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A Sex Book for Every Type of Person

The author’s cat Bugsy Malone pads around her library of sex books. Photo: Liz Goldwyn

As the founder of The Sex Ed, a multimedia platform dedicated to sex, health, and consciousness education, I’m often asked what quality makes someone sexy. I’m a sapiosexual, or someone who is aroused by intellect, so I usually answer with one of my favorite John Waters quotes: “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have any books, don’t fuck ’em!” Our brains are our largest sexual organ, after all, and one that is well-fed is always alluring. (Plus, who hasn’t had a fantasy involving hot sex amid library stacks? I’m not alone here… right?)

Still, with hundreds of thousands of “sex” books out there that run the gamut from erotica to instructional to metaphysical, it can be hard to navigate your way through what is worth reading. Understanding our sexual selves is a lifelong journey and one that we don’t get prepared for in school, which is why cultivating your own collection of sex-reference books can be extremely helpful to expanding your sexual consciousness. I have worked in the sex-education space for close to 30 years and, at last count, my own library of sex titles numbers in the hundreds, including two I wrote myself: Sporting Guide: Los Angeles, 1897 is set in the world of sex work and vice pre-Hollywood and Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens explores a century of striptease between 1860–1960.

One feature on The Sex Ed website that I am most proud of is our library, which, like my personal one, includes curated, titillating selections relating to sex, health, and consciousness. Below, I’ve listed some of the many titles we’ve stocked its virtual shelves with. There’s truly something for everyone, from Victorian erotica to guides for raising sex-positive kids to explorations of queer theory to porn stars’ memoirs to romantic poetry to pregnancy-focused cookbooks. The prices shown below are for new paperback or hardcover books, but the listed retailers also sell used and digital versions of certain titles for less.

For the adolescent who loved Call Me by Your Name

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This homoerotic tale of an intense clandestine romance amid a Paris in the throes of creative and cultural upheaval is one of my favorites. Not only is the book a part of the 20th-century literary canon, it is also a deeply poignant and often heartbreaking love story we can all relate to — no matter our sexual orientation.

For the free spirit who wants to connect their orgasm to their meditation practice

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The late, great Ram Dass’s meditation bible Be Here Now is a book I first discovered in high school, long before I learned that the present (and meditation) is where it is at. A big proponent of The Sex Ed’s philosophy is the connection between mindfulness and sexuality. Every sexual act, from bondage to anal to “vanilla,” becomes much more pleasurable, and transcendent even, once you have integrated mind and spirit into your sexual activity. With beautiful drawings, a brief history of the 1960s psychedelic drug scene, and a journey to transcendence, this is a staple for any well-curated library.

For anyone who has a thing for brilliant women

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The world of sex education bid adieu to a legend when Betty Dodson passed away at 91 in 2020. An icon who taught thousands of women how to pleasure themselves and a titan of the sex-positive movement, Dodson details her incredible life — from popularizing the Hitachi Magic Wand, to leading group masturbation workshops, to her early career as an erotic artist making glass-blown sex toys in this memoir.

For the couple (or person) who had a quarantine baby

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A guide to nourishing new parents in what some call the “fourth trimester,” this part-cookbook, part–cultural history would be great for anyone who welcomed a life during quarantine. Not only are the recipes delicious, it’s a fabulous handbook on how to support your loved one after they’ve gone through the huge physical endeavor that is childbirth.

For the friend who goes to sex parties (or wants to)

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Have you ever wondered what to bring when you go to a sex party? If you read porn icon Nina Hartley’s book, you’ll learn the answer to that question (a change of clothing and some snacks) and more. Hartley, who boasts the longest-ever career as a porn star, is also a sex educator and registered nurse; she has put more hours into having sex than anyone else I know.

For the dom-in-training

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Betony Vernon is a true mistress of the ropes and the creator of a groundbreaking, oft-imitated line of so-called sado-chic jewelry. While any of her decadent pieces would certainly impress the bondage-curious, her book is a lot cheaper and filled with great tips and factual information for everyone interested in learning about rope bondage and beyond.

For the toddler whose first word was ‘no’

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This board book is a must-have for every parent of a young child. Not only will it allow those parents to help teach kids that it’s okay to say “no” to that overly affectionate aunt or uncle, but it’ll also show how not to hurt anyone’s feelings in the process.

For the friend-with-benefits who thinks they’ve done it all

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Dr. Kate Lister, who has a Ph.D. in history, is the brains behind the wildly popular @WhoresOfYore Twitter account. In this book, she distills her encyclopedic knowledge and years of research into a gloriously raunchy yet informative read. From masturbating medieval gargoyles, to Victorian bicycle porn, to the etymology of the “c-word,” the book shows us all of the ways in which there is nothing new when it comes to sex. The prices shown are for hardcover copies, but both Amazon and Bookshop also offer the option of preordering a cheaper paperback edition (which will ship in May 2021).

For the parochial-school graduate who wants to reconcile faith with sexuality

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Spirituality and sexuality don’t need to exist separately — they can align, and this novel is a great example of that. The pseudonymous Nedjma’s autobiographical tale about reconciling her beliefs as an observant Muslim woman with her erotic longings is powerful, groundbreaking, and deeply sexy.

For the partner who always craves an audience

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The first of two memoirs by legendary porn star, mother, and author Asa Akira (who has also been a guest on The Sex Ed podcast), this is essential reading for anyone interested in the inner workings of the adult industry. In the book, Asa writes about her life growing up in ’90s New York City, her early days working as a dominatrix, and her beginnings in porn. Its pages are filled with wildly vivid (and hot) descriptions of threesomes and filming “gonzo” scenes, memories of winning AVN’s Female Performer of the Year award in 2013, and recollections of her first marriage to a fellow porn star.

For the art lover who appreciates voluptuous women

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This visual exploration of the “thick” side of sexy works to dismantle the paradigm that only thin is pretty. The gorgeous coffee-table book shows images that Batts, a photographer, adoringly and erotically took of his wife, subject, and collaborator, adult performer April Flores.

For the old soul who’s into S&M

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From 1946 to 1959, John Willie’s groundbreaking periodical Bizarre offered a glimpse into S&M’s wickedly glamorous, burgeoning subculture. Kroll’s gorgeous best-of book takes readers on a tour of that bygone era’s most pleasurable pains and, in my opinion, is a title that every vintage-minded kink enthusiast should have on their shelf. That said, it’s now out of print, so new copies like those sold by Abe Books can get pricey. Used editions, which Abe Books also sells, will be cheaper.

For the Gen-Zer who doesn’t see gender

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Driskill’s book reminds us that people who live outside of the confines of the gender binary have existed in many cultures for centuries. It highlights the queer and two-spirit history of the Cherokee community, making it a great title for those looking to explore the cultural history of the gender identity spectrum through an Indigenous American lens.

For the activist who thinks gay rights began at Stonewall

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The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City may have brought the gay-rights movement into the public square, but according to author Daniel Hurewitz, Los Angeles is where it actually first emerged. Featuring firsthand accounts, police records, and rare photos, his book tells the story of L.A.’s culture-redefining underground-queer scene in the early half of the 20th century.

For woke parents who want to raise like-minded children

We are sexual beings from the day we’re born, and how we develop sexual identities requires being informed, inclusive, and conscious of the world around us. Every child deserves to see themselves reflected in history books — doing so will only expand their sexual consciousness, even if they don’t realize that for some time. While not explicitly about sex, this pair of books span continents and centuries and is a great foundation for kids of all ages, races, and genders to learn about figures that they might not read about elsewhere.

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A Sex Book for Every Type of Person