The Best Sex-Positive Books to Empower and Inspire You

From groundbreaking classics to contemporary voices, these cross-genre listens explore the intricacies of sex with intelligence and insight.

Sex is a natural part of life, but it can sometimes feel like a taboo subject—which is a bit preposterous, considering how sex is linked to politics, gender, mental health, literature, and how we navigate the world.

This list of the best sex-positive nonfiction books (with a few provocative fiction titles thrown in for good measure) is all about exploring the intricacies of sex with intelligence, humor, and insight.

 

Nonfiction

Come As You Are: Revised and Updated

Come As You Are: Revised and Updated

Narrated by the author, Come As You Are is a science-based look at female sexuality that takes into account how women’s brains and bodies work and answers why there will never be an equivalent of Viagra for women. Emily Nagoski is an upbeat and witty writer and narrator who truly loves science, and her perspectives on sexuality are essential for all men, women, and nonbinary individuals seeking to better understand their bodies and sex.

The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability

The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability

A doctor, a sex educator, and a disability activist have teamed up to write the ultimate guide to enjoying sex when you or your partner is living with a disability. Donna Postel narrates this audiobook, which is meant for all genders, sexualities, and ages, as well as a wide range of disabilities, from chronic fatigue to spinal cord injury. This listen takes into account the many ways bodies can differ and offers insight into how to make sex pleasurable and satisfying by making adjustments for each unique body and its needs.

Love, InshAllah

Love, InshAllah

Love, InshAllah is a compelling collection of essays from a wide range of Muslim women about love, romance, dating, marriage, and sex. The authors of these pieces break stereotypes as they share their experiences of how love intersects with religion and culture. A full-cast narration adds depth and variety to this listening experience detailing both conventional and unconventional love.

The Ethical Slut

The Ethical Slut

If you’ve ever been curious about exploring polyamory or an open relationship, The Ethical Slut is a great starting point. The authors narrate this modern classic centered on looking at romantic relationships beyond monogamy, navigating polyamory, and figuring out how to set up open lines of communication, talk about feelings, deal with conflict, and negotiate a relationship that everyone is happy with. (It even includes a section on how to raise a family!)

Love Without Sex

Love Without Sex

Author and illustrator Sophie Lucido Johnson first made waves with her candid, charming memoir of polyamory, Many Love, and her latest release builds on the steadily growing idea that committed, whole relationships need not fall within the traditional bounds of monogamy. This excellently researched, three-part series explores the widening spectrum of modern relationships—from nontraditional and “chosen” families to asexuality and polyamory—in a multi-voiced, audio-first format.

Skipping Towards Gomorrah

Skipping Towards Gomorrah

Dan Savage is a writer, journalist, LGBTQIA+ rights activist, and the writer of the sex column "Savage Love." In Skipping Toward Gomorrah, he comments on all of the seven deadly sins that the "moral majority" and right-wing conservatives fear are corrupting Americans. Savage narrates his own audiobook, which is unapologetically sex-positive, as he explores the lives of people who live in and delight in the so-called sin that some pundits criticize.

Mating in Captivity

Mating in Captivity

A psychotherapist, Esther Perel is both the author and narrator of Mating in Captivity, an audiobook about the human need for security and the desire for romantic excitement. Drawing on her years of experience counseling couples of all types and backgrounds, Perel discusses how sexual excitement differs from the responsibilities required for a healthy domestic relationship, and how committed, loving couples can have both.

The Ultimate Guide to Kink

The Ultimate Guide to Kink

Narrated by Anneliese Rennie, The Ultimate Guide to Kink will satisfy anyone who has ever been curious about BDSM, role-playing, or other erotic activities that explore desire, power, and pleasure. While partly a how-to guide, this listen also includes essays on the nature of kink and bondage, with a multitude of writers spanning a diversity of sexualities and experiences weighing in. Comprehensive, provocative, and uncensored, this is a great collection for open-minded beginners and passionate practitioners alike.

My Secret Garden

My Secret Garden

My Secret Garden was groundbreaking when it was first published in 1971. Nancy Friday interviewed hundreds of women about their secret sexual fantasies, and the result was this book, which shocked the nation—but also made even more women feel seen and broke some of the silence surrounding lust and desire. The audiobook boasts a full cast of actors who give dramatic voice to these important stories.

Just Add Hormones

Just Add Hormones

In this intimate memoir, Matt Kailey, a transgender man, shares why, after living as a straight woman for 40-some years of his life, he made the decision to transition. He walks listeners through the medical procedures involved—taking hormones, seeking out gender-confirmation surgery, and finding a therapist—while also recounting the social aspects of his journey, answering all the questions people are often too afraid to ask. Josh Hurley narrates this audiobook, which is humorous and illuminating as well as reflective.

Females

Females

Females is an exploration of gender and sexuality written and narrated by trans thought-leader Andrea Long Chu. In this critique of the culture of feminism and femininity, Chu makes the claim that what makes a woman isn’t necessarily biology, but an existential and emotional state. This irreverent book is a mix of scholarly criticism, memoir, and philosophy, with a bit of caustic humor thrown in.

Polysecure

Polysecure

In this groundbreaking exploration, polyamorous psychotherapist Jessica Fern extends the basic principles of attachment theory into consensual nonmonogamy, known by many as ethical nonmonogamy or polyamory. Put simply, Polysecure is the non-monogamous book on attachment styles. Fern breaks down six strategies to help listeners move out of anxious or avoidant attachment styles and into secure attachments in their most intimate relationships. Narrated by the author herself, this listen is brimming with wisdom from a woman who has been there and is ready to share what she has learned.

 

Memoir

All Boys Aren't Blue

All Boys Aren't Blue

Award-winning writer and activist George M. Johnson narrates his own memoir about growing up queer and Black, coming to understand his identity at a young age, and experiencing romance and sex in adolescence and into his college years. While a deeply personal story, All Boys Aren't Blue is an important reflection on gender and identity, and navigating toxic masculinity and racism in order to find love, happiness, and self-acceptance.

Body Counts

Body Counts

Sean Strub's memoir captures an uncertain time in LGBTQIA+ history, when the AIDS epidemic swept the nation and the nation wanted to sweep it under the rug. The author, now an AIDS activist and the founder of POZ magazine, tells of his young adulthood in Washington, DC, and New York City, revealing how his work in politics brought him close to some of the most powerful people in the country—many of whom, like himself, were living a double life as a gay man. But when his friends began dying from AIDS, he decided that he couldn't remain silent. David Drake narrates Body Counts, a listen that will leave you thinking about how times have changed...and haven't.

Girlhood

Girlhood

This collection of stories blends memoir and investigative reporting to expose ingrained and pervasive societal messages that affect girls deeply and often shape the women they become. Critically acclaimed author Melissa Febos unpacks the narratives women are told to believe over and over again throughout their youth about what it means to be female, and what it means to be free. Ultimately, Girlhood acknowledges what so many women know to be true: not prioritizing her own safety, happiness, success, or freedom is often simply what's expected of a girl or woman. Within her prose, Febos gives listeners a new lens with which to view these values. This brilliant guide to societal transformation is a gripping, thoughtful, and important listen.

True Porn Clerk Stories

True Porn Clerk Stories

Written and narrated by Ali Davis, True Porn Clerk Stories delivers on what it promises: a range of stories about what it’s like to be a clerk at a porn video store—a dying business that still fascinates so many people. Darkly funny and erotic, these stories talk about oddball customers and interesting fellow clerks. Originally published as a blog, these stories are great if you want something to dip in and out of.

Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World

Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World

Susie Bright, aka Susie Sexpert, is a sex-positive feminist who has been involved in feminist causes since the 1970s. She’s the writer of an advice column for women about lesbian sex, which inspired Susie Sexpert’s Lesbian Sex World. In this updated second edition, Bright narrates real advice and guidance for women curious about all the ins and outs of lesbian sex.

Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea

In a listen that challenges stereotypes about gay men, Black men, and the South, E. Patrick Johnson has collected more than 60 stories from Black gay men who grew up in or live in the American South. He narrates this oral history, which inspires listeners to reconsider gayness and gay spaces, while illuminating how friendship, community, and romance blossom in unlikely places.

Lieutenant Nun

Lieutenant Nun

For those curious about sexuality and gender identity in historical time periods, pick up Lieutenant Nun, the oldest known autobiography of a woman, and an unconventional one at that. Catalina de Erauso achieved notoriety when she escaped a Basque convent disguised as a man in 1599, traveled to the New World, served as a soldier in the Spanish army, and explored much of South America with boldness and swagger.

 

Fiction

Dahlia Season

Dahlia Season

Dahlia Season follows Desiree Garcia, a young loner whose parents aren’t sure what to do with her and who attracts odd people wherever she goes. As a queer young woman, Desiree encounters a plethora of interesting characters in her journey to self-discovery, but it’s not until college that she meets Rae, who helps her figure out who she truly is. Narrated by Marisol Ramirez with a grasp of the nuances of Chicana, goth, and dyke subcultures, this audio selection includes some of Mexican-American author Myriam Gurba’s acclaimed short stories as well as the title novella.

Kink

Kink

Kink is a powerful anthology of literary short fiction which focuses on love, desire, BDSM, and kink. This evocative collection is contributed to by such celebrated authors as Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, Melissa Febos, and Alexander Chee. Far from a surface-level exploration, these stories delve deep into the wide range of human emotions that are interwoven with sex, love, and kink.

Killing Johnny Fry

Killing Johnny Fry

If all you know of Walter Mosley is Easy Rawlins, you’re missing a master eroticist. In this surprising and provocative novel, the best-selling author pushes boundaries of the political, psychological, and, yes, existential through sex and intrigue. Percy O’Hara’s cool narration is spot on and will leave you breathless.

Notes of a Dirty Old Man

Notes of a Dirty Old Man

Award-winning actor Will Patton narrates Notes of a Dirty Old Man, a classic collection of stories about Hank Chinaski, a “dirty old man” obsessed with sex, alcohol, and gambling—alter ego of Charles Bukowski, LA-based counterculture columnist of the 1960s. Through exploring Hank’s vices, Bukowski offers offbeat insights into politics, literature, and relationships. An archetypal character, Hank Chinaski has fascinated and repulsed readers for decades—and now, via Patton’s engaging narration, is sure to fascinate and repulse listeners too.

Oriental Girls Desire Romance

Oriental Girls Desire Romance

In Catherine Liu's evocative novel Oriental Girls Desire Romance, an unnamed Chinese-American young woman navigates 1980s New York City, living on the edge of privilege and the seedy underworld of strippers, club kids, drag queens, and cocaine. Although she has an Ivy League education, the narrator works as a temp and exotic dancer as she struggles to find connection amidst casual sex and lure of drugs. Eunice Wong captures her voice and tells her story with honesty and sincerity.

Since I Laid My Burden Down

Since I Laid My Burden Down

In Since I Laid My Burden Down, author Brontez Purnell explores what it means to be Black, queer, and Southern in a way that's funny, honest, thoughtful, and unwaveringly unapologetic. The listener follows DeShawn as he returns to his hometown in Alabama after the death of a family member. The experience creates a whiplash of sorts as the contrasts between his old life in the South and his current life in San Francisco become increasingly glaring. As he visits with family, attends church, and contemplates his childhood, DeShawn considers how his early roots helped him grow into the man he has become. Purnell narrates his debut novel, brilliantly.

 


Tirzah Price is a writer and contributing editor at Book Riot.

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