The 10 Books That Taught Me Everything I Know About Sex

This column contains language of a frank and sexual nature. You have been warned.

Growing up in a repressive religious household, I had to do for self when it came to the area of sex edumacation. Sure, even secular parents are uncomfortable with the prospect of having the dreaded talk, but at least they have the decency to adopt a "someone else will do it" attitude and send their kids to public school. I'm not sure how those of us who grew up under the shadow of God and attended Christian school were expected to learn about sex; we probably weren't. We were supposed to wait until marriage and jump into the deep end with no swimming lessons. Which is probably why so many young puritans rush into marriage before they are emotionally or economically ready—that's the power of sex. And as we all know, losing one's V-card is the best reason to enter into a life-long union.

Now don't get me wrong, I agree that the best way to learn is by doing. (Isn't that why they invented pre-marital sex?)  But you can't withhold potentially life-saving information predicated on the assumption that kids will subscribe to your personal beliefs. You can't send warriors into battle without girding their loins, as it were. I was personally a late bloomer, and (Fortunately? Unfortunately?) had more books than friends. They say knowledge is power, and I had the power like He-Man, thanks in no small part to my parent's book collection and frequent trips to the library.

This is how I learned about sex. With an inquisitive mind and clandestine forays into the adult section of the library to rummage through the stacks. It is up to the reader to judge whether I received a well-rounded education or my views on sex were totally warped. Here are the books that molded me into the sexual being I am today, for better or worse. Most likely, worse.

1. The Encyclopedia

Some of you whipper-snaps are probably too young to remember this, but there was a time before the internet when you couldn't just whip out your phone and consult Google if you wanted to know the proper nomenclature for ye olde grundle-taint. Before Wikipedia, there was the encyclopedia, which was a twenty-plus volume set of hard-bound books containing all the knowledge in the known universe at any given time (minus the misinformation and pop culture minutiae). People actually sold these door-to-door, and if you were lucky enough to grow up in a middle-class family, your parents may have sprung for a set of these innocuous reference books for you to call your own. Little did they know they were filled with the Devil's knowledge. 

While not technically a single book, it was within these tomes that I began my quest for truth, searching out entries for words like penis, vagina, and sex. And as my list of reference materials grew, it was there that I returned to fact check what I had learned elsewhere. A solid foundation if there ever was one.


2. The Bible

Even more insidious than the Encyclopedia was that wolf in sheep's clothing known as the Bible. For a book that is used to shelter people from sex and violence, it contains a shit-ton of sex and violence. Murder, rape, incest, genocide, slavery, prostitution, bestiality, donkey dick, horse semen, foreskin scalping, wives being sold into sexual slavery by "godly" men, daughters offered to rapists by "godly" men, bears sent by God to rip apart kids who made fun of a bald guy, virgins forced to marry their rapists if monetary restitution was made to their fathers, the stoning of rape victims, child abuse, child murder, money shots, breast poetry, bowel movements, angel sex... it was a lot for my young mind to process. But process it I did. Either my mother thought it all went over my head or she thought it was okay because it was in the Bible. Is it any wonder religious people have such weird feelings about sex?


3. My Mother's Romance Novels

Again, not a single book. After learning the cold hard facts, I wanted to see the hot and heavy practical application. The only materials at my disposal at the time (that I was aware of) were my mother's swashbuckling bodice-rippers. Even though my mother was a god-fearing woman who wouldn't let me watch prime time television, somehow it was okay for her to read softcore pornography. Thus, it was at Fabio's altar that I was schooled in the ways of romantic love. Taking ladies by force, making them your sex slave until they fall in love with you—it probably wasn't the best place for an impressionable young lad to start. You see what happens when you don't properly educate your children? I've had a bizarre Italian pirate fetish ever since.


4. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

I know what you're thinking: Why would a young boy want to read Judy Blume? Because he was resourceful, that's why. I had engaged in my share of diaper-changing/doctor roleplay by this point and I wanted to know what made girls tick. Specifically in their vagina clocks. Unfortunately, the book wasn't as sexy as I anticipated. It was actually kind of gross. But I learned a valuable lesson: the female vagina is a wondrous, magical place, full of mystery, but it's also a capricious vixen that cannot be tamed. Maybe I should have read Then Again, Maybe I Won't instead. That way I wouldn't have freaked out and thought I was getting my period the first time I had a wet dream. Where was your God when that happened?


5. The Final Friends Series

If Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret was a primer on the horrors of being a pubescent (girl), the books of Christopher Pike were a primer on how sexy and violent high school was going to be. Especially the Final Friends series. Granted, I had stopped reading Pike long before I entered High School, but it filled my head with how much sex I would be having and how adult I would be, solving mysteries, saving the world from alien sex lizards. So you can imagine my disappointment. The books weren't even that graphic, but I had never experienced characters so close to my own age written that way before. I was jazzed by the sex and violence, which—is that really what we want for our young, bubbling hormone cauldrons? Thankfully, I didn't turn out to be a chronic masturbator who wears women's skin as pajamas, but your child might not be so lucky


6. The Presidio Movie Tie-in

Okay, this is a weird one. The Presidio was a shitty movie starring Sean Connery and Mark Harmon that centered around a murder at the titular army base in San Francisco. I still wasn't allowed to see R-rated movies at this point, and I had been spending more time in the adult section of the library. I don't know what made me check out this novelization, but somehow it found its way home with me. It stands out for two reasons: One, there is a scene in which Sean Connery's character beats a guy up using only his thumb. I thought that was so bad ass and would go on to terrorize my brother with my own thumb for years. And two, Mark Harmon's character finger-blasts the Connery character's daughter in it, which was a rawer sexuality than I was used to. This book really opened my eyes to the violence of fingers.


7. Hollywood Babylon

I guess the puritan's were right: the entertainment business is a sleazy one. I don't know how I discovered the film studies section of the library was a sexual gold mine, but it was the first place I saw a naked woman where I didn't have my eyes covered by my mother or was told to face the corner. There were a number of pornography precursors for me to peruse, but the one that sticks out in my mind is Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon. Babylon is basically a scandal rag on the Hollywood Golden Age in book form. It's filled with salacious anecdotes of dubious veracity, accompanied by old tyme nip-slips and upskirts. It was TMZ before the internet. I had no idea who the people in the pictures were or what the book was about; all I knew was that on such-and-such a page I could see a grainy black and white picture of Carmen Miranda's beaver.


8. The Body (Book)?

I could have kicked myself when I discovered the wealth of spank bank material that existed in the art/photography section of the library. There I was subsisting on c-grade paparazzi shots like a sucker when I could have been basking in the glory of high quality nudes. I had been boasting to a friend about Hollywood Babylon and how clever I was in my quest for titillation and he showed me what an amateur I was. I can't remember the exact name of the book or find it online; it was called Body or The Body Book or something similar. Basically, it was a photographic study of the human form, taken one part at a time. My local library didn't have it, but I found it on a display in the storefront of a local book shop. It was risky to get my perv-rusal on out in the open, but that didn't stop me. I turned right to the V section. I put in a request for an inter-library loan and never bothered with Hollywood Babylon again.


9. Jaws

This is another weird one. I found this on a bookshelf while sitting in the back of science class with the cool kids when I was in junior high. I was leafing through it out of boredom when BAM! I was railroaded by the clumsy eroticism and ham-fisted prose of a Peter Benchley sex scene. I started passing the book around, once again pleased with my knack for finding sexually charged material. I guess we weren't being too subtle about it, because of course the teacher noticed. As the instigator, I was called into the principle's office and subjected to a battery of humiliating questions, such as: What was so interesting about that book? Why were you giggling like a little girl? How did what you read make you feel? Remember, I'm an educator. Do you have any questions about what you read?

Holy shit! I just realized that was the only time in my formative years anyone ever offered to have a frank discussion about sex with me. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. I had already been conditioned to believe sex was icky and sinful and feelings about it should be internalized.


10. The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices

Years later, when I was already the veteran of my own awkward fumblings, I came across the Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. By then I thought I knew everything there was to know about sex, but this book proved me dead wrong. I was working at a B. Dalton book store with one Dennis Widmyer at the time. When things were slow, we'd pop over to the sexuality section and thumb through this bad boy. This was right before the internet put the weirdest of the weird at the world's fingertips. Without this book, I would never have learned what sounding, docking, acrotomophilia, or felching was. Or that pleasure could be derived from nailing one's penis to a block of wood. Or that orifice suturing was a thing. My education was finally complete!

These books are the reason I am the sexually well-adjusted adult male I am today. When I had questions about my body and reproduction, they gave me the guidance no one else would. They taught me how to please a woman long before I ever had the chance. Would I have been better off if I had someone I looked up to to have an honest discussion with? Who can say? Personally, if I had to do it all again, I could do worse than these ten books. In fact, when it comes time to have "the talk" with my own children, this will be the syllabus. Won't you consider the mental and sexual well-being of your offspring?

Maybe you have some suggestions of your own. What books did you read to learn about sex?

Joshua Chaplinsky

Column by Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at and

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Skygrotto's picture
Skygrotto from Southwestern Ontario is reading Europe: A History by Norman Davies March 22, 2013 - 12:13pm

Marquis de Sade probably took notes when reading the Bible. It seems like his cup of tea. Except the bear killing children. De Sade wouldn't go for that tibbit.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts March 22, 2013 - 1:09pm

I thought that was so bad ass and would go on to terrorize my brother with my own thumb for years.

This is amazing.


I grew up in an okay time when Meatballs and the ilk aired on cable TV and you could still get some scrambly spice channel late at night, with my face up against the speaker searching through the ether like a pervy Dennis Quaid.

I had that one Woody Allen Tie-In book, with that iconic yellow giallo-like cover. I hid it under the drawer in the bathroom, which turned out to be where my older brothers hid their Playboys with all the 1980's bush. The weirder shit I'd find at the libraries with nudey pictures were stuff about Holocaust concentration camp rapes and pagan ritual sex magick. Jesus. That explains a lot.

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 March 22, 2013 - 1:38pm


I am shocked you read these, Josh. I recently re-bought and re-read the Final Friends holds up surprisingly well. Man, I loved those books.

"This book really opened my eyes to the violence of fingers." one of the best sentences you have ever written - your work here is done!

Lenore's picture
Lenore from San Francisco is reading Marly Youmans Thaliad March 22, 2013 - 2:56pm

Wow, my list looks a whole lot like your list but I'd need to add The Sensuous Woman and Surrogate Wife!

I think #8 is The Body, photographs of the Human Form by William A. Ewing, published by Chronicle.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine March 22, 2013 - 3:10pm

Hm... not sure, Lenore. I saw that one, but was thrown by the Showgirls cover. Think the book I'm talking about was more photography/physiology. I could also have the title completely wrong. It was a long time ago.

Andreia Marques's picture
Andreia Marques from Brazil is reading Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood March 23, 2013 - 8:05am

The day I took The Horse Whisperer, the book, home, innocently thinking it was about horses.

It scarred young me for life.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing March 23, 2013 - 12:02pm

Great column! Really well done! Bravo!

My ultraliberal parents handled the matter this way: my dad had "the talk" with me, a trauma I can remember in practically minute detail. It was traumatic because I already knew I was attracted to boys, not girls, and not even my father would tackle that little predicament. Then they gave me Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). This helpful tome told me that gay people were sick sick sick and led miserable lives and there was nothing to be done about it. To top it off, my dad bought me a subscription to Playboy. It was well-intentioned, but clearly problematic. I was the only boy in school who actually read the articles.


Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine March 23, 2013 - 12:39pm

That sounds awful, Ed!

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing March 23, 2013 - 2:20pm

Awful at the time, yes. But it's pretty amusing now. My parents tried, after all.


Dorian Grey's picture
Dorian Grey from Transexual, Transylvania is reading "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck March 23, 2013 - 5:18pm

My step-dad was a little unorthodox so he got me a subscription to Playboy as well (don't get me wrong, I devoured that shit). I learned about sex through porno mags/tapes of his that I found hidden around the house. My parents, especially my mom, were always letting me know that I could talk to them about sex but I never did, never wanted to. I remember my introduction to smutty smutty book-sex was in Stephen King's Needful Things when the kid has a dirty dream about his school teacher. Heavy stuff at the time. 

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list March 23, 2013 - 7:04pm

My dad was a fundementalist Baptist preacher. Sex education, for me, happened through books and watching cable at a friend's house. I got my hands on Anne Rice's Exit to Eden when I was 13. That is some fucked up reading for a 13 year old girl. The lady I used to babysit for had it on her bookshelf and I randomly picked it up to read, while the baby was sleeping and I was waiting to go home. My mom's romance novel collection was also part of me "education". Lady Chatterly's Lover ended up in there at some point too. Classics are safe, right? Hahahaha.

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 March 24, 2013 - 5:36am
cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 March 24, 2013 - 5:36am
cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 March 24, 2013 - 5:37am
cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 March 24, 2013 - 5:40am

Sorry. Not sure why my comment posted three times. I'm not THAT insistent about it.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine March 24, 2013 - 7:49am

Haha, Chris. No, don't think that's the book either. Thanks though.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like March 24, 2013 - 5:53pm

I'm thinking of the nude.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine March 24, 2013 - 6:55pm

I'm thinking IN the nude.

GillianG's picture
GillianG from Melbourne, Australia is reading The Peter Grant series March 25, 2013 - 7:35pm

Between 'ye olde grundle-taint', and seeing a Judy Blume novel up there, I was crying with laughter!