If you ask me, one of the most awesome things about the Midwest is the The Kinsey Institute. Luckily, I live close enough that I am able to attend the occasional lecture, art exhibit, or book sale. On one of my recent visits, I was browsing the staff publications (the bibliophile in me cannot resist) when I discovered Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva by Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick. “What the hell?” I thought, as I broke my self-imposed rule about only buying used books. “Who can ever have too many books about vaginas?” What I didn’t expect was how quickly and easily this book would rank among my favorites!
Both Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick are prominent scientific researchers at the intersection of public health and sexuality. They share a passion for discovering and dispersing knowledge about female sexual health and pleasure and have both published several very interesting articles in their field. If you’re a nerd like me, you may find these quite enjoyable. However, if reading academic articles is not your idea of a fun night, you’re still in luck. Debby is also very active in the media, writing for Salon and Men’s Health magazine, appearing in a couple of amazing Tedx Talks, and creating websites like My Sex Professor and Make Sex Normal.
Although it is written by researchers, Read My Lips is for the everyday person — not the academic elite. It’s for the woman curious about her own body, the man who wants to know more about his partner’s genitalia, or the parent who wants to share accurate sexual information with their maturing child. It is for the vagina novice, who was never educated about female sexuality, and the intermediate, armed with the basics but curious about some more nuanced scientific facts. The writing is both accessible and educational. This is something that I consider of upmost importance, because it makes spreading sexual knowledge so much more effective.
If you’ve ever been curious about vaginas and vulvas, Read My Lips is a fantastically varied resource! (For example: Do you know how many vaginal shapes there are? What the coital alignment technique is? Or what horrible thing Lysol, Coca-Cola, and yogurt all have in common?) This book covers the basics of anatomy as well as vulvovaginal health, including a full section on vaginal products such as douches, menstrual products, and even dyes. It offers tips for how to experience sexual pleasure — alone and with a partner. There’s a very brief cultural history of the vagina & vulva, as well as lots of information about female genitalia in contemporary society (changing pubic hairstyles, cosmetic genital surgery, etc). Plus, there are craft ideas…like this giant vulva costume that I’m in love with! You can learn how to make your own here.
The Bottom Line
In our society, we’re not educated about female sexuality except for what is absolutely necessary for reproductive knowledge. We often allow ourselves to be influenced by societal shame and spread silence instead of science. Sexual health practices get glossed over. Pleasure gets ignored. Read My Lips embraces female sexual pleasure and encourages both body-positive and sex-positive thought. For me, it was one step along the way in learning to love my vulva. It is a book that I think everyone should read, whether you have a vagina & vulva or not.