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Book Review: This Thing We Call Sex

David Steinberg’s 2015 book This Thing We Call Sex (A Radically Sensible Look at Sex in America) is now one of my favorite sexuality books and a prime example of great personal essay and non-fiction writing.

I had not heard of this author until a few people in my sex-positive network shared the book. Looking into it, the book piqued my interest and I decided I needed to read it. I’m so happy I did.

This Thing We Call Sex is a collection of columns, personal essays, photography, and poetry by the author. Some of the pieces had been previously published, most notably several from Steinberg’s sexuality column Comes Naturally that ran for Spectator magazine. There are also some pieces that were written for or published for the first time in the book.

The range of topics covered is marvelous. From Jack-and-Jill Off parties to sex work and how sex is handled in families to sexuality in art. He talks about many issues for transsexuals and many aspects of kink. He delves into personal experiences involving Viagra and the deeply impacting story of when his partner had an abortion.

More striking even than the incredibly wide range of topics, the essence of the author’s writing is heartfelt and healthy. If you are interested in any kind of non-fiction sex writing, I highly recommend giving this collection a read.  

For example, a column that appears early in the book is about taking sex toys through airport security. I have to admit I was reluctant to read another essay on a topic that I’ve seen other sex writers tackle in a cheesey, situation-comedy type narration. But I was definitely won over. The essay was unique and refreshing and very different than other takes. He still had heart and texture in the story that made it far from cheesey. After that, his essays on porn, family, erotic transformations, and gender were quite fulfilling. There is certainly humor and playfulness at times and just the right amount of weight when appropriate without being dramatic. In short, this book is a read that satisfies.

His black and white photographs that accompany each essay adds further dimension to the book. Several essays in the book address his journey as a sexual photographer and a whole section is dedicated to images of sex. Each photo is a couple Steinberg photographed having sex. These images are real, raw, funny, beautiful, and intimate. Most of the photos are focused on facial expressions and gestures of connection between the couples and showcases a range of pairings.

Ultimately, I highly recommend this book to anyone in the sex positive community, but in particular those who have an interest in sexual writing/art as well as kink, pornography, and gender.

I will keep this book for the rest of my life. I’m fortunate the work found me when it did. You may read more about the author and his work here.


  1. Hi Leandra. Thanks so much for your enthusiasm about This Thing We Call Sex. It's always great to get a positive review, of course, but it's especially rewarding when someone likes something I've written for all the "right" reasons -- meaning for the things about my writing that matter the most to me. So thanks specifically for that. Word of mouth about TTWCS is building gradually, and reviews like yours are a core part of that process. Thanks for helping spread the word. FYI, you can contact me via email if you like, at david@davidsteinberg. us.


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