Felice Newman


As publisher of Cleis Press from 1980 to 2014, Felice Newman has developed and edited books on sexuality and gender by Violet Blue, Patrick Califia, Carol Queen, Joan Nestle, and Tristan Taormino. A writer and sex educator, she lives in San Francisco.


Setting the Standard for Lesbian Sex

"We can all have satisfying and vibrant sex lives," says Felice Newman, author of The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide For All of Us. Her book has been described as "infectious and empowering" and "the most complete, all-questions-answered, savvy guide to lesbian sex." Celebrated for its detail, thoroughness, humor, and lack of bias, the book has also sparked debate for its inclusion of S/M sex play and other once-taboo practices and desires, proving itself a barometer for changes in sexual politics in the lesbian/bi/queer communities.

The Whole Lesbian Sex Book was an immediate bestseller for Cleis Press and has remained in hot demand for five years. Now writer and sex educator Felice Newman, also a founder of Cleis, has revised, expanded, and updated this "instant sex guide classic." Writer Regina Marler talked with Felice at the Cleis office in San Francisco.

Regina Marler: Why did you write Whole Lesbian?

Felice Newman: It goes back to '89 or '90. I was at Cleis—in Pittsburgh, then—and working with Susie Bright on Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World. I wasn't happy with my own sex life or relationship. And Susie was referring casually to acts I'd never heard of—and some I didn't even know were possible. I would call her up to ask her to clarify a passage in the manuscript and she’d say, "Oh, you know how when you're fisting a woman, you put your hand in the shape of a duck’s bill." And I realized how much I was missing, how much exciting and new sex was out there. The life I wanted did exist—but it was in San Francisco! So that inspired my move to the city, and eventually my conception of the book.

RM: Were you surprised by how well the book was received? It seemed as if women had been waiting for it.

FN: Well, it’s the most comprehensive lesbian sex guide ever. It’s also the first sex guide based on our actual sexual experiences. I did extensive research, surveying lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans women. I had hundreds of sexual histories—likes, dislikes, fantasies—to draw from. The book is for everyone—whether you’re butch or femme or experienced or just coming out. It's not just about what vibrator to get. It's about how we are in our bodies, how we relate to each other, how we can have what we need and desire. I'm rooting for all of us to have great sex lives.

RM: That’s a lot of ground to cover. How did you decide on the title?

FN: That was a fight. Some women responded to my survey by critiquing the title. Some objected to the word lesbian. Even the word whole was critiqued, with some asking, "If I'm a disabled lesbian, am I still whole?" Obviously, the answer is yes. I had to pick a title that I felt would resonate with the largest number of people.

RM: What’s different about the new edition?

FN: A lot. There’s more about sexual response over a lifetime. There’s an expanded chapter on orgasm, more on antidepressants and sex, more information on dealing with triggers of sexual abuse during sex.

Probably the most significant change is a greater emphasis on sex in the context of a relationship. When people get coupled, they often think sex will take care of itself. Or they may expect desire to vanish—poof!—after the first year, an expectation that is self-fulfilling. But I learned something different from the women who responded to my surveys. The women who are reporting sexual satisfaction in their partnership are, in the first place, talking about sex, and in the second place, in agreement on how important sex is to the relationship. They might disagree about frequency, libido, or what turns them on. But what’s crucial is that both partners are committed to having a great sex life.

RM: So what's the key to keeping the sex hot?

FN: Keep expanding your sexuality. Some sex guides suggest that each partner write a list of what she likes to do sexually or what she'd like to try. Then you compare lists and wherever the lists overlap, that's your potential sex life together. I disagree. I think that if you only do what you have in common, your sex life is actually narrowed. Instead, if you incorporate—or at least try—the activities on both lists, that’s expansive. This way your sex life gets bigger and more interesting.

Praise for The Whole Lesbian Sex Book

"This comprehensive and superbly competent manual sets a standard for which all popular sex writers should aim. Not just for lesbians—heterosexual women could learn a great deal about themselves, as could the men who aspire to please them." —Library Journal

"A classic." —The Advocate

"The most awesome aspect of this instant sex guide classic is the inclusion of every possible woman in every possible situation. From the pierced blood-playing hard core dyke to the longtime monogamous lesbian lovers who want to bring hot sex back into their lives to the average fabulous American gal just looking for a few ideas to satisfy herself, Felice Newman speaks to us all. Infectious and empowering and extremely well researched. I highly recommend this book to every woman: bi, lesbian, almost queer, totally straight, or boy-girl. Getting off is good, and this book will help you get off better." —Bust

"The encyclopedia of lesbian sex that every good girl needs in her library." —On Our Backs

"The most complete, all-questions-answered, savvy guide to lesbian sex. Keep it next to the bed." —Good Vibrations

"Tips, toys and tidings you’ll wonder how you lived without." —Toys in Babeland

"Desire, fantasy, every twist and turn of the erotic imagination—it’s all here." —Planet Out

"Filled with great advice, practical support, and steamy, imaginative suggestions." —Girlfriends

"Felice Newman has her latex-covered finger on the clit of Lesbian Nation." —San Francisco Bay Guardian

"The lesbian sex information you’ve always wanted but could never find. Intelligent, sexy, humorous and emotionally savvy." —Staci Haines, author of The Survivor’s Guide to Sex

"Kinky people may consider themselves past needing sex manuals, but anyone involved in a sexual relationship with a woman, be they male or female, would be well advised to study this book carefully." —Skin Two

"Up-to-date, inclusive, and hot." —Sexuality.org

"The most thorough and up-to-date lesbian sex guide around. Don’t buy Newman’s book expecting a clone of the genteel Joy of Lesbian Sex. The author describes everything in delicious and explicit detail…" — LesbiaNation