From love languages to maintaining erotic desire, learn new tools for navigating romantic partnerships.
The first thing I do with Wholehearted Lover clients is reassure them it's normal that they're feeling insecure about sex and relationships.
We live in a society where magazines promise to solve all your problems with "five hot new positions" and talk shows offer relationship counselling where everything is tied up neatly in three-minute segments. There's no space for nuance, for questions, for messiness.
Once we've cleared away the "shoulds" (I should naturally be good at this, this shouldn't be so hard), it's time to infuse some thoughtful conversation into the mix.
Fortunately, the landscape has changed a lot since I began this work in 2007. The world of sex-positive books and resources has exploded and I'm certainly not suggesting the list below is definitive or exhaustive. Instead, I'm focusing on those that seem to have the greatest "A-ha!" impact on my clients.
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
Come As You Are radically shifted my perspective on sexuality. It's hands-down my #1 recommendation when I'm working with clients. Why? It beautifully melds science with practicality, and there's just the right amount of humour to make it readable without diminishing the subject matter.
Dual-response model of sexuality. If we keep adding more things to our sex life (lingerie, sex toys, fancy dinners) without addressing what's putting on the brakes (stress), we're never going to get anywhere.
Responsive versus spontaneous desire. Do you feel desire “out of the blue” or do you need something to respond to in order to experience desire?
Sex Out Loud with Tristan Taormino
I've been a huge fan of Tristan Taormino since we opened Red Tent Sisters. She's knowledgeable, engaging, and deeply committed to sex positivity. Her podcast, Sex Out Loud, includes interviews with authors, activists, performers, and academics. Rooted in an anti-oppression lens, she works hard to give voice to people of colour, trans folks, and other marginalized communities.
Her show has been running since 2012 so you have no shortage of episodes to choose from, including interviews with many of the folks included on this list. Some of the topics are a bit niche, so I would suggest scanning the titles to find the ones that resonate. I also recommend checking out Tristan's videos, as well as her books, especially Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships.
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
The Five Love Languages comes with a big caveat that it's heternormative and very exclusive in how it approaches relationships. However, I still choose to recommend it because I've seen firsthand how powerful the framework can be in helping people to better understand themselves and their partners (and it can help in other relationships, too).
There are five love languages: quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, receiving gifts, and acts of service. If someone is showing their love through quality time but your love language is physical touch, the message isn't being received.
Shame is at the root of so much of the pain surrounding sexuality - the feeling that we're alone, that somehow we're "broken". Brown's work has been instrumental in healing my own story and in turn, how I support my clients.
"If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame. If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too."
What I appreciate about Esther Perel's work is that it opens up a conversation. While she offers opinions and suggestions, much of her work is focused on asking questions about how to navigate sex and intimacy in long-term relationships. Mating in Captivity and The State of Affairs include case studies that help readers feel less alone in their own experience. Perel also has a podcast, Where Should We Begin.
“Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. It thrives on the mysterious, the novel, and the unexpected. Love is about having; desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness. It is less concerned with where it has already been than passionate about where it can still go. But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air.”
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
Good communication is frequently cited as the most important ingredient in a healthy relationship, but the "how" is often overlooked. What can you do to improve communication? Nonviolent Communication offers tangible, step-by-step instructions on how to express your needs and have them heard.
The importance of differentiating observation from evaluation, and being able to identify and express internal feeling states in a way that does not imply judgment, criticism, or blame/punishment;
Requesting what we would like in a way that clearly and specifically states what we do want (rather than what we don’t want), and that is truly a request and not a demand.
She Comes First by Ian Kerner
She Comes First was featured in our inaugural window display when we had our Toronto storefront and it remains a favourite over a decade later. For heterosexual folks, sex is often synonymous with intercourse. Kerner throws away this ridiculously limited definition and suggests we treat "foreplay" as "coreplay."
Oral sex and manual stimulation are often viewed as precursors to the "main event" - intercourse. Given how many women don't orgasm from intercourse and require some kind of clitoral stimulation, Kerner suggests we start prioritizing other kinds of sex.
Woman on Fire: 9 Elements to Wake Up Your Erotic Energy, Personal Power, and Sexual Intelligence by Amy Jo Goddard
I believe that how we show up in the bedroom is how we show up in life. If we're faking orgasms, prioritizing our partner's pleasure, and denying our own needs, what message is that sending about our worth? What I admire about Woman On Fire is that it highlights the ripple effect of reclaiming your sexual power. I had the pleasure of attending one of Amy Jo Goddard's workshops in 2016 and I was struck by her ability to be fierce and compassionate at the same time. That balance of energies is evident throughout her work.
As women, we've been taught to play small. It's time to ditch the limiting beliefs that hold us back and fully embrace our erotic energy. The exercises in this book (embodiment, journalling, permission slips) are designed to do just that.
Sex Gets Real with Dawn Serra
Dawn Serra is a fellow sex and relationship coach, and I admire how she brings that lens to her podcast. Her commitment to inclusive language and her desire to ensure that everyone feels seen and heard sets the tone for her show. Sex Gets Real has been running since 2014 and features a wide range of guests, as well as listener questions.
One of the things Sex Gets Real addresses particularly well is body image, including interviews with folks like Elle Chase, author of Curvy Girl Sex. As a survivor herself, Dawn addresses trauma in a number of episodes.
Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson
Our stepfather is a psychologist with a speciality in attachment theory so I've been curious about the impact of secure, anxious, dismissive and fearful attachment for years. Hold Me Tight outlines the work of Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT). Of those couples who use EFT, 90% show significant improvements (the best results of any couple therapy).
"Forget about learning how to argue better, analyzing your early childhood, or experimenting with new sexual positions. Instead, recognize and admit that you are emotionally attached to and dependent on your partner in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing, and protection. EFT focuses on creating and strengthening this emotional bond by identifying and transforming the key moments that foster an adult loving relationship."
~ Kim Sedgwick, Co-founder, Red Tent Sisters
Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for people seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood