by Jane Fleishman
What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman is a wonderful antidote to all the magazines that try to convince young, straight women that their “Six Tips to Please Your Man” will actually work. Friedman’s book takes a radically different tack: encouraging young women of all sexual orientations to discover and communicate their own sexual desires.

Going far beyond most popular sex ed books, the book invites readers to dig deep to contemplate and articulate her feelings about her body, presenting numerous exercises. In the chapter “Shame, Blame, and Fear,” Friedman asks readers to list five things that are sexually taboo and five that they enjoy. Then, she urges, write a letter to someone who put you down and another to someone who valued you for who you are. She is most concerned about allowing women to be who they are without hurting anyone or allowing anyone to hurt them.

As coeditor of the groundbreaking anthology, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape (with Jessica Valenti), Friedman offers a sexual violence prevention perspective. The genesis of the new book came from a journalist who asked her: Given all the conflicting messages from the media, religion, school, family, friends, among others, how would any woman know what she wants to say yes to in the first place?

As a sexuality educator, this is a book I would love to have written. Each chapter balances a nod to pleasure and a reality check on safety. I found myself wanting to get together with a group of women friends to try the exercises. Indeed, Friedman encourages women to use What You Really Really Want as a workbook—to make it the basis for a weekly group of trusted and supportive friends. The book not only reminded me of the days when women got together in consciousness raising groups, it also could serve as the centerpiece of a college course on human sexuality.

In the chapter on talking to your partner, Friedman reminds women that unless they can articulate what “gets their motor running, they’re a lot less likely to get the good stuff.” She advises a young woman about to have sex with a partner for the first time to practice beforehand: masturbate, she says, to be certain what you like when you’re with a partner.

In an era rife with sex advice columns, Friedman’s advice stands out in part because it is written for all women regardless of their sexual orientation. Of course differences are real—women get harassed for walking down the street holding hands, and dyke-baiting is all too common—but she doesn’t relegate lesbian-identified women to a chapter at the end of the book. Instead, she weaves all sexual orientations into each chapter allowing the reader to find for herself what is most personally meaningful.

One of Friedman’s most valuable pieces of advice reinforces sex as a central part of life reminding readers that, “knowing what you want from sexuality is part of knowing what you want from life.” She writes equally well about always remembering to derive pleasure—from sensuality to kinky sex. She gives helpful advice and offers an exercise on what to do when your head and your body disagree on what feels good/is right; for instance, when you like someone but are not attracted to them or when you feel disconnected from your body.

In addition to her no-nonsense style and sex positive stance, Friedman’s background in understanding the dynamics of sexual violence allows her to provide readers with helpful information to prevent it. From initiating a safecall to alert a friend that you’re going home with someone you’re not sure about, to what to do if you’ve been violated, Jaclyn Friedman’s book offers clear directions on how to enjoy your sexuality and stay safe.

This is a book useful to anyone who works with young women or has young women in their families, including fathers of daughters, who have much to learn in each chapter. And, of course, the book is for any woman interested in redefining—for herself—what she really really wants.
Jane Fleishman thumbnailJane Fleishman worked as a development director of a large public psychiatric facility in Connecticut and now offers training and consulting in sexuality issues. She has taught classes for over 20 years and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Human Sexuality from Widener University in Chester, Penna. You can contact her at