Home Uncategorized I’ll Have What She’s Having: Books for Better Sex and Better Relationships – The New York Times

I’ll Have What She’s Having: Books for Better Sex and Better Relationships – The New York Times

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Having recently found myself single again, I approached the latest crop of books on sex and relationships with more than scholarly interest. Anything new happen while I’ve been on ice for the past 25 years? Let’s find out.
If you’ve ever had a sexual fantasy and thought, “Oh God, what’s wrong with me?” a quick read of TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life (Da Capo, $27) might ease your mind. Sure, maybe I’d had some odd thoughts, but did I have vomerophilia, the condition of being sexually aroused by vomit? No, I did not. Nor do I want to be a human cow, which means — well, look it up. So, all in all, I’m vanilla (which is both an expression and part of the buffet of sexual food fantasies).
Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, surveyed almost 4,000 Americans of various religions, ethnic groups and economic backgrounds to see what races our motors. Group sex is by far the most common fantasy, followed closely by receiving or inflicting pain. (You didn’t think those millions of copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey” were all bought by the same randy gal, right?) There were many startling findings, at least to me. For example, men and women aren’t wildly different in their fantasy lives, although women are more fluid in their sexuality and care more than men about where the sexual act takes place (presumably in the room with the best lighting and window treatments).
I was less surprised to learn that people who identify as either Republican or Democrat really are different in their fantasy lives. Republicans are publicly more conservative in their tastes, but in their private lives are more likely than Democrats to crave taboo situations like exhibitionism, voyeurism and fetishism. American political affiliations have implications for body features too. “I found that among men and women, both gay and straight,” Lehmiller writes, “Republicans were more likely to fantasize about larger penises than Democrats.” He speculates that they’re more likely to see the penis as a symbol of power or toughness. I can’t possibly imagine how he could come to this conclusion.
Lehmiller isn’t just putting out a compendium of our raciest thoughts; he tries to explain what those thoughts do for the health of our psyches. And he believes they do a great deal. We need our fantasies both for ourselves and, often, to share with our partners, even when it’s uncomfortable. He gives concrete advice on how to do this without making them feel threatened.
Incidentally, not all fantasies are about being transgressive. Many people simply dream of sex with a loved one, often an absent loved one. The teenager who masturbated to the fantasy of making love to his ex-girlfriend, ending with him cooking her a romantic dinner … well, I almost cried. (And wondered whom I could fix him up with.)
It may be preferable to regard HOW TO KEEP YOUR MARRIAGE FROM SUCKING: The Keys to Keep Your Wedlock Out of Deadlock (Diversion, $22.99) as a book of comedy rather than self-help because the married authors, Greg Behrendt (who wrote “She’s Just Not That Into You”) and Amiira Ruotola, are very funny people who are more at home with punch lines and movie scenes than helpful advice. The key to a good marriage is in the setup, they say, using a regrettable metaphor: the planting of flowers of goodness that will get you through the weeds of badness. “The practice, not the goal, is to learn how to love each other even when you struggle to like each other.” O.K., fine. But before we get to this common-sense conclusion, we need a weedwacker to get through a lot of dopey ideas. Should we really get married because it makes it harder to walk away? Do we all need a movie “trailer moment” of a marriage proposal so our mates won’t resent us in the future? Not merging your finances is a recipe for disaster? (I’d argue that more often it’s the exact opposite.)
The best reason to read “How to Keep Your Marriage From Sucking” isn’t the advice but the fabulous cautionary tales from the marriages of the authors’ friends. Here’s a valuable lesson: If you’re a would-be groom, don’t enthusiastically spell out “Will you marry me?” in s’mores right outside your tent while on a romantic camping trip. Adorable to wake up to, theoretically — and in reality an invitation to marauding raccoons, who bit the future groom on the hand when he tried to rescue the ring he’d set next to his culinary masterpiece. Well, that’s one way to make memories.
My aunt — and probably yours too — had a favorite expression when my cousins and I would gas on and on about some new love interest: “You think you discovered sex?” I was reminded of Aunt Alberta while reading GIRL BONER: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment (Amberjack, $24.99). Its author, the sexuality podcaster August McLaughlin, writes as if she discovered sex, and she really wants to share the news. Her book is terrifically encouraging, if not exactly filled with surprises. Masturbation, good! Fat-shaming, bad! “Embracing our sexuality and capacity for pleasure can be as crucial to living a full, healthy life as eating a balanced diet, breathing well and getting sufficient nightly sleep.” True words, those.
McLaughlin has written a thorough primer on everything from sex toys to bondage to “no means no,” intended for young women readers who might be new to the idea that they deserve, and own, their personal pleasure. I just wish it weren’t written with a level of preciousness that made me want to scream my literary safe word. “In the mirror I could see my vaginal lips bulging outward, like fiery rosebuds blooming.” “Make sure your nipples get some TLC. … Because, delicious!” I don’t know what a chapter that involves her family’s history of sexual abuse should be called, but I can promise you it’s not “Porn Perks, Problems and the Penises in Between.”
The book I least looked forward to reading — because I thought it would be gloomy — turned out to be the best of the bunch. IF YOU’RE IN MY OFFICE, IT’S ALREADY TOO LATE: A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to Staying Together (Holt, $26) has the best description of the institution: “Divorce is, at best, a knife fight in a closet. And the kids are in the closet with you. … And the lights are off.”
Fifty-six percent of all American marriages end in divorce — and the divorce lawyer James J. Sexton claims he wrote this book to help you beat the odds. So he’ll teach you what his years of observing warring couples have taught him. It turns out to be a lot, starting with: You need to stay interesting to your mate, which generally involves staying interesting to yourself. Lose your identity in marriage, and you’re likely to lose the marriage.
It’s not novel to tell people that they need to know how to communicate better, but Sexton’s advice is both spot on and very specific — and he sugarcoats nothing. (Including himself: He too is divorced.) He points out, for example, that what we all like to think of as constructive criticism of our mate is actually just criticism. He’s a big believer in training people through redirection and praise for even tiny changes, kind of like throwing bushels of “Whoosa Good Boy!” at your dog. And this guy is nothing if not a realist. Holding sex back as punishment is counterproductive, but suddenly becoming way more affectionate and enthusiastic when your mate does something right: That’s the way to go.
The book is riddled with jaw-dropping stories about people’s insane behavior when things go wrong. Sexton is a very hard guy to shock. This is his interior monologue when a new client says, ‘You’re not going to believe what I’m going to tell you.” “Really? Because unless you’re a nun” and you’re sleeping with “your cousin while married to a hit man for the Russian mob who has liquidated all of their drug money and converted it into Nigerian currency that you’ve transferred to your tattooed bisexual lover who happens to be a sitting judge, you’re not making a blip on my shock radar.” Sexton has seen some stuff. There are not one but two chapters on what he calls “nanny fascination,” which sounds about right to me. In fact, if I were advertising the book rather than reviewing it, this would be the headline.
Of course, I was nosily waiting to find out what happened in Sexton’s own marriage. We never learn. But perhaps there’s a hint in his unequivocal advice about Facebook: Leave it. Or, as he titles his chapter on the perils of social media: “If We Were Designing an Infidelity-Generating Machine, It Would Be Facebook.” Who would have guessed that the person who gives the best advice about marriage was the guy responsible for getting you out of yours?


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