Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Booknote: Tongue Tied

Stella Harris, Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships. Jersey City, NJ: Cleis Press, 2018. ISBN: 9781627782661.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: communications, sex education, BDSM, kink, fetish, advice
Format: Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC)
Source: Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Find the book in a library near you using WorldCat (link to record).
Buy it directly from the publisher (link to their record, which also includes a video trailer for the book).

It took me a good while to get through the book because the author offers a lot, and I found myself at times pausing to think and reflect on some point the author made. The book is labeled as a guide for communication in sex, kink, and relationships, but many of its lessons are applicable to life in general and there may even be a lesson or two you can take to your workplace. The book is 283 pages long, but the author packs a lot of good material in that small amount of pages. This book could have probably been longer, but the author manages to keep things concise.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • Short introduction.
  • 12 chapters on topics such as how to talk, safer sex, difficult conversations, and nurturing.
  • Odds and ends. This is a list of resources including websites, books, porn, erotica, safer sex details, and supplies. 
  • A glossary of terms. 
The book is well written and very accessible. Many guides to kink and sex tend to be written assuming readers are full time kinksters and/or highly knowledgeable. Finding good, honest, accessible resources for beginners and/or those curious and wanting to learn is not easy. Ms. Harris' book definitely fills that need. In addition, she does not condescend nor talk down to readers. She writes with a plain, nurturing, and reassuring way. I did think that at times she could be a bit too optimistic; after all, there may be moments when communication will not work or someone is just not willing to do something, and someone else has to decide whether to stay or move on. That certainly is a part of life as well, but at least she also gives advice on how to handle rejections because we all will face those sooner or later. As a reader, I felt at times that Harris made it sound like things will be honky dory with good communication. I am not as optimistic, but I see she at least acknowledges somewhat that things may go south. Aside from that, this is a very solid book.

The book provides plenty of good advice and information. That materials is supported by her knowledgeable expertise and a good amount of sources that the reader can seek out for verification and to learn more. She also draws on her personal experience at times to illustrate important points and issues. A strength of this book is that it explains things in clear and simple language; it often reads as if you are having a plain, honest, and well informed conversation with an expert who is willing to be open and accessible; many other experts fail in that regard.

Additionally, the book offers plenty of tools and exercises to help you reflect and develop your communication and intimacy skills. Exercises vary in requirements and form so there are things for all types of learners. For example, as a writer I work with a journal, so having journal prompts to help me reflect and learn was something I appreciated.

Overall, whether you are single or in relationship, whatever your orientation or expression may be, you are beginning your journey or well along the way, we can all learn about better communication in and out of the bedroom (or the dungeon, or whatever other setting). We all want better sex, but you can't get what you want without asking and seeking it out. This book teaches you not only what to ask but how to ask so you do not settle for less. A key message from the book is to take responsibility for your desires. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

I highly recommend this book. It is one I would definitely add to my personal shelf, and it is one I am happy to share with the Better Half.

5 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes. As I have mentioned in other reviews, this part of the blog post is additional reading notes and thoughts I had about the material as I was reading it. Feel free to keep reading or not as you feel moved. It's me engaging a little further with the text and/or things from the book I really want to remember or feel are important.

Harris had the good fortune of accessing the kink community early on in life. Though she makes it sound a bit easy-- she was lucky as she says in her acknowledgements-- to find the right people, people who were "open minded and contributed to my education" early on. So as I read on, it sounded like either she was a bit naive or in a bubble when she went into the "real world." She writes:

"That was the norm for me for so long [good open and clear honest communication] that when I was finally out of school and in an office environment, I was utterly baffled by the complete lack of communication skills people demonstrated. People were passive-aggressive and manipulative. People didn't speak to each other directly but instead complained  about coworkers behind their backs. It was unbearable" (viii). 

My reaction to reading that passage was a blend of "really?", "no shit, Sherlock," and "what cave have you been living in?" Seriously, fuckery in the workplace, most any workplace, is pretty much a built in feature. That she was shocked  about it made me wonder. However, if nothing else, she did put lessons to work and created this book, which may even help you and me better navigate our workplaces too in addition to our bedrooms. On a final note about this, I did also say to myself as I read that if she thinks an office is bad, she needs to spend a decade in academia. Faculty are often seriously mean, passive aggressive, manipulative assholes (of both genders and all orientations) and rampant egotism to boot. Who knows? She could get a sequel book from the experience or use academia as illustrations of what not to do and how not to communicate.

On how to read the book. You can read this book cover to cover; I did to write the review. You can also or instead skim and find what you need. Harris writes,

"You'll either skim it or read it cover to cover now, when you're first picking it up and then later you'll use it as a reference when you're addressing a particular issue or new relationship" (xv). 


"Some tools don't speak to you until you need them" (xv). 

Ain't that the truth? The example that comes to mind now are Tarot and oracle card decks. When people ask me why I have various decks, it's because they speak to me at different points of need, different expressions, different moods.

Also, you can use the book alone or with a partner or partners:

"The other difference could be whether you read this alone or with a partner. Again, either is fine. Some of the exercises call for self-reflection, and others can be done with a partner, in or out of the bedroom" (xv).

Key points, additional, in using the book:

"So use the tools in this book (and others) to improve your communication skills, not to control the behavior of others" (xx).


"I hope you'll find some of the tools and exercises in this book helpful. But keep in mind that you can choose what's useful to you and leave the rest" (xx).

Like life in general, change is a constant here too:

"When it comes to anything to do with  sex or relationships, you can't just have one conversation and be done with it. People change, situations change, and issues will always come up. So it's helpful to understand that many things will be a work in progress, that you may address more than one time" (23). 

This is stuff we are  not taught. Boy, is that ever true. Harris states,

"Sex is perhaps the most complex activity we're expected to know how to do without ever being taught. Or at least without being taught well. Not only is good information generally missing from school curricula, but we're surrounded by misinformation" (25). 

Tell me about it. As a young man growing up within repressive Catholicism, I barely got any sex education. My parents never provided any (good parents as they were overall and otherwise), and what little I got in school (Catholic school by the way) in that one session was a shame laced disgrace that was not even complete. I've had to spend my adult life unlearning and then relearning things I should have been taught plus then learning new things. In retrospect, a big reason I became a teacher and then a librarian is because I did not want anyone else to go through the ignorance desert and misinformation obstacles I did. Books like this did not exist when I came of age, and if they had existed, no one would have allowed me to even know it was out there. Again, part of why I became a librarian: if you need a book like this, I'll be happy to hand it to you, even if it's done under the table.

Another strength in this book is defining the terms. A good sex educator, and teachers in general, do this. Harris does it. So many so-called educators and gurus do not.

Harris acknowledges she offers a lot of information, which again is part of why it took me a while to fully read this book:

"There's a lot of information here, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Give yourself permission to read one section at a time, or to take breaks as needed. And when you'r ready, take notes on two or three things you'll try incorporating into conversations or your sex the next chance you get" (115).

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