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How erotica books improved my sex life

Sara Dobie Bauer is a writer, model and mental health advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Her short story "Don't Ball the Boss" (inspired by her shameless crush on Benedict Cumberbatch) was nominated for the Pus...

Erotica is like textbooks for your love life — and here are seven lessons I've learned

It wasn't really erotica, but I did read Interview with the Vampire in sixth grade, which — looking back — was grossly inappropriate. Good thing my parents were just generally excited to have a bookworm for a daughter or I really would have missed out.

My burgeoning sexuality exploded in junior high, as I continued devouring Anne Rice and dreamed of beautiful, long-haired men with sharpened incisors. Needless to say, I dated a lot of goths.

As I grew up, I discovered something unexpected due to an interesting name on a book cover: Anaïs Nin. Who was this woman with the cool name? Well, the mother of erotica, of course — and so began my lengthy literary education into a world of closed doors.

More: Planned Parenthood wants to give erotica to your teen daughter

Oh, erotica! So popular now due to the Fifty Shades revolution, but some women are still embarrassed to admit to reading the stuff. I'd say I spend about 25 percent of my reading week on sex, thanks to the overabundance of kinky lit pouring forth from reputable publishing houses (and fan fiction; don't forget fan fiction!).

I'm completely open about my adoration for erotica and thankful for all I've learned. I assume so is my husband, considering my decades-long foray into the genre has taught me some important things about sex.

1. Sex isn't always about orgasms

Erotica is like textbooks for your love life — and here are seven lessons I've learned

In Alice Clayton's Wallbanger, our narrator Caroline lost her orgasm due to an unfortunate jackhammer bedmate and is forced to listen to her neighbor Simon bang the hell out of women in the apartment next door. When Caroline eventually gets her chance to see what Simon is all about, the big O is still unwilling, which sends Caroline into a complete panic and almost ruins the relationship. As modern women, we deserve orgasms, of course, but so many women chase orgasms like a marathon finish line. Face it: sometimes, sex just feels good without the endgame. Why not stop stressing about the O and just enjoy the — quite literal — ride?

2. Embrace your inner freak

Erotica is like textbooks for your love life — and here are seven lessons I've learned

Exit to Eden is Anne Rice's erotica masterpiece, far surpassing her Sleeping Beauty series for me. Lisa and Elliott meet at The Club, an exclusive island resort for the more experimental in nature. Yes, they let their freak flags fly high. And why not? The older I get, the more I have learned to embrace myself: the good, the bad and the weird. If you're a freak in the sheets, don't hide between silky white lingerie. Buy some leather. Get that whip you always wanted. Own every fantasy you've ever imagined. Trust me, freakiness isn't going to send a guy running; instead, you might have to use that whip to get him to leave in the morning.

More: Meet the first woman of erotica, Anaïs Nin

3. Sex is more than physical

Erotica is like textbooks for your love life — and here are seven lessons I've learned

The mother of my erotica obsession is and always will be Anaïs Nin, whose Delta of Venus story collection changed my life. Delta of Venus is not really a happy collection. Rarely do her characters end up getting exactly what they want. However, the one thing Nin makes entirely clear: sex is about more than skin and bones. Sexual connection runs deep and hits us at our most vulnerable. Her words remind us to be careful about who we sleep with, because no matter how much we want to believe we can handle a one-night stand, we can't. There is an emotional connection when you are intimate with someone. That connection is much stronger than the physical, so be sure to enjoy your lover's brain as much as his body.

4. There's no shame in the boudoir

Erotica is like textbooks for your love life — and here are seven lessons I've learned

The Sexual Life of Catherine M. is the true story of French sex-perimentation by author Catherine Millet. You won't believe what this woman gets up to, and yeah, even I was blushing at certain scenes. That said, Catherine feels no shame about her forays into high-class orgies and sex without sentiment. She taught me there is no shame in the boudoir. At least, there shouldn't be. If you feel ashamed about something you did in bed, you did it wrong. Sex is about adventure. It's about trying new things. What I learned from Catherine: try everything once. Or maybe twice. Three times...

More: More than Mommy porn: "Why I read smut"

5. If you're uncomfortable about something in bed, say so

Erotica is like textbooks for your love life — and here are seven lessons I've learned

Although I'm a fan of bondage, Story of O by Pauline Réage was even too much for me, which was a nice reminder: it's OK to say no, even in a dedicated, trusting sexual relationship. I've made it perfectly clear that experimentation is good. In fact, it's great. However, being made to feel uncomfortable in bed is not good. Communication between lovers is key. Push boundaries, of course, but as soon as you start feeling nervous, it's time to put on the brakes, and your significant other will respect that.

6. Sexuality is fluid

Erotica is like textbooks for your love life — and here are seven lessons I've learned

Contrary to popular belief, I don't believe in straight or gay. Neither does Christopher Rice, whose novella The Flame left me panting and clawing my sheets. His story is about a happily married couple who, due to some Southern voodoo, realize how much they care for their gay friend and invite him to bed. Don't worry; it has a happy ending (pun intended). I've been sexually involved with both women and men, and although I married a man, I can still appreciate a nice pair of breasts. Sex is about the person, so if you find someone attractive (no matter your affiliation), why fight it?

7. There's always something new to try in bed

Erotica is like textbooks for your love life — and here are seven lessons I've learned

Cassie Alexander's The House is choose-your-own-adventure erotica. You travel the mansion she has created and choose your own door. Like the sound of a whip behind door number one? Head in there and see what happens. Like the sound of laughter in a swimming pool? Door number two. And so on. Her exploratory take on want and need is a great reminder that there is always something new to try in bed. There is no excuse for going vanilla or getting bored. This beautiful world is full of new positions, toys and — oh, why not? — orgies. Go on. Explore!

More on erotica

Christopher Rice reveals the secret to writing a good, gay sex scene in fiction
Top 6 most sexually charged excerpts from erotica books
Get kinky with Cassie Alexander's choose-your-own erotica

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