This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
If you’ve been around the sex world much, you’ve probably seen this sort of sex advice book a lot. “101 Sex Positions for Intrepid Couples.” “50 Peppery Positions for a Spicy Sex Life.” “(X) Number of Incendiary Positions to Heat Up the Bedroom.” They’re generally illustrated with erotic- but- tasteful, just- short- of- explicit photographs of well-groomed couples displaying the positions in question. The books are pretty much interchangeable, and the gist of all of them seems to be the same: If you’re a couple whose sex life is becoming monotonous and routine, the way to bring back the spark is variety. And the way to bring variety into a sex life is to have sex in a wide assortment of different positions.
Now. I have a whole passel of problems with these books. For starters, I hate how obsessed they are with penile-vaginal intercourse. The authors of these books seem to think that introducing variety into a sex life means finding 101 different ways to position male and female bodies together to make their genitals interlock. You’ll get a couple/few oral positions thrown in there; maybe a little anal if it’s one of the freakier books. But there’s little recognition of the wide world of sexual possibility that lives outside Man-Part Goes Inside Woman-Part. And there’s virtually no recognition of the fact that, for most women, intercourse by itself isn’t enough to get them off.
Which brings me to my next critique: I hate the way these books equate “sexual variety” with “physical variety.” Of course I agree that variety is an essential key to keeping a sex life happy and satisfying over the long haul. Almost every sex writer on the face of the planet agrees with that. I have yet to read a sex writer who says, “In order to keep the spark alive in your sex life, be sure to have sex in exactly the same way — the same place, the same position, the same time of day, the same day of the week — for the rest of your lives.”
But sexual variety can mean so much more than rotating your bodies in different configurations before inserting Prong A into Slot B. And these books seem blind to these possibilities. They hardly ever talk about erogenous zones outside the obvious ones. They hardly ever talk about dirty talk, dirty outfits, foreplay (or, as we dykes like to call it, “sex”), sex toys, slowing things down, speeding things up, role-playing… all that good stuff.
And they almost entirely ignore the crux of any good relationship, sexual or otherwise: communication. Talking about desires, talking about fantasies, talking about the outfits and the toys and the dirty talk and the slowing things down, not to mention actual communication skills — how to ask, how to listen, how to negotiate, how to set limits, how to move forward together with experiments — little or none of this gets included in the discussion of how to bring variety into your sex life.
Even when they do talk about this stuff, it’s no more than a cursory, “get it out of the way” mention before getting on to the important business of describing and demonstrating the Double Reverse Astronaut Position. These books might as well be titled, “101 Ways to Have the Exact Same Sex You’ve Been Having, But With Your Bodies Arranged Somewhat Differently.”
And that — especially the part about communication — leads me to my final and most important critique of these “101 Ways to Have Penile-Vaginal Intercourse” books:
I was inspired to write this piece (or reminded that I wanted to write it) by a piece in Dr. Marty Klein’s excellent blog, Sexual Intelligence. In this piece, Dr. Klein was talking about a couple who had been seeing him for sex therapy. They had an unhappy life together — mistrustful, resentful, insecure, unforgiving, uncommunicative, hostile — and their sex life was a predictable misery as a result. But they didn’t want to talk about their basic relationship problems. To quote Dr. Klein’s description of the sessions, “I didn’t seem that interested in talking about sex — I seemed overly focused on feelings, power dynamics, letting go of the past, and communication.” And they didn’t want to deal with any of that. They just wanted their sex life fixed. That’s what you go to a sex therapist for — right?
Okay. That’s a pretty obvious problem. As Dr. Klein said, “I have no idea what kind of sex they imagine they would have if they somehow desired each other — while disliking, mistrusting, and resenting each other. Whatever kind of sex that is, I don’t want to help people have it.” But what does it have to do with the “101 Positions To Spice Up Your Boring Sex Life” books?
Just this, yet again:
If you don’t already have a happy sex life, new sex positions by themselves are unlikely to make things better.
If you already have a good sex life — if you’re already mixing it up, if you’re already talking about what you like and what you might like to try next — there’s probably no harm in these books. You might even get a couple of good ideas from them. Then again, if you already have variety and experimentation and good communication in your sexual relationship, these books probably won’t be that much use. If you have all that, you can probably figure out most of these positions on your own.
But if what you have on your hands is an okay/ mediocre sex life that’s getting into a rut, I think these books can be actually harmful. They give a completely misleading idea of what it takes to introduce variety into a long-term sex life. They make it seem as if the heart of sexual variety lies, not in imagination and experimentation and honest loving communication, but in arranging your bodies at different intersecting angles. If couples try this, and it doesn’t make their sex lives feel invigorated — as it very likely wouldn’t — it seems to me that it’d be more discouraging than anything else.
And if what you have is a sexual relationship like that of Dr. Klein’s couple — a toxic waste dump loaded with mistrust, insecurity, and resentment, inside the bedroom and out — then trying the Sideways Triple Bypass isn’t going to help.
No matter how tastefully erotic the photos in the book are.