After reading What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety, I had some of the best sex of my life, and felt happier and healthier in my relationship.
No, this isn’t a phony endorsement for your run of the mill dating advice or sex tips handbook. It is definitely not in reference to an article I read in Cosmopolitan magazine. In fact, What You Really Really Want is a desperately needed antidote to the slew of toxic sewage in the form of “sex and relationship advice” targeted at girls and women.
Jaclyn Friedman’s interactive guide makes dismantling insidious ideas about sex and dating seem not only possible, but fun and transformative. Her book’s target audience is younger women, who might otherwise struggle to find so much quality information about sex and relationships in a single source.
While I wish I had been able to recommend What You Really Really Want to the students I had worked with as a sexual health educator, I think the book would be equally helpful to older readers as well as readers of any gender identity. It is a book that many readers may wish they had read earlier in their lives, and as a prospective parent, I’m looking forward to making my children read every last word of it.
What You Really Really Want opens with a quiz that encourages readers to reflect on their level of comfort and satisfaction with sex and sexuality. Friedman then explains how the book could support readers’ efforts to minimize risk and maximize pleasure and connection, communicate effectively with partners, and reject what she calls “the Terrible Trio” of shame, blame and fear in order to “build a sexual life that fits you so well that you find yourself humming with happiness for no apparent reason.”
There are unique suggestions for writing exercises and activities located throughout the book, and Friedman encourages readers to work through the book slowly, one chapter at a time, and leave plenty of room for reflection and discussions with friends and family.
In her chapter addressing the “Terrible Trio,” Friedman writes that the best way to combat confusing and harmful expectations is to find information to “separat[e] the things you’ve been taught to believe about sex from what actually makes sense to you.”
Friedman’s version of sexual education is not to provide people with rules and warnings, but to provide them with the information and tools to define their sexual boundaries, desires and needs for themselves — shame free.
When she’s not writing transgressive pieces like “My Sluthood, Myself” or working as the executive director of WAM! (Women, Action & the Media), Friedman spends her time criss-crossing the continent speaking at college campuses about sexual health and safety.
In 2009, she co-edited with Jessica Valenti the hit book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, which made it to #11 on Ms. Magazine‘s “Top 100 Feminist Nonfiction Books of All Time” list.
For What You Really Really Want, Friedman fine-tuned her chapters and tested the writing exercises and activities with a focus group of 19 to 42-year-old women. As a result of the care in which the book was constructed, readers can engage with it individually, with a group of friends (slumber party idea?), or in a classroom or workshop setting.
Friedman will be coming to Vancouver for her book launch event on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Little Sisters bookstore on Davie. If you’re in Vancouver, don’t miss out on a chance to talk to the author and learn more about her inspiring new book. The complete listing of launch events can be found on Friedman’s website.—Joanna Chiu
Disclosure: I met Friedman earlier this year, when she gave a talk at my alma mater, the University of British Columbia. I became so enamored with Friedman’s work that I volunteered to start the first Canadian chapter of WAM! (Women, Action & the Media). Friedman founded WAM! In 2004 to connect and support media makers, activists, academics and funders working to advance women’s media participation, ownership and representation.
Joanna Chiu is a Canada and U.S.-based freelance writer and editor, and the founder of the WAM! (Women, Action, Media) Vancouver chapter.