Read This Book: Trophy Wife: Sexuality, Disability, Femininity

Remember the interview I did with Leandra Vane, the Unlaced Librarian? Remember how it ended with her letting us know that she had a book coming out? We all thought, “Damn, I bet that’ll be awesome.” Well it’s even better than that.

If any parts of who you are lie dormant, they will surely stir at the sound of Vane’s writing. Her experience living with a visible disability has made her extraordinarily clear on social lenses, narratives, and that disparity between how you feel and how you are perceived.

Her stories are relatable regardless of your experience with a disability, because she speaks to the interpersonal and intrapersonal experience of self-understanding and expression. Disability itself simply becomes a symbol of that thing in each of us that we’ve been told not to show, that thing we fear expressing, that thing we struggle to integrate into our healthy sense of self.

One of my very favorite aspects of this book is the heavy somatic component. Vane has become a master of embodiment through her journey of extreme intimacy with her body, which has at times included the experience of checking out from her body. It strikes me that, as a person with unavoidable pain, she does not avoid pain in general. This is paramount to being in your body. You will experience pain as well as pleasure and neutrality. That’s not a reason to run. As Vane demonstrates with incredible clarity and humor, it is a reason to get really, really good at knowing what your body likes.

Here are just a few of my favorite verses from her about embodiment:

“I’ve been in many places and out of body has been by far the most excruciating and unbearable.”

“…my sexuality was crucial to having a whole, finished experience in my body.”

“I learned pleasure would not abandon me.”

Other vital topics that she covers include kink, passing, porn, non-monogamy, and shit.

Enjoy Leandra Vane’s super smart and sex-positive articles, book reviews, and resources on her blog.

Buy the book here.

Read This Book: In Quest of the Mythical Mate

This should be required reading in high school. I mean it. I decided this when I was reading it for the first time in one of my couples therapy courses in grad school, because I suddenly found myself overflowing with insight into a bunch of my old friendships and relationships. Every single person who walks into my office does so because of something that is relational at the root. I strongly believe that studying relationships in our formative years would go incredibly far in creating more ease and fulfillment throughout adulthood.

Psychologists Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson walk you through the stages that every relationship goes through. They are a direct parallel to the work of Mahler, and Erikson, both of which many of you will already been familiar. Because the book is written for professionals on how to use a developmental model in couples therapy, it’s packed with case examples, which I believe is why it’s readable by anyone. Each point is driven home with a felt sense of learning about real people.

One of the major gems is in realizing that a lot of people don’t effectively make it property through separation and differentiation. Differentiation is the process of determining, on a very deep level, yourself from another. It results in a healthy expectation of differences, and the belief that the connection will sustain through working them out. Holy shit is that hard! But it’s really important. The muscle needs to grow properly, so that it can be used properly when it’s needed later.

But because a bunch of us still have differentiation work left to do, it’s extra difficult when it comes up in our relationships. And it comes right after symbiosis, which is that amazing cocooning time of “we are one.” It just isn’t fair that after months of that you find out something about the other person that devastates you. This is why it’s the stage where a lot of couples break up.  Differences are hard enough to negotiate without lingering beliefs about how they’re inherently dangerous, and will result in complete disconnection. That’s why we gotta process that shit! A couple may still break up, but instead of doing it over distress at the process and past triggers (which we are rarely conscious about without some good therapy), it can be about the reality of now.

Many of the other learnings are similar in that they are as near to cause and effect as you can get with psychology. The model grounds you in understanding what is trying to be worked out, and encourages progress by laying out the sorts of practices that will get you what you need.

How to Read It-

Because this book is written as a guide for therapists working with couples, it’s heavy on case examples, and therapeutic interventions. Many of my clients have enjoyed getting this kind of psychoeducation about the process. But you may also find that hearing about other people and techniques isn’t for you, as it’s a whole lot of clinical stuff. If that’s the case, I recommend reading the first two chapters, the chapter(s) covering the stages you suspect you’re in, and the frequently asked questions in the back.

What To Do With What You Learn-

As you read, remember that you needn’t be in relationship now, nor do you need to have ever been in a romantic relationship in order to benefit from this learning. We are invited into these stages with everyone we encounter- our friends, therapist, co-workers, teachers, everyone. Consider which parts you’re adept at navigating, and where you tend to get stuck, and then put your new knowledge into practice. This book is full of wisdom, but it’s not enough to simply understand concepts. If you aren’t already in therapy, find someone to work with so that you can move through those stuck places. It is one of the very best places for exploring relationships, because the therapist-client relationship is a real one. But better yet, it’s one in which you get to do direct exploration. It is real-time exploration of how you are, and practice for how you want to be with others. We are hurt in relationships, and relationships are exactly where we heal.

Read This Book: Healing Sex by Staci Haines

I should have written this review ages ago, because I’ve been recommending this book for ages! Haines’ work is not only an excellent resource for moving through difficult experiences into having fun and fulfilling sex, it’s also one of the most well articulated descriptions of somatic work that I have come across. If you’re interested in having a firmer grasp on somatics, you can stand right there in your library or bookstore and read just the introduction.

One of my favorite things about Healing Sex is the author’s optimistic and sex-positive tone, and this has been echoed by many of my clients. And what makes Haines’ optimism so enjoyable is that it stems from clarity about the need for therapy, and the simplicity of the somatic process. Sexuality is complex enough without trauma, so the necessary focus is on allowing your body to be your guide. Sensations bring clarity, and offer direction. The body is a very useful guide in any process, but it’s essential for overcoming body-based difficulties. Haines further inspires engagement in this healing process by reminders that the end result is, not just better, but awesome sex.

The heavy somatic component also invites a lot of empathy from readers who have not experienced any sexual trauma, making it an excellent resource for partners. We all have bodies, so being educated about the body’s sexual response processes is pretty darn relatable! And the book is filled with anecdotes, which serve to ground the author’s points in visceral awareness. These are also great for partners who sometimes can’t quite “get it.” That said, while I would not say that they’re at the level of re-traumatizing, some of the anecdotes are especially difficult to hear, and I have recommended to some clients (particularly empaths or the highly sensitive) that they skip over these parts. All the stories and quotes are italized, so this is fairly easy to accomplish. I myself feel things very easily, and I’ve gone back and forth with reading them when reviewing a particular chapter.

I also love this book for its political savvy. Healthy sexuality is hugely important to a society, and yet we don’t get to engage much in intelligent and useful discourse about it. Haines emphasizes the importance of finding community, and/or supporting people and organizations that foster healthy relationships to sex, whether it be support groups, anti-rape coalitions, or sexual educators. More education and more conversations will mean healthier and healthier sexuality for current and future generations.

To boot, Haines finishes with a wonderful list of resources, which I myself have gone back to over and over.

Staci Haines’ own wonderful organization, Generative Somatics, offers therapy, workshops, and social justice opportunities.

Read this book: (any) by Oscar Wilde

From Oscar Wilde, and shared with me by a beautiful human being that I know:

“I won’t tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world’s voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!”

Wilde’s writings are a rich source of inspiration for how to shed shame and embarrassment, and to instead just live. I love the way he demands unhindered self-expression, and holds society to a higher standard of supporting it. He is a great cheerleader for the work of therapy.

Read this book: “When Someone You Love is Kinky” by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt

This is a fabulous read. It is informative, fun and relatable. Easton and Liszt’s book is meant as a resource for anyone trying to understand kink as it relates to an important person in their life. It is a description of how, what and (perhaps most importantly) why some people engage in kinky sex. The authors begin with a bit of background on research, terminology, law, school curriculum and the resultant preconceptions that this topic such a big deal. Once the building blocks are established, you are taken on a ride through the land of kink. Interspersed throughout the book are “letters you wouldn’t dare send” from kinkyfolk to their loved ones. These letters, in their raw honesty, allow the reader to peek inside the head of a kinky person and the effect is quite broadening. The authors also greatly emphasize the importance of open and effective communication and give suggestions to the reader on how one might be able to explore their own kinkiness with their partner. The book ends with a glossary and resource guide, the likes of which one could hardly find elsewhere.
Sex is sometimes filled with things that are dark and scary for a lot of people. This book is uplifting, broadening and expanding and it will leave you with a lot of curiosity and intrigue about a new world of wonderful things.

Here is a link to Easton’s site: http://www.dossieeaston.com/index.html