101 Positions That Won't Spice Up Your Sex Life

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

365 sex positions
If you’ve been around the sex world much, you’ve probably seen this sort of sex advice book a lot. “101 Sex Positions for Intrepid Couples.” “50 Peppery Positions for a Spicy Sex Life.” “(X) Number of Incendiary Positions to Heat Up the Bedroom.” They’re generally illustrated with erotic- but- tasteful, just- short- of- explicit photographs of well-groomed couples displaying the positions in question. The books are pretty much interchangeable, and the gist of all of them seems to be the same: If you’re a couple whose sex life is becoming monotonous and routine, the way to bring back the spark is variety. And the way to bring variety into a sex life is to have sex in a wide assortment of different positions.

Now. I have a whole passel of problems with these books. For starters, I hate how obsessed they are with penile-vaginal intercourse. The authors of these books seem to think that introducing variety into a sex life means finding 101 different ways to position male and female bodies together to make their genitals interlock. You’ll get a couple/few oral positions thrown in there; maybe a little anal if it’s one of the freakier books. But there’s little recognition of the wide world of sexual possibility that lives outside Man-Part Goes Inside Woman-Part. And there’s virtually no recognition of the fact that, for most women, intercourse by itself isn’t enough to get them off.

Which brings me to my next critique: I hate the way these books equate “sexual variety” with “physical variety.” Of course I agree that variety is an essential key to keeping a sex life happy and satisfying over the long haul. Almost every sex writer on the face of the planet agrees with that. I have yet to read a sex writer who says, “In order to keep the spark alive in your sex life, be sure to have sex in exactly the same way — the same place, the same position, the same time of day, the same day of the week — for the rest of your lives.”

But sexual variety can mean so much more than rotating your bodies in different configurations before inserting Prong A into Slot B. And these books seem blind to these possibilities. They hardly ever talk about erogenous zones outside the obvious ones. They hardly ever talk about dirty talk, dirty outfits, foreplay (or, as we dykes like to call it, “sex”), sex toys, slowing things down, speeding things up, role-playing… all that good stuff.

Speech balloons
And they almost entirely ignore the crux of any good relationship, sexual or otherwise: communication. Talking about desires, talking about fantasies, talking about the outfits and the toys and the dirty talk and the slowing things down, not to mention actual communication skills — how to ask, how to listen, how to negotiate, how to set limits, how to move forward together with experiments — little or none of this gets included in the discussion of how to bring variety into your sex life.

Even when they do talk about this stuff, it’s no more than a cursory, “get it out of the way” mention before getting on to the important business of describing and demonstrating the Double Reverse Astronaut Position. These books might as well be titled, “101 Ways to Have the Exact Same Sex You’ve Been Having, But With Your Bodies Arranged Somewhat Differently.”

And that — especially the part about communication — leads me to my final and most important critique of these “101 Ways to Have Penile-Vaginal Intercourse” books:

If you don’t already have a happy sex life, new sex positions by themselves are unlikely to make things better.

I was inspired to write this piece (or reminded that I wanted to write it) by a piece in Dr. Marty Klein’s excellent blog, Sexual Intelligence. In this piece, Dr. Klein was talking about a couple who had been seeing him for sex therapy. They had an unhappy life together — mistrustful, resentful, insecure, unforgiving, uncommunicative, hostile — and their sex life was a predictable misery as a result. But they didn’t want to talk about their basic relationship problems. To quote Dr. Klein’s description of the sessions, “I didn’t seem that interested in talking about sex — I seemed overly focused on feelings, power dynamics, letting go of the past, and communication.” And they didn’t want to deal with any of that. They just wanted their sex life fixed. That’s what you go to a sex therapist for — right?

Okay. That’s a pretty obvious problem. As Dr. Klein said, “I have no idea what kind of sex they imagine they would have if they somehow desired each other — while disliking, mistrusting, and resenting each other. Whatever kind of sex that is, I don’t want to help people have it.” But what does it have to do with the “101 Positions To Spice Up Your Boring Sex Life” books?

Just this, yet again:

If you don’t already have a happy sex life, new sex positions by themselves are unlikely to make things better.

If you already have a good sex life — if you’re already mixing it up, if you’re already talking about what you like and what you might like to try next — there’s probably no harm in these books. You might even get a couple of good ideas from them. Then again, if you already have variety and experimentation and good communication in your sexual relationship, these books probably won’t be that much use. If you have all that, you can probably figure out most of these positions on your own.

But if what you have on your hands is an okay/ mediocre sex life that’s getting into a rut, I think these books can be actually harmful. They give a completely misleading idea of what it takes to introduce variety into a long-term sex life. They make it seem as if the heart of sexual variety lies, not in imagination and experimentation and honest loving communication, but in arranging your bodies at different intersecting angles. If couples try this, and it doesn’t make their sex lives feel invigorated — as it very likely wouldn’t — it seems to me that it’d be more discouraging than anything else.

And if what you have is a sexual relationship like that of Dr. Klein’s couple — a toxic waste dump loaded with mistrust, insecurity, and resentment, inside the bedroom and out — then trying the Sideways Triple Bypass isn’t going to help.

No matter how tastefully erotic the photos in the book are.

101 Positions That Won't Spice Up Your Sex Life
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12 thoughts on “101 Positions That Won't Spice Up Your Sex Life

  1. 1

    I completely agree with you; I’ve never seen the utility or attraction of the sexual positions-type books, but maybe it’s because me & my sweetie already have the communication and fantasy-sharing down. But I mostly wanted to comment because I love the surfer-ballet photo, couldn’t stop laughing. Thanks!

  2. 3

    In my world, not only do I not get positional variety, but my distaff partner AVOIDS discussing sex in any way, shape, or form. About the only time I hear about sex from her is when I’ve gone too long without attempting to get her interested in another chapter of been here done this. She is very disdainful about my wants and needs, because “that’s not how it’s done.” So for me, while I’m open both to the positional books, lame as they are, and the spicier things that Greta mentions, I’m also into hearing what my partner’s wants and needs are. For many years there has been nothing but silence, for I won’t go there alone.

  3. Sue

    No matter how tastefully erotic the photos in the book are.
    Actually I think you hit the nail on the head there. Because what these books are, is safe. They don’t ask you to do anything you’re not already doing (assuming you’re already doing penile-vaginal intercourse): they’re not asking you to do anything that might scare your partner, or look kinky, or feel kinky, or worse, *be embarrassing*. They’re just safe. “Hey honey, if we did it doggy style, things might be more fun.”
    And yes, that’s probably not going to work. But just possibly, the tasteful, pointless books are a safe way to begin the process of talking about the fact that, umm, things aren’t quite like we want them to be. And, you know, maybe we could… and I’ve always wondered about….
    Not everyone’s as sexually literate as you are, Greta, and maybe crappy books like these are a place to start.
    But then I haven’t had sex for four years and I’m about to get divorced, so I’m not sure anyone should take my opinion for anything 😀

  4. 5

    Yes, the only difference between all of these sex positions is having “the Exact Same Sex You’ve Been Having, But With Your Bodies Arranged Somewhat Differently.”. Obviously there’s nothing remotely stimulating about varying things like physical closeness to partner, eye contact, depth of penetration, direct physical contact, visual stimulation… *rolleyes*
    Oversimplification doesn’t do anyone any favours. I hope it’s a deliberate oversight.

  5. 7

    You speak the truth, but I think there are a significant number of people who would be helped by such a pillow book. There are at least two categories:

    People for whom sex has fallen into a bit of a rut. They’ve tried a few things, figured out what makes all parties happy, and repeated that rather a lot. A book full of ideas, even if impractical, jogs the mind and gets one thinking about additional possibilities.
    People who are shy and inhibited about talking about their desires. Not anti-sex, just feel uncomfortable raising the subject. A book makes a nice ice-breaker. I’m reminded of the joke about two Finns shipwrecked on a desert island for months, and when some folks appear to rescue them, one runs up and says “It’s so nice to see another face; perhaps you can introduce us!”

    There are a large number of people who just aren’t used to talking about sex, and can use the help. It doesn’t so much matter what is said as that something is said.

  6. 8

    Steve: I don’t have any objections to experimenting with different positions. I’m very much in favor of it. And I said so in this piece. I just don’t think that, by itself, that’s going to be enough variety to spice up a sex life that’s otherwise unvarying and lacking in communication.
    Sue and Eclectic: Yes, those are fair points, and are probably the best defenses of these kinds of books. They play it very safe and offer only the tiniest glimpse of what sexual variety can look like. But if they encourage otherwise timid and shy people to begin experimenting and talking about sex, that’s not a bad thing.
    Quinapalus: Why, yes. Yes, you can. 🙂

  7. 9

    I think books in this genre largely sell as much for soft porn photography as for practical use.
    And as for usefulness, I think these books are useful for couples who are *already* having good PIV sex and want to play with new PIV positions. Though many of the more exotic positions positions presented have the same problem as much of porn sex – they are positions that look great to somebody who’s watching, but are uncomfortable or otherwise not the most pleasurable for those actually doing them.

  8. 10

    every book that makes it to publication does so because someone has identified a market for it. books like these seem tame to people like us, but the truth is they are exotic to many, many more. i agree with all the points you made, and i’ll toss in one more: books like these are for men who want the woman/en in their lives to have sex with them more frequently. hence the PIV focus of most of them, as well as the lack of focus on talking, foreplay, etc. sort of like “male enhancement” products. the target audience is the male who believes that with “just a few more tricks” he’ll suddenly become the world’s greatest and most desired lover. you see a lot of these types around the internet. the idea that a woman wants so much more than penetration is completely foreign to them, and they don’t want to think about it. better to believe (and spend money accordingly) that it’s something “simple” and that doesn’t threaten their own lack of sexual understanding and imagination.

  9. 11

    Wow, cd, clever insight into the who-and-why of these books; that had never occurred to me. (I almost said “penetrating insight”, but that just would have made it creepy.)

  10. 12

    Haha – Thanks for making me laugh and nod in agreence.
    And remember people, warm up and stretch first if you are going to reverse korean neck crunch…
    People could get hurt if they jump right in!

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