I have read some books recently that I highly recommend concerning sex, gender, and sexuality: Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein, Boys & Sex by Peggy Orenstein, Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw and the companion book – My New Gender Workbook, and Rebel Love: Break the Rules, Destroy Toxic Habits, and Have the Best Sex of Your Life by Chris Dnoaghue.
Readers might be interested in these topics, particularly with the ongoing social justice movements and racial reckoning taking place, most recently with the death of George Floyd. Sexism and heterosexism are related and interlocking with racially-based systems of oppression (readers are encouraged to refer to writings of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and even research how the pride movement is related to racial justice).
Below are brief summaries of the books. Happy reading, wilds.
Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber examines the relationship between Christianity and sexuality and how many are harmed by the church’s ideology. “So my argument in this book is this: we should not be more loyal to an idea, a doctrine, or an interpretation of a Bible verse than we are to the people. If the teachings of the church are harming the bodies and spirits of people, we should rethink those teachings”. “I hope to aid the process of healing in those of us who have been hurt by the church’s broader teachings or hurt by our own inability to even talk about sex at all. As individuals and communities, we continue to stutter when the subject comes up, to get sucker-punched by messages of judgment and shame, to get it wrong.” She also takes the idea of sexual consent further with the idea of concern: “It reframes the choice entirely outside of our own self-interest in a way that consent and mutuality alone do not”. One of my favorite quotes from the book, I will leave with you: “Whatever sexual flourishing looks like for you, that’s what I would love to see happen in your life. Let us seek to be stewards of our bodies, to live in the joy of our createdness, honest about our shortcomings, soaking up the grace of God’s rain. Let us find beauty and pleasure in our individual human bodies, trusting each other to use our gifts of sexuality according to our dynamis, or strength and capacity. Let us treat ourselves and others, not matter what our talents, as if we are holy. Because we ar.”
Girls & Sex and Boys & Sex by Peggy Orenstein are great books for educators and parents. She investigates how boys, girls, and transyouth (in her Boys & Sex book) are inculcated with limiting cultural standards on gender and sexuality from media, parents, and our educational system. Topics such as objectification, porn and the changes in desire, hook-up culture, the pleasure and orgasm gap, and race and sexuality, are covered. As adults we have inherited and perpetuated many of these relational and gendered scripts and we owe it to the children in our lives to investigate and un-do them. Ex. “Remember, media scripts influence real-life encounters and behaviors, even when we think they don’t. And the media scripts boys consume from childhood onward are continuously objectifying, demeaning, hostile, inimical, or indifferent to women and present masculinity as inherently antagonistic toward femininity” (from Girls & Sex). Orenstein also addresses consent: “Consent is imperative, but it is a baseline. As health educator Shafia Zaloom says, consent is what makes sex legal, but it doesn’t make sex ethical, and it doesn’t make sex good. ..’Good’ sex is not only legal and ethical, but pleasurable and mutually satisfying. For that to be the case, boys must have an accurate conception of female bodies and sexual response” (from Boys & Sex). Offering up safe spaces of communication and access to accurate information for young people (and ourselves) will foster improved intimacy, connection, sexual ethics and justice for a more reciprocal and just society.
Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw and her companion book, My New Gender Workbook, examines the cultural construct of gender, works to dismantle limiting binaries and the shame of secreting away one’s identity secondary to not fitting the expected norm, and asserts that the examination, questioning, and communication about the construct of gender would help all of us. She also examines how gender is cult-like (ex. through things like demanded group compliance) and exerts oppression via privilege and power: ex. “without the structure of binary gender system, the power dynamic between men and women shatters. People would not have gender to use as a hierarchical framework and nearly half the members of the binary gender system would probably be at quite a loss.” And “Gender is indeed a group, a club, a faith – but it operates as a class system, pervasively, throughout the culture. The continued oppression of women proves only that in any binary there’s going to be one up and one down. The fight for gender justice must include the fight to dismantle the binary.”
Dr. Chris Donaghue’s Rebel Love strives to end the shame and stigma around non-normative gender and sexuality and unpacks harmful dating and relationship practices (ex. manipulation and gaming), body shaming, sex negativity (vs positivity), sex “disorders” (“different is not disordered”), and consent. I am listening to the audio book, and the quotable gems come fast and furious; this book is so thought-provoking and relatable that I bought a hard copy. “If culture and psychology supported more diverse options for relational configurations, and law and religion sanctioned and legitimized them, we would have healthier relationships. Psychology, law, and religion should be congruent with our current wants and needs rather than forcing us to meet their archaic limited aspirations. These relationally and sexually antiquated modes of policing that support only procreative, heterosexual, two-person, gender-appropriate norms needs to be dismantled” .
All of the above books emphasize the importance of consideration of your gender, sexuality, and socialization – what norms have you internalized? How are you passing these on to others, children, partners, society? Commination is also key – for ethical sex, for improved pleasure and relational bonding, for educating our youth, and dismantling antiquated, oppressive gender and sexuality scripts. I hope these books inspire and challenge you on your own individual and collective healing and wellness journeys.
Questions for the reader:
- How comfortable are you in discussing gender and sex?
- What gender and sexual/relational norms have you internalized? How are you passing these on to others, children, partners, society?
- How comfortable are you with your sexuality? If you felt there were areas of concern (physically, like pain or lack of pleasure, or emotionally), could you discuss this with your healthcare provider?
- Have you ever considered how gender constructs and sexual health and wellness are related and play into holistic aspects of wellbeing? If so, how?
- What people or events in your life have challenged your ideas around gender and sexual normatives?
Other books to consider for more information on sexual health and well-being:
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
Burnout by Emily Nagoski
The Vagina Bible by Jennifer Gunter
Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel
The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability by Miriam Kaufman
The above review was written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT). Allison is a holistic healthcare practitioner and, in addition to PT, she utilizes yoga, shamanic practice, reiki, and herbalism for her clients. Social justice (through the social determinants of health), sexual health and wellness as well as end of life care are additional areas of professional interest of hers.
For questions or collaboration, please email Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org