have easy answers. This book speaks about eroticism and the poetics of sex, the nature of erotic desire and its attendance dilemmas. When you love someone, how does it feel? And when you desire someone, how is it different? Does good intimacy always lead to good sex? Why is that the transition to parenthood so often spells erotic disaster? Why is the forbidden so erotic? Is it possible to want what we already have?"
Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters — and How To Get It by Dr. Laurie Mintz
Much of mainstream media would have you believe that sex isn't sex unless someone's vagina is being penetrated by someone's penis. The problem is that most people with vaginas don't reach orgasm reliably with just penetration. That's where the clitoris comes in. In this guide to cliteracy (sorry), Dr. Laurie Mintz examines the history of the pleasure gap, explains the anatomy of the vagina, and offers techniques for great, clitoris-focused sex.
"So what's the problem here?" Dr. Mintz asks in the first chapter of her book. "We're doing too much of what we consider f*cking (aka intercourse) and not enough of other sexual activities."
What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl's Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman
Jaclyn Friedman – who co-edited the acclaimed anthology Yes Means Yes! with Jessica Valenti — presents a guide to defining your sexuality, even while inundated with messages from the world about how you should be, who you should love, and how you should love. This book might help you gain the confidence you need to be 100% true to yourself, in bed and outside of it.
"...this book focuses on the one sexual relationship you're going to have for your whole life: the one you have with yourself," Jaclyn Friedman writes in the introduction. "Because once you develop a healthy, happy, reality-based relationship with your own sexuality, you'll have everything you need to figure out the rest."
Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski Ph.D.
In this research-backed exploration of the sexuality of people with vaginas, Dr. Emily Nagoski stresses three points that can improve your sex life: Everyone's sexual response mechanisms are different, sex happens in a context, and you should focus on how you're feeling not on what you're doing. They're simple lessons, backed up by science, and they could change everything about your sex life.
"The problem here," Dr. Nagoski writes in the introduction to Come As You Are, "is that we've been taught to think about sex in terms of behavior, rather than in terms of biological, psychological, and social processes underlying the behavior. We think about our psychological behavior — blood flow and genital secretions and heart rate. We think about our social behavior — what we do in bed, whom we do it with, and how often. [...] But if you really want to understand human sexuality, behavior alone won't get you there. Trying to understand sex by looking at behavior is like trying to understand love by looking at a couple's wedding portrait... and their divorce papers. [...] What we want to know is why and how it came to be."
The Ethical Slut, Third Edition: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love by Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton
For some people, maintaining desire means pursuing polyamorous or open relationships. Updated in 2017, The Ethical Slut is a guide to all things poly and everything it encompasses: emotional honesty, mutually agreed upon boundaries, open communication, and more. Even if you don't want to open things up, the lessons of this book can be a good foundation for growth in your partnership.
"One of the most valuable things we learn from open sexual lifestyles is that our programming about love, intimacy, and sex can be rewritten," the authors write in the introduction. "When we begin to question all the ways we have been told we ought to be, we can begin to edit and rewrite our old tapes. By breaking the rules, we both free and empower ourselves."
Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown
This isn't a book solely about how the erotic can change your sex life. This is a book about how the erotic can change everything about your life and the world around you. In these essays, author and editor adrienne maree brown posits that doing good can feel good, and that feeling good is a complex political topic, too.
"We are in a time of fertile ground for learning how we align our pleasures with our values, decolonizing our bodies and longings, and getting into a practice of saying an orgasmic yes together, deriving our collective power from our felt sense of pleasure," brown writes in the introduction. "I think a result of sourcing power in our longing and pleasure is abundant justice — that we can stop competing with each other, demanding scare justice from our oppressors. That we can instead generate power from the overlapping space of desire and aliveness, tapping into an abundance that has enough attention, liberation, and justice for all of us to have plenty."
The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure edited by Tristan Taormino, Constance Penley, Celine Parrenas Shimizu, and Mireille Miller-Young
In this collection, feminists in the adult industry and feminist porn scholars writes about porn — how people do it, film it, market it, consume it, and more. It may just help you rethink how sex functions in society, and help you figure out how sex functions in your life.
"Throughout the book, we explore the multiple definitions of feminist porn, but we refuse to fix its boundaries," the authors write in the introduction. "Feminist porn is a genre and a political vision. And like other genres of film and media, feminist porn shares common themes, aesthetics, and goals even though its parameters are not clearly demarcated. Because it is born out of a feminism that is not one thing but a living, breathing, moving creation, it is necessarily contested — an argument, a polemic, and a debate."
Later, they add: "[W]e believe in the radical potential of feminist porn to transform sexual representation and the way we live our sexualities."
Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free by Wednesday Martin
In this exploration of female infidelity, author and researcher Wednesday Martin challenges societal notions about women who cheat. Drawing on the political and social history, Martin makes a powerful case about gender and sexual equality that might help you understand your own feelings about it all.
"Untrue is a book with a point of view — namely that whatever else we may think of them, women who reject monogamy are brave, and their experiences and possible motivations are instructive," Martin writes in the introduction. "Not only because female infidelity is far from uncommon but also because the fact of it and our reactions to it are useful metrics of female autonomy, and of the price women continue to pay for seizing privileges that have historically belonged to men."
Faking It: The Lies Women Tell about Sex — And the Truths They Reveal by Lux Alptraum
In Faking It, sex educator and former CEO of Fleshbot Lux Alptraum unpacks all the lies women tell about sex — how many partners they've had, whether or not they orgasmed, whether or not they've been sexually assaulted, etc. — and explores how they impact women's social status, safety, and pleasure. If you've ever lied about sex in any way, pick up this book and think about why.
"Is the female urge to fake purely about preserving male ego at the expense of a woman's access to enjoyment — or are there other, more complicated reasons why a woman might feign an orgasm when she isn't actually feeling it?" Alptraum asks in the first chapter of Faking It. "Is the acting of faking an orgasm truly a betrayal of the fight for women's liberation, or is it, perhaps, a way of claiming control over a sexual situation? Why is the authenticity of anyone's orgasm worth discussion to begin with?"
Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism by Patricia Hill Collins
In this work of critical theory, Patricia Hill Collins examines how images of Black women and Black men often focus on hypersexuality, and calls for a reinvention of sexuality that's free from the constraints of racism. This isn't a guide to getting better; this is a guide to understanding how racism, classism, and structural inequality contribute to the ways sex is portrayed and, often, weaponized.
The Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana
The Kama Sutra has reached cult status, but how many of us have actually taken the time to read its hallowed pages? This is an ancient text, originally in Sanskrit, that shares the art of lovemaking and its connection not only to pleasure, but spiritual enlightenment.
Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure by Lynn Comella
In Vibrator Nation, Lynn Comella examines the social, historical, political, and cultural impact of sex-toy stores and the people who opened them. The entrepreneurs behind places like Eve's Garden and Babeland have doubled as social activists, and in this enlightening nonfiction book, Comella describes just how much that's changed people's sex lives.
"[F]eminist sex-toy stores produce a particular understanding of what it means to be a happy, healthy, and sexually empowered individual, and offer a consumer-oriented agenda for how this might be achieved, Comella writes in her introduction. "At the center of this retail universe is the discourse — and, one might argue, sexual ethic — or sex positivity. Sex positivity is a way of conceptualizing and talking about sexuality that seeks to intervene in a culture overwhelmingly shaped by the belief that sex is a dangerous, destructive, and negative force."
The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of sexual Passion and Fulfillment by Jack Morin
This text analyzes many stories of sexual encounters, by means of demonstrations of how we can make our own relationships and encounters that much more explosive. Sometimes overcoming our hindrances and problems is simply a matter of examining our situation from a new, fresh perspective.
"Almost everyone is aware that becoming around feels good," Dr. Jack Morin writes in the introduction. "But how can we create greater arousal when we know so little about it? Why are certain people, images, and situations so much more stimulating than others? Why do individual preferences and patterns vary so dramatically? Why are most of us attached to specific turn-ons? And what do our turn-ons reveal about who we are and what we're searching for?"
The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide For All of Us by Felice Newman
The first-ever sex guide written for women by women for the sexual passion between women (phew!), this is an amazing work for if you want to kick your sex life up a few notches and are looking for creative ideas!
"[W]hat makes me a lesbian sex expert," writes Felice Newman in the introduction to the second edition, "is that I have devoted myself to erotic exploration. I treat my sex life as an adventure story that builds heat with each episode. I'm curious. Whom will I meet today? What will happen next? I seek abundance. Ample pleasure. Innumerable orgasms. Voluptuous moments bursting with erotic energy. I believe we all deserve as much erotic pleasure as life can offer — which is more pleasure really than you or I can conceive of."
Partners in Passion by Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson
The co-authors of this work, a couple, are two teachers of tantric love and sex. They use their experience to illustrate the beauty of "giving and receiving" — in love, life, and in sex. They also discuss situations like open relationships and swinging, and how to know if this is the choice for your own relationship.
"The tools it takes to have a vibrant, fulfilling, and expansive sex life are the same ones that can be used to create a satisfying long-term relationship," the authors write in their preface. "There are countless how-to sex manuals on the market. This is not one of those books. Merely finding the right moves or honing in on that perfect spot will not create a great sexual relationship. We seek to provide you with a foundation for an enduring and mutually satisfying erotic partnership."
Sexographies by Gabriela Wiener
Unlike the other books on this list, Sexographies doesn't profess to be a guide to rethinking sex, sexuality, or the erotic. Rather, it's a collection of first-person essays by an Argentine journalist, Gabriela Wiener, who wanted to understand the messiness of the erotic. In pursuit of truth, she participated in sexual exchanges, went to swingers clubs with her husband, underwent an egg donation, and immersed herself in the kinks, obsessions, and sexual choices of other people.
In the first essay, about notorious polygamist Ricardo Badani, she writes, "For Badani, a polygynous family consisting of one man and several women is stronger and more stable than a monogamous one. He recently celebrated his eleventh anniversary with his sixth wife, and is about to celebrate his twenty-third with the first. Badani is living proof that his experiment works."
Additional reporting by Cristina Arreola.
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