“This book,” Bolz-Weber writes, “is for everyone who ever felt ashamed of their sexual nature because of what someone told them in God’s name.” She’s been the pastor at Denver’s Lutheran House for All Sinners and Saints for a decade; she’s also a former stand-up comic and a recovering alcoholic, and she uses all of her experiences to reframe Christianity as an institution that welcomes people whose relationship with sexuality looks like hers, and people who aren’t like her at all. Her grappling with negative messages about what we are and how we love creates a spiritual home where everyone can heal.
Inti Chavez Perez
Locker rooms can be great places to strip off stinky athletic socks and hit the showers. Locker-room talk, on the other hand, is a notoriously lousy substitute for the thoughtful sex-ed conversations that educator Inti Chavez Perez dishes out in a how-to manual that covers everything from the care and proper maintenance of male anatomy to how to use it responsibly. If you’re looking to initiate a birds-and-the-bees talk—or to understand how those talks have changed and must change, along with science and society—Respect is for you.
This uncensored and unshaven deep dive into how people with female bodies have been told to feel about those bodies (and just how often what they’re told is, scientifically and culturally, pure nonsense) is particularly explicit about one body in particular. Through hilarious anecdotes, conversations with experts, and even cartoons, Mara Altman’s essays spare no detail in bringing readers into her relationship with her “top half,” “bottom half,” and everything in between. This is a celebration of lady parts in all their messy glory.
The Men on My Couch
Brandy Engler and David Rensin
When clinical psychologist Brandy Engler opened a New York City sex-therapy practice for women, her phone rang off the hook with male callers—and the revelations they made in her office were not what she had expected to tackle. The Men on My Couch introduces seven of Dr. Engler’s male patients, and brings readers along for an intimate look at the professional and personal progress she made as they shared their romantic lives with her. “Instead of telling you what men think or want,” she says, “I will let you read what they told me.”
The Joy of Sex
In 1972, The Joy of Sex was an instant bestseller that offered heterosexual lovers a “modern sex manual.” Groundbreaking as it was, it was also a product of its time—and in 2009, sex expert and relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam spearheaded almost 100 pages of much-needed updates. With her input, Alex Comfort’s historic work is once again a contemporary “menu” (as he called it); it’s no accident that the newest edition’s cover recalls The Joy of Cooking, as the original was “a gourmet guide to lovemaking,” per its subtitle.
Dr. Kelly Neff
Think of Kelly Neff’s brand-new, proudly radical guide as an unabashedly of-the-moment response to first-generation titles like The Joy of Sex. Dr. Neff is here to usher in the next sexual revolution, one that’s identity-inclusive and fluent in how technologies and philosophies are changing. With a foundation of the dual principles of safety and consent, her millennial approach covers everything from spirituality to cyborgs. Get ready.
Fair warning: Kesta Desmond’s position-a-day how-to guide has full-color illustrations on every page, so you’ll need a particularly sturdy coffee table and a fairly flexible schedule if you want to perch it there. That said, her guide also functions (bear with us) like a binder of menus from local take-out restaurants: when inspiration wanes, Sex 365 leans into the “novelty” of “novelty book” (and is significantly heart-healthier than a bag of fried food from the diner down the street).
The Penis Book
Aaron Spitz, M.D.
The Penis Book is the irreverent title you’d expect from an expert who’s spent more than 15 years at a urology practice answering to “Dr. Spitz;” you’d be hard-pressed to come up with an erection joke he hasn’t made first. “It’s time to lift the veil of ignorance,” he writes, “and give this vital organ its day in the sun”—not literally, unless you’re part of a naturalist community or on a very special beach, but you get his drift. With authoritative and easy-to-understand takes on everything from politics to “bling,” this offering is useful entertainment for penis-havers and the people who love them.
Sex for One
“Bad Aunt Betty” Dodson—a title she claims for herself, though she’s got a PhD as well, if that’s more your speed—has been championing self-love in print and in workshops for more than 40 years. The GOOP crew has recently “discovered” her stainless steel Barbell, a vaginal exerciser and pleasure device that promotes pelvic-floor health. Dodson is such an institution in the sex-positive community that it’s hard to point to any one feat as more significant than any other, but we’re tempted to point to Sex for One, her bestselling manual. She’s adamant that masturbation is sexually and spiritually fulfilling, and her joyous DIY explains precisely why (and how).
Candlelit dinners, get-togethers with platonic loved ones, and novelty underwear are all perfectly nice ways to commemorate Valentine’s Day—but from where we’re sitting, the most thoughtful way to observe the occasion is… with a study session (trust us). For all the gross-out teen comedies, celebrity scandals, and hotly contested legislation out there, let’s be honest: ours is a culture that doesn’t devote much energy to exchanging useful information about sex.
The authors of these nine books aim to change that. Nothing says “I love you” (or “I love me”) like information that will make you happier and healthier, in bed and out of it. Taking the time to know your way around yourself and the people you care about? Now that’s hot.
Featured image: Marie Guillard