book review: succulent sexcraft
The book review blitz continues! I’ve got some other stuff in the works, too, including two more book reviews, a couple of film reviews, and a blog format update I hope you’ll like. Stay tuned!
For now, read on to learn more about a book that’s well worth a bit of your time.
Succulent SexCraft: Your Hands-on Guide to Erotic Play & Practice for Men and Women, Singles and Partners by Sheri Winston with Carl Frankel
In Succulent SexCraft, Sheri Winston lays out an ambitious program for sexual self-education and exploration for those who want to become sexual virtuosos. It’s quite impressive. Rather than working from within one particular tradition or background, she blends the practical wisdom and knowledge of a nurse and midwife with the more touchy-feely, esoteric approach of a New Age(ish) spiritual type. But none of it’s about medicalizing sex or fetishizing and mimicking Eastern cultures. Rather, she builds a step-by-step approach to better understanding how sexual energy works – and only some of that is about the flesh-and-blood body. In fact, though Winston’s knowledge of the body is more practically-grounded and thorough than that of most sex educators – and for that matter, most doctors! – her real strength lies in putting that knowledge in service to a broader framework, where a person’s spirituality is just as important as their anatomy when it comes to deep sexual fulfillment.
Winston starts out by leading the reader through a tour of their own sexual history, with plenty of exercises and questions designed to help you understand where your own patterns and preferences come from, and where they may fall short. She skewers sex-negative attitudes and belief systems, and then goes on to set out a full-spectrum re-education plan that covers mind, body, heart and spirit. The rest of the book looks at each of these areas in depth, with “homeplay” assignments each step of the way to help the reader put it all into practice. Thankfully, even when she focuses on the woo-woo stuff, she doesn’t impose a rigid spiritual model or belief system, so it’s appropriate even for an atheist/solo-spiritual type like myself.
Her attention to detail is superlative. From breathing exercises to a multi-step staircase diagram of the sexual arousal process – with plenty of suggestions for how to move around on the staircase in 3D! – Winston breaks down every aspect of enjoyable sex into its component parts. The result, perhaps not surprisingly, is a book that focuses 90% of its content on the self, on how to be in sex rather than on detailed techniques for how to do sex to another person. She makes room for her exercises to be done with one or more partners (and yes, she’s very poly-friendly), and of course examines how sex happens with other people in the room, but ultimately her program isn’t a technique-fest so much as an inward-turning, mind-expanding voyage to the deepest reaches of the individual sexual being. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and it took me a long while to get through even though I wasn’t doing all the exercises – it’s simply that her writing goes deep, and it’s intricate enough that you don’t want to breeze through it like an “ultimate guide” type of instructional manual.
Winston does get a bit caught when it comes to gender stuff. She makes room for the difference between biology/anatomy and what she calls “core energy,” which more or less means topping and bottoming (and yes, she is kink-friendly too, though what I mean here isn’t specifically kinky). And she makes room for the existence of trans people, and for people with non-normative bodily configurations, but she stops short of going into any detail about how hormones or surgeries might impact the bodily systems she discusses. Overall she writes about how sexual maturity often involves finding energetic balance and flexibility in ourselves and recognizing it in others. But her model still relies on a pretty binary system, with mostly-toppy cis men presumably having sex mostly with mostly-bottomy cis women, so people who resist binaries in either energy or biology might find it hard to push past the limitations of her framework here. The rest of the content is still valid and applicable, I think, especially since so little of the book is actually about the mechanics of partner sex. But the yin/yang language of the sections in question could alienate before it has a chance to educate.
Still, overall I think Succulent SexCraft is doing valuable work that few other books really approach. Winston’s juicy and fun tone brings a sense of play and fun to what’s some pretty deep and tender work, and her body-positive, age-positive philosophy makes her a welcome voice in a world where sexperts are often young skinny things. Her elegant fusion of knowledge about the concrete and the intangible aspects of sex makes for a really unusual perspective. If you’re looking to expand your erotic horizons and the standard how-to manual fare of “try dress-up fantasy play and erotica reading!” is sounding a bit stale at this point, Winston’s work might give you exactly what you need.