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!