It’s an unusual time to be releasing a book about sex or romantic relationships. Partnered people are together 24/7 and, concurrently, separation and divorce rates have spiked. Dating, which is fraught for many under the best of circumstances, has been made even more challenging by the need for face masks and social distancing.
We recently spoke with authors and editors of forthcoming books on the subjects of getting along and getting it on. What these titles share, regardless of whether they directly address love in the time of Covid-19, is an emphasis on communication, self-acceptance, and consent—central to any relationship, and no less so during a pandemic.
For Every Body, a January release from Voracious, illustrator Julia Rothman and filmmaker Shaina Feinberg gathered information in a manner that seems almost unthinkable in the current climate—by chatting up strangers on the same Manhattan street corner over the course of several years. After compiling anonymous testimonials and soliciting essays and artwork from hundreds of contributors, “the authors added a chapter about sex and dating during Covid,” says Emma Brodie, executive editor at Voracious. The book’s overarching goal, she explains, is to address the perennial issue of sex and relationship taboos.
“I think all of us in private wonder if we’re normal,” Brodie says. “Sex is so commodified and packaged for us as consumers; we know what it looks like on TV and are bombarded with images on the subway. This book tries to get at the fact that there is no normal.” She hopes that readers, both partnered and not, will be nurtured by the book, put at ease, and made to feel less alone.
Sexologist, relationships expert, and body image specialist Megan Stubbs speaks to singles in Playing Without a Partner (Start Publishing, Apr. 2021). She aims to puncture stereotypes about single people’s sex lives, a subject of personal as well as professional interest. “That’s my life,” she says. “I’ve been living the single sexologist’s life for a long time.”
The book mixes science and personal stories, Stubbs explains, balancing information about skin hunger—the biological need for human touch—with discussions of masturbation. “It’s a comprehensive look at the ins and outs of being single: the thoughts that go through your head that aren’t so kind, how to traverse family situations, and how to find worth in being alone, and not in the context of preparing yourself for the dating market.” Tips for being single in a pandemic, which pepper the book, dovetail with an overall emphasis on setting boundaries and “being comfortable with what works best for you, whatever might feel safe and healthy,” she says.
Great Sex Starts at 50 by Tracey Cox (Chronicle Prism, Feb. 2021) upends the notion that people over a certain age have lost all interest in sex. Cox, a London newspaper and magazine columnist who specializes in dating, sex, and relationships, offers readers research, suggests techniques, and collects personal anecdotes aimed at helping women—she interviewed hundreds of them, ages 45 to 80—reinvigorate or reaffirm their sexual desires. Originally published in the U.K. in February 2020, Great Sex Starts at 50 is both practical and explicit.
Great Sex is in good company this season, as one among several titles focused on how-to between the sheets.
Sex counselor and psychotherapist Ian Kerner gained renown for first book, 2004’s She Comes First (324,000 print copies sold), and has published several since. In So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, due out from Grand Central in April and aimed at partnered people, he offers an opportunity to analyze one’s expectations for sex, and the tools to reach those expectations.
“Ian has a discerning, warm, and intelligent way of talking about sex,” says Suzanne O’Neill, v-p and executive editor at Grand Central. Kerner’s aim, she notes, is to help readers gain a deeper understanding of what turns them on, so they can better communicate with their partners. “Couples are spending a lot of time together now. It’s a good time to put into action what Ian’s talking about and get to know our partners better.”
Getting It by Allison Moon (Ten Speed, Jan. 2021) has an expansive vibe. Moon, a sex educator whose workshops focus on sexual pleasure and technique, polyamory, LGBTQ issues, and more, is hip to casual sex and hooking up. “People want to know the etiquette of sexuality and dating, and how to proceed in a way that is respectful and, potentially, fruitful,” she says. “This book came out of wanting to talk to people of all genders, of all sexual orientations, about the niceties and humanity behind casual sex.”
Moon has found other books about casual sex to be “scoldy,” or overtly invested in finding “the one.” Getting It, she says, is about building community, which is of particular importance to the author, who is a polyamorous person and queer.
“There are a lot of complicated relationships in my communities, and these dynamics don’t have a lot of guidebooks,” Moon notes. “In our culture, which is still very sex-negative, there’s stigma attached to wanting to have sex with more than one person, in a row or at the same time. Readers are looking to be affirmed in their choices, without having their desires or feelings pathologized or considered less than.” She devotes a section in the book to safer sex, including content about setting physical and emotional boundaries—necessary skills, she says, for navigating hookup culture, especially in these times.
Licensed clinical social worker Bat Sheva Marcus has a faith-based frame of reference: she’s a past president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and was dubbed “the Orthodox sex therapist” by the New York Times. But her book, Sex Points (Hachette Go, Mar. 2021), has a broad, secular vision in addressing women’s sexual taboos. She helps readers identify the relational, emotional, physiological, or medical components driving their desire, and offers a “sex points assessment” system that assigns a numerical value to key areas—pain, arousal, libido, orgasm—to help determine what’s inhibiting or hindering sex.
Love and marriage
While many books in this space lead with sex, others do not, instead focusing on romantic relationships—finding them as well as leaving them.
In How to Not Die Alone (S&S, Feb. 2021), Logan Ury, director of relationship science at the dating app Hinge, exhorts serial millennial and Gen Y daters to examine their faults before swiping right on the archetypal “bad boy” or “manic pixie dream girl.” Steeped in psychology and behavioral science—Ury earned her degree in psychology at Harvard University—How to Not Die Alone helps readers, in techie parlance, optimize their dating lives for the best, most long-lasting results.
The 80/80 Marriage by Nate and Kaley Klemp (Penguin Life, Feb. 2021) proposes a new model for modern marriage, grounded in generosity. The husband-and-wife coauthors—he’s a philosophy professor turned new media founder; she’s an executive coach—call on each member of a marriage to contribute 80% toward their relationship, rather than to strive for 50/50 parity. The book draws on the authors’ experiences of renegotiating their marriage, as well as more than 100 interviews with other married couples, plus pop culture anecdotes and scientific and philosophical research.
Not all relationships, of course, are meant to last—a reality Amy Chan acknowledges in Breakup Bootcamp, which Dey Street is publishing in December. “Self-care is a massive industry, and women will spend so much money to take classes on various things for their wellness physically,” says Carrie Thornton, v-p and editorial director at Dey Street. “But less so for their mental health, especially when it comes to relationships.”
Chan is founder and “chief heart hacker” at Renew Breakup Bootcamp, which hosts retreats for people recovering from heartbreak. Her book leads readers through the various tools, whether meditation or sexual healing or journaling, that she says will help mend a broken heart.
“This book isn’t about finding the next guy,” Thornton says. “Relationships are always something people are thinking about, and Covid is allowing people to slow down and reflect a bit. And for good, bad, or worse, this book is even more relevant now. The most important relationship you have is with yourself; that’s what’s at the heart of this book.”
Pooja Makhijani is a writer and editor in New Jersey.
Below, more on books about sexual health.
Speak, Memory: Health and Wellness Books 2020–2021
New self-help titles use the personal to address the universal.
The Skin You’re In: Health and Wellness Books 2020–2021
A growing body of work takes an inclusive stance on health and self-image
Born to Run?: PW Talks with Daniel E. Lieberman
In ‘Exercised,’ the Harvard paleoanthropologist explores why something humans never evolved to do is so healthy and rewarding.
For Every Body: Children’s Books on Body Acceptance
These titles for children and young adult explain and affirm body types and experiences of all stripes.