Book Review: The Whole Lesbian Sex Book

I’ve wanted to read The Whole Lesbian Sex Book ever since a friend of mine brought a copy to an LGBT conference we attended in high school and the two of us pored over new-to-us information about different types of orgasms and different ways to achieve them. I was over the moon when Cleis Press offered me my choice of books to review, because I’ve always loved their smart, sexy, informative tomes. The Whole Lesbian Sex Book was first on my list.

Let it be said, first off, that I’m not a lesbian. I’m a bisexual, I’m in a long-term relationship with a cis guy, and I have passing-for-straight privilege for sure. Although my perspective might be different from the average reader of this book, there’s still a lot I can learn and have learned from it – and indeed, I think this would be a great read for anyone who has sex with women, is a woman, is interested in female sexuality, or some combination thereof. This isn’t so much a book about lesbian sex as it is a book about having sex with women or as a woman or both.

And let me tell you, it does a wonderful job of that. This is a huge departure from male-written or male-oriented sex guides. Emphasis is placed on things that matter to women: the clitoris is regarded as the centre of our sexuality, non-orgasmic sex is presented as every bit as viable and valid as orgasmic sex, and the emotional and psychological barriers to good sex are discussed in depth, just to name a few examples of how wonderfully woman-oriented this book is. (That’s not to say these things aren’t also important to men – just that they are traditionally excluded from male-directed sex education resources.)

Felice Newman is a fabulous writer: non-judgmental, caring, and obviously passionate about women’s sexuality. I love that she rarely uses words like “normal” – her book normalizes a whole host of healthy sexual behaviors that people often feel unfounded guilt about. That’s exactly what a sex-positive guide should do.

Some of the chapters in this book offer practical advice on sexual techniques – “Breast Play,” “Clitoral Play,” “Vaginal Penetration,” et cetera. Some of them cover more abstract or complex topics – “Desire and Fantasy,” “Communication and Finding Sex Partners,” “Gender (Not Destiny),” and so on. In every chapter, you’ll find information that would be useful to sexual novices (“Many women enjoy clitoral stimulation combined with vaginal or anal penetration”) as well as information that will interest a more advanced reader.

Newman’s writing is interspersed with quotes from real queer women who responded to her surveys. These, too, have a normalizing effect: it’s fun and validating to see that one’s own experiences, even the weirder ones, have been shared by other women.

I was surprised to note that the book is pretty inclusive of trans people – both trans men and trans women. There is an entire chapter about gender but trans-relevant information is also sprinkled throughout. The lesbian feminist community has sometimes been known to exclude trans folks from their discourse, but this book is on the ball about that stuff, providing info about what kind of stimulation might work for different types of bodies and what the partners of trans people ought to know about how to have sex in a way that respects and pleasures their partners.

Likewise, the book also welcomes with open arms people with disabilities and queer women who have sex with men. I always love when lesbian sex resources acknowledge that some queer women have sex with men, because different considerations need to be taken into account for those women and it can suck to feel excluded because of who you have sex with.

Overall I’m really thrilled with The Whole Lesbian Sex Book. It’s one of the most exhaustive sex guides I’ve ever read (second only, perhaps, to The Guide to Getting It On, which is comparatively very heteronormative). If you like sex with ladies, or you’re a lady who likes sex, or you want to better understand lady-sex, this is undoubtedly the book for you.

Thank you so much to Cleis Press for the book!

Bisexuality FAQ

I’m bisexual. People have opinions about it. People also have questions – a lot of questions, some of them pretty idiotic, some perfectly valid. Here are the questions I get most often about my sexual identity…

Which do you prefer, cock or pussy?

Well, first of all, that’s a super rude question. Other than queer folks, trans folks, and maybe some disabled folks, I don’t know anyone who routinely gets asked personal questions about their sex lives and genitals by total strangers. It’s grossly inappropriate. If you really want to know which I “prefer,” you should get to know me better and be more tactful about the way you ask.

Secondly, the whole premise of this question is really kind of stupid. I don’t choose lovers based on what genitalia they have. Yeah, that’s something I think about as we’re getting to know each other (“This person has a penis; guess I better start thinking about birth control!” or “This person has a vagina; I wonder if she would like to do some strap-on play when we get to that point!”), but it’s not an initial consideration. I don’t think to myself, “Okay, I’m attracted to this woman and also to this man, but I can’t make up my mind… Whose genitals do I prefer?” I fall in love with and become attracted to people as individuals.

Who gives better head/is better at sex, guys or girls?

I’ve put this question here because its answer is sort of a continuation of the last answer. Guess what? People are individuals; they can’t be generalized by their genders.

Personally, my current male partner is the best I’ve ever had, but that doesn’t mean that men overall are better at sex. Some men are good at sex, some are bad, some are in between; same deal with women. A good partner (communicative, enthusiastic, generous, adventurous) is going to be a good partner regardless of their gender or genitals; same deal with a bad partner (selfish, boring, uncommunicative).

Are you really a lesbian?

Nope. I’ve been attracted to men.

Are you really straight?

Nope. I’ve been attracted to women.

If the only women you’re attracted to are butch/androgynous ones, why don’t you just date men? Isn’t it basically the same thing?

Uh, no. See above re: people being individuals and not being reducible to their genders or genitals.

Imagine this: you’re in a very happy relationship with a woman who happens to dye her hair red. I say to you, “If you like redheads so much, why don’t you just date a natural redhead instead?” You explain to me that you like your girlfriend, not just her hair color – and you love her as an individual, not for her particular traits.

Well, exactly. I become attracted to butch women not because I’m specifically seeking out masculinity but because those are just the kinds of people I can be attracted to, so I sometimes find myself drawn to an individual person within that group. For her totality as a person. Not just for her butchness.

So do you cheat on your partners?/Are you capable of being monogamous?

I’m currently in a “monogamish” relationship (our arrangement is that we are allowed to flirt with and kiss other people, but no more than that). I don’t think of myself as being naturally monogamous and I would to explore consensual non-monogamy more in my future relationships.

However, this has absolutely nothing to do with my sexual orientation. Monogamousness and sexual orientation are separate – many straight people are not naturally monogamous, just as many queer people want to share their love and sex with only one person at a time. The two have nothing to do with each other, though non-monogamy is likelier to be openly acknowledged and accepted in queer communities than in straight ones, because queer people are already transgressing conventional social standards just by being queer so they are (usually) more okay with pushing the envelope in their relationships.

Just because I can be happy with both men and women doesn’t mean that I need to be with both men and women at one time. I’ve met countless bisexuals in my life and I’ve only ever met one who felt that she needed to be having sex with both men and women in order to be satisfied – and again, that has more to do with her proclivity toward non-monogamy than it has to do with her sexual orientation.

Why do you sometimes describe yourself as “queer”? Isn’t that an offensive term?

It has been used as an offensive term for a long time, and some people still find it offensive, yes. However, similar to “dyke” and “fag,” it has been reclaimed by many folks as a positive descriptor. Generally, if you use the word “queer” within an LGBT space, no one will bat an eye.

When I use the word, I am using it as an umbrella term to mean basically anything that isn’t straight – so it may include people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, questioning, heteroflexible, and label-free. Some people also put trans and genderqueer people into the category of “queer,” though I see gender identity as being a separate struggle from sexual orientation so I define them separately.

When describing my sexual orientation, I usually use the word “bisexual” in straight spaces, because almost everyone knows what it means, but I usually use the word “queer” in LGBT spaces because it’s more inclusive of all my attractions – and also because there is sometimes some biphobia in gay and lesbian spaces, so it’s sometimes best to avoid identifying myself as bi if I want to be taken seriously. (It’s a sad truth!)

Why do you call yourself “bisexual” instead of “pansexual”? Isn’t “bisexual” a cissexist term?

Yes, some people believe that the term “bisexual” is cissexist because it only acknowledges a binary of gender – i.e. two genders, male and female. I understand, appreciate, and accept that criticism.

However, in my case, “bisexual” is apt because 99.9% of my attractions are to people who fall into one of two specific gender categories – men (cis or trans) and butch/androgynous women. My attractions still fall into a binary, even though it’s not the conventional gender binary, so the term “bisexual” fits me.

The term “pansexual” suggests that I can be attracted to any type of person, regardless of their gender presentation, which isn’t true for me.

How did you know you were bisexual?

I had suspected it since I was about 11, because I found women’s bodies just as intriguing as men’s bodies in movies and porn clips (um, I was a precocious child).

When I was 15, a girl in one of my classes began to flirt with me – or at least, I perceived it as flirting – and I found myself feeling receptive to that, rather than repulsed by it. Nothing came from that, but later that year, I developed a huge crush on another girl who ended up becoming my first girlfriend.

When you eventually settle down, do you think it’ll be with a man or a woman?

Again, this has to do much more with a person’s individual characteristics than it does with their gender. There are certain traits that I would require in a partner if we were going to have a decades-long relationship, and gender wouldn’t be a factor for me as long as the person had those traits.

I don’t plan on having biological children, and same-sex marriage is legal where I live, so neither of those things will factor into it either.

Why do you have to put a label on yourself? Why can’t you just like who you like?

Some people can do that. Me, I need organization and definitions in order to feel secure. I like having a neat, crisp little word to be able to throw out there when someone asks me about my sexual orientation. It suits my needs. I respect people who can reject all labels, but it’s not for me.

Are you down for a threesome?

Um. Not really. I would have to be attracted to both of the people involved and they would have to both be attracted to me, or I wouldn’t have fun – and that’s unlikely.

Plus, please, for the love of all things sexy and holy, don’t assume that bisexuality automatically equals promiscuity or being cool with anything. Some bi folks are like that but not all.

Sometimes I see a girl who I think is pretty… Does that mean I’m bi too?

Probably not. Do you find yourself wanting to make out with her? Have sex with her? Hold her hand? Go on cute dates together? Refer to her as your girlfriend? If none of those ideas stir up any feelings in you, you’re probably not bi. It’s one thing to appreciate someone’s aesthetics, but it’s quite another thing to actually want some kind of relationship with them.

Does your boyfriend think it’s hot that you’re bi?

If he did, I don’t know if I’d still be with him. Fetishizing someone’s sexual orientation is pretty gross.

He understands and accepts that my bisexuality is a part of who I am. He’s not interested in threesomes or watching me with another woman, so he doesn’t find it sexually exciting; it’s just a fact about me.

4 Ways to Bring a Little More Gay Into Your Life

As the Pride festival nears, I’m spending a lot of time pondering my queerness. Specifically, where my queerness fits into my life as a person in a “straight” relationship.

Being bisexual has always been a bit of a struggle for me, identity-wise, because ever since I came out I’ve always hated the idea of being mistaken for straight or gay (both of which have happened to me countless times). I wish people would just “read” me as bi, but it rarely seems to happen.

And now that I’ve been dating a man for over two years, and have a gender presentation that’s as cis and femme as ever, it seems my queerness always gets lost in the shuffle. Even in queer spaces, I don’t always feel understood or seen. I’ve gotten booed for kissing my boyfriend at Pride events, I’ve had people try to explain basic LGBTQ concepts to me as if they’d be totally foreign to my mind, I’ve had people give me stares that say “What are you doing here?” It makes me sad.

Bleeding-heart complaints aside, I know that there are other people who feel the way I do – people whose identity straddles some line(s) between hetero and queer, and who feel skewered on that fence. Here are some suggestions for how you can re-access the gay side of yourself, if you’re feeling like you’ve lost it a little bit.

1. Volunteer for an LGBTQ organization. There is surely one in your area, so get Googlin’! I’m using the word “organization” broadly here – you could do fundraising at your local nonprofit, get in contact with school administrators to see if you can help set up GSAs, join the street team for your city’s Pride festival, or even see if your local LGBT yoga group needs help washing mats. It can be enormously nourishing to meet new people from your community and to do good work for that community. (And baby, if you ain’t got no time, maybe you could give some money instead.)

2. Consume queer media. If you do this already, do it more! Some recommendations: books by S. Bear Bergman and Ivan Coyote, porn by Courtney Trouble and Shine Louise Houston, documentaries about the LGBT community, and The L Word in its entirety.

3. Wear a queer talisman. Granted, plenty of LGBT folks think it’s tacky as hell to wear a rainbow bracelet or gay suspenders or what have you. But, honestly, when I’m going into a situation where I absolutely do not want people to mistake me for straight, sometimes it makes me feel a whole lot better to adorn myself in one or two loud-and-queer accessories. My talisman of choice is usually my rainbow wristband – it goes with every outfit!

4. Re-read old journals/blog posts/love letters from when you had your first same-sex crush. Remember how weird that felt? How scared and yet excited you were? Remember all the concerns these new feelings raised for you – how/when/whether to come out, what label(s) fit you best, what it all meant? Those seminal experiences paved your path into a queer identity and (hopefully) community, so they’re worth revisiting if you’re feeling a little cloudy on those topics.

I know there will inevitably be people who want to tell me something like, “Just be who you are! It doesn’t matter whether people think you’re straight or whether you’ve ‘got enough gay in your life.’ Just live your life.” And they’re right, to a certain extent… but hey, queer folks should know better than anyone that sometimes you gotta engage in some self-care in order to feel okay about how people are reacting to you. And this is some of mine.

Photo credit: Sue Maguire.

Sharing the Sexy #18

• Sex-positive feminist podcast The G Spot has just released its entire first season as a Valentine’s Day gift for you or someone you love.

How to have sex with a survivor. Important stuff.

• I think we can all agree that the new Fucking Sculptures line of glass dildos looks pretty damn excellent. I’m intrigued by the Corkscrew, and laughing at their choice of name for the Hooded Nun.

Porn in space?! Oh man, this should be good.

• A line of lingerie for trans woman has launched.

• Interesting… Apparently gay and bi men are less depressed than straight ones. (Also, please watch the Steve Hughes video at the top of that post – it’s a classic!)

He’s a dildo engineer and Reddit grilled him about his work. Incase you ever wondered. I know I did!

When will feminists stop being equated with bitches?! And did it ever occur to the writer of that piece that maybe the reason it can be hard for a feminist to get with a man is not that she’s a bitch, but that he’s an ignorant, privileged asshole?

• Here’s some important information about the U.S.’s new birth control policies.

• Um, apparently Cosmo thinks you should wear Spanx on dates to keep you from having sex too soon?

• Here’s an amusing urban legend about sexual ignorance.

• Dodson and Ross explain how to use your PC muscle during sex.

• Call a spade a spade? Epiphora says call a sex toy a sex toy. What do you think?

Sharing the Sexy #14

• This lady hacked a Lelo vibrator to create something much more interesting.

• Buck Angel said something really victim-blame-y about trans women and the disclosure myth.

• Ladies and gentlemen, the great Khadeja Wilkinson: “Feminism does not hate men. Period.”

• “Friendzoning” is bullshit and here’s why.

• Lilly explains why carrots don’t make good dildos. Don’t do it, y’all!

• Evil Slutopia tears up Cosmo for suggesting that male bisexuality is wrong. Ugh, Cosmo, when will you ever get your shit together?

• Here’s a little round-up of links about the fine line between romance and abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey.

• Wait, what? A straight male feminist comedian? So refreshing, honestly. ♥

• Jenna Marbles made a slut-shamey video that was so gross, I won’t even link to it – and then Laci Green responded, and so did my homegirl Caitlin.