By Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT
With the blockbuster success of Fifty Shades of Grey, many people are curious about dipping their toes (not to mention other body parts) into more sexually adventurous waters.
I'm always careful to make clear that while the adventures of Ana and Christian may make for a compelling erotic yarn, their story is by no means an accurate depiction of BDSM relationships (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism), nor is Fifty Shades any sort of guidebook.
For instruction on that topic, you'll need to turn to the works of true sex-positive educators such as Clarisse Thorn or Tristan Taormino and their books The S&M Feminist and The Ultimate Guide to Kink, respectively.
But there's no denying that Fifty Shades has sparked widespread interest in how to improve our sex lives, and what better way to do that than via a good "how-to" book?
If you're uncomfortable talking about sex to your friends, doctor, therapist or even your partner, such books can be an important resource, whether they impart new information, help you work through an issue, inspire you to become more adventurous or simply turn you on.
So, in the spirit of sharing, I asked some of my favorite sex experts to pick their favorite sex books.
Debby Herbenick, a research scientist at Indiana University and the author of Sex Made Easy:
"Hands down, I recommend The New Male Sexuality by Bernie Zilbergeld. A classic in the field, it gives a rich picture of men's sexual lives including myths they're taught about sex and common problems such as erectile issues, communication blocks and rapid ejaculation as well as solutions for these problems."
Joe Kort, a clinical sexologist and founder of the Center for Relationship and Sexual Health:
"I recommend Jack Morin's The Erotic Mind, which helps remove the shame of sexual behaviors and fantasies by understanding what they mean in a nonsexual way. Morin addresses where fantasies and desires come from and how shame can be removed and replaced with healthy acceptance for individuals and couples."
Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure:
"Hot Sex: Over 200 Things You Can Try Tonight by Jamye Waxman and Emily Morse is a fun, sensual, seductive, creative and tantalizing book filled with more than 200 ways to tease, play, entwine and explore. When I coach couples who are in a sex rut, I suggest they use this book as a tool."
Laura Berman, sex educator, researcher and therapist:
"If I had to pick, I would choose either The Anatomy of Love by Helen Fisher or The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Both are extremely helpful for couples to understand how men and women are wired differently and to learn how to love one another in a way that lasts."
Justin Lehmiller, Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and online sex columnist at The Psychology of Human Sexuality:
"The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel Maines chronicles the history of hysteria: a bogus female medical condition that led to invention of the vibrator. Maines' book is a meticulously researched, fascinating and humorous look at the origin of hysteria and the birth of the motorized sex toy. I also adore Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach, which traces the history of how scientists have studied sexual arousal and orgasm in a very engaging way that refuses to take itself too seriously and never gets bogged down in jargon or technicalities. On a personal level, Bonk holds a special place in my heart for helping me realize how much fun a career in sex research could be."
Megan Andelloux, Founder of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health:
"America's War on Sex by Marty Klein describes ridiculous sex laws and research that Americans are led to believe are true. It's a must-read book for anyone interested in sociology, psychology, sexuality education, law and parenting. I'm also a fan of My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday, which discussed women's fantasies well before erotica became truly popular."
I've read and recommend many of these books myself, and this list is only the beginning of many exceptional works worth exploring and learning from, but in my opinion, no list would be complete without Esther Perel's Mating in Captivity, an excellent guide to integrating a sense of sexual mystery into long-term relationships.
And on a personal note, in ten years of writing sex books, my first, She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, remains my most popular.
At the time, I often mused that many men, through no fault of their own, knew more about what was under the hood of a car than under a woman's clothes or what was behind her orgasm.
In writing She Comes First, I am grateful to the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers and their book, A New View of a Woman's Body (unfortunately now out of print) and to Rebecca Chalker's excellent book, The Clitoral Truth. Any man or woman truly interested in deepening their knowledge of a woman's full sexual potential should give this book a read.
No matter where your sexual interests lie, you're sure to find something new on the shelves of your local bookstore. And if you're too embarrassed to shop in person, well, that's the beauty of the Kindle, Nook and other e-readers, no plain brown wrapper necessary!