Help me overthink sex and romance.
March 10, 2008 4:35 PM   Subscribe

What are some good books/essays/articles about human sexuality, sexual and romantic relationships, and sexual or otherwise affection-entangled activity - with an emphasis on the theoretical? I'm thinking more along the lines of Judith Butler than The Joy of Sex - so suggestions should be at least vaguely academic. (Things like Leaves of Grass count as vaguely academic).

I'm asking for personal, not academic reasons - I'd like all the seemingly irrational stuff surrounding the emotional, social, psychological (and so on) aspects of this sort of thing to make more sense to me (or at least I'd like the fact that they're irrational to make more sense...).

In spite of my namedropping in the above-cut FPP, I haven't read much on these subjects, so even the most basic suggestions are welcome.
posted by bubukaba to Education (21 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality volumes should be a very theoretical/epistemological approach to the sexuality. It's also worth pointing out that Butler was influenced by Foucault...
posted by suedehead at 4:44 PM on March 10, 2008

to the sexuality, I mean.
posted by suedehead at 4:45 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: I second Foucault, but recommend sticking with the first volume, The Will to Knowledge, as the second and third volumes are more concerned with Greek and early Christian conceptions of knowing and caring for the self. Knowing Foucault, there are probably also a ton of essays about, or at least which mention sexuality to be found in Penguin's three volume Essential Works (skimming the indexes, they all have references to sexuality, but vols. 1 and 2 have significantly more). If you want to read about sex through a discipline at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you could do some reading in evolutionary psychology and learn about the subconscious inference systems which influence a lot of our sex-related decisions. There's a ton of popular science literature on the subject.
posted by farishta at 4:57 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A former anthropology prof of mine, Harriet Lyons, recently wrote a book on anthropology and sex called Irregular Connections: A History of Anthropology and Sexuality. I haven't read it, but she's a great prof and I expect the book is of high quality as well. I'm not really sure if this is what you are looking for but it might be work looking into.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:04 PM on March 10, 2008

You've probably looked through this already, but just in case, here are the full Savage Love archives - humorous, free, and with a mission statement (practically) of explaining the irrational. Not very academic, but more fun.
posted by My Bloody Pony at 5:32 PM on March 10, 2008

I enjoyed Anatomy of Love quite a bit, also by an anthropologist.
posted by Bron at 6:18 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I read Women's Sexualities: Generations of Women Share Intimate Secrets of Sexual Self-Acceptance and found it to be very interesting.
posted by bibbit at 6:55 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: Well, if you're committed to this (I don't think Judith Butler has much to teach you about sexuality, and her writing on the topic is arguably the worst academic writing I've ever been forced to read - though Foucault in translation is up there!), definitely grab Julia Serano's Whipping Girl. Interesting, genuinely forward-thinking response to feminist discourse on transsexuality and its cousin dispositions/activities.

Mostly, though, read good erotic poetry - how about Neruda's hundred love sonnets? Magnificent poems, those.
posted by waxbanks at 7:20 PM on March 10, 2008

The Nonverbal Dictionary is lots of fun - you'll probably want to start with Love Signals I and follow the links from there.
posted by dreamyshade at 7:43 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: Georges Batallia's Eroticism: Death and Sensuality is a classic and I found him way more accessible than Foucault and less ludicrous than Camile Paglia's Sexual Persona though that was an entertaining read as well.

Alan Sinfield's On Sexuality and Power is one of my favorites on the subject by my favorite academic.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:23 PM on March 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Seconding Whipping Girl.

Anything by Pat Califia, especially Public Sex.

Love the sin : sexual regulation and the limits of religious tolerance is an interesting work that touches on religious & legal aspects of all that seeming irrationality.
posted by kelseyq at 8:57 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: You might like Laura Kipnis; she's an academic by trade but her most recent couple of books have been written for a more general audience, and she's really smart. I've read and would highly recommend The Female Thing, which is partly about women and sexuality and relationships; I'd imagine Against Love would be even more useful for you.

waxbanks: Judith Butler's not so bad if you know a bit of Foucault and Lacan; Bodies That Matter is slightly easier to take than Gender Trouble. She does occasionally have sentences that sound like they are parodies of academic writing though.
posted by SoftRain at 9:59 PM on March 10, 2008

I've found Robert Stoller's books and theories to be quite interesting. He was a psychoanalyst who did serious investigations about various forms of sexual expression and came to some conclusions that were very brave for their time, endorsing a view of sexuality that was broad and inclusive. He was also a terrific listener and interviewer - the interviews in Porn and Coming Attractions are really fascinating to read.
posted by jasper411 at 10:09 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: Roland Barthes - A Lover's Discourse
posted by nasreddin at 11:58 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best Sex Writing 2008.
posted by easy_being_green at 12:15 AM on March 11, 2008

I'm surprised that Reay Tannahill's Sex in History has not yet been mentioned - it's a pretty interesting book. Broad in scope, which makes it a useful reference.

I also echo the suggestion for Laura Kipnis - she's an interesting writer.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:51 AM on March 11, 2008

2nding Anatomy of Love. Helen Fisher is considered by many to be the authority on the subject. Also by her: Why We Love, which I think is the updated Anatomy of Love.
posted by shotgunbooty at 11:05 AM on March 11, 2008

for thinking about relationships, you might check out The Ethical Slut, a book about consensual non-monogamy, otherwise known as polyamory - a challenging & thought-provoking perspective in many different ways

another challenging book is Marjorie Garber's Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life which explores non-binary ways of conceiving of sexuality & relationships through a good mix of theory, literary investigation & historical anecdote - here's a taste

or, for something completely different, you could check out Abstract Sex
posted by jammy at 6:50 PM on April 15, 2008

Best answer: Pat Califia's Public Sex is, hands down, the best of this kind of book I've ever encountered. It avoids the pitfalls a lot of the newer pop sex theorist books (I'm thinking mainly of Susie Bright's and Carol Queen's, for instance)--it isn't even a smidgeon P.C. or feelgood, it's just first-person honest-as-hell account married brilliantly to challenging theoretical musing. There's also Germaine Greer--The Madwoman's Underclothes, The Female Eunuch, The Politics of Human Fertility, The Whole Woman. Shere Hite's best known works are The Hite Reports on Female and Male Sexuality, but Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress (The Hite Report on Love, Passion, and Emotional Violence) is a huge collection of people's accounts of relationships. It gets a little cheesy touchy-feely at times, but it's a good place to mine for varied opinions and experiences of love.

Laura Kipnis is also massively brilliant and honest/confrontational about this stuff, and way more accessible than Judith Butler. She's also just simply a damn good writer in the prose stylist sense of the term.
posted by ifjuly at 11:03 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might also be interested in Framed: Lesbians, Feminists, and Media Culture by Judith Mayne. She dissects all sorts of pop culture manifestations of sexuality--Clint Eastwood films, figure skating, Diabolique, prison pulp fiction--and is pretty theoretical (I believe the book was published through University of Minnesota Press) while still being accessible.
posted by ifjuly at 11:07 AM on July 18, 2008

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