For me, strap on sex is quite intuitive. I like to think that I know the vagina quite well, and my partners without one of those have approached the butt with equal prowess. I know what lubes to use, how to buy a body-safe dildo, and what harnesses are good for what purpose. For me, it seemed simple: good quads, good lube, and good communication. Even so, I thought there was more to know, so I bought The Ultimate Guide to Strap On Sex by Karlyn Lotney and The Strap On Book by A.H. Dion. I got The Ultimate Guide for AUD 39 (~USD 29) and The Strap On Book for AUD 25 (~USD 19) from Max Black. The Ultimate Guide is 50 pages longer but both books cover the same basic content. To me, it feels like The Ultimate Guide has a slight focus on (cisgender) women in lesbian relationships, whereas The Strap On Book seems to be directed at (cisgender) heterosexual women pegging their (cisgender) male partners.
I bought The Ultimate Guide thinking it was The Strap On Book, because of their incredibly similar names, and found it to be a bit dated, as it was written in 2001. Sex toy production and knowledge has greatly increased since then, so I then decided to buy The Strap On Book as well, in the hopes that it was more up to date. However, The Strap On Book was published in 1999. Read the cover pages, friends! Both books reference the porn film Bend Over Boyfriend, which brought the idea, according to Eye Weekly, that “fucking your boyfriend in the ass is fun” into the public eye. I appreciate that these books were probably super influential and important, just that their heyday was 10 to 15 years ago.
These books can be a resource for either the penetrative or receptive partner, because they cover the question of why either partner would want to engage in strap on sex in good detail. A lot of perspectives are given, from BDSM to gender expression. I feel that The Strap On Book is more adept at conveying the BDSM aspect of strap on play, especially through the erotica vignettes that are peppered throughout the book. Though The Strap On Book has a paragraph especially about trans people and strap ons, I think the transmasculine experience is more effectively expressed in The Ultimate Guide. However, The Strap On Book is the only one of the two that explicitly mentions why a trans woman might engage in strap on sex as the penetrator. The Ultimate Guide is really good at emphasising the need to get to know your sex partner’s body before engaging in strap on sex, which I really appreciated. Each person responds to stimulation differently, so knowing what sensations they prefer really enhances the experience.
Both books cover the process of buying a dildo and harness, but this is where the age of the books really shines through. Both recommend porous and potentially dangerous materials like “mystery rubber”, PVC, and the potentially genital-burn-inducing jelly rubber. Porous materials are not sterilisable and harbour bacteria that can cause serious infections. Stuff like jelly is just plain toxic. While both books recommend using condoms between partners, they aren’t consistent with recommending using condoms between anal and vaginal use. Sure, they advise to sterilise when moving from anus to vagina, but with porous toys, a bit of toy cleaner or even the most thorough bleach rubdown won’t remove the anal flora hiding in the dildo. I’m also a bit bitter that The Ultimate Guide suggested that wooden dildos are better left as an art piece, when I know of plenty of functional and attractive wooden dildos. (even if they’re not designed for strap on use!) I understand that it is harder to talk brands in a book, which you can’t update regularly, than it is in a blog post, which you can. Even so, I can’t imagine a dildo shopping guide that didn’t mention Tantus, Vixen Creations, or New York Toy Collective, or any section about dual stimulation that didn’t mention the Tantus Feeldoe range, or Fuze dildos, or the Vixen Mustang Royale. The harness section is fine, but both books talk about Stormy Leather, which is a brand I’ve never seen before, and could only find on their site and at The Stockroom. It seems inconceivable to talk about harnesses these days and not mention Aslan Leather, RodeoH, or the Spareparts Joque.
Something I love about sex manuals that I don’t find as much in conventional how-to books is that they frequently have vignettes that give you a peek into the practice. In The Ultimate Guide, this is seen through Karlyn Lotney’s agony aunt-style alter ego, Fairy Butch. Fairy Butch answers reader questions like “how do I stop the lube bottle rolling away?” and “does using a dildo mean I’m not a real lesbian?”. The Strap On Book answers some of these questions in the beginning of the book as well, but this is relegated to one section of the book, rather than throughout the whole thing. Fairy Butch as a persona is very camp and somewhat patronising, prone to saccharine nicknames like “cumquat”. I can see this becoming annoying in larger doses, but with these responses tucked in between the rest of the more informative content, it lends an air of playfulness to a book that risks becoming clinical. Also, The Ultimate Guide features quotes from people (primarily lesbian and bisexual women) who engage in strap on sex as to why they enjoy it. The Strap On Book breaks up the informative sections with erotica, which should be commended on its diversity of gender and sexual identities. However, the erotica in this book is fairly short, bland, and the dialogue is incredibly distracting. Exchanges between characters feel formulaic and forced. I generally enjoy erotica, but it either has to shine in the dialogue or the descriptive language to be enjoyable, neither of which are present in The Strap On Book.
However, it would be arrogant to say that I knew everything I read about in these books. Some things I had to be reminded about, like taking it slow and learning the curves of your partners’ orifices, and other things were completely new, like clitoral pumping and thigh harnesses. I knew about both these things in the abstract, but the perspective given in (primarily) The Ultimate Guide really piqued my interest. The most useful thing, in my opinion, was the section about how to communicate your desires to your partner(s). I’ve had multiple friends ask me the same question. “But Finn,” they ask, “How did you bring sex toys up with your partners?” The embarrassing answer is, I didn’t. I’ve only dated two people since being 18 and being old enough to buy sex toys, and they both introduced toys into our sex lives before I did. I feel like it’s easier to talk about as a transmasculine person (one of the few things that is!) because we already augment our bodies with binders and packers, that something like a strap on just seems like a natural progression. I’m also used to negotiating my body, telling my partner “I like these things”, “Don’t touch me there”, and “I use these words about my body”. These books suggest things like watching porn involving strap ons, or visiting a sex shop together, or even giving them one of these books to read. However, I think both books neglect the key thing that helps you talk about strap on sex and other sex toys with your sex partner, and that’s being comfortable with sex toys yourself. I would have been way more reluctant to talk about dildos and vibrators with a partner a year or two ago, before I had educated myself on a range of sex toys and their different purposes. Sex toys are a key interest of mine, and if I can talk about them with my friends over lunch, I can talk about them with my partners. Now I’m not saying that you have to be able to chat with your mum about your favourite wand vibe before you ask your partner to bend (you) over, but there needs to be a degree of comfort and familiarity with the subject on your own before you start broaching it with other people.
The Ultimate Guide also has a really worthwhile section on clitoral pumping and how that can interact with gender expression, as well as enhance strap on play. There are various suggestions for hard packing positions, which could have been enhanced with diagrams, but are otherwise really interesting. I’m also curious to try the Levi’s 501 style of harness, where the zipper of your tight jeans holds the dildo in place.
Overall, I preferred The Ultimate Guide to Strap On Sex, and I’m comfortable lending it to friends after giving them a primer on safe toy materials. The Fairy Butch segments are much more informative than the erotica in The Strap On Book, but still provide an air of playfulness and anticipation. Of course, it’s just factually longer, so it can go into more depth about both the physical nuts and bolts of strap on play, as well as the emotional and fantasy side of things. Maybe if these books were written more recently, they would talk more about safe sex toy materials, or go into trans issues at greater depth, or use the neutral pronoun “they” instead of awkwardly switching between “he” and “she” mid-sentence. But as they are, when taking into consideration the time in which they were written, these books are enjoyable to read and may help someone just starting to explore strap on play.
A note on Amazon: Never buy sex toys from Amazon! You run a risk of getting a counterfeit or even a used (!!!) toy instead of the one you wanted. Read more here.