[This is the text of the book review (with added information) from episode 72.]
The review this episode is The Cleis Press Sextionary from the Editors of Cleis Press.
Oh boy, this is going to be a mixed review and it saddens me to say so because I love Cleis. The press is inclusive and educational and they employ outstanding writers so I bought this one rather than asking for a review copy because I was beside myself with excitement—it’s a dictionary of terms to do with sex, kink, polyamory, sex work and more! The sexy nerdage was going to be off the charts!
Before we get started I want to talk about how the human brain works. (Talk about nerdage…) Our brains have developed to notice the negative before noticing the positive—it’s why the news is full of all the bad things that happen in the world rather than the good deeds that are being done. When we lived on the savannah, what mattered was when things were a little off—when something was wrong. Because that something was probably a large animal about to eat you. So our brains have evolved to focus more on the negative. It’s why you can hear a hundred compliments but that one criticism is the thing that is burned into your mind forever and always.
I needed to give that disclaimer of sorts because I did enjoy some of this book, but I’m going to spend a larger portion of this review correcting misinformation and that will make it sound like I hated it. It takes longer to correct inaccuracies than it does to say: ‘I liked that bit.’ So it sounds like there were bigger problems than there may be—it depends what you’re looking for.
To balance out what may sound like me being the pickiest, grouchiest, most pedantic person ever, I’m going to take positivity breaks and talk at length about what I liked and why in a way I may not usually do with most books. Because, again, there were some genuinely useful things about this book, depending what you were after. If there was nothing redeeming about it I wouldn’t review it. I no longer have an editor forcing me to review books I don’t want to—thank god. That was years ago, but it was bleak.
All right. Here we go. This book covers myriad topics of interest to the sorts of people who listen to this show. LGBTQIA, kinky people, sex workers, porn performers, ethical non-monogamy people, people into general sex education. The one group that wasn’t covered was non-binary folks. Anyone on the gender spectrum. This seemed odd, because the group is included in the QUILTBAG umbrella (that’s another way of saying Questioning Intersex Lesbian Transgender Bisexual Asexual Gay). Yes, gender isn’t sex, but kink isn’t about sex, either. Polyamory isn’t about sex, either. It’s about relationships, which are sex-adjacent. Kink is about all sorts of things, but it’s sex-adjacent, as well. How people express their gender is related. I was just expecting definitions of two-spirit and demigirls and such and was surprised. Anyway.
I got the book because I love paraphilias, which are scientific definitions of sexual fetishes. They’ve been pathologised in the past but some people like John Money have tried to bring them into the mainstream. I wasn’t disappointed—there were lots listed in this book.
Doing research on paraphilias, I came across this bit of information: Anil Aggrawal wrote a textbook on the historical, legal and medical basis for fetishes across cultures in 2009 and he included 547 terms. He cautioned that:
Not all these paraphilias have necessarily been seen in clinical setups. This may not be because they do not exist, but because they are so innocuous they are never brought to the notice of clinicians or dismissed by them. Like allergies, sexual arousal may occur from anything under the sun, including the sun.
As I like to say—everything is a thing. His book costs a hundred pounds because it’s so massive the text version won’t fit on my Kindle and it’s a textbook and super academic, but I’m saving up for it but I need it in my brain.
The Sextionary doesn’t have 547 fetishes, but it has many of them and I loved learning about new ones. It would have been useful to have an index of those at the back so if someone wanted to know what their interest in religious relics was called (hierophilia), they could have found it easily. Me being me, I wanted to memorise all of them so when people ask me if the thing they’ve been into since they were eight has a name (and I know it does) I can just tell them without looking it up. If you’re looking for a book with the most common paraphilias—I would recommend this. More about those later.
There were also lots of sex positions, but no diagrams and I am terrible at visualising spatial design or… there’s probably a term for this. If someone describes where one thing is in relation to another, I can’t see it easily. So I usually had to read the description a couple times and make hand motions. If you’re like me in this regard, don’t read this book in public.
Some of these position are from Urban Dictionary—they have to be. Others are… I have an idea for a book. Sex positions as work outs. Rated by difficulty and by what muscle group is being worked out. Listen to this one, it’s called the Little Dipper.
A penetrative sex position in which the giving partner [the one penetrating] lies on the floor between two piece of low furniture (such as a couch and a chair). The receiving partner [the one being penetrated] puts their hands on one piece of furniture and their legs on the other and lowers themself onto the giving partner, inserting the giving partner into themself.
Look… I may be able to lower myself onto you—a biodick or strap-on—one time, but I’m not getting myself back up again. Forget any sort of repeated movement. I absolutely know there are people fit enough to do it, though. The book could be called The Fuck Olympics. There could be recommended exercises to get you in shape to do each of these positions. You’d be training for the Fuck Olympics.
I’ll come back to some of the positions in a bit.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of incorrect information, particularly about kink. The good news is, I contacted the publisher and the person who wrote the definitions is absolutely onboard for corrections–some are being added to the digital version already–so I’m going to be putting together a list of items that need to be looked at again. They even sent a physical copy—I’d purchased the digital version and said that I’d still liked it enough I wanted to get a physical copy so I could write in it and add my own definitions as I learned new terms—and the author sent a copy, which arrived the day I was writing the review.
I’m discussing pros and cons by topic, though the book is arranged alphabetically, as a dictionary typically is.
There are several health-related entries and essays—some of which are correct and some of which aren’t. This quote is useful and I was glad to see it was included.
Hymen: Many people believe that those with vaginas who have sex for the first time will (or should) experience hymen breakage. However, this is not supposed to happen; the hymen is not a barrier to the vagina, like the seal on a yogurt container. Rather, it consists of fringed bits of skin that circle the outside opening of the vagina, and it is just another part of the organ. Sometimes it does stretch all the way across the vaginal opening, but typically it does not. It can tear during sexual intercourse, and this can hurt and cause bleeding, but it takes a lot of pressure for this to happen. The bleeding and pain typically associated with losing one’s virginity are likely due to forcefulness, lack of lubrication, or not being relaxed, which can cause the body to tense up. (Because of the myth that those with vaginas always feel pain with their first penetrative experience, most of them come to expect it). And of course, the stigma around not bleeding or not feeling pain can make people feel guilty or that they’ve done something wrong, when the truth is that the experience will be different for everyone.
Accurate and helpful! Yes!
Then, under the entry for spermicide, it said you can use it in ‘any orifice’. Oh boy, oh no, oh please don’t. Spermicide is made to kill sperms, which are resilient, so enough of it will cause cell damage and makes a person more susceptible to STIs. The Mayo Clinic website recommends using spermicide only in the vagina and with a latex barrier like a condom or cervical cap.
There’s also an entry for a V-steam. You can’t steam your vagina. Well, you can, but there are no genuine health benefits. Dr Jen Gunter has a whole, hilarious article about this. People, leave the vag alone. It’s perfectly fine the way it is. Don’t douche, either—you’re messing with the natural balance in there.
The entry for thermoplastic elastomer, which is something some sex toy companies use as a replacement for silicone, as it’s less expensive, is incorrect, but they’re fixing it in the digital version. They list it as being body-safe because it’s non-porous, but it is porous, so if you’re using a toy made out of TPE you should use a condom on it because it’s not easily sterilised.
I’ll chuck this under unsafe information: the definition of plasticuffs is:
Plastic handcuffs that are cheap, durable, and disposable. These are a favorite item of the BDSM community.
I consulted my trusty …consultants on Twitter and some of them tagged other people in to answer questions about specific entries I wasn’t sure about. Which is why this episode has an acknowledgement section in the show notes.
What the author is talking about here are what most people would refer to as zipties—Tristan Taormino specifically warned against them in 50 Shades of Kink. When I consulted who I’ll call The Board of Experience, the overall response ranged from ‘I’ve been doing this for more than a decade and have never seen anyone use them’ all the way to ‘They’re pretty rare and difficult to get but I have seen them.’ In the middle was, ‘They’re banned in many dungeons—they don’t belong in scenes.’ I’m going to go with they’re not a favourite item and people shouldn’t use them.
Now let’s do a positivity break and I’ll thank some people for being on The Board of Experience. Naiia and Graydancer—who’s been on the show and has the Ropecast were both a big help, Mollysdailykiss and DomSigns—the incredible people behind Eroticon, Kayla Lords, who hosts the Loving BDSM podcast. I’ll do a few more in a bit. Check out their links if you’re looking for knowledgeable people to follow.
Let’s talk about paraphilias!
I’m a big word nerd so something I found interesting is what they—‘they’ being clinicians who took the time to name fetishes—decided needed to be named.
For example, if you have a shoe fetish, it’s called having a shoe fetish. People, well, men, have been fetishizing women’s shoes for … awhile now, and they haven’t given it a specific name? If, however, you’re drawn to high heels, that’s called altocalciphilia. There’s not a name for people into ballet flats, clogs or espadrilles. But that also tells us something—that those aren’t prominent fetishes. If they took the time to name the fetish for very high heels then it must be marked.
Speaking of specificity—there’s a fetish for insects called entomophilia. But! There’s then also a fetish specifically for any insect with a stinger—bees, wasps, whatever. That’s called melissophilia. The fetish can be for holding, looking at or even eating them. I’ve very curious now. For that second one—is some of the appeal fear? We like things that scare us—it’s why we watch horror films and ride roller coasters. Holding a wasp is pretty damn scary.
(I got curious and checked—there’s not a lay book just on paraphilias and people into them. So I’m going to write one. It’ll include interviews and indexes and some historical factoids and fun things. That’s my over-arching project for… Oh god. Who knows how long.)
With most paraphilias, the interest is fairly broad. For example, maschalagnia, which is the fetish for armpits. This includes touching, smelling, licking, or seeing one’s own or a partner’s armpit. That’s about as all-encompassing as you can get. And that’s how many fetishes are defined.
Occasionally, though, a fetish will be precise. Like mastigothyma, which is the fetish for being flogged, but it only refers to the person receiving the flogging. It doesn’t applying to watching other’s being flogged. There’s no vicarious joy there, interestingly.
Back to other thoughts.
A blanket note was that everything was about sex. Yes, it’s a sextionary, but kink doesn’t have to be about sex. There were multiple definitions of types of kink play where the definition was, ‘such-and-so is engaged in in order to elicit a sexual response.’
Not really. People do fire play, age play, fear play, control scenes, rope, bondage, sensory deprivation and everything else for all sorts of reasons. Control, dominance, submission, to explore different aspects of their persona, to be creative, to play, yeah, some of it is about sex. That can overlap, but it doesn’t have to be.
The definition of aftercare was:
A BDSM term that refers to the period after intercourse.
Aftercare should happen after every scene if the people involved have said they need aftercare and kink scenes don’t have to include intercourse.
The definition of polyamory included this sentence:
Polyamorous people tend to need sexual interactions with multiple people in order to achieve sexual happiness.
I would say polyamorous people like being able to define each of their relationships on their own terms, rather than one person being your chief emotional, romantic, sexual and spiritual focus forever and ever.
Then there was this:
Sapphic: An adjective for any sex act involving two women. The word is an homage to the Greek poet Sappho, who was believed to be a lesbian.
Sapphic is just a literary term that means lesbian. A piece of poetry can be sapphic if it pertains to love between women. A painting of two women cuddling can be called sapphic—it doesn’t have to portray a sex act.
While I’m talking about there being too much sex in the book of sexual terms, the definition for asexuality included the word ‘arousal’, saying that asexuality was:
A lack of sexual attraction, arousal or interest in pursuing any sexual experience.
It’s just a lack of sexual attraction. Arousal is a physiological function and many asexuals have no issue with that—there are a few asexual sex toy testers, for example. Some asexuals pursue sexual experiences for reasons other than sexual attraction.
I’m in the area of sexuality, so let’s talk sexualities. Two that were left out were heteroflexible and homoflexible. Heteroflexible is fairly common to see on the sex positive dating apps and forums and means a person who is sexually and romantically attracted to people of the opposite gender, but is sometimes interested in the same gender for sex or kink play. Homoflexible is the inverse of that.
The definition for LGBT was:
The acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. “LGBT” is a blanket term for any sexuality or gender that is considered to be “outside the norm.”
It’s people who either don’t identify as the gender they were assigned at birth (cisgender) or are not heterosexual. Labelling that group ‘outside the norm’ is problematic. But I’m going to move on.
The definition of Vanilla was:
A person (typically heterosexual) who prefers basic sexual intercourse within a committed romantic relationship. Vanilla people have no interest in “unusual” sexualities or kinky behavior.
Vanilla just means non-kinky. Gay people can be vanilla, poly people can be vanilla, kinky people can do vanilla things. ‘I know these people from my vanilla life and I don’t know if they could handle info about my kinky life.’
I think part of the issue is that this sort of information isn’t easily accessible. There isn’t a textbook and anyone can put anything online so just doing a search isn’t going to turn up the most accurate or up-to-date information. The only way to find out how people are using terminology is to ask people who are actually out there…well, using it. These are groups of people in cultures and sub-cultures that are both right there online and also miles away if you don’t know how to contact them.
Sometimes I would do a search on a term I was unsure of and the only return would be Tumblr or Urban Dictionary. Never a good sign.
Let’s do some more acknowledgements and fun stuff, though. Cooper S. Beckett, who’s been on the show and who runs Swingset.FM, was on The Board of Experience and he brought in Franklin Veaux, who’s been around forever and wrote More Than Two, amongst other things. Mistress Matisse answered some questions about kink, as well as some about sex work and also gave me a link of terms about sex work she wrote for the Sex Work Outreach Project, which is on my resource page now. There was also someone who asked not to be mentioned, but they know who they are. Thank you. And Lorax of Sex, who has a sex toy review blog and does hilarious dildo holiday posts with Hey Epiphora, also helped out.
Let’s talk sex positions.
So the book arrived and Walter was lying on the bed, flipping through it—reading a bit and asking me questions about things. Eventually he said, ‘A lot of the positions are the same.’ Then he mimed. ‘Lie on your back and put your legs like this. Or like this. Or like this. You move your leg five degrees and it’s an entirely new position. Do they need so many names?’
Pppffftt! Asexual shade! I think he’s unimpressed with your attempts at variety, sexuals.
I hadn’t even noticed that. What stood out to me were the positions that seem like you’d do it just to say you’d done it. They can’t be pleasurable. Stunt positions, I call them. Not necessarily difficult like the Fuck Olympics, but just… awkward.
I give you, the poles apart position:
A penetrative sex position in which the giving partner will lie on their side, and the receiving partner will lie in front of them, facing the same direction but with their head by their partner’s feet. The giving partner can then enter vaginally or anally.
Where does the receiver put their feet? If you’re really into it how do you avoid kicking the giver in the head? It seems like traction would be difficult.
It seems like some of the positions would just be thrust-thrust-thrust ‘Okay, that counts, we did it. Tick it off the list and we never have to do it again.’
There are two I would like reports back on, please.
Nirvana position: A penetrative sex position that is a variation on the missionary position. In the nirvana position, the receiving partner will lie on their back, but instead of spreading their legs, they will keep their legs close together and stretch their arms above their head. This position leads to better clitoral stimulation for receiving partners with vaginas.
Does it? Yes? No? I can see how it might, but I’m curious about actual results. For science.
Surf’s up: Sex in the doggy style position on a surfboard while on the water. Only recommended when the water is calm, so there’s no chance of being flipped off the board.
I would put all twelve pence I have to my name that no one has actually done this—are surfboards wide enough for one person to have their legs apart and another person to be between their legs and do their thing? And what kind of balance do people have to achieve this? It probably really works out your core muscles for both people. If you can do this you win a gold in the Fuck Olympics. Actually, I think AliceinBondageLand may be a surfer—I can ask her if she thinks it’s feasible.
I don’t need a report back on this one, but the idea of it amused me:
Snake charmer: A challenging fellatio position in which the receiving partner goes into a handstand, with or without an object for support. The giving partner is then able to perform fellatio while standing up.
Yes, but, can the person receiving maintain the handstand? For safety’s sake, you should probably have some support.
Let’s do some more notes about kink. There were many. The most egregious issue was the continual use of the words ‘dominant’ and ‘submissive’ to mean ‘top’ and ‘bottom’. Generally, a Dominant is a person who leads a relationship or is in charge of part of a relationship and a submissive is the follower. A top is a person who does an activity in a kink sense or in the bedroom and a bottom receives an activity. A Dominant can be topped by a submissive and not all tops and bottoms identify as Dominants and submissives. For example, a sadist can top a masochist and neither will identify as a dominant or submissive.
Nearly all of the definitions to do with power exchange were incorrect to one degree or another. I don’t have the time to go into each one, but The Board of Experience was as confused as I was.
The definition for play party was:
A BDSM orgy at which attendees participate in BDSM
A play party isn’t an orgy. People have a bite to eat. They negotiate. They may play. They may sit around and watch or socialise. In some places no sex happens—only play. If I’d read something that said a play party was an orgy prior to going to one I would have never gone to one. It sounds like Caligula. Except Helen Mirren probably isn’t going to be there so I’m not interested.
There were several definitions of furniture used for kink that was correct. So it was a mixed bag. Just overall, this book is a mixed bag if you’re not looking for sexual positions or paraphilias. I do recommend it if you’re looking for those, though.
Let’s cover some rope stuff.
A rigger was defined thusly:
A person who celebrates the art of bondage. Riggers are often called upon by BDSM couples to bind a submissive, though the rigger may not participate in any sexual activities.
That’s part of the definition. A rigger is a rope top. People just learn to tie themselves or use other forms of bondage. They don’t get a whole other human in to tie someone up then stand aside.
This definition nearly gave Gray a heart attack:
Rope Bondage: Any BDSM, kink, or sex act that uses rope to restrict or bind a participant. There are many styles of rope bondage, including partial rope bondage (binding of one part of the body), Western-style rope bondage, shibari (which originated in Japan and tends to be more sensual and ritualistic), and suspension bondage (in which rope is used to suspend someone from an elevated object).
Shibari was originally called kinbaku in Japan and Westerners started calling it Shibari, which means ‘decoratively tie’ (thanks, naiia!). It was adapted from torture techniques from the Edo Period—that comes from the guy who taught me my first ties, Bodhi. Shibari can be done on one part of the body or in suspension. It’s not all separate types. There’s a lot happening with that definition.
This episode needs to be wrapped up now, but there’s lots more to cover. I’ll close with some fun things, though. Here’s a definition I loved:
Sex geek: A term for individuals who are obsessed with the nuances of sex. These people take great pride in learning all there is to know about sex, including positions, sexualities, media, and more.
Well, I don’t know anyone like that. Ahem.
Under the definition for ‘orgy’ was this extra piece of information:
in 2006, a group of people in Japan actually set the world record for the biggest orgy ever recorded! The event was called “500 Person Sex,” and as the name states, the orgy featured five hundred people all having sex at the same time in one room. The event was choreographed, so all of the couples moved in tandem. The filmed event was also released on a DVD which is available for purchase, making it not only the biggest orgy, but one of the largest scale pornography films ever made.
So if that’s your thing and you didn’t know about it—go forth, find it. Good luck.
Speaking of Japan:
Under the definition for agalmatophilia…
Also known as statuephilia or mannequin love, this is the term for a sexual attraction to statues, mannequins, dolls, or other inanimate objects that resemble humans.
There is a growing phenomenon, mostly found in Japan (though it has made its way to the United States and other parts of the world), of people who date, love, and have sex with body pillows that have images of fictional animated characters or celebrities (often pornographic celebrities) on them. Referred to as dakimakura in Japanese, or “love pillows” in English, these pillows are often readily available at anime and comic stores in Japan, and in many online stores. The phenomenon is called “2-D love” in reference to the characters printed on the pillow, but because the pillows are physical objects, it does fit into the realm of agalmatophilia.
I could do a whole other episode on these but I must wind it down now.
Thank you, again, to all the people who helped with information, I’m sorry I couldn’t get to everything in the episode. The various communities’ willingness to share was heartening, though not surprising. Marginalised, misunderstood groups generally do want more people to simply know basic terminology. I’ll include a bit more info in the text version on the website next week.
My overall rating for this is 3/5 and it kills me to say it. I had really high expectations, but there were some basic words missing, some basic information was incorrect and some unsafe information that was easily accessible. The author seems interested in listening to feedback, but it’s going to be a lot of work with all this extra energy I have, and the print version is out there giving people the wrong idea about some things.
I forgot to thank Camille Beaujolie of Stereo-Typed! Mea culpa! She has an enormous amount of practical experience and book knowledge.
Under sex work, there’s a term: privates-to-privates, which is defined thusly:
A type of erotic massage that involves rubbing one’s genitals on one’s partner, aiming to bring them to climax through that stimulation alone. This is commonly requested from sex workers.
My sex work contacts had not heard of this by that name, instead knowing it by ‘body-sliding’, which I have to say sounds like fun.
In the realm of polyamory, I was surprised the words metamour and compersion were left out. A metamour is your love’s love so if my husband had a girlfriend it would be the girlfriend. They do have the term OSO or Other Significant Other, but that was new to me.
Compersion is being vicariously happy for someone you care about. Your love is having some incredible new relationship energy–they’re bubbly and floating around and it makes you smile to see them like that.
While I’m on about poly, none of my people had heard of the first definition of puppy-pile poly, which was:
A polyamorous relationship in which everyone involved is female.
The second definition was where everyone is involved romantically and sexually with one another and that was familiar to The Board.
The start of the book has this bit, which was an excellent observation:
Gender and Sexuality: It can be a little confusing, because in today’s world there are many people who identify with their sexuality as much as with their gender, but this strong sense of identity tends to come from confrontation and oppression from outside forces. If you ask most “straight” (heterosexual) people who they are, they will not respond with “I am a straight person”; they will likely say “I am a man/woman/person” or describe their career, race, or nationality, because heterosexuality is still considered the “neutral” state of sexual being. Heterosexuals do not have to fear punishment or cultural shame for their sexual orientation.
It’s also why ‘white’ isn’t included as a race and ‘man’ isn’t included as a descriptor when describing certain people or professions. So you’ll hear about a ‘female doctor’ or ‘female pilot’ did whatever or a ‘black person’ did something, but if it’s a man or a white person, the default human, you don’t need a modifier.
While I’m on the feminism train, the definition for feminist porn was that it was produced specifically for female viewers.
Feminist porn is ethical porn–it follows ethical consent practices both in front of and behind the camera and makes sure everyone is paid fairly and treated humanely. I hope to everything holy that is produced for and appeals to more than just women. It’s not all soft focus and endless talking. Crash Pad is feminist porn and it’s kinky and hot as hell.
Since we’re in the area of porn–the definition of ass-to-mouth was:
The term for any sexual activity where a mouth makes contact with someone else’s backside, specifically on the anal opening.
It’s called ATM for short and is when a person goes from anal sex to fellatio. It’s also an outstanding way to ingest e. coli or other parasites if you’re not changing condoms between the two activities.
A mouth making contact with an anus is anilingus or rimming. Well, if you’re hanging out there and enjoying the visit. Just giving it a smooch probably doesn’t count. Either way, barriers are your friends.
File under, things I learned about myself:
Psycholagny: The ability to have an orgasm without any physical stimulation, using only mental stimulation or the viewing of pornography or erotic media.
I can have an orgasm by just thinking–I knew I wasn’t alone in this ability, but didn’t know the name of the phenomenon. There were a few instances of ‘Oh, THAT’S what that’s called,’ which is always fun.
Another one that falls under this category was:
Odaxelagnia: A fetish for being bitten or for biting someone. This can involve bites anywhere on the body, and is not limited specifically to erogenous zones.
And finally, here’s a freebie for some people, who I’m sure will identify strongly:
Pygophilia A fetish for buttocks, including looking at butts or feeling butts.