9 Books to Better Understand Today's Sexual Landscape

Knowledge is they key to open-mindedness.

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Views toward sex and sexuality are constantly shifting. In the wake of these shifts, people might find themselves trying to better understand these new ideas, or worried that they lack the necessary vocabulary to engage with emerging communities. The growing visibility of LGBTQ individuals is challenging the framework of even the oldest institutions in society. Attitudes surrounding sex are becoming more open, with products like talking sex robots on the horizon. For those who would like to better learn about where the world is heading with respect to sex, gender, and more, here are nine books worth reading. It’s by no means a complete list to answer every single question one may have, but it’s a start:

9. Future Sex — Emily Witt

In Future Sex: A New Kind of Free Love, Emily Witt tackles the kinetic nature of the sexual experience and the new avenues down which it could take us if we have an open mind. Operating within the contexts of internet dating, internet pornography, polyamory, and various sexual subcultures, Witt asks and attempts to answer the question of how the future of physical (or digital) human connection will develop.

8. Modern Romance — Aziz Ansari

Comedian Aziz Ansari brings fans a thoughtful and comprehensive account of how it is that people find love — whatever it is that means to them — in the modern world. For Modern Romance, Ansari teams up with New York University sociologist Eric Klinenberg to engage in a series of interviews, focus groups, and research efforts with people from around the world, ranging “from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita.” The result is a funny and compelling account of how technology (like texting and emoji) and new ideas about sex both foster and frustrate peoples’ search for intimacy.

7. This Book Is Gay — James Dawson

In this age of multifaceted sexualities, teens are perhaps especially at risk of confusion and disillusionment if they aren’t given the tools and the freedom to explore their own identities. With This Book Is Gay, James Dawson attempts to address just that problem. Dawson provides answers for those of us who have questions about what it means to be gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, transgender, or curious and questioning with hilarious insight. But maybe more importantly than that, This Book Is Gay strives to validate the lives and experiences of so many young people who may feel unheard, unseen, or unknown.

6. Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue — Nicholas M. Teich

Transgender 101 reads exactly as advertised: an accessible account of the complexities in the life and history of the transgender community. Through an examination of the psychic, physical, and social dynamic of being transgender, Teich, a social worker who himself is trans, has targeted his work toward anyone who is willing to read and understand. Transgender 101 is the perfect book for a friend of family member of a transgender person who is seeking a way to better understand their loved one’s identity.

5. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More — Janet Mock

If Transgender 101 is a broad, generalist account of transgender life and history, Janet Mock’s [Redefining Realness], is a much more personal account of her own transition. Many of us will have already seen Mock appear on various television programs sharing her insights, and her book adds yet another layer to the fight for transgender rights and visibility. Through her experiences, Mock tells her own compelling story and sheds light on the “unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population.”

4. More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory — Franklin Veaux

Even as non-normative communities gain acceptance in wider society, those individuals who classify themselves as polyamorous may remain some of the most misunderstood. The vast majority of people are still comfortable with monogamy — or at least believe they are or that they should be. But for polyamorous people, this is not the case. For them, love need not be reserved for one single person, and that’s something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Veaux takes on this issue with More Than Two by highlighting polyamorous relationships in history, where they occurred in many cultures and civilizations. He also delves into the contemporary world of polyamory.

3. Love and Sex with Robots — David Levy

It’s a little bit older, but David Levy’s Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships is today perhaps more prescient than ever. Levy is an expert in artificial intelligence, and applies his knowledge to examine “how automata have evolved and how human interactions with technology have changed over the years.” It will come to pass, Levy posits, that romantic and sexual relationships between humans and technology will be here sooner than we think. In many ways, Levy’s book reads like an academic version of the 2013 movie Her, and challenges in similar ways the manner in which we currently define affection and relationships.

2. The Human Agenda — Joe Wenke

In The Human Agenda: Conversations about Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity, Wenke documents his conversations with individuals from throughout society on the topics of gender and sexuality, particularly its relation to the LGBTQ community. With each one offering their own take on the subject, Wenke’s work is a superb entry point into the ongoing discussion of these issues. Featuring authors, actors, models, filmmakers, doctors, activists, and more, The Human Agenda puts on display how those leading change think of themselves and others in the expanding sexual world.

1. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity — Judith Butler

Returning to the classics is never a bad idea. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, is arguably the most influential work from Feminist writer Judith Butler. It questions even the most basic assumptions about gender in society, right down to the notion of the “feminine” itself. Butler conceives of gender as a social performance, becoming foundational for queer theory.