In search of the sexiest books in the Science Library

My journey into the most sexually tense space on campus (the Science Library) begins with a catalogue search. Peering self-consciously around me, I wait until the coast was clear before typing “sex” into the library search computer on the third floor and then I dive into the Library of Congress classification system to find the sexiest books in this repressed library.

Are the other people in the library staring at me? Have they noticed that all the books on my desk have the word sex in the title? I sacrificed my dignity to bring you the news that there is an erotic photography section in the Science Library. But, naturally, I didn’t discover that until I was three hours in.


Love + Sex With Robots

by David Levy

“I do not foresee the future, with robots as our partners, as totally without its problems.” That single sentence gives you an idea of how seriously David Levy is taking his book’s topic. Love + Sex With Robots is about imagining a future in which we are all fucking – even marrying – robots. It’s Westworld, basically. But without horses or saloons.

It also says a lot of depressing things about humanity. If Levy is right, then not only are robots going to replace other people, they’re going to be better than other people. Better husbands, wives, politicians, surgeons, lawyers, and lovers. And robot sex is inevitably going to become a popular human activity.

But is this book sexy? Nothing with the line “[a]nd once the sexbot wagon starts rolling, nothing will stop it” could be sexy. This book is ominous. Please save us from the sexbot wagon. Please don’t fuck robots.


Sex and Friendship in Baboons

by Barbara Boardman Smuts

I am glad to announce that nothing in this book about baboons is vaguely erotic. Despite having sex in the title of her book, and smut in her last name, Smuts is determined to focus on everything other than sex. The one vaguely sexual fact I took from this book is that female baboons like to have multiple male sexual partners. Good for them.


Nudity: A Cultural Anatomy

by Ruth Barcan

Nudity is a book about naked people. So, surely it is vaguely sexual? Nope. Not to make a sweeping generalisation, but no book that quotes Foucault and includes photos of nudist colonies has ever been sexy.

There’s a lot of information about sex and I am quickly learning that facts about sex are the opposite of sexy. For example, the book tells me that in 1971, a study of university students found that 80% of women believed their pubic hair was “a powerful weapon in their sexual armoury”. Sexual armoury is possibly the worst term I’ve ever read. Armoury is when acid mine drainage fucks with limestone. That’s not sexy.


Pleasure Zones

by David Bell et al.

Another excellent title, another disappointing read, another book that proves the point that no work quoting Foucault has ever been sexy. Pleasure Zones includes an essay titled ‘Erotic Possibilities of the City’, which sounded like a promising third world bootleg of Sex and the City, but was actually a depressing exploration of how gay urban spaces were affected by the AIDS epidemic. All in all, it was much more serious than I expected and there was very little discussion of sex. Critical essays about gender are not sexy, I’m sorry.


The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure

by Jonathan Balcombe

This book is about animals being happy. It’s the best book in this cursed library. The photo of monkeys grooming a wild dog on page 77 made my heart melt. And now I’m going to ruin it for myself by reading the chapter about sex.

Balcombe laments that “the sensual – dare I say erotic? – nature of reproductive biology usually goes unexamined”. So he has photographed a lot of animals (moths, jaguar, sharks, frogs, dolphins, snails, various birds) doing it. From what I can see, animal sex comes in two varieties: that which looks uncomfortable and very rapey (mammals) and that which doesn’t look like sex (non-mammals). My main takeaway is that a giraffe penis could probably kill five humans. And dolphins have orgies. But erotic would be a far-fetched description of these photos, unless you’re Malcolm Brenner or something.



by Mary Roach

On the first page of Bonk, a hype quote (from A. J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, which seems like a bad sign for his sex life) asserts that this book is “if not better than the act itself – then a hilarious and entertaining alternative”. That is a big call to make, A. J. Jacobs. And it is disappointingly inaccurate.

This book contains a lot of information about sex, but that information is not sexy. Marie Bonaparte had her clit surgically moved, twice, because she struggled to orgasm – horrifying. People have died masturbating with vacuum cleaners – also horrifying. Heterosexual couples have the worst sex – something we all already knew. Are any of these things sexy? No. This book is the first in a long string of books in the Science Library which, while still about sex and excellently titled, are not even vaguely erotic.


Is Arsenic an Aphrodisiac?

by William R. Cullen

Apparently, arsenic has historically been used as an aphrodisiac. Sexy? If you want to risk arsenic poisoning, it could be. (Do not try this at home.)


Assume Nothing

by Rebecca Swan

Assume Nothing is a photo book about gender fluid, transgender, and intersex people. I don’t know why it’s in the Science Library, but I appreciate it. It is a relief from baboons and robots and other reflections on science. There are some beautiful and sad stories. I enjoyed reading about the journeys of the subjects of Swan’s book.

Are books about the transgression of the gender binary sexy? I don’t know. This book is sexually empowering, and it contains nudity. The energy is like “go out and be who you are, wear whatever you want, and fuck whoever you want”. It’s definitely getting close.

In the third hour of wandering the aisles of scientific books, I stumble across the erotic photography section of the Science Library (TR681, for anyone wondering). Unsurprisingly, erotic photography is sexier than science. They all easily outweigh the real science books in sexiness, so I’ve limited myself to the top three of the section.


The Male Ideal

by Reed Massengil

The Male Ideal documents the photography of Lon of New York, who took nude photos of male bodybuilders between the 1930s and 1960s. Which, if you share my aesthetic sensibilities, is the time in which male body builders were just insanely good-looking men and didn’t have too much muscle. What I’m trying to say here is that they look like Greek gods. If we wanted men to internalise insanely unrealistic beauty standards, they would be forced to aspire to the men in this book.

This is a book of insanely attractive men, photographed in tasteful black and white. Too much body oil and too many flaccid dicks, but you can kind of ignore it. Is it sexy? Yeah.


Nothing But The Girl

edited by Susie Bright and Jill Posener

The Science Library does not mind whether you are attracted to men or women. It has photos of all naked people. Nothing But The Girl is full of lesbian erotic photography. No flaccid dicks! Hooray. But there is an entire page close-up of a vagina, which is the female equivalent.

The book contains a full range of erotic photography, from women in their underwear to full-on orgies. Overall, it’s tasteful and subtle and you could possibly look at it in the Science Library without people realising you were looking at erotic photography. Until you turn to the full-page photo of a vagina.


Hard to Imagine

by Thomas Waugh

Hard to Imagine catalogues and critically analyses about 80 years of gay erotic photography. Waugh notes that these images have played a role in “getting [gay men] together, as well as off”. There are so many penises. All shapes and sizes, flaccid, erect, bulges, multiple penises all together, blowjobs, rimjobs, anal, orgies, all photographically depicted in black and white. There are even stills from porn videos.

This is sexy (although that’s a borderline call given how many flaccid penises I flicked past). It’s gay porn in a book, surrounded by an extended critical analysis of that gay porn. The pictures are inset in the analysis, which is a comprehensive exploration of trends in erotic photography and the disproportionate focus on censoring gay pornography. There’s enough text that people would think you were just reading a book, unless they looked closely at the photos. In which case they would see a lot of dick. If you either want to look at a lot of dick and/or think about how that dick is photographically presented, this is the perfect Science Library book for you.

Note: Sorry to heterosexual people who don’t like queer erotic photography, the Science Library does not have straight erotic photography. I wonder why, given the storied history of oppression straight people faced during the rise of photography in the twentieth century.

This article first appeared in Issue 17, 2019.
Posted 6:12pm Thursday 25th July 2019 by Erin Gourley.