Sex Outside the Lines

March 15th, 2018

I first heard of  Chris Donaghue and his book Sex Outside The Lines via the Sex Nerd Sandra Podcast. It’s been quite a while since I listened to that particular episode, but it piqued my interest. In it,  Donaghue, a therapist who helps clients overcome their issues with sex, makes the argument that cultural views of sex shame healthy sex and lead to dysfunctional sex lives.

In Sex Outside the Lines,  Donaghue expands on this argument with examples from his clients as well as supporting arguments from other professionals (therapists, doctors, and the like).

I was fully prepared to enjoy this book. The idea that the cultural view of sex is misguided and narrow is one that I can totally get with. It leads to the shaming of all sorts, marginalization of people who have nonstandard sexual orientations, relationship dynamics, and kinks, and internalized until very few people are living an “authentic sexuality.” How can you go wrong with a book that expands on this?

For starters, it’s not entirely clear who Sex Outside the Lines is for.  I suppose the subtitle, “Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture,” made me feel like it was written for someone who wanted to discover their own authentic sexuality. But the book does not read as accessible to the average reader. As someone who writes and reads about sex, I found it a bit alienating. Donaghue uses hyphen-laden adjectives that he clearly relies upon in his practice, but they’re wordy and not standard at all. This is one reason why Sex Outside the Lines might be better for professionals than consumers.

If I continue, the tone of this book is also repellant in other ways. The author sometimes sounds pretentious and opinionated in a way that’s hard to swallow… and I generally agree with him. I cannot imagine that anyone who is on the fence about whether society has a dysfunctional view of sex would pick up this book and be swayed, let alone someone who is actively in the other camp.

I have a physical copy, so it’s unfortunate that I don’t have a digital reference at my side. There were a number of points where Donaghue had written something that I would have highlighted on my Kindle. Many of these instances were him describing the way society/partners/sex therapists disregard a person’s natural sexual proclivities as abusive. This terminology seems extreme to me.

Furthermore, he makes the argument in several places that any kink is valid and should always be fully lived. I think it can be assumed that Donaghue means when it’s safe, legal and consensual, but he doesn’t explicitly state as such.

He also ignores the fact that compromises must be made within relationships. While I believe that people ignore sexual compatibility all too often and it can lead to disastrous results, I am not sure that I buy that this is always the most important type of compatibility or that sex is a cure-all for any relationship ailment. If someone was looking for a reason to be sexually entitled and selfish, then reading Sex Outside the Lines without further guidance might encourage unhealthy behavior.

Donaghue’s sex-positive push is so forceful that is can feel like asexual erasure, despite him mentioning asexuality when he discusses the way that society discounts people who are not straight. And straight people who do identify as monogamous and marriage-minded might feel attacked by the book.

I also found that it was difficult to follow the overarching themes of each chapter and the segues between the sections therein. When you look at the table of contents, you see that the second chapter is all about why people fear sex, for example. But when you’re reading that chapter, it’s too easy to forget. This is exacerbated by some repetition of the content.

Finally, Donaghue often quotes others, but the references feel abrupt because he simply inserts the quote and reference without really explaining the context of those original quotes. I am not sure that the sources are actually making the same arguments that he is. I would much rather have brief introduction to the study/book/report and firmer explanation of how it ties into whatever argument the author is trying to make in that paragraph.

This all comes as a disappointment because Donaghue came off as likable and reasonable in the podcast that first introduced me to him. He speaks as someone who appears to be an effective therapist, but something is lost in translation when it comes to print.

While I agree with the general theme of Sex Outside the Lines, the book leaves a bit to be desired and an unusual taste in my mouth. I am not sure what it accomplishes or who I would recommend it to, and it’s not because I think within the lines sexually. Perhaps Donaghue is just not the person who should be writing this thesis.


Sex Yourself

May 8th, 2017

Sex Yourself
$11.99 (Kindle) from Amazon

If I was going to pick a book that was friendly and welcoming to readers, especially those who are looking to expand or start their sex lives, Sex Yourself would be pretty far up there.

Sex Yourself, subtitle ” The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms,” is the product of author Carlyle Jansen. Jansen is actually the founder of Toronto sex toy store Good For Her. I feel like Jansen is a capable vessel to disseminate this information, and Sex Yourself lends credibility by not avoiding actual names for our anatomy or trying to cute things up. I appreciate this.

The book does a good job at talking to the inexperienced reader without being overwhelming them while avoiding those all-too-common mistakes of treating sex as something to hem and/or hehe about. Jansen proves you can be gentle without being infantilizing or condescending (although, she does swap “masturbation” with “self-pleasure” and “solo sex”). Why don’t more people do this?

Right from the start, Sex Yourself aims to encourage masturbation and to mitigate feelings of guilt about masturbation. Jansen reassures the reader with stats about women and masturbation. She also touches on how solo sex is still sex, even if it’s with yourself, but it’s not cheating. The first chapter wraps up with benefits of masturbation, both for yourself and your partnered sex.

A bit of the formatting is lost in the digital edition

From here, Jansen teaches the reader about erogenous zones such as the clitoris. She also specifies between the vulva and vagina. Yasss! The second chapter is the comprehensive anatomy lesson that most of us never got with addition info on discharge, pregnancy, and menopause.

I don’t want to go through every chapter in detail, but  Sex Yourself is worth reading for many people, even if I found most of the information a little basic. It’s the type of book that a parent might give to their daughter or that a young woman might seek out to get in touch with her sexual side.

This book is body positive, and the encouragement for self-love extends beyond masturbation. Jansen’s words somehow make it a little more easy to be in a woman with so many expectations put upon us before providing actionable techniques for masturbation. Every topic that Jansen tackles to techniques to toys to masturbating in front of your partner is in-depth and accessible while encouraging natural sexual exploration.

I was consistently impressed with Jansen’s advice, the type that I and my fellow sex bloggers have been providing for years. Sex Yourself suggests lube time and again (yay) while providing all the information you need to choose a one (you can learn a bit more about the science of lube in this post). Issues such as ass-to-vag toy usage and anal toy safety aren’t glossed over. I love this.

Sex Yourself also dispels some myths such as one type of orgasm being superior to the other or that there’s a difference between G-spot and clitoral orgasms, to begin with. The book also doesn’t spread falsehoods like squirting is just pee, either.

Perhaps it’s because Jansen wrote Sex Yourself like so many of my peers have been writing posts (you’ll find recommendations for some of our favorite toys!) and books that it struck gold. It’s real, it’s useful, and its presence was much needed in the world of sex ed.

It’s also a quick read, and you can page through to the content you need without reading it all. In fact, I would recommend a physical copy because it looks like the formatting works just a bit better/is more polished than the digital version.

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10 Sex Ed Books On My Reading List

May 18th, 2016

A while back, I noticed that Good Vibes seemed to be increasing their book section. Maybe they’ve always had an awesome collection of books, and I’m not just talking about erotica and stuff from Cleis Press, which publishes my favorite sex series. I mean sex education books, studies of human sexuality and instructional books that expand on Our Bodies, Ourselves (also available from Good Vibes.)

Not all of these books are new, but most of them are new to me and a few are new to the site. This list isn’t comprehensive by any means, but it does contain titles I’d like to look into further (I plan on reading most/all of them myself to update this post with my own thoughts and recommendations in the future), and those that

1. Sex Yourself: The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms

I love anything that teaches women about masturbation. Let’s talk about the, literal, ins and outs. Let’s experiment. Let’s draw back the curtain. This book was published by Good Vibes itself, which has me feeling pretty confident in its content!

2. Wide Open

Gracie X writes about being polyamorous in a world that most definitely doesn’t understand or condone it. I most definitely enjoyed another book about the poly lifestyle – My Life on the Swingset. Wide Open might not be instructional, but anecdotal stories about “alternative” lifestyles certainly help people to explore.

3. Girls & Sex

This book discusses how young women of high school and college age deal with the sexual world in which they live. Again, women’s sexuality is so frequently ignored or worse, that I cannot help but feel curious about what’s between these pages.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with over seventy young women and a wide range of psychologists, academics, and experts, renowned journalist Peggy Orenstein goes where most others fear to tread, pulling back the curtain on the hidden truths, hard lessons, and important possibilities of girls’ sex lives in the modern world.


What Do Women Want?

What Do Women Want?

4. What Do Women Want?

Daniel Bergner analyses research on a women’s arousal and desire to determine what they really want. I first discovered this around the same time as Come As You Are by Emily Nagasaki, available on Amazon. She was kind enough to reply to me on Twitter about the comparison between the two books, which use the same data but draw different conclusions. I am already a fan of Nagasaki, so I might be biased, but I’d still like to read this book.

5. Playing the Whore

Ever since reading a smart essay on sex work in the most recent Best Sex Writing anthology, I’ve been looking at sex work in a more sex positive way. Playing the Whore sounds like the perfect argument to those who view sex workers as less than human and focus on legislation that hurts them, rather than helping them.

6. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence

I love language, and I love using the word “cunt.” It seems so bold to name a book this, but I’m not sure it should. Author Inga Muscio discusses how the word has changed over time and how we should reclaim it — and our bodies.

7. Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships

A how-to on romantic and sexual relationships? Why isn’t this something we’re taught from the start?!

8. The Sex & Pleasure book

Another offering from Good vibes, THE Sex & Pleasure Book is written by Carol Queen and Shar Rednour to cover everything related to sex. It’s got a 5-star rating, which only makes me want to read it more.

9. Woman Cancer Sex

The stark cover perfectly complements the stark nature of sex. Few people offer advice to cancer patients in regards to sex and intimacy. Anne Katz does it in these pages. She talks about side effects and potential issues from cancer and treatments, and this is exactly the sort of sex education that’s practical and necessary.

10. She Comes First

My desire for reading this book is pretty selfish. In short, I want to pick it apart page by page and disagree with suggestions about how to please a woman. But maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

There are over 100 books, including erotica and sex ed, that you can buy from Good Vibes. Obviously, it’s more than just a place where I get free sex toys, so add a book to your cart the next time you’re shopping!

This post contains affiliate links. I will earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking. I was not compensated for this post.


The Mysteries of Female Sexuality

April 19th, 2009

The female body, ever mysterious; men have been trying to divine its meaning and function for years to no avail. This fact is often a point of laughter among those who wear said body and a point of frustration among groups of men who share their foibles. Sadly, the mystery of the female body, while alluring, is not one to just the lesser sex (I kid) but to those who have spent their entire life in the body as well.

I can’t tell you the number of times a woman my age has shown ignorance about her own body. Worse yet, woman the age of my mother and grandmother seem to know even less and these are the women who are passing on knowledge to the woman who will come after them. Fortunately, sex and body education is growing increasingly more helpful and accurate but it means not all women have the same information regarding their bodies. Indeed, some women even have inaccurate information which was fed to them as a means of deterring them from sex. They believe their genitals and even their sexuality is something which is dirty and shameful and should be treated with such regard. They are not encouraged to explore or enjoy themselves. They are simply a receptacle for production and while I could never belittle the strength it takes to be a mother, I can also never stress enough how important those same parts and systems are to female sexuality and how beneficial it can be. Thus, it’s no surprise that I do encourage healthy sex education.

I am surprised, however, when I hear from people near my age who still carry with them inaccurate or incomplete sexual information. After all, my own sex education, while not the best ever, seemed to be far ahead of the pack in many aspects. So, when a female peer looks at me in shock when I mention that, yes, females can masturbate, I tend to return just the same look. Why is it that women seem strangers to their own bodies? What is the big gender difference that makes being a man and having a penis more acceptable than being a woman with a vagina?

I think a large portion of our misunderstanding when it comes to the female body is due to the fact that it is simply less accessible than the male body. Whereas males can easily find and manipulate their sexual parts, location and successful stimulation for females can be much more difficult. Consider that there is a generally acceptable mode of masturbation for men but not so much for females; perhaps this is simply due to the fact that it is easier to understand what we can see. After all, fear of the unknown is nothing new to humankind. Our internal parts are not the only ones difficult to spot; even our external genitals are less obvious than those of our male counterparts.

I have read, on multiple occasions, that females should take the time to get to know their body with their eyes. For those of us who are not astounding gymnasts, I would suggest using a small hand or makeup mirror to become more familiar and comfortable with our parts. If a mirror is out of the question, it would also work to take a picture. If you have a digital camera, you can examine and delete it without anyone else discovering it.

However, there’s one big disadvantage to being female and knowing your body well and that is menstruation. While I know there are some women who feel blessed to be female and are ecstatic over menstrual bleeding, I am not one. And I’m not alone in dreading the one week a month when my body seems to want to work against me and my hormones fluctuate without warning.

The drawback to knowing your body is knowing what it can do and not all of those things are pleasant. When bleeding is a prominent component, it’s easy to apply the word “dirty” to female sexuality. Even if no one around us holds those negative attitudes, it’s easy enough to think negatively about ourselves. When you add in moodiness and irritability that menstruation frequently causes, it can easily become a downward spiral and add negative overtones to our sexuality. Shame is only a short step away, especially if those about us enforce those attitudes.

Of course, this alone does not have to be a road block to exploration and understanding of our sexual selves. While I do not relish menstruation, I do not hate my body or sexuality either. If nothing else, I grew tolerant of the way my body worked despite its differences from my male peers.

Those differences can also enforce negative attitudes and the proliferation of false truths about female sexuality. Men and women have always had their differences and only in the recent past has the idea of “different but equal” arose. True, men and women excel in different ways but for too long these differences were seen as irrefutable proof that the male gender exceeded the female gender. These differences were used to control and own people in a way that most would now agree is unethical.

For thousands of years, women were told they could not work outside the home, be members of the military or even vote. For thousands of years, women were taught to be subservient and to please their husbands. Their wants and their needs always coming in second place, if they even placed at all. It took many generations for these ideals to become ingrained in countless societies and I have no doubt it will take just as many generations for new ideals to be adopted, no matter how contemporary we may think ourselves to be.

And these differences? These inequalities? They must exist for a reason. Women must suffer with the “monthly curse” for a reason. Instead of our differences being used to further society, women dealt with the stigma that they were intrinsically inferior to men because of some historic sin (perhaps the forbidden fruit?), rendering them less important, less human than men. Why would they explore these differences when they represent such shame?

At surface level, I am shocked by just how far we have to go in understanding the female body and by association, female sexuality. Still, when I consider all the contributing factors, such as how women have been regarded for thousands of years, the attitudes which have become second nature to us and how our bodies can sometimes feel like our enemies by “hiding” our most sexual parts or bleeding once a month, the mystery begins to unravel. When we see that, we can also see that there is nothing wrong with exploring our bodies and sexuality.


Importance of Sex Education

February 23rd, 2009

I have always believed in sex education. Coming from a liberal, midwest state I know the sex education I got (which started in second or third grade and last, on and off, until my sophomore year) was much better than the sex ed others were getting which ranged from “Don’t do it” to “Masturbation is a sin” to none at all. Still, the focus was on not engaging in sex; although I felt my teachers gave me good reasons why (and I was listening), more information about safer sex would be preferred.

I know I’m not the only one who values sex education that is actually, well, educational but not everyone does. There are some people who feel that educating our nation’s youth about sexuality isn’t the way to go (is it any wonder that these people have unsatisfactory sex, got pregnant in their teens, caught a multitude of STDs because of risky behaviour or have never known how to please themselves or their lovers?) and to them I say “Listen up!”

I think most of us agree that the purpose parenting and teaching is to communicate to our children the risks they will have to deal with once they leave the walls of home or school and set them up to make the best decisions when it comes to these risks. We certainly exert more control over theirs lives when children are younger; no one is going to let a toddler cross the road by himself but as children grow, we impart on them more responsibility regarding life’s risks and trust that we have reared a child or a generation of children who will choose the best course of action for them. Notice, I don’t say “right” because what is right for one individual may not be for another.

I believe it’s important for us to recognize that life is full of risks but we can’t simply shelter our children; this almost always leads to more harm than good. By allowing them to make their own decisions and mistakes, we help them grow and give them a sense of confidence. So why is it that so many people think the best way to teach about sexuality is to say “Don’t do it” and leave it at that – the equivalent of “Because I say so,” another cheap cop out that no responsible person should use?

Although I’m not a parent, I can tell you that when I was given a solid “No” without meaning, it only made me want to rebel against my mother. However, if she took the time to explain why she said no, I was more wiling to consider her side and listen to her advice. When we tell our young children not to cross the road (without looking both ways), we explain to them that cars sometimes drive very fast and drivers may not see them when they’re doing so. Not looking could result in a painful or even deadly accident. And when we tell them not to talk to strangers because strangers may want to hurt them, they learn not to talk to strangers.

Of course, even as we try to teach these life lessons, we must recognize that, at some time, our youth will cross the road without a trusting hand to hold and that everyone begins a stranger so we must be somewhat trusting. We take as active a role as possible: we tell them some strangers are helpful like police officers, doctors or teachers and we send them into the world, armed with knowledge. We teach them how to drive, explain that a car is a powerful machine and they must be observant and obey laws and rules of the road. And then we let them go.

So why should sex be the exception? Why should something, without which none of us would exist, be glossed over, tucked in the back of the book or ignored altogether? It shouldn’t. Sex is a part of life and will always be a part of life. It has the potential to be riskier than other activities, certainly, which makes it even more important that we educate youth about it.

Of course, it also makes us want to protect them from it even more and it’s certainly understandable but if we don’t give them the information they need to make the best decisions, doesn’t this endanger them even more? By withholding information about the risks of sex, teens may be walking into a dangerous situation blindly. In fact, I would call this very irresponsible in terms of parenting and educating. Furthermore, by not educating how sex can be a positive, healthy and pleasurable thing (within and outside of a relationship), we could be setting up the next generation to a life of mediocrity.

I don’t think we should be bringing porn starts into our class rooms or waking up our kids with skin mags but I think that a level of responsible parenting and teaching is necessary. And, no, I don’t think that illustrating why waiting to have sex but outliningg ways to engage in safer sex at the same time will prompt teens to engage in sex earlier. I think that, by nature of our species, adolescents will be curious and some will have sex, yes. I also think that if we show them the potential risks including pregnancy, STDs, physical discomfort and emotional tolls, we allow them to make the most educated decision and, should they decide to have sex, they know to protect themselves from all the possible negative consequences. Hopefully, teaching about the risks will also deter some teens from having sex at a young age.

But if we don’t teach them and they race to the sack with the first person who is open to advances, they may not know to use condoms to protect from STDs and prevent pregnancy. How many know someone who thinks “pulling out” is an effective form of birth control? Or who wonder if you can get pregnant from oral sex? Or who think that you cannot get pregnant while a female has her period? How many people are aware that condoms don’t protect against all STDs, should only be worn for 30 minutes at a time, should have room at the tip for semen to accumulate and should never be worn doubled up? Not everyone and that is a problem.

Yet, it’s not the only problem. I think it’s important to recognize that not teaching today’s youth about their bodies can limit the pleasure they will experience during their life on Earth. This is especially true with the female half of the population, some of whom do not even know what the clitoris is or that female cans masturbate or that it’s okay to communicate what they like during sex. Comprehensive sex education not only leads to safer sex but leads to more meaningful, positive sex which enhances, not harms, relationships.

Although I discuss mostly young people and their ignorance when it comes to sex, I think that most young people are better educated than some adults. Do our parent’s and grandparents’ generation even know a fraction of what we do? How many grown women engage in dangerous vaginal douching to be “fresh” and clean? Would some hard learned lessons have made sex and relationships better had someone care enough to take the time to explain the basics? Absolutely.

There is no need to drill into youth that “Sex is bad! Sex is bad! Sex is bad! Don’t talk about it.” However, there is every need to explain that the best sex can be physically and emotionally fulfilling by knowing the risks and preparing for the consequences. And that is no different from every other lesson we teach at home or school.

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