Full disclosure: I am one of the women whose thoughts and experiences around sex are quoted in Jaclyn Friedman’s new book, What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety. This not only means that I have been anxiously awaiting the publication of this book since the spring of this year, but also that I take a tiny bit of personal pride in it finally hitting the shelves. I shared my sometimes very personal thoughts and feelings on these topics (ranging from self-acceptance to sexual abuse) because I, like all of the other smart, articulate contributors and volunteers, knew that what Jaclyn Friedman was doing was long overdue and so, so necessary.
What made reading the final product doubly exciting for me now was that in the 7 months since I first heard about this book, I have unwittingly gone through the very process outlined in this book. Since leaving an unhealthy 5-year relationship in 2009, I had been working hard to take myself and my desires more seriously, to be more assertive about enforcing my boundaries, to give myself the permission and the space to explore what I truly want for myself.
In the spring of this year, I finally found myself at a point where I could test my new-found strength, and I began a friendship with occasional benefits with a queer man who, from the very first day, made me feel comfortable enough to be myself. He knows that I am queer, that I am a feminist, that I totally geek out about activism and getting involved and changing the world, that I am kinky, and that I have no use for heteronormativity, gender stereotypes, or doing what’s expected of me. He shares a lot of it, loves me for all of it, and has never once made me regret my honesty.
Fast forward to now, and I am in a polyamorous relationship with a wonderful man who loves me very much, the aforementioned friend is my sometimes-secondary partner, and I have never been happier. I still sometimes have to take a deep breath before “coming out” about the loves in my life, but I no longer feel the need to apologize for who I am.
I took the long, hard way to this place, and I often wished for guidance and support beyond what my fantastic, but mostly straight and traditional, friends could give me. Having someone like Jaclyn Friedman by my side, like a big sister who knows all the answers, would have been great. Because that’s what the book provides: a step by step guide towards learning how to love yourself, from someone who’s been there and gets what it’s like.
The book starts by naming and then debunking, one by one, the many different and conflicting influences that we are inundated with and that prevent us from recognizing, much less voicing, our own desires. In the following chapters, Friedman invites her readers to “turn down the volume” on those influences, and to start looking for their own, authentic voice. Finally she gives helpful tips for sharing yourself, and your wants and desires, with your partner(s). All of this is supplemented with links to further reading, and with countless exercises designed to get the reader to really explore their thoughts and feelings. This book is not one to read in one sitting: it’s a workbook that you will want to take your time exploring, and that you may sometimes need to put down and get space from. But even through the uncomfortable passages, Friedman is right there to assure you that you are okay. Really.
Overall, I give this book two enthusiastic thumbs up. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do yourself a favor and give it a try. Even if you think you already know yourself pretty well, the book may help you tackle some issues you haven’t addressed yet. Or, you can share the book with a friend or relative who isn’t quite as far down this road yet, and encourage and help them to find out what they really, really want.