[Book Review] Ready for Polyamory by Laura Boyle

Books on polyamory are a mixed bag. From classics like The Ethical Slut to last year’s psychology-driven Polysecure, there’s a lot of good stuff out there. There are also texts that encourage or enable harmful behaviours, as well as those that are fine but promote a very specific agenda or relationship style.

You might think that, as someone who has been doing various forms of consensual non-monogamy for about 13 years at this point, I’d be at the point where I no longer have need for the books. You’d be wrong, though. Sure, the 101-level texts aren’t really for me any more, but even then they often introduce me to a useful concept or framing I hadn’t previously considered. And the more advanced, specific, or in-depth works that are now available are incredibly valuable, no matter how long I do this.

All this to say that when Laura Boyle of the Ready for Polyamory blog asked me to read and review her new book of the same name, I was only too happy to agree.

Ready for Polyamory by Laura Boyle

Coming in at a hefty 231 pages, Ready for Polyamory is a guidebook to many of the different aspects that go into having happy, healthy, and functional consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships. It is divided into four sections:

  • Basic Information is a kind of polyamory 101 – what it is, a very brief history of the term and the communities surrounding it, and the kinds of relationship agreements that tend to work well (and don’t).
  • Find Your Flavor of Polyamory unpacks popular terms such as “Kitchen Table polyamory”, “parallel polyamory”, and “relationship anarchy”, discussing how each one works and exploring the pros and cons of the various models.
  • Conversations to Have and Mistakes to Avoid delves deeply into some of the language that can help you, your partners, and prospective partners to talk about your relationships and your needs. It also explores some productive and destructive ways of behaving in relationships, as well as including a pretty comprehensive chapter on sexual health.
  • The Big Feelings covers all those big, scary, overwhelming, and even wonderful emotions – jealousy, compersion, and cultivating chosen family through your polycule and intentional relationships.

Like many books in this genre, it’s very much a dip-in-and-out structure. If you’re brand new or looking for a comprehensive resource, I do recommend reading it cover to cover (which I did!) But if you’re looking for information on a specific area of CNM – for example, sexual health, setting boundaries, or cultivating compersion – you can easily just turn to the chapters that speak to you.

Ready for Polyamory is written in a chatty, conversational tone. Reading it feels a little like sitting in a room with the author, sharing a cup of coffee and listening to her talk. If you read the blog and enjoy the accessible language and friendly tone, you’ll probably enjoy the book, too.

Choose Your Own Adventure (With the Help of Some Hard-Won Wisdom)

While I don’t agree with absolutely everything Boyle says in this book (which would be hard, because there’s a lot of information here!), I often found myself nodding along to her insights and underlining key passages to come back to later.

Throughout the book, she uses a recurring metaphor that really stuck with me: polyamory as a choose-your-own-adventure story. Instead of prescribing a specific way of operating or insisting on One Twue Way, she offers an array of options and trusts the reader to use the information wisely to make the choices that are best for them and their partners. In a community that is becoming increasingly dogmatic in really concerning ways, this was deeply refreshing.

This is also why I particularly appreciated the inclusion of the Find Your Flavor of Polyamory section. Many people feel very strongly that their way of doing things is the best and right way (“parallel polyam is only for when you hate your metamours!” “Relationship Anarchy is the only ethical relationship structure!”) Boyle shares experiences and lessons from her own life and the lives of people she knows, and leaves you to make your own mind up.

As an experienced polyam person, I found myself wryly nodding along to a lot of the sections about common mistakes and pitfalls. Because society is so heavily set up for the cishetero monogamous default, there are virtually no cultural scripts for polyamory yet… and those that do exist tend to be pretty dysfunctional. As a result, most of us start our non-monogamy journey from a well-intentioned place, but end up hurting ourselves and others along the way, often with the same set of mistakes.

Boyle presents compassionate and experience-based arguments for why many of the most-made polyam mistakes – from the One Penis Policy to unicorn hunting – create problems, and she offers alternatives to help readers make better decisions.

A Pragmatic Guide

Ready for Polyamory‘s subtitle is “A Pragmatic Guide to Consensual Non-Monogamy”, and I think that’s a good summary. Boyle avoids making judgements, slapping down moral absolutes, or prioritising ideological purity. As a result, this book feels like – for want of a better description – a polyamory guide for the real world. A world in which feelings are messy, people mostly mean well but inevitably screw up, and sometimes pandemics throw a huge spanner in the works of your dating life.

Overall, Ready for Polyamory is smart, accessible, and practical. If you’re dipping a toe into CNM or just considering opening up, this book deserves a place on your reading list.

Ready for Polyamory is available in paperback for $17.99 and as a Kindle ebook for $10.01, sold via Amazon. For my UK readers, it’s available on Amazon UK for £13.07 in paperback and £7.26 in ebook.

This review was sponsored, meaning I was paid to read the book and provide a fair and honest review. All words and views are, as always, mine. Affiliate links appear within this post but do not include the Amazon links to Ready for Polyamory.

[Book Review] “Position of the Week” from Lovehoney

Happy Friday, friends! And welcome to day 4 of #12DaysofLovehoney, where I am bringing you a new product review every single day. Check out the whole series. Today we’ve got something a bit different. Instead of a toy, we’re looking at the Position of the Week book from Lovehoney.

What is Position of the Week?

Position of the Week is a book of 52 sex positions (the idea being that there’s one for each day of the week – “52 positions for a year of pleasure,” as the cover says.) It’s a pocket-sized hardback book.

Position of the Week book

Each double-page spread includes a silhouette-style drawing of a couple having sex in the given position on the left page. The right page gives the position number, name, and a brief description.

Who is it for?

I have to be upfront: this book is very, very heterosexual.

Every position is designed with a cisgender male/female couple having penetrative (penis-in-vagina) sex in mind. The illustrations even feature a woman drawn in pink and a man drawn in blue. There’s also a lot of gendered language throughout (“he does X, she does Y”, “girl power”, and so on.)

Seriously, it’s so freaking straight I can feel my bisexuality leaking out all over its pages.

Pages from the Position of the Week book

Now, a lot of the positions in this book would actually work for different body and genital configurations. Many of the positions would work just as well for two vulva owners using a strap-on, or for anal sex with any configuration of bodies.

So queer and trans folks absolutely could use it. But the language and the whole aesthetic is so cishetero that it’s likely to feel alienating. I feel pretty put off by it and I’m a cis woman in a relationship with a cis man (though I am not straight.)

So yeah. This is a book for cishetero couples who have p-in-v sex. Let’s go with that.

Consent disclaimer = yay!

On the 3rd page, after the welcome but before the positions start, you get a little consent disclaimer. This states that you should talk before trying something new, that everything must be 100% consensual, and that you should stop if anything hurts or is uncomfortable.

It’s pretty much Consent 101 summed up in 33 words. But you know what? I’m here for it. Because fundamentally, this book isn’t for people like me – sex nerds who engage in non-traditional relationships and have long and nuanced conversations about sexuality out of academic as well as personal interest. This book is for people who are likely newer to sexual experimentation – many of whom might understand that consent is important, but not have a sophisticated understanding of exactly what that means or how to talk about it.

Basically, what Lovehoney have done with this little one-pager helps to normalise and demystify consent conversations. And I’m very here for that.

So what about the actual positions?

A lot of them are pretty good! We have some obvious-but-decent choices (doggy style, sit-down sex, spooning) and some creative interpretations on classics like reverse cowgirl and standing sex.

Others were definitely created for the athletically-inclined. No. 30 (“the Can-Can”) requires the vulva-owning partner to be able to get their foot on their partner’s shoulder while standing. That is… simply not going to be possible for a huge number of bodies, including mine!

Pages from the Position of the Week book

Positions like the “Standing Thrust” and “Up Against It” require the penetrating partner to be able to support most or all of their partner’s weight while thrusting. Again: just not going to happen. And I’m going to go ahead and call No. 47 (“the Raunchy Rider”) physiologically impossible for 99% of people.

Pages from the Position of the Week book

This book clearly assumes that women are tiny, petite, and flexible, while men are muscular and strong. If that’s not you, it can lead to some pretty negative body feelings.

On the plus side, a number of the position descriptions reference clitoral stimulation, which the vast majority of people with vulvas need in order to get off. So that’s something.

So do I recommend it?

Meh.

If you’re cis, heterosexual, skinny/strong, and athletic, you’ll probably get something from it. Otherwise, you might find a few interesting position ideas but largely be left thinking “…yaeah but my body doesn’t work that way.”

Position of the Week retails for £6.99 from Lovehoney ($8.99 US). A fun stocking-stuffer if you’re within the very specific demographic it caters to! Otherwise, don’t bother.

Thanks to Lovehoney for sending me this product to review! Views are, as always, my own. Affiliate links appear in this and all toy review posts. Want to support the blog? Buying me a coffee is a great way to do that!

[Book Review] Pain Play for Everyone by Luna Caruthers

Luna Carruthers has been running Submissive Guide, a large website of resources for anyone identifying as a kinky submissive, in 2009. I actually found the website way back in the early days of my kinky explorations in my late teens and very early twenties. It’s been years since I visited the site, so getting reacquainted with it while reading Pain Play for Everyone and writing this review was a fun trip down memory lane!

Pain Play for Everyone by Luna Carruthers book cover, featuring a pink background and picture of a paddle.

Pain Play for Everyone by Luna Carruthers is a quick read at 102 pages in length. But there’s a lot of useful information packed into this slim volume.

A book for receivers rather than givers

If you want to be the person dishing out the pain in a kinky scene, this book is not going to teach you the practicalities or necessary safety tips on how to do that. There are great resources available that teach you how to do that, and I encourage you to check them out.

Pain Play for Everyone is very much geared towards the submissive or receiving partner. I liked that about it. So much BDSM content is written by and for Dominants, possibly due to the assumption that us submissives just lie there and get stuff done to us.

But I’ve long held that bottoming well is a skill, and one that deserves to be taught – and celebrated – as much as Topping. Therefore, I’m glad to see a book written by a submissive, for submissives.

However, though it’s aimed at submissives and bottoms, I actually think Dominants and Tops should read it, too. The hallmark of a great Dominant is being able to understand and empathise with their submissive’s experience. By understanding how masochists experience and process pain, sadists can become better, more empathic, and safer players.

Accessible and easy-reading

Luna uses accessible language throughout the book, making it easy to read and absorb the information. She simplifies complex concepts and brings them into the realm of real-life kinky play situations.

The book is well-structured with clear headers for each section that make it easy to find what you’re looking for.

Practical tips

Luna shares a number of practical strategies for increasing pain management and pain processing ability during kink play. The strategies are clearly described, making them easy to try out and implement. They won’t all work for you, because everyone is different. But by trying a few different options, you’re likely to find something that is helpful for you.

Experience-informed and well-researched

Luna uses her own experiences throughout the book to help explain the points she makes. By sharing her real-life experiences, she brings the content out of the abstract and into the real.

Pain Play for Everyone seems solidly researched and delves into a little of the neuroscience, psychology, and physiology of pain processing.

I would have liked to see a bibliography or footnotes referencing sources for some of the more science-heavy bits. But that’s because I’m a massive dork and want to go and read more. There are a couple of links to relevant studies and book suggestions included, but I would have liked to see a much more extensive list of sources.

Who is it for?

I’d definitely have found this book useful when was a new submissive and just starting to explore pain play. Most of it was stuff I already knew, given with my well-over-a-decade-at-this-point of experience.

I still got something out of it, though. I particularly found the descriptions of the various types of pain – beyond thud and sting – to be useful. It also gave me a couple of new ways of thinking about processing intense sensation during a scene. But as a broad generalisation, it’s more likely to be useful to newer kinksters than experienced players.

If you’re new to submission or being on the receiving end of sadomasochistic activity, there will be something for you in this book. In particular, you might find it useful if you are looking for ways to increase your pain tolerance or play at a higher level of intensity.

Where to buy it

You can get a free signed copy of Pain Play for Everyone (along with a host of other cool benefits) when you join the Devoted tier on their Patreon page. The book is also available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition, along with Luna’s other releases.

I received a copy of this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. If you enjoy my work, please consider supporting the blog – and my caffeine habit – by buying me a coffee.

[Book Review] Sex and Social Media by Katrin Tiidenberg & Emily van der Nagel

I read a lot of academic books for my PhD, and I read a lot of popular sexuality books. I often find academic texts too dry, and general texts under-researched or poorly argued. So finding something that is an accessible read but with rigorous research and a clear methodology behind it is rare and welcome. Sex and Social Media by Katrin Tiidenberg and Emily van der Nagel is one such book.

The cover of Sex and Social Media by Katrin Tiidenberg and Emily van der Nagel

Sex and Social Media

In Sex and Social Media, which was published by Emerald Publishing on Friday, Tiidenberg and Van der Nagel do a deep-dive into the sexual subcultures of social media, examining how our hyper-online modern lives and our sexualities inform one another.

Sex and Social Media explores not just the what and the how, but the why as well. The two authors spent many, many hours interviewing participants and immersing themselves in online sexuality spaces (most notably r/Gonewild on Reddit and the dearly departed NSFW Tumblr.)

A sex-positive approach

Tiidenberg and Van der Nagel resist falling into the all-too-easy trap of handwringing about social media and public, digital sexuality. They eloquently deconstruct the “moral panic” phenomena that have plagued social media since its inception, and sexuality for much longer. Moral panics, they argue, are designed to cast certain people (most often women, young people, and minority groups) as “victims and/or perpetrators of deviant behaviour” (p.30). These panics deliberately play upon fear and other intense emotions as means of control:

“Sex panics are [therefore] always political, and often utilized in battles for moral, social, and political leverage.”
(p.32)

The authors conceptualize sexuality as a fundamentally positive thing. Thanks to this approach, they don’t skirt around the positive or potentially-positive impact of digital sexuality. Their approach is consistently open-minded and begins from the premise that there is nothing wrong or shameful about any form of consensual sexuality.

Tiidenberg and Van der Nagel present compelling evidence as to the benefits of online sexuality. Connection, pleasure, reduced loneliness, increased sexual confidence, increased body-positivity towards oneself and others, and a broadening of what is seen as “sexy” are just a few of them.

They also argue against the deplatforming of sex on many mainstream social media accounts, advocating instead for an opt-in/opt-out approach, where “NSFW” content is clearly marked so minors and adults who don’t want to see sexual material can avoid it.

Sex on social media is made up of more than strictly positive or negative experiences.”
(p.106)

Placing blame where it belongs

When Tiidenberg and Van der Nagel do examine the negative impacts (actual or feared) of the meeting of sexuality and social media, they do not victim blame. They approach issues like leaked nudes, doxxing, “cyberflashing” (unsolicited dick pics), and “gendered shame” (p.127) from the perspective that the wrong is not in the presence of sexuality, but in the absence of consent.

This book is a welcome change from the seemingly endless parade of “if girls don’t want people to leak their nudes, they shouldn’t take them.”

Refreshingly inclusive

Tiidenberg and Van der Nagel avoid making heteronormative, cisnormative, mononormative assumptions. They explicitly include LGBTQ people, and approach consensual non-monogamy and kinky sex practices from a value-neutral point of view. They also acknowledge the ways that our experiences of sexuality, both on and offline, are impacted by “raced, gendered, sexually oriented, classed, differently able-bodied” (p.167) axes of privilege and oppression.

Identity and Community

By far the most interesting chapters in this book, from my perspective, were those that dealt with identity creation and community building through sexuality on social media.

As a pseudonymous sex blogger, the Identities chapter puts words and concepts to long-held feelings. In particular, Van der Nagel and Tiidenberg believe that “compartmentalizing different aspects of the self” (p.124) – that is, showing a sexual self on one platform and a sanitised, family-friendly version on another – is not a form of lying or deception:

“Although a common story about social media doubts the authenticity and sincerity of people’s self-presentation because they present themselves differently on different platforms, none of our profiles are necessarily fake.”
(p. 116)

The Communities chapter examines the notion of online sexuality spaces as “communities” and what precisely it is that makes something a community. The authors argue that online communities are valid and real, and that online sexuality spaces (including anonymous or pseudonymous spaces) reduce shame, destigmatize many kinds of sex, and “challenge assumptions about who has or desires what kinds of sex” (p.146.)

Belonging to a sexual community is beneficial for people’s wellbeing and self-confidence, while also helping combat isolation.”
p. 137)

Final thoughts

If you’re interested in the intersection of sexuality and technology, you’ll enjoy Sex and Social Media. There’s a lot of information in its 170 pages, yet it’s an accessible and engaging read. The case studies and quotes from research participants are particularly interesting.

It’s notoriously hard to get approval and funding for sexuality based research, so it’s vital we support academics and writers who are out there doing this work.

Ask your local independent bookstore to get it for you. (Fuck Amazon, amirite?)

If you found this review useful, please shop via the included affiliate links or head over to my tip jar and buy me a coffee. Every tip helps me keep doing this work!

Positive Masculinity in Erotica (for International Men’s Day)

As a feminist, I’m in favour of many of the aims of International Men’s Day. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. There are tonnes of really important issues affecting men today – from lack of mental health support which leads to a much higher suicide rate for men, to male victims of rape or domestic violence going unacknowledged.

What I don’t believe, however, is that feminism – or women – are responsible for these issues. They’re a symptom of patriarchy, the fucked up system under which we all live, and which also harms men – in different ways to the ways it harms women, sure, but harm nontheless.

But plenty of better writers than me have already said all of these things much more eloquently than I have. And this is a sex blog, after all! So in celebration of International Men’s Day, I wanted to share with you some of my favourite examples of positive masculinity, as portrayed in erotica. Because Fifty Shades of Grey is all well and good[1], but Christian Grey is fundamentally a misogynist and a rapist – literally the embodiment of toxic masculinity in sexy-pants, richer-than-God, sold-100-million-copies packaging.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Bruce Shepherd – The ‘Swingularity’ series by Cooper S Beckett

Anyone who has read these books will be unsurprised to know I have a huge character-crush on Bruce. What I love about him is that he’s confident as hell (to the point of juuuust occasionally coming across a tad arrogant) but is actually a complete softie and quite vulnerable underneath it all. The sex is hot as fuck (of course) but it’s the emotional depth of this novel that really draws me in.

Bruce’s struggle to let go of the past, his enduring love for Paige, and his desire to save everyone – even to his own detriment – combined with the older-man sexiness make him a romantic character I can’t resist.

“Are you still upset with me?” he asks after a long silence.
She turns, surprise on her face. “No, I’m…”
He waits.
“She’s inside me too, you know.”

Neil Elwood – The Boss, Abigail Barnette

If you like billionaire-older-man romance, Neil Elwood is a much more positive antidote to Christian Grey. The romantic relationship between Neil and Sophie is built upon trust, mutual respect and actually getting to know one another, not upon fear and bullying-masquerading-as-dominance.

Neil is not threatened by Sophie’s success in her career and explicitly doesn’t use his position to sexually manipulate her. And he’s willing to admit when he’s wrong. Oh, and crucially, there’s tonnes of explicit and enthusiastic consent. Proof that masculinity – and dominance – doesn’t have to be based on brutality.

He kissed me hard, his hand tangled in my long hair, and when we were both breathless he lifted his head to answer my question.
“Not now. I thought I’d lay you down on this sofa and bury my face in your cunt first. Unless you object…”

Johnathan – The Adventures of Sir & Babygirl, Kayla Lords

This is a really lovely, sweet-yet-sexy romance about a woman recovering from a broken heart and a Daddy Dom she meets through her blog. What I love about it is how respectfully Johnathan approaches Katie, and how he slowly gains her trust as their relationship develops. There’s a constant underlying thread of consent – even as simple as “don’t feel pressured to answer all the questions I ask you”. The biggest character trait I get from Johnathan is kindness, which is underrated but extremely powerful when combined with just the right amount of sexual dominance – and I am very very here for it.

“Look at me, girl!” Johnathan’s voice took on a feral tone. “I want you as a woman and as a submissive. I will not deny my nature any longer. I also won’t force you to accept something you don’t want. But I think you want this as much as I do. If you do, tell me. We’ll go slow, but just fucking tell me.”

See? Everyone who told you that women only like slathering rapey beasts was full of shit. Give me kind, respectful dominants who value consent and mutual pleasure any day. Who are your favourite examples of positive masculinity in erotica, and why?

[1] *Narrator voice* “Fifty Shades was not, in fact, all well and good at all.”

Yes, I Have a Problem with Fifty Shades… But It’s Not What You Think

It’s actually more accurate to say I have several problems with Fifty Shades of Grey, the infamous erotic trilogy (plus rewrites-with-the-pronouns-flipped) about the kinky-ish love between naive college student Anastasia Steele and young handsome billionaire  Christian Grey.

Yes, I’ve read the first book, and enough of the second and third to get the gist. I’ve also read Cliff Pervocracy and Jenny Trout’s recaps (which are hilarious, by the way). Make no mistake: these books are horribly written and I did not find them erotic in the slightest. The sex depicted in them is either boringly vanilla, dubiously consensual (or straight up rapey), or both. The main characters are both awful people and the dialogue is about as sexy as a root canal.

As a kinkster, I hate that people think this is what we’re about. As a person with ethics, I hate that it’s basically Twilight fanfiction (reading and writing fanfic for fun is just fine, but making money off it is called “stealing someone else’s intellectual property”). And as a writer, I think it’s a travesty that Ms James has made more money than anyone ever needs in a lifetime, while genuinely talented artists are underpaid and undervalued every day.

So yes. I have issues with this book. But they’re not that it’s an unrealistic kinky romance between a virginal college student and a vampire billionaire.

“But it’s fantasy!” fans cry.

And yes. It is. Look, I’ll be the last person to tell you that you can’t have your fantasies, even your problematic ones. Fantasy is not reality and fantasy exists to enable us to escape from the real world for a while. And nowhere is that more true than in sexual fantasy.

A huge part of the reason that erotica and porn should only be accessed by adults is that adults, typically, understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Jaime Mortimer wrote a really good post on this recently.

I’m not going to infantilise everyone who reads Fifty Shades or any other problematic book and tell you that it’s going to turn you into a rapist or make you leave your husband for an emotionally stunted billionare (or a vampire in a Volvo). I read plenty of erotic fiction and plenty of it has themes that would be super problematic if they were real – doctor/patient scenarios, professor/student scenarios, consensual-non-consent roleplay, voyeurism and exhibitionism, public sex and more are just some of the themes I’ve enjoyed in my sexy fiction.

Guess what? Fantasy. And again: adults, overall, have the capability to understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

So enjoy Fifty Shades, if it’s your thing, as a fantasy about a naive young woman being seduced by an dude with more money than God and pants that hang from his hips (yes, this is an actual line in the book). Enjoy the light BDSM, the sexy  helicopter rides, the grumpy, brooding, damaged male lead if you want to. I’ll be the last person to judge you for enjoying some silly escapism or some improbable erotica if that’s what gets you off.

My problem with Fifty Shades is actually in the social and cultural narrative surrounding Fifty Shades.

Because this is not a great love story. This is not something to which young women should aspire! And the problem is that it’s being sold that way.

There is tonnes of erotica (and straight romantic fiction) out there that relies on problematic tropes and scenarios that are hot in fiction but would be a terrible idea in reality. That’s fine. Again: fantasy is cool, y’all!

But none of that has the marketing power behind it that Fifty Shades does. Ms James and her publishing team have made their collective fortunes not on selling Fifty Shades as fluffy erotic fantasy, but on selling Fifty Shades as a style of relationship to which we should all aspire.

And that is what is dangerous about this book. Not the fantasy it depicts, but the marketing power that sells that fantasy as genuinely aspirational. Because make no mistake, the relationship between Christian and Ana is very often abusive.

How many young women do you think have watched this movie, and decided that if this is romance, my boyfriend must only be super jealous and controlling because he loves me? Or, Ana loves Christian out of abusing her, so if only I behaved better my husband would stop hitting me? Maybe not in quite so literal terms, but make no mistake – these messages are out there, and victims of abuse are listening and absorbing.

You might think this is hyperbole, but it’s not. This is the kind of power that massive marketing budgets, ingrained cultural narratives about love, and a total lack of sensible sex-and-relationships education has.

I don’t blame Fifty Shades for my own experience in an abusive D/s relationship, of course. But I do partly blame growing up surrounded by the idea that if a man hurt me, my job was to heal him so he could love me properly in the end. Fifty Shades didn’t come out until I was 21. It wasn’t the first example of “he hurts you because he loves you” and it won’t be the last. But it might be the most culturally pervasive example of this particularly damaging trope.

Fifty Shades is far from the only story to suffer from this phenomenon

We have always built collective cultural narratives around these deeply problematic stories. I am reasonably confident in saying I doubt that Shakespeare intended Romeo & Juliet to be considered the greatest love story of all time. If you read it as a love story and analyse it for more than three seconds, it’s a ridiculous play. If you reread it as a satire about “love at first sight” and teenage stupidity, though, it becomes utterly brilliant. (While we’re at it, Wuthering Heights isn’t a great love story either. And Christian Grey bears a passing resemblence to Heathcliff in a variety of ways.)

Despite being for children, even Disney movies sell us some pretty horrible messages about relationships. Think about it: marriage is the ultimate goal for any girl. Once a man chooses you, you’ll live happily ever after.  Cinderella tells us to be good and subservient and pretty until a man rescues us; The Little Mermaid tells us that what we have to say is the least valuable thing about us; Sleeping Beauty suggests that kissing a sleeping stranger is totes a sensible and romantic thing to do… and so it goes on. We’re drip-fed these messages from earliest childhood, so is it really any wonder that so many of us grow up with totally screwed up ideas about what relationships are actually supposed to look like?

Don’t ban – educate

In closing: I don’t support the banning of Fifty Shades or other problematic stories. Fantasy is important and something we should all be able to have access to. Instead, we need a greater cultural understanding and greater education around separating fantasy from reality, and understanding what healthy relationships actually are.

I’d be much happier with the thousands and thousands of twenty-something women enjoying Fifty Shades as sexy, escapist fantasy if they weren’t already surrounded by a culture that teaches them if he hits you, it’s your job to be better so he can heal from his fucked up past.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider buying me a coffee.

Ten Fun or Meaningful Things to Do On International Celebrate Bisexuality Day

[Last updated November 2023]

Did you know that September 23rd marks International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? Also known as Bi Visibility Day, ICBD is observed by members of the bi community and our allies and supporters, and is used to campaign for greater bisexual visibility, to celebrate bi history and culture, and to show pride in our identities and those of the bi people we love.

If you’re low on energy today, or this is the first time you’ve heard of ICBD, here’s some easy and fun ways you can celebrate and make a difference!

1. Wear something purple

Purple is the internationally recognised colour of bisexuality. I think this originally came from the idea of purple as a mix of pink (gay) and blue (straight), which is a little problematic. But, hey, we have our own colour!

If you don’t have the energy to do anything else today – and that’s A-okay! – then why not put on a purple shirt, scarf, shoes or other accessory to show your bi pride?

2. Tell the bi folks in your life that you love them

If you’re monosexual (gay or straight), this is a great time to reach out and support the bi people in your life. A “happy bisexuality day!” from a gay or straight friend has never failed to make me smile on September 23rd.

And if you’re bi, reach out to your fellow bisexual friends, partners and allies, wish them a happy ICBD, and maybe get together for some cake?

3. Share bi content on social media

A retweet, a share or a comment goes a long way towards supporting the visibility and normalisation of bi people on social media. Obviously your comfort levels will vary, and I would never ask someone to out themselves if they weren’t ready or put themselves at any risk, but if you can safely post on social media about queer issues, try these on for size:

“Did you know September 23rd is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? Just popping up to remind y’all that I’m still bi, regardless of my relationship status! I’ll be wearing purple to show my pride today. Will you wear something purple to show your support?”

“Did you know September 23rd is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? I’m (straight/gay), but I support my bisexual friends! I’m wearing purple today in solidarity. Will you?”

4. Bust some myths

Hear someone say that bisexuality isn’t real, that bisexuality erases trans folks and enforces the gender binary, or that people can only be bi if they’re attracted to men and women exactly 50/50? Bust those myths! If it’s safe to do so, speak up! Explain why they’re wrong (see the linked articles for inspiration). Stand up for the bisexual people in your life and don’t tolerate biphobia when you see it.

5. Consume some bi media

Read books by bi authors (Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Robyn Ochs, Rachel Kramer-Bussell, Jennifer Baumgardner…). Listen to music by bi artists (Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Pink, Amy Winehouse…). Watch films or TV shows with bi storylines. Share content by your favourite bi bloggers, vloggers, indie writers and content creators (I’ll be doing a separate post on this later).

6. Give your favourite bisexual some cake

It’s well known that bisexuals love cake. It’s our little way of reclaiming that stupid “have your cake and eat it too” expression. Today is a great day to give your favourite bisexual (even if that’s yourself!) some cake.

7. Donate to causes that support bi people

LGBTQ+ causes have historically been pretty shitty about including either the B or the T in their work. Thankfully, this is improving, and there are now organisations specifically dedicated to improving the lives of bisexual people.

The Bisexual Index highlights and combats biphobia, works for bi inclusion in events such as Pride, and connects bi people to resources and community. They also have super-cute merch.

Biscuit is an online magazine and organisation for the bi+ community, focusing on women and other marginalised genders. If you experience life at the intersection of misogyny and biphobia, Biscuit is for you. You can donate at their homepage.

Bi Pride UK, an organisation and event dedicated to creating safe and accepting spaces for everyone who falls somewhere on the spectrum between straight and gay. You can donate via their homepage.

MindOut are the LGBTQ-specific arm of Mind, the UK’s mental health charity. Did you know that bisexual people are among the most likely to struggle with a mental health issue at some point during their lives? MindOut is dedicated to combating mental health challenges within the LGBTQ+ community.

8. Subscribe to a bi magazine

Bi Community News keeps you in the loop about all the fun things happening in the UK-wide bisexual scene – and it’s only £12 for an entire year!

9. Support bi and queer porn makers

You know by now that you should be paying for your porn, yes? Well, what about awesome ethical feminist porn featuring real queer women having real sex? Check out Crashpad Series to support awesome women-owned-and-created porn. Better yet, buy directly from your favourite queer creators.

10. Plan to go to a bi event

Going to BiCon in 2019? It’s the highlight of the bisexual year and I really recommend checking it out if you can! Failing that, there are regular bi groups in cities up and down the country – check out this list and find one near you, and make a plan to go along. You’ll  be sure to make some friends and allies.

What are YOU doing to celebrate ICBD? Tweet me or comment and let me know.

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions, as ever, are my own. If you want to support my coffee-and-cake habit for bisexuality day, you can do so via Ko-Fi.

5 Reasons Why I Read Erotica (and You Should Too!)

Outside of very specific environments, it’s not “cool” to admit you read and enjoy erotica. E.L James might now be a household name, but people still occasionally try to convince me that they read Fifty Shades of Grey for the gripping plot.

I think erotica gets a bad rap for several reasons. Firstly, it’s written and read by women more than men. Unfortunately, work by/about/aimed towards women still tends to be regarded as frivolous. (See: anything with a female protagonist risks being labelled “chick lit”). Similarly, content connected to sex is also still treated as something shameful, dirty, secretive, or something to be embarrassed about.

I also think this is a damn shame. A lot of erotica is absolutely wonderful. Masturbation is important, sex is important, arousal is important! Despite myths to the contrary, writing good smut is hard work and requires a lot of skill.

Read on to find out why I think sexy fiction is the most underrated genre and why we can all use it in our lives.

A safe way to explore your fantasies and limits

Reading about something is generally infinitely safer than doing it. Let’s say you have a kink or interest you can’t explore in reality for some reason, or aren’t ready to explore in reality yet. Reading about it can be a great way to scratch that itch. You can’t get hurt by reading about something, no-one else’s consent is required, it’s not cheating. (Dear God, if your partner thinks erotica – or porn, or masturbation – is cheating, break up with them like three years ago).

Reading about something and exploring if it turns you on in a masturbation setting is lower pressure than exploring with another person, especially if you’re not sure if it will work for you or not.

And in case you’re wondering: yes, it’s fine to get turned on by something in fiction that you wouldn’t want to act out in real life!

Introduces you to new kinks, roles, scenes and ideas

I was reading erotic fiction with dominance and submission themes long before I was practicing BDSM in real life. Erotica helped me to discover the types of scenarios that interested me, the names and words that turn me on… and also, the things that completely leave me cold. Reading woman-on-woman scenes was actually a huge part of coming to accept my own bisexuality.

Erotica can introduce you to kinks you never knew existed (ask me how I learned that orgasm control is a thing), make you feel less alone (ask me how I discovered that I wasn’t the only freak in the world who liked to get spanked), or even help you open up lines of communication about certain kinks with your partner (ask me how I let Mr CK know I have a medical examination fetish).

If you’re not sure what you’re into? Pick up a sexy compilation collection to give you lots of ground to explore.

It can make it quicker, easier or more enjoyable to reach orgasm

The best way for me to get going pre-wank is to read some really good smut. It works better than visual porn and, usually, better than my imagination. Plus, taking the few minutes to find a filthy story that works for me is a good way to get into a sexy headspace. If I want a long, luxurious session, taking my time to immerse myself in an erotic book is glorious. If I’m more looking for a hot quickie with myself, then a favourite story and my Doxy will get me done in ten minutes or less.

It’s great to share with a partner

As I already mentioned, sharing the erotica you enjoy can be a great way to share what turns you on with your partner. Perhaps you can’t say out loud “I want you to bend me over and spank me while you call me a dirty little slut“. But you can point them to a story with these themes that really did it for you.

Reading erotica together, or aloud to each other, is also a mega sexy thing to do. A really hot D/s scene we did a while ago involved Mr CK reading out some erotica that I’d chosen, and instructing me on when I was and wasn’t allowed to touch myself (and, of course, come).

And sometimes, it has damn good plots!

I don’t, primarily, read smut for the story. But just occasionally an erotic novel will have a plot so good that the sexy bits are almost just a very enjoyable bonus. Cooper S Beckett’s A Life Less Monogamous and Approaching the Swingularity (the latter reviewed here) are two great examples.

Is erotica for me?

Yes! Regardless of your gender, orientation or particular kinks, there’s bound to be something in the wide world of erotic fiction that appeals to you. And if no-one has written the story you want to read? Well… why not give it a go?

So where can I find good smut?

For some of my personal top picks, check out the books linked in this post.

You can also visit Literotica, an amazing free resource where thousands of amateur writers have uploaded their stories for your masturbatory pleasure. There’s a lot of crap, of course, but some real gems in there too. You can search by category, keyword or tag.

You can also find some great quick reads on Amazon Kindle. These typically cost $1 to $5 each – and you can read loads of stuff for free with a subscription to Kindle Unlimited.

Finally, of course, read your favourite sex bloggers!

Basically: smut is great. Go read some smut.

Heads up: affiliate links appear in this post!

Five Books That Changed My (Sex) Life

You will be unsurprised to know that, as a writer, books hold an extremely important place in my life. There are many things I am grateful to my mother for (she’s a pretty awesome lady) but one of the biggest is instilling a love of books in me when I was very young. Through the toughest points in my life, I’ve turned to reading for information, for comfort, for that priceless feeling of not being alone.

But this is, after all, a sex blog. So today I want to tell you a little about five of the books that profoundly impacted my sex life.

Come As You Are – Emily Nagoski

I read this one on a flight to Italy. Goddess knows what the people around us thought, when I kept reading out interesting snippets to Mr C&K!

Nagoski’s message is, in brief, that we are all normal and we are all fine exactly as we are. She explores concepts such as spontaneous vs responsive desire, and the congruence gap between reported mental desire and genital response. (If you haven’t watched her recent TED talk on this very thing, please do so, it’s fucking brilliant).

Come As You Are taught me how to stop worrying so much about being “normal”. It taught me how to stop saying “I should feel X,” and start saying “I feel Y, and that’s okay”. And perhaps most important, it approaches these concepts through actual, hard science that cannot be argued with. It’s a warmfuzzy affirmation of your deepest desires wrapped up in a blanketof irrefutable evidence, and it’s perfection.

“Even if you don’t yet feel that way, you are already sexually whole and healthy. The science says so. I can prove it.”

Get your copy now.

The New Topping Book & The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton & Janet Hardy

Okay, I’ve cheated here because these are actually two books. But I kind of conceptualise them as two halves of one whole, so they’re getting a shared entry.

These were the first two books I ever read about BDSM, when I was barely nineteen and only just coming to the realisation that I wasn’t the only person in the world who got aroused from being spanked and verbally degraded.

As a new submissive, I devoured The Bottoming Book. I absorbed all its lessons on how to get horrible things done to me by wonderful people in a safe and respectful way. I credit it, in large part, with quelling the rising sub-frenzy and preventing me from spiraling too quickly down a path I was ill-equipped to handle. Even now, I throw it at new and young submissives frequently. I’ve lost count of how many people have borrowed my copy.

I’ve actually read The Topping Book twice. Firstly, from a purely academic perspective – as a submissive, I wanted to understand the Dominant perspective better. It fascinated me, but I didn’t feel any pull to do those things. Much later, when I started exploring my switchy side, I read it again with a more practical application in mind.

These books are, even all these years after their initial release, still the best 101 guides on the market, bar none.

“We bottom in order to go to places within ourselves and with our partners that we cannot get to without a top. To explore these spaces, we need someone to push us over the edge in the right ways, and to keep us safe while we’re out there flying.”

Get The New Topping Book.
Get The New Bottoming Book.

Trauma and Recovery – Dr Judith Herman

I debated long and hard about including this one. It is not actually a book about sex, kink or any of that good stuff. But actually, it had such a profound impact I couldn’t not include it.

I first approached this book, a dense academic text, at twenty-one and barely out of my first long term abusive relationship. I’ve since referred back to it countless times, especially over the last three years as I try to recover from the worst abusive dynamic of my life.

What this book taught me is that my response to the trauma I’ve suffered is normal. It reassured me that I’m *allowed* to struggle with PTSD even though I’m not a military veteran or childhood sexual abuse survivor. It spoke so profoundly to what was going on in my head, and in my life, that I was frequently reduced to sobbing reading it. I usually couldn’t read more than a few pages at a time. Through Dr Herman’s words, I learned that I could recover with time and the proper support… but that it was and is 100% okay to not be fully “there” yet.

“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.”

Get your copy.

Opening Up by Tristan Taormino

There are a lot of how-to books on polyamory on the market now. However, amidst all of them, Opening Up stands out to me as the most rational, sane, compassionate and balanced of them all.

What I love about this book, which I read when I was relearning how to do polyamory after escaping an abusive situation, was how many options Taormino presents the reader with. She doesn’t dictate, as so many how-to books do, that Relationship Anarchy and The Church Of No Rules is the only way to do things right. Instead, she treats relationships as a create-your-own-adventure story, and offers us a smorgasbord of possibilities to pick and choose from. Amidst all this, there are practical tips on time management, communication skills, jealousy busting, and more.

This book came into my life at the perfect time. What it taught me is that I do not have to live up to anyone else’s idea of The Perfect Poly Person, no matter how many books they’ve sold or how many events they’ve spoken at. Instead, all I need to do is collaborate with my partners to create something that works for us.

“Nonmonogamous folks are constantly engaged in their relationships: they negotiate and establish boundaries, respect them, test them, and, yes, even violate them. But the limits are not assumed or set by society; they are consciously chosen.”

Get it here.

The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

Ah, virginity. Has there ever been a topic to provoke so much judgement and angst and stigma? A long time ago, the man who I first had PIV sex with (I don’t believe “losing one’s virginity” is a meaningful concept) made it clear that my value was in my “purity”. I was precious to him because no-one else had touched me, like an expensive work of art you keep behind a glass case lest anyone else get their dirty fingerprints on it. A while later, the second man I had PIV sex with berated me for not having “waited for him,” because – being the youngest woman he’d ever fucked – I represented the closest he’d ever come to “taking a girl’s virginity”. A right, he believed, that I had denied him by shagging someone else three years before I met him.

As a result of these experiences, I’ve dealt with a lot of shame around my level of sexual experience. I fuck a lot of people, and have a lot of casual sex, and 90% of the time I’m more experienced than my sexual partners regardless of their gender. This book showed me how the “cult of virginity” has been manufactured by the patriarchy in order to control women’s bodies, and by extension women’s lives. It showed me that virginity is a medically meaningless concept, and that the only value it has is that imbued by sex-negative, patriarchal, anti-woman culture.

Valenti’s book gave me the permission to go “yeah purity is a bullshit concept”. It helped me to fully embrace my sexual experiences, past and present, as part of the rich tapestry that make me who I am. As a feature, if you like, not a bug.

“The idea at play here is that of “morality.” When young women are taught about morality, there’s not often talk of compassion, kindness, courage, or integrity. There is, however, a lot of talk about hymens.”

Get it here.

What books had a profound impact on YOUR sex lives, friends?

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[Book Review] “Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy” by Hallie Lieberman

Image result for two and a half stars

I was beyond excited when I saw that there was a history book all about sex toys! Credit goes entirely to the fabulous Sarah Brynn Holliday (read their work, they’re great) for bringing this book to my attention. I still don’t really understand how there wasn’t any buzz (pun entirely intended and I’m not sorry) about it in the online sex positive sphere. It seems to have almost slipped under our collective radar, somehow.

I read this book on holiday over the course of a few days. My overwhelming impression was one of being, well… underwhelmed. I wanted to love it, and I felt it was full of promise, but the finished result didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. (Yes, that was another sex toy joke.)

Firstly, let’s talk about what I did love…

I found Buzz a really accessible read. The tone is lively and the pacing and structure good. The language is not overly academic, and the 15 chapters break the book nicely into bite-sized pieces.

I did learn some gems of fascinating information. Like, did you know that the first silicone dildos were designed and made by a disabled Caribbean immigrant, who was heavily involved in the disability rights movement and set out initially to make sex aids for disabled people? Because I sure didn’t. (His name was Gosnell Duncan.)

I also learned that the founders of Adam & Eve also created the abortion rights organisation that would become Marie Stopes International, that dildos were illegal in parts of the USA as recently as 2003 (!), and that the founder of Doc Johnson, Reuben Sturman, was a violent criminal and a tax-avoider and eventually died in prison. There was some genuinely fascinating and little-known history in this book, and for that it is to be applauded.

I’m glad Buzz exists. Sex-related history is so under-studied and stigmatised. But it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I hope it paves the way for much better and more complete works to come.

So where did Buzz fall short?

The first thing that really upset me about this book was that there is information in it that is simply untrue. “Nearly all sex toy companies today … make their toys from body-safe materials.” Uh. Do they? (No, unfortunately, they do not). And this goes beyond inaccurate – it’s actually dangerous.

Educators, writers and sex geeks like me know that the industry is still jam packed with horrible toxic toys that can do serious harm to our bodies. The average layperson, though, doesn’t know that. They might read this book and think they can go and pick anything up off a shelf at a sex store or from the internet and it will be self for their body. This simply isn’t true and is perpetuating really harmful misinformation.

Secondly, I felt the title misrepresented the book. It should really have been called “A History of the Sex Toy In America.” For a book that bills itself as a general history, it is painfully US-centric. The UK is mentioned maybe once or twice, and any other countries barely get a look-in at all. It’s frightening how often I want to remind some American writers that there is a world outside the USA.

Thirdly, it’s very cis-centric. Trans people are barely mentioned – and, upsettingly, completely excluded from a section about the Stonewall riots. Non-binary and genderqueer folks are completely absent. It’s all about “men and women” (and “penis = man, vulva = woman” in the main, at that).  Bisexual people are also largely absent, and bisexual men completely so.

Finally, this might be a petty complaint, but Buzz is also riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. I can excuse one or two typos, even in a published book, but Buzz contains so many it’s ridiculous. I’m really surprised it got past an editor.

The verdict:

Kinda like a buzzy vibrator: vaguely stimulating but quickly becomes annoying. A somewhat interesting book with a few shining sections, but disappointing when you look a bit deeper. Buzz probably would have made it to three or even three and a half stars for interesting history, but the trans erasure and the misinformation about toy safety really killed it for me. Two and a half out of five.

Buy your copy of Buzz from Amazon or your local bookstore. To support my work, buy me a coffee, or shop with my affiliates in the right hand sidebar.