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Review: S.E.X., the All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide

September 6, 2007

Author Heather Corinna, founder and editor of sex-ed site Scarleteen, generously provided me with a copy of S.E.X.: the all-you-need-to-know progressive sexuality guide to get you through high school and college for review, and I’m pleased to say that this is the book I wish I’d been given as a youngster. The book covers basic anatomy and physical function, body image, masturbation, orgasm, sexual identity, relationships, making choices about sex, kinds of sex and their associated risks, healthcare, abuse, contraception, pregnancy, and more. It truly runs the gamut of sexual health, and does so in a frank and approachable way. No matter how good a parent or school is as providing sex education, I guarantee they’re not as thorough as this book. Want to know how fisting really works (hint: it shouldn’t be like punching someone) and how to do it safely? Want to know how the female equivalent of “blue balls” feels? Not sure if your subtle little orgasms are the real thing, because they don’t match up to overblown movie sex? How to properly put a condom on an uncircumcised penis? What’s a penis or vulva supposed to look like, anyway? Need a straightforward discussion of the lies people tell about sex, and why power imbalances can be risky? This book covers it all.

This book has something for everyone to learn, not just teens and college kids. I’ve been sexually active for ~a decade (actual timelines changed to protect, uh, me), and I went to Oberlin for crying out loud – Drag Ball and Safer Sex Night were our big annual events, I got credit for a course called “Menstrual Health and Politics,” and there were co-ed communal showers in my first-year dorm. I *still* learned things from this book. Did you know that some types of plastic wrap shouldn’t be used as dental dams?* Maybe you didn’t even know plastic wrap could be used this way in the first place – it’s okay, Corinna takes it nice and slow, explaining everything in clear language that isn’t too clinical and is never boring.

The thing that really blew me away, that made me more excited about this book than I have been about a book in a while, is its inclusiveness. Unlike your standard-issue sex ed, S.E.X. addresses safewords, how to safely use sex toys, homosexuality, bisexuality, polyamory, gender roles, trans-gender/sexual/vestite/phobia, how sexuality and levels of attractedness to one sex or another may shift, your rights as a sexual person (from interpersonal to legal), how to make your own dental dam, and more. In other words, this author doesn’t assume that every person is destined to have only missionary style heterosexual penis-in-vagina sex for ever and ever, amen. S.E.X. allows for multiple ways of feeling, being, and acting sexual. There is something here for everyone, even if you don’t feel “normal,” or if you feel left out of standard sex education curricula. Corinna dispels your ideas of “normal,” and leaves you better informed than you were.

Sure, this may not be the book every parent is comfortable having their teen read, but it’s one I’d suggest that most teens need to read, regardless. Real questions and confusion don’t go away just by ignoring them, and S.E.X. can go a long way in informing both parties and creating opportunities for discussion of this somewhat touchy subject.

See the book’s website for information on purchasing a copy, excerpts, reviews, and related events.

*S.E.X. indicates that microwaveable plastic wrap shouldn’t be used as a dental dam, because it contains tiny holes designed to allow steam to escape, thereby defeating the protective purpose of the dam. In an everything-I-know-is-wrong moment, I emailed Corinna, who kindly explained that microwave-safe plastic wrap is fine, but the type specifically designed for microwave use only (and with the little holes) should be avoided.

Other reviews coming soon: Sex Ed and the State (documentary film), Why Do They Kill: Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners (book), MyBirthTeam (website).

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