Imagine: you are seven years old when your friend’s free-spirited parents donate a picture book from the 1970’s for your little friend group to marvel over. You wondered how you are ever going to obtain that Tarzan-level bush, thinking that we were made to have hair under our armpits, and lots of hair between our legs. Ding-dong you’re wrong: it’s the 2000’s, and social conventions now say that you were born smooth like a dolphin, so maintain yourself that way. Flash forward to the present: we’ve got movements to free the nipple (who’s holding it hostage?), girls fingering fruit on Instagram, armpit hair dyed in neon colours… In light of all of this, now seems a good time to ask – are we finally liberated from the stigma surrounding sex? To match the “SEX” theme of this print edition, I give you four recommendations for books that open up the conversation about sex.
Let’s jump right into breaking some boundaries by looking at female embodiment. The Vagina Monologues is a written play based on interviews with all sorts of women, asking crazy questions like ‘if your vagina could talk, what would it say?’ or ‘if your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?’ It’s a no-nonsense read that jokes at the spiritual ‘love and hug your genitals’ mentality. Between hilarious and heart-breaking anecdotes, there’s room to talk about some not-so-happy facts, like how female genital mutilation (FGM) still takes place in 28 countries. Plan Nederland campaigns to fight FGM, but sadly mainstream media doesn’t discuss genitalia if it is not in a Fifty Shades of Grey context. The Vagina Monologues considers the topic in an honest and thought-provoking manner.
Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf has multiple sections, ranging from a more historical and mythological view to scientific and psychological approaches. For example, the chapter ‘The Traumatized Vagina’ explains the physical trauma that can be experienced after rape. It is a good book that summarizes the history of research of female sexuality, but I advise you to skip the last section if you don’t buy spiritual psychobabble. Also, you might want to get this one on your e-reader – being the girl in the train reading a book with ‘Oh dear, female parts’ plastered all over it is not cute (or so I have heard).
Next is a book that is not specifically about sex, but about everything leading up to it. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg is the perfect mix between social research and pure comedy. Read this book in the voice of Tom ‘Treat Yo Self’ Haverford from Parks and Recreation, but also with the occasional sting of heartbreak you know from Ansari’s Netflix-series Master of None. Modern Romance is more than just another funny book by a comedian, it studies generations of courting: from 1950’s diner dates to Tinder hook-ups. It is accompanied by graphs and research, but also by more personal accounts, such as Aziz Ansari’s hilarious attempts at Photoshopping his way to success in the online dating world.
If the non-fiction vagina science I have offered you so far isn’t the kind of sexy you had in mind, I now present you with some applied female sexuality, as can be seen in the words of Rupi Kaur. Milk and Honey is a poetry bundle split into ‘the hurting’, ‘the loving’, ‘the breaking’, and ‘the healing’, showing sex as being a subject in all periods of life. The poems and illustrations feel like intimate secrets spilled out on paper. Rupi Kaur writes that ‘the recreational use of this body is seen as beautiful while its nature is seen as ugly’, summarising the weakness of the erotic novella recommendations you might expect in a “sexy reading list”.
I believe a bookshelf like this shows that sex is everywhere and that it is a normal topic to write about; be it through the form of a theatre play, sociological or scientific research, or poetry. Sadly, the taboo around this kind of reading can be seen as necessary in order for these books to stand out and sell well. That is why I have not tried to sell them to you as ground breaking and shocking, but just as I would recommend any other book. Nonetheless, I hope that this reading list will help you to spice up your bland bookshelf.
Joëlle Koorneef, Class of 2018, is a literature and antiquity major, from Zwijndrecht, The Netherlands.
Featured Photo Credit: Joëlle Koorneef