The Birds and the Bees: 20 Must-Read Books About Sex

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Ashley Holstrom

Staff Writer

Ashley Holstrom helps make books at Sourcebooks. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color. Newsletter: Crooked Reads. Twitter: @alholstrom.

Here’s the thing: This list of must-read books about sex is something I wish I had when I was younger. I never had the “birds and the bees” talk. Where do babies come from? The stork. Obviously.

Sure, as a tween I got pamphlets about the changes forthcoming in my female body, but beyond that and the mandatory month or so of sex-ed in high school — which was more about abstinence and STIs and unwanted pregnancy than consent and love and pleasure — I learned everything else on the internet. Sorry, Mom and Dad!

Strange message boards and teen-focused advice websites — shout out to Scarleteen and I think one from a tampon brand? — taught me the gist of things, as long as terrifying porn advertisements didn’t take over the entire screen.

The euphemisms tripped me up. It took me years to understand what my friend meant in 7th grade when she told me “I gave him something I can never, ever have back.” What was it? A scrunchie? A key to your diary? Oh. Virginity. Got it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many good, smart books about sex in the world. They’re not scandalous or raunchy — but there certainly are those if you’re looking for them. They’re just books about a totally normal, regular thing most humans experience.

This list hits most of the major sex topics. We’ve got advice books, academic-ish books (history, politics, sociology, etc.), memoirs, and books for teens.

Advice Books about Sex

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski cover

Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski

Come As You Are is essential, and not just for the ’90s music references. It’s an exploration into women’s sexuality and the role the brain plays in it. First and foremost, Emily Nagoski wants us to know that there is no normal. Or rather, everything is normal? Human sexuality varies deeply depending on the person, is what I mean. Another important factor is context and how you feel about sex.

Getting It by Allison Moon cover

Getting It: A Guide to Hot, Healthy Hookups and Shame-Free Sex by Allison Moon

This empowering guide is for people of all sexual identities and experience levels, which is my favorite kind of guide book. In Getting It, sex educator Allison Moon gets into the nitty-gritty of hookup culture, consent, and communication to open the doors to casual sex.

Hot and Unbothered by Yana Tallon-Hicks cover

Hot and Unbothered: How to Think About, Talk About, and Have the Sex You Really Want by Yana Tallon-Hicks

Sex therapist Yana Tallon-Hicks wants to bridge the gap between sex education and satisfying sex — for people of all genders and sexualities. Hot and Unbothered will guide you to empower yourself and improve your relationships on the road to good sex. After the emotional work comes the fun: figuring out what you want, what you like, and what you want to explore.

Polysecure by Jessica Fern cover

Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy by Jessica Fern

Polyamorous psychotherapist Jessica Fern takes the concept of attachment theory and applies it to non-monogamous relationships. Beyond explaining how it works, she offers six strategies to bring you closer to secure attachments in your relationships. Polysecure is a book of both theory and advice, and one anyone curious about the polyamorous life should have on their shelf.

So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex by Ian Kerner book cover

So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex: Laying Bare and Learning to Repair Our Love Lives by Ian Kerner

So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex is full of the methodology sex therapist Ian Kerner uses with couples who are stuck in a rut. The key is to examine the sex script — every step of the interaction — from multiple angles and figure out how to reach mutual satisfaction. This book provides the tools and techniques to get things back on track in the bedroom.

Academic-ish Books about Sex

Ace book cover

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen

In a world that’s obsessed with sex and attraction, what is it like for those who don’t have that desire? Angela Chen gets to the nitty-gritty of asexuality in Ace, examining consent, compromise, confusion, and how it all affects the structures of society. It’s composed of interviews, cultural criticism, and personal memoir, providing a wide scope of asexuality.

Been There, Done That by Rachel Feltman cover

Been There, Done That: A Rousing History of Sex by Rachel Feltman

History is weird. We know this. But history about sex is even weirder. Been There, Done That is here to hilariously share those weird tales and bust some myths and urban legends about birth control, STIs, aphrodisiacs, and more. It also sheds light on how sex really hasn’t changed much at all throughout history.

Bonk by Mary Roach cover

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Can a person think themself to orgasm? Can a dead person get an erection? (Answers: yes and yes.) Mary Roach traverses the history of sexual history from Aristotle to Kinsey to the modern day, where she meets with all kinds of doctors and scientists who get all up in people’s business to further our knowledge about sex. Bonk is the perfect blend of history, science, and humor.

Pleasure Activism cover

Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by
adrienne maree brown

Social justice and sex go hand-in-hand, according to editor adrienne maree brown. Pleasure Activism centers on that fact with writers covering sex work, climate change, race, gender, sex, drugs, and more. Because politics can and should feel good.

The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan cover

The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century by Amia Srinivasan

Philosopher Amia Srinivasan is motivated by the problems of politics and sex. The Right to Sex looks deeply at those issues while asking how we should think and talk about sex. She picks apart the meaning of sex in our world and dreams of what a future could look like with new politics.

Virgin The Untouched History by Hanne Blank cover

Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank

Why do we even care about virginity? Hanne Blank gets to the bottom of that question in Virgin, and explains why everything we think we know about it is incorrect. From determining what losing virginity looks like to the genre of porn to the government that boasts abstinence, Virgin gets to the bottom of it all.

Memoirs about Sex

cover of Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir by Erika L. Sánchez; white font over a bright rainbow swirl background

Crying in the Bathroom: A Memoir by Erika L. Sánchez

Erika Sánchez lays it all bare in this memoir about life as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. In Crying in the Bathroom, she hilariously touches on all aspects of life, from sex to mental health and everything in between. It’s one of the more honest memoirs you’ll read, and while the central focus isn’t sex, it certainly doesn’t shy away from it.

Greedy by Jen Winston cover

Greedy: Notes from a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much by Jen Winston

These hilarious essays are about figuring out one’s bisexuality, gender, and sex. Jen Winston knows she’s bi — but also maybe not? Greedy covers her entire journey, from a childhood girl crush to a quest for a threesome, with the typical bi stereotype of being greedy or slutty looming over her head and making her question everything.

Insatiable: Porn - A Love Story cover

Insatiable: Porn – A Love Story by Asa Akira

Asa Akira’s memoir is a hysterical one about the life of a porn star, complete with her wild anecdotes from her days as a stripper and dominatrix. Insatiable is more than just that, though — it’s also about the porn industry and its role in our lives.

The Sex Lives of African Women book cover

The Sex Lives of African Women: Self-Discovery, Freedom, and Healing by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah

The Sex Lives of African Women is a celebration of liberation and individuality, with stories from more than 30 African women around the globe, as well as the author’s own journey. Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah lays bare a variety of experiences, from a queer community in Egypt to polyamory in Senegal and everything in between and beyond.

cover of Unbound by Tarana Burke: a colorful drawing of the author in profile

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke is the founder and activist behind #MeToo. Unbound is her story, the one that she needed to come to terms with before she could effectively do her job helping young Black girls who had suffered sexual abuse. It is a powerful memoir that gets into healing and empowerment, and how that journey has to start from within.

Books about Sex for Teens

Doing It by Hannah Witton cover

Doing It!: Let’s Talk About Sex by Hannah Witton

Sex-positive vlogger Hannah Witton is here to share all her honest and hilarious stories, confessions, and revelations about sex. Doing It! is both an intro to sex and a guidebook for those who wants to know a little more. It’s not just about sex, though — she covers healthy relationships, porn, and contraception, too.

Losing It by Sophia Smith Galer cover

Losing It: Sex Education for the 21st Century by Sophia Smith Galer

If your sex education classes left you with more questions than answers, Losing It is for you. Sophia Smith Galer wants to break down the nuances of sex beyond the typical abstinence and STIs and condoms information. This book turns the focus toward our own pleasure and consent. With a focus on education in the UK, Smith Galer shares stories from people of all walks of life who have been affected by sex misinformation.

Sex Teens and Everything in Between by Shafia Zaloom cover

Sex, Teens, and Everything in Between: The New and Necessary Conversations Today’s Teenagers Need to Have about Consent, Sexual Harassment, Healthy Relationships, Love, and More by Shafia Zaloom

Meant to be read by both teens and parents, Sex, Teens, and Everything in Between is the perfect, approachable book to open the door to honest conversations. Teen sex educator Shafia Zaloom breaks it all down, from consent and pleasure to harassment and assault, with scenarios, anecdotes, and discussion questions.

What You Really Really Want by Jaclyn Friedman cover

What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman

What You Really Really Want is the perfect empowering guide for young women to navigate the weird, dangerous, and hypersexualized world we love in. Jaclyn Friedman encourages readers to separate their fears from the facts and embrace their own healthy sexuality.

If these weren’t enough for you, be sure to check out this list of 100 must-read sex education books for grown-ups, these 28 sex positive books, or these 10 books by and about sex workers.