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How to Think More About Sex (School of Life) by Alain de Botton
How to Think More About Sex (School of Life)

KinkyAnnamarie, September 14, 2013

The passages quoted from the book are beautifully written and sound like a refreshing take on thinking about sex. de Botton is clearly an excellent writer, and the beginning of the book is so very promising. For example: "Ultimately, sex is a grounding mechanism that reminds us of our own imperfect humanity, and in that imperfection lies the messy richness of being human" and "We are granted an extraordinary opportunity to feel comfortable in our own skin wen a willing and generous lover invites us to say or do the very worst things we can imagine."

Beautiful, yes? Selectively quote a book and you can make anything sound wonderful, even to the extent of giving the impression that it is about the exact opposite of its actual content. In this case, the content is primarily that we should feel shame about sex, and focus on it LESS. I still haven't figured out why the book is titled "How to Think More About Sex."

To start, an amped-up version of Freudianism appears when the author insists that the reason the amount of sex had in a relationship diminishes over time because we start to see our partners as our parents, and sex with our parents is icky. Since this is normal and inevitable, we should resign ourselves to this state and disregard our sexual impulses. But don't go assuming that you're in the clear if you just give up on expecting to have sex with your partner. Want to watch porn? Congratulations. You are destroying society.

"The associated waste of time is naturally horrific. Financial analysts put the value of the online pornography industry at $10 billion a year, but this figure doesn't begin to evoke its true cost in terms of squandered human energy: perhaps as many as two hundred million man-hours annually that might otherwise have been devoted to starting companies, raising children, curing cancer, writing masterpieces or sorting out the attic, are instead spent ogling the mesmerizing pages of [porn] sites."

You could be curing cancer! How selfish to spend that time and energy on porn. Besides, you really should have known since "how deeply contrary pornography is to the rest of our plans and inclinations becomes clear only after orgasm. Where just a moment before we might have sacrificed our worldly goods for one more click, now we must confront with horror and shame the temporary abandonment of our sanity." That's right, watching porn and masturbating should make you feel immediately ashamed and horrified.

If all this stress leads to some impotence, worry not. It just means you're a good and ethical human because:

"...what is often termed 'nerves' in a man, far from being a problem, is in fact an asset that should be sought out and valued as evidence of an evolved type of kindness. The fear of being disgusting, absurd or a disappointment to someone else is a first sign of morality. Impotence is an achievement of the ethical imagination - so much so that in the future, we men might learn to act out episodes of the condition as a way of signaling our depth of spirit, just as today we furtively swallow Viagra tablets in the bathroom to prove the extent of our manliness."

Perhaps we should start having Impotence Pride Day to celebrate our evolution.

Who can we turn to for guidance around our sexuality? According to de Botton, religion (specifically Judeo-Christian religions) is the answer. Without religion, we in the West would have been devoid of any sense of morality or ethics. He states, "Reason and kindness had not yet intruded upon the free flow of animal impulses - nor, in the West, would they do so convincingly for many millennia to come, until the influences of classical philosophy and Judeo-Christian ethics at last percolated through the general population in the centuries after the death of Christ." Not only are we finally kind and reasonable, we can absolutely rely on religion to dictate how we should think about sex and sexuality.

"Only religions still take sex seriously, in the sense of properly respecting its power to turn us away from our priorities. Only religions see it as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. We may not sympathize with what they would wish us to think about in the place of sex, and we may not like the way they go about trying to censor it, but we can surely - though perhaps only after killing many hours online at [porn site] - appreciate that on this one point religions have got it right: sex and sexual images can overwhelm our higher rational faculties with depressing ease."

(Who exactly does de Botton think creates and maintains religions? It's the very people he insists are unable to overcome their impulses and hormones, and who set aside all goodness for the sake of a quick orgasm.)

Religion will help us kick our porn habit by redefining pornography.

"The new pornography would combine sexual excitement with an interest in other human ideals. The usual animalistic categories and hackneyed plots, replete with stock characters seemingly incapable of coherent speech, would give way to pornographic images and scenarios based around such qualities as intelligence (showing people reading or wandering the stacks in libraries), kindness (people performing oral sex on one another with an air of sweetness and regard) or humility (people caught looking embarrassed, shy or self-conscious). No longer would we have to make a painful choice between being human and being sexual."

Can't you just imagine it? Whole shelves devoted to library porn. Perhaps we can have some really hard-core stuff like videos of people studying physics or organic chem. Mmm… I'm getting wet already.

Turning to religion will also improve our marriages, which also happens "to suit children well. It spares them anxiety over the consequences of their parents' arguments: they can feel confident that their mum and dad like each other well enough to work things out, even though they may bicker and fight every day, as kids themselves do in the playground." Staying together for the kids, even if you're fighting all the time, is just so beneficial! de Botton also insists that any sexual exploration outside of a marriage, consensual or not, will destroy the relationship and that staying faithful necessarily means that you will miss out on "some of life's greatest and most important sensory pleasures along the way." But since we're slaves to our urges and hormones, it's pretty likely that we will stray, in which case de Botton has some counterintuitive advice for us:

"Rather than ask their 'betrayers' to say they are sorry, the 'betrayed' might begin by saying sorry themselves - sorry for being themselves, sorry for getting old, sorry for being boring sometimes, sorry for forcing their partners to lie by setting the bar of truthfulness forbiddingly high and (while we are at it), sorry for being human."

Yeah. That'll fix it.

To sum up, all relationships lead to marriage, which is important for children regardless of the health of the relationship. During the course of a marriage, we will start thinking of our spouses as our parents and stop having sex because incest is taboo. Ideally, we will just give up on our sexuality at that point, because watching porn is the equivalent of taking food from starving children and hosting book burnings. If we're lucky, our genitals will stop working entirely. Religion, however, will save us by shaming us into having as little sex as possible, to the extent that we will eventually evolve to find images of people reading erotic. And if we ever make a mistake in all this, don't worry too much. Our partners will apologize for making us do whatever bad thing it is we did.

Or, as the author says towards the end of the book: "We would be so nice without sex - nice in the way that seven-year-old boys and girls are, full of sweetness and wonder about the lives of marmosets or deer."

Never have I wanted so badly to throw a book across the room. This is the most shaming, sex-negative book I've read in ages, and it is shocking that it gets such good reviews.
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Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica by Tristan Taormino
Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica

KinkyAnnamarie, July 12, 2012

So… I read this book right after suffering through "50 Shades of Grey" so some of my enthusiasm may be in response to that, but the stories in this anthology were amazing! I realized that trying to list out my favorites was a pointless task when the list became essentially the table of contents.

There is a staggering variety of people of all different genders doing extraordinarily erotic things to each other. Gender is not a crisis: some of the characters are nervous but there is no agonizing over coming out or horrified responses from partners. Also missing is the all-too-common fetishization of trans bodies - all you'll find here is a celebration of all bodies and the remarkable things we can do together.

This compilation does have some particularly tantalizing and unique stories. "Shoes Are Meant to Get You Somewhere" by Dean Scarborough is story of feminization filled with beautiful submissive reverence. Anyone with a religious fetish will adore "Taking the Toll" by Kiki DeLovely. "Self Reflection" by Tobi Hill Meyer gives an entirely new (and delicious) spin on "go screw yourself." If you appreciate rough, gritty, nasty sex, check out "Punching Bag" by Rachel Kramer Bussel, and I may just have to act out the scene in "From Fucktoy to Footstool" by Zev.

If you want a great change of pace from the usual erotica fare, definitely check this book out, just make sure you have lots of fresh batteries on hand!
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Sex: A Book for Teens: An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex, and Safety
Sex: A Book for Teens: An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex, and Safety

KinkyAnnamarie, July 6, 2012

I had such high hopes for this book after reading the good reviews of the Midwest Teen Sex Show. Plus, I just read "s.e.x." by Heather Corinna (which was amazing) so this left me extra disappointed.

Don't get me wrong, this book isn't all bad. The humor will grab the attention of teens who might otherwise be loathe to read a sex-ed book, and it's not so long that it will scare people away. The author is very pro-masturbation (yay!) and gives a great admonition to boys about not harassing the girls about their periods ("You wouldn't want the girls making jokes about your occasional boners, so let them bleed in peace.") It was frustrating that the humor seemed to come at the expense of good information though. For example, when talking about getting your period unexpectedly they referred to it as a "battle wound", and they make fun of the "freakiness" of certain fetishes.

And not all the information was good. There's a section on loving your body, but it's followed by a section on how much you should try to not be fat. Love your body, as long as it's thin, but make sure you don't get an eating disorder in the process. Then they have a decent explanation of trans issues but then insist on discussing "both sexes" throughout the rest of the book. They even divide up sex acts by orientation (straight vaginal sex vs lesbian vaginal sex, for example) and there is no allowance for people having sex outside of their chosen sexual identity.

Then there were little annoyances: plenty of talk of manual sex but no discussion of gloves, insistence that BDSM is never for teens (sorry kinky teens, you'll just have to wait), and wanting to date more than one person means you can't commit. The final straw for me was their discussion of the g-spot, which started with "Many believe that there is a region called the G-spot that is thought to be more sensitive than other parts of the vain. It is said to be an area inside the vagina on the upper wall about 2 to 3 inches in." "Many believe"? "It is said"? If you don't believe that the g-spot exists, at least explain why.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this book unless the reader really needs the humor to make it through. There are better options out there.
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Urban Aboriginals: A Celebration of Leathersexuality by Geoff Mains
Urban Aboriginals: A Celebration of Leathersexuality

KinkyAnnamarie, July 6, 2012

This book has been on my to-read list for years as it's one of the classics in S/M history and culture. Geoff Mains clearly loves the gay Leather community, which makes this book extra beautiful.

His idealistic perspectives show up in his description of what is expected of members of the Leather community: "Neither arrogance nor braggadocio is tolerated in the leather community. To many, the pushy man in leather is merely a drag queen in another disguise. Loudness is an unacceptable substitute for patient self-assurance; it and frenetic exhibitionism are signs of unrecognized insecurity. Genuine emotion and warmth are understood and appreciated, emotional lack of restraint is not."

Isn't that an amazing description (aside from the snarky bit about drag queens)? The emphasis on building community is very strong, as is the focus on service and fundraising both within and outside of the community. I feel that we lose sight of this ideal at times and this was a good reminder of how much good the Leather community can do in the world.

After the first section, the book gets a bit more dense. The author has done a lot of research on pain theory and dives into it at unexpected times. A lot of the theory he references has fallen out of favor with the medical community at this point, but it's still a fascinating read - IF you enjoy science writing! For anyone who is not science-minded, this would get pretty ponderous. The rest of the book is quite scattered, with topics such as bondage, fisting, and piss play intermingling with physiology and philosophy. If you can follow it, there's a lot of good and interesting information in here.

There is a great discussion towards the end about the development of the lesbian Leather community, specifically SAMOIS (founded in 1978), and how the gay men were slowly adjusting to coexisting with them. The author also contrasts the dynamics within the lesbian and gay communities with those of the straight S/M community at the time.

If you want a peek into the history of of the gay Leather community, this is definitely a book to add to your collection. Be prepared to skim some of the slower, heavier sections if you don't get off on physiology though!
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S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College by Heather Corinna
S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College

KinkyAnnamarie, June 2, 2012

I had good sex-ed books growing up, from what I remember. They were straight-forward, science based and once I got over the obligatory "eww gross!" reaction, they were really quite interesting. This book, however, outshines them all.

Let me get my one complaint out of the way: the subtitle. "The all-you-need-to-know progressive sexuality guide to get you through high school and college" alienates anyone who doesn't finish high school, doesn't plan to go to college, or pursues an alternative education and quite often these are the people who most need access to reliable information about their sexual health. In reading the book, I didn't find the content to reflect this bias which was a relief.

But back to the book itself. The author is the founder and owner of Scarleteen, probably the best web resource for teen sexuality. If anyone knows what teens actually want and need to know about sex and sexuality, she'd be the person. Right from the start she tells us that she won't be spending much time on discussing abstinence, backing that decision up with the following statistic: "…about 26 percent of young adults 'practicing abstinence' will become pregnant within one year." Instead she accepts that most young people will want and eventually have sex and tries to prepare them for that eventuality. Unlike may sex-ed books, she goes beyond just explaining how not to get pregnant or contract an STI - she actually talks about how to have GOOD sex. The discussion of safer sex includes the usual physically safer sex, but also emotionally safer sex.

There's a ton of good stuff in this book, including realistic descriptions of what you will experience in an OB/GYN appointment, how to use the various kinds of birth control (including cost and effectiveness), and what an abortion is actually like without all the scare tactics. There is also a recognition that teens don't always (or often) wait for a long-term relationship in order to have sex; many will have hook ups, one night stands or friends with benefits. Queer, genderqueer, and kinky teens will all find themselves represented here which is refreshing change of pace in the world of sex-ed.

Above all the author stresses communication: if you can't talk to your partner about what you want and need from a sexual encounter, you should probably rethink having sex with them at all. Will this prevent anyone who reads it from having bad sex? Probably not, but the more that message gets out there, the sooner they WILL start demanding what they need in their sexual lives, something that people of all ages will benefit from!
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