From racism in dating to sexual dry spells, these four new books take an, ahem, intimate look at all facets of love and relationships.

The End of Love: Racism, Sexism, and the Death of Romance

Sabrina Strings. Beacon, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-807-00862-1
Racist ideology in popular media has facilitated the decline of heterosexual monogamy and the rise of no-commitment “fuccboism,” to the detriment of all women, but especially Black women, according to this strident debut from sociologist Strings. She begins by defining two contrasting ideological outgrowths of the 18th and 19th centuries: courtship rituals derived from earlier European romantic tales of noble love, and the concurrently developing trope, under the slavery system, of Black women as ugly and hypersexualized. She argues that these ideas persist today as racialized opposites, with Black women portrayed in pop culture as sexually available “side pieces” while white women are depicted romantically. She traces this dichotomy through analyses of such stereotypical personas as the “gold digger” featured in increasingly misogynist rap in the 1980s and ’90s; the “welfare queen” invented by the Reagan administration; and the “pimps” of 2000s hip-hop. Strings comes down hard against pornography, contending that mid-20th-century Playboy magazine promoted the cultural “whorification” of women who did not meet elite white beauty standards, and blaming porn today both for men’s sexual dysfunction and their involvement in a “masturbatory sex cult.” Strings’s personal testimonies about terrible dating situations and experiences of sexual assault are impactful, but her solutions—embracing queerness and nonromantic love—feel underdeveloped. The results are more provocative that persuasive. (Jan.)

Come Together: The Science (and Art!) of Creating Lasting Sexual Connections

Emily Nagoski. Ballantine, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-50082-8
“Solving sex problems isn’t all therapy and feelings,” stresses sex educator Nagoski in her empowering and pragmatic follow-up to 2014’s Come as You Are. Writing that long-term sexual satisfaction relies less on a “spark” than fostering a “context that makes it easier to access pleasure,” Nagoski focuses on such practical tools as creating “mental floorplans” to map out emotional states and how to navigate through them to reach “a sexy state of mind.” Elsewhere, she explains how to have constructive conversations about “old sexual hurts” that inflict present-day pain (for example, if a partner has received a nasty remark about their “body, sexual history, or ability to give or receive pleasure”) and offers tips for prioritizing sensory pleasure over desire. Nagoski’s prose is spry and inviting as she marshals research and anecdotes (many featuring nonbinary couples) to dispel notions of “normal” sex, ban sexual expectations and judgments, and advocate “liv[ing] with confidence and joy” in one’s body. It’s a valuable resource for anyone looking to spruce up a subpar sex life or make a good one better. (Jan.)

The End of Love: Sex and Desire in the Twenty-First Century

Tamara Tenenbaum, trans. from the Spanish by Carolina Parodi. Europa, $17 (288p) ISBN 979-8-88966-010-1
Argentinian journalist Tenenbaum makes her English-language debut with an incisive essay collection that shrewdly dissects the cultural pressures and ideals shaping modern notions of sex and relationships. After breaking from the Orthodox Jewish enclave of her Buenos Aires childhood to attend university, Tenenbaum felt “like I’d walked into an abyss” of unfamiliar social expectations. Yet she soon realized that her female peers were similarly “scared of doing things wrong” and “eager... to understand the rules governing their bodies.” Writing that “we all arrive as foreigners in the world of desire and go through a never-ending process of learning its language,” Tenenbaum critiques the ways relationship expectations filter through women’s lives. In the essay “The Female Version of James Dean,” she contends that even women’s cultural models for “rebellion” confine their freedom to whom to marry (think Romeo and Juliet). “You Can Always Be Better” teases out the insidious ways social media dictates women’s value in and out of relationships (it’s not mandatory to have a partner “to take Instagram pictures with, laughing at nothing and lying on incredibly white sheets,” Tenenbaum writes, but adhering to—or eschewing—these norms carries “financial, symbolic, or emotional” costs). Blazing with insight and equally grounded in personal observation and Marxist-feminist theory, these essays interrogate in lucid and persuasive prose how much has really changed for women from the oppressive past to the supposedly enlightened present. It’s a feast for the mind. (Feb.)

Not My Type: Automating Sexual Racism in Online Dating

Apryl Williams. Stanford Univ, $28 trade paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-503-63505-0
Williams, a professor of communications and digital studies at the University of Michigan, debuts with a troubling investigation of structural racism in online dating platforms. Drawing on interviews with users, data and public statements provided by platforms, and studies conducted by herself and others, Williams shows how these platforms’ algorithms, through the ranking and sorting of users, replicate and strengthen the “sexual racism” that has long been rampant in American culture. Since algorithms learn from user preferences, she explains, the preference for white normative beauty standards gets baked into the algorithms, which then reflect this preference back to all users. Other data picked up and learned by the algorithms, such as users’ online social networks, similarly recreate and present back to users their real-life race-based social segregation. Turning to historical research and Black feminist theory, Williams discusses how this algorithm-enforced sexual racism echoes anti-miscegenation laws of the 20th century, while also pointing to worrying new developments, such as the rise in unique forms of digital “racial fetishization” (one white interviewee mentions how online dating makes it easier to “try out all the racial ‘flavors’ ”). Williams’s highly accessible narrative is made extra intriguing by the liberal inclusion of users’ own words sharing their intimate thoughts. Readers who loved Amia Srinivasan’s The Right to Sex will want to check this out. (Feb.)