Read My Lips by Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick

Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and VulvaTakeaway:  Yes, this book is about celebration of women’s genitalia.

If you have a book review blog you get asked to review all kinds of books.  Some I review, some I do not.  But I decided to review this book for a couple reasons.  First, although I am a guy, I am married, I am the nanny for two little girls and my wife and I lead a small group for newly married couples.  So I regularly read and think about marriage and sex issues.  If you look through my archive, you will find a number of books about sex and marriage.  In general, I have not been a huge fan of any of them.  All books on sex, gender and/or marriage seem to have several common problems.  1) They try to address too large of an audience.  Issues that are appropriate to talk about in one context are not appropriate in another context.  2) They either suggest marriage/sex are really difficult, or really easy and tend to lack balance.  3) They are either Christian focused and tend not to address issues that confront real people, or they are non-Christian focused and tend to not have any moral guide.

After the jump, the review will be more on the rated R side. (Mom you may want to stop reading now.)

In the right context, I think Read My Lips: The Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva is one of the better books on sexuality I have read.  It has the problem to trying to do too much for too many people.  And being written by more than one author, the writing is a bit uneven.  But because I am unaware of many other books dealing with the subject in this way, I have to round up my estimation of the book.

Part of the book is a basic sexual health and questions book for women.  Honestly, this part was only moderately interesting for me (I am a guy.)  The problem with the sexual heath and questions parts were that they ranged from very basic (how to chose and use feminine products) and more advanced (basic instruction on sexual positions).  Some of the questions that were being asked and answered were frankly a bit scary.  The two authors are sexual educators and researchers, they would not be dealing with questions if no one was asking them.  One question was dealing with whether or not directly inserting birth control pills into the vagina is an effective after sex method of birth control.  On the whole, the basic question sections were decent, if a bit dry.  There were parts that I skimmed, but I did learn things with these questions and discussing with my wife some of the subjects, she did too.

The parts that I most enjoyed and I think really go to the point of the book (more celebration of the vagina and vulva than a how-to) were sociological.  This was more like a cross between Mary Roach’s book Bonk (good book, I read it before I started reviewing everything) and Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.  And like both of those books, these sections are much more funny than the sexual health sections. The authors are researchers and both share their own and other’s sociological research on perceptions and activities around the vagina and vulva.  It is clear that there is not a lot of actual research that has been done.  This problem came up a lot in Mary Roach’s book Bonk.  The author’s point of view is that they really do not care much about what people do (for instance with personal grooming, pubic hair, etc) but they want to get a good idea of what it is and help people make good decisions doing what they want to do.

For instance they trace how nude models are shown.  They share a research study about how all of the Playboy centerfolds have been presented.  This is one of those studies that many will make fun of, but there is a real point.  One interesting point that the authors are concerned about is that never was the labia actually shown (the inner lips that are quite variable among women), they are either hidden by the shot, or airbrushed out.  There were multiple sidebar comments (in general I am not a fan of sidebar comments, but in this book they served a real point) about women and men that inappropriate understanding of what female genitalia should look like because line drawings and even Playboys are inaccurate.

Another trend that is noted from this study is the changes in pubic hair.  Starting in the 1980s and speeding up in the 1990s, more and more of the Playboy models were shown without pubic hair.  This has lead to a perception that many women (maybe most of younger women) also remove their pubic hair.  But when asking average women, the majority of women remove very little pubic hair and only a small percentage actually regularly remove all pubic hair.

Because I talk to people about sex from a Christian perspective, I do not agree with all of the ways that this book presents sex and sexuality.  But I do appreciate that the book does not condemn conservative views of sexuality, just attempts to provide adequate sexual education and better views of female genitalia for women’s own self-esteem and men’s understanding.  I am sure it is not surprising but a consistent theme is that women are much more concerned and self conscious than their male partners are about female genitalia.

There is also a clear desire that women understand their own bodies.  This is often presented in this book as being familiar with masturbation.  I know many Christians are uncomfortable talking about or accepting any version of masturbation.  I do not agree with that position.  But I am also aware of some of the sexual issues that are often concurrent with masturbation.  Porn is a problem for many people (there are multiple studies both secular and Christian that are concerned that use of porn with masturbation leads to a lack of desire for an actual physical partner, and that is a problem.)  The best book I have read on the problems of porn is Wired for Intimacy.  It is particularly written for men, and I am unaware of any other books that deal with porn from a similar female point of view, but I think that both men and women can learn, not just biblical reasons, but real physiological and social reasons why porn can damage long-term sexual enjoyment.  What many Christians that I have read seem to miss is that masturbation can occur (and does occur) without porn or lust (at least inappropriate lust).  If you do not believe me, think about children masturbating.  Many children start rudimentary forms of masturbation as very young children and they are not ‘filled with lust’ or hooked on porn.  Another point that Christian books tend to miss (and many non-Christians ones as well) is that sexuality is more than lust management.  I strongly recommend Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions as a book that deals well with cross gender friendship in a way that is not just lust management.

As a final point, I do want to note that every chapter has a craft project around the vagina or vulva.  I am not crafty, but I have enough women in my life that are, that I think this probably was a good way to lighten the mood and bring some fun to the book.  Overall, this is not a perfect book, but it is a good contribution to a subject that surrounds us, but is actually too little thought about and too little thought about well.  Sexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, but it is not our total reality.  Christians should embrace good sexual education and the goodness of sexuality, without falling into the trap of being defined by our sexuality.

Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

A digital copy of the book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for purposes of review.

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