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Book Review: ‘Woman to Woman: A Guide to Lesbian Sexuality’ by Carol Booth

Booth, Carol 2021, Woman to Woman: a guide to lesbian sexuality, Carol Booth & Ocean Reeve Publishing.

Twenty years after the 2002 release of Woman to Woman: A Guide to Lesbian Sexuality, was published by Simon & Schuster Australia, Carol Booth has released her best seller in paperback and e-book versions. You can buy a copy of the paperback directly from the author, or the Kindle e-book from Amazon Australia.

Carol is a lesbian feminist doctor who has written a ‘simple, old-fashioned how-to-do-it’ book for women who already identify as lesbian and for those considering it. Acknowledging the diversity of the lesbian world, she does not claim to be an expert on lesbian sex, and states that her book is based on her own ‘unashamedly vanilla’ perspective. Carol invites women who read her book to contact her with any suggested editing or additional information they think should be added.

She notes that ‘she hasn’t updated the original manuscript to accommodate the complex range of issues around gender. For recent publications by lesbians about how gender ideology is relevant to lesbian sexuality, see Janice G Raymond (2021) Doublethink. A feminist challenge to transgenderism (SpinifexPress) and Sheila Jeffreys (2014) Gender Hurts. A feminist analysis of the politics of transgenderism (Routledge) (available also in a slightly cheaper kindle version).

Woman to Woman contains 15 chapters: (1) Women’s sexuality, (2) Knowing your own body, (3) Knowing another woman’s body, (4) What do lesbians do? (5) Sexual health, (6) Sexual self-intimacy: masturbation & fantasy, (7) orgasm, (8) Difficulty with sex, (9) Am I a lesbian? Does it really matter? (10) Coming out, (11) Making connections, (12) Young lesbians, (13) Older lesbians, (14) Doubly difficult, (15) Lesbian courage. There are 3 appendices: (1) Approaches to orgasm, (2) Applied anatomy, (3) Sexually transmitted infections; and a glossary that is still relevant today. However, the Resources section has not been updated.

The book is filled with stories shared by women, in conversations or in interviews, who have given their permission for their words to be used. Carol does this in a respectful and sensitive way, also giving her own story in the Introduction. The first chapter sets out Carol’s feminist framework, starting with a short historical and political context, before discussing women’s sexuality generally, objectification, stereotypes & sexism, homophobia & heterosexism, sexual abuse and survival. This is a book that is much more than a technical manual, as it considers an individual woman’s emotional well-being and her social context. Chapter 2 contains 8 black and white drawings and diagrams that simply and clearly describe a woman’s body together with descriptions of sexual arousal. Chapter 3 uses women’s stories to discuss a range of first sexual experiences with another woman.

Chapter 4 discusses a range of lesbian activities from talking, as a way to initiate contact, to fisting, sex toys and BDSM. Chapter 5 discusses choosing a doctor, safe and unsafe sex and risk assessment. Chapter 6 provides stories about women’s different ways to masturbate and their fantasies that turn them on. Chapter 7 describes orgasmic experiences and how not all women have or need them. According to Carol ‘the purpose of orgasm is for release of tension, for
pleasure and just for fun. I would take this theory a bit further and say that
the pleasure can be either purely in the body, or can also include emotional,
intellectual and spiritual aspects. What happens depends on the type of
person you are.’

Chapter 8 opens with ‘(t)he existing studies of lesbian sexuality are inadequate. There is no satisfactory evaluation of the sexual problems experienced by lesbian
women. However, from the information available, overall sexual satisfaction seems high.’ Possible problems discussed range from a lack of privacy, issues of desire, pain/discomfort, difficulties with orgasm. Chapter 9 discusses identity and sexual orientation while Chapter 10 recounts a range of women’s experiences realising they are lesbian and telling others about it. It exammines both positive and negative responses to the woman’s coming out with their family and in the workplace, finishing with some tips on how to come out and a final tip on ‘lesbian etiquette’: when asked if your friend is lesbian, answer with ‘ you’ll have to ask her’.

Then there is the difficult question of how to find and approach a woman who you are interested in sexually and who may or may not feel the same way and even may be shocked. Chapter 11 touches on various solutions, but not on some very real cultural and legal difficulties these days. Many lesbian and women-only venues have closed with the rise of queer culture, and legislative changes that replace sex-based rights with those based on ‘gender’ mean many lesbians are withdrawing ‘back into the closet’ rather than be forced to accept sexual relations with heterosexual men who identify as lesbian women.

Chapter 12 draws on the words of six  young women to address issues for young lesbians such as identity and labels, relations with parents, emotional survival, use of alcohol and other drugs, harassment and violence, self-esteem. Five older women shared their stories to suppport the themes of ageing, change, sex tips, and menopause in Chapter 13 on older lesbianexaminess. In Chapter 14 , Carol examines how: ‘(i)t is difficult enough at times being lesbian, but it is more than doubly difficult having another major difference to contend with.’ She briefly refers to the following difficulties: cultural issues for Aboriginal lesbians, those from non-English Speaking background, religious belief, physical and intellectual disability, concluding with a discussion of oppression as it affects lesbian lives.

The book ends with Chapter 15 celebrating the strength and courage of lesbians and closes with an appeal to lesbians that ‘(d) espite all the changes and the increased acceptance in our culture, lesbian women still suffer from discrimination and victimisation as a result of our sexual orientation. Each one of us who comes out makes the world safer for every lesbian, dyke, bi, transgender or queer woman who follows. Our existence also forces the culture we live in to examine and re-examine its attitudes towards tolerance, and its acceptance of diversity.’

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