I don’t remember much about high school sex ed. I remember it was taught by my gym teacher. I remember my crush and I passing intricately folded notes back and forth paper footballs we flicked between our desks. I remember slides placed on the projector, anatomy illustrations, photographs of STD-induced boils and sores that were meant to scare us sexless.

I didn’t really start learning about my sexuality until I was 21. At the time, I had just come out of my first sexual relationship, one that was emotionally and sexually abusive. Somehow, I fell into an internship, at which I wrote content for an adult personals site. I tried out sex toys and lubricants. I brought home riding crops and erotica. I began masturbating on the regular, taking charge of my body and my experience of pleasure for the first time ever.

This is when I started to amass a small collection of books about feminism and sexuality. Books like Exhibitionism for the Shy, Aqua (a waterproof erotica collection), Getting Off, and Full Frontal Feminism.

But the ones that became regular resources — the ones I dipped into again and again — were those more comprehensive compendiums like Our Bodies, Ourselves (OBOS) and, for its focus on sex and sex toys, Moregasm.

These days, I love reading the latest crop of sexuality-related titles and comparing them to the ones I read as a novice sex writer. But which are the modern-day classics I think today’s women will turn to again and again?

I have the answer.

What You Really Really Want by Jaclyn Friedman. My daughter is 7 right now but, being a sex writer and educator, I have an entire shelf of sex ed books I’m saving for when she approaches puberty, enters the terrible teens, and, eventually, emerges into the world as a young adult. This is one of those books. In this guide, Friedman extends a hand to those still trying to define their sexual identity, demystifying the mixed messages we receive about sex, and allowing readers to explore and discover what feels good to them without shame, fear, or guilt. This book is aimed at older teens but could probably be useful to a lot of adults too.

S.E.X. by Heather Corinna. Another one aimed at teens and young adults, this book tackles everything puberty and reproduction, anatomy and body image, self-love, relationships, consent, and more. Even better, the book is by Heather Corinna, the founder of Scarleteen, the longest-running sex ed site out there (as far as I know). By which I mean: They know their shit.

What Fresh Hell Is This? by Heather Corinna. Because Heather would never leave us older folks hanging, they just came out with this amazing resource on perimenopause and menopause. Other books I’ve read on the topic have always left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied, but this book acknowledges the diversity of experiences that exist for those going through this stage of life, busts the common myths we’ve all heard, and, well, provides both helpful recommendations and peace of mind. Also, the cover is (literally) fire.

Oh Joy Sex Toy by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan. I like to think of the Oh Joy Sex Toy series as the spiritual successor to my early adulthood favorite, Moregasm. This series started as an online comic. It’s now available in four volumes of comics about everything from sex and sex toys to sex education and safer sex practices. I’ve always loved Erika’s sex-positive vibe and, as a comics nerd, I also appreciate the format. Erika and Matthew also have a graphic how-to, meant especially for teens.

Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown. This book isn’t solely about sexy-sex, but I still consider it an essential text for those looking to infuse their lives with pleasure, sexual or otherwise. In interviews, brown has described pleasure activism as the act of making justice and liberation pleasurable. She’s pointed out that, “pleasure gets lost under the weight of oppression, and it is liberatory work to reclaim it.” And, while the book tackles everything from climate change to gender to drugs, it’s also peppered throughout with “hot and heavy homework” that calls for readers to tap into both their erotic and emotional needs.

The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. I’m actually re-reading this one right now because I could totally benefit from a call for radical self-love. It’s another title that’s not specifically about sex, but it is about our bodies, and about the racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia we often face in relation to those bodies. This quick read will help you tackle the shame and self-loathing we often carry around with us, enabling you to finally find pleasure in your body.

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski. I swear that when I was doing book tour stuff, I plugged Emily’s book more often than my own. That’s because, more than any other book I’ve read on the topic, it is a balm to those who have spent years of their life feeling sexually broken. This book is the must-read on female sexual desire.

Pussypedia by Zoe Mendelson and Maria Conejo. Finally, Mendelson and Conejo already run a website, but their book of the same name came out on August 3 and, my god, consider this your new go-to. For those who have some combination of a vagina, vulva, clitoris, uterus, etc., this is your brand-new, no-bullshit Our Bodies, Ourselves. The book contains information on everything from consent, masturbation, and pleasure to abortion and contraception to STIs, reproduction, and more. It’s all laid out in Mendelson’s irreverent voice, accompanied by Conejo’s rad illustrations, and backed up by a ton of research.

What’s in your book stack? Consider grabbing one or more of these titles to add to or start your own sexuality library.

Stephanie Auteri

Stephanie Auteri

Journalist & Content Marketing Writer
Steph Auteri has written about sexuality for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and other publications, and has collaborated with folks at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), the Center for Sex Education, and Good in Bed. She is the author of A Dirty Word, a reported memoir about how female sexuality is so often treated like a dirty word.