On Blossoming: Frank and Practical Advice on Our Bodies, Sexual Health, Sensuality, Pleasure, Orgasm, and More by Gia Lynne, is a book that includes true stories from the author’s life, and her perspective on how her experiences might inform others looking to deliberately engage with and communicate about bodily pleasure. Central to the writing is Lynne’s upbringing within a pleasure-positive intentional community, which endowed her with knowledge of her body, acceptance of pleasure, and information about safer sex that few are privileged to grow up with. This background has, in many ways, honed her ability to perceive normative pleasure-negativity, and in her writing she counters it by affirming pleasure and sensuality as valid, valuable parts of life. At its best, this writing serves as a bridge between normative views on pleasure to the ones she grew up fortunate to view as normal. It shows how liberating is can be to let pleasure be a part of conversations with and of youth. This is done in three parts, focusing on anatomy, on sensually-engaged sex, and on communication.
This portion of the book includes information about pleasure that can be accessed via one’s own body, paying special attention to anatomical aspects that are often left behind when discussing sensual pleasure, such as hands and body hair. Nipple hairs are lauded as potentially enhancing sensory pleasure! Discussion of body changes that can accompany puberty is included in this section, which I appreciate as a way to implicitly acknowledge bodily pleasure as a part of life for people who are prepubescent, in the throes of puberty, or through it. The sections about these topics are juxtaposed, not woven together explicitly, but their linkages are shared in the author’s anecdotes about sensual pleasure and masturbation in childhood.
This section includes some guidance on exploring the body’s anatomy in search of pleasure, in a wholly individual manner. The term “taking touch” was used to describe exploring the body such that the pleasure of the hand, not the body, was centered. This phrasing smacked of rape culture to me: why is the hand taking, and not giving? The term was never referred back to, so it seemed unnecessary to introduce at all. The idea of “taking touch” is already problematically ingrained in many ideas about sexual encounters with other people, and it certainly does not need to be given a place in someone’s private exploration of their body.
The explanations of anatomy and gender are totally typical in taking binary sex for granted, and this book contains no acknowledgement of intersex individuals. The author pays lip service to gender being a spectrum rather than a binary, but seemed to only honor this in parts of this section about anatomy. The language used to describe the people possessing different body parts is, happily, free from language such as “man” and “woman,” but the same is not true throughout the book. Even within this section, it is stated that “For the first ten weeks of development, human embryos are undifferentiated in terms of sex or gender,” which implies a response to a gender-essentialist perspective without going on to challenge that perspective. “Gender nonconforming” is used as a noun rather than a descriptor preceding “people,” which is telling from someone who extolls the importance of deliberate communication in the same book.
This sort of inconsistency is present in various ways and parts of the book, which muddled the theoretical messages about bucking norms, given how many of those same norms were woven throughout the writing. In responding to some norms, they are inadvertently reinforced. In this section, for example, perineum is defined separately for bodies with vulvas and those with penises, while subsequently described as being the same for vulva-havers and penis-havers. Why bother defining them separately? Additionally, the line “Enjoying your butt says nothing about your sexual preferences, orientation, or identity” adds a homophobic charge that had not been present in the writing about other body parts. This isn’t helped by the claim that the prostate is “largely what makes anal sex enjoyable,” without any parallel pleasure being acknowledged for people without prostates. I, a queer person, found it alienating to see this perspective in a book that generally tries to separate the body’s potential for pleasure from the negative charges it is normally steeped in.
Sex and Sensuality
To me, the clearest and more useful aim of this part was to validate sexual and sensual engagement, with oneself or with another, as a means of seeking and experiencing pleasure. The section is, in many ways, an ode to manual stimulation: both solo and partnered. This is so unique and valuable in a culture that tends to devalue manual sex and masturbation, particularly compared to oral-genital or especially penetrative genital sex. Given the heteronormativity woven through the previous section, I was surprised and pleased to see this category of stimulation represented in such detail, prized and described more than other types of sex. It also, to some extent, supplanted the problematic idea introduced by the term “taking touch” by recentering the entire body’s pleasure, rather than just the hand’s.The term “taking touch” had previously been used to describe touching oneself with the focus on pleasuring the hand, which smacked of rape culture to me, but this part helped supplant that idea.
A whole section is dedicated to “DO Dates,” where DO stands for “Deliberate Orgasm.” The idea of this date is that a person conducts receiving manual genital stimulation from a partner, with consent being held not only as a necessity within the interaction, but a part of the pleasure. This representation of ongoing, enthusiastic consent as pleasurable, rather than just as a means of avoiding unwanted contact, was a unique joy to read. Lynne highlighted consent not only as pleasurable itself, but as a means to finding one’s own pleasure, and even makes suggestions to guide this type of communication for the uninitiated.
Book Review by:
Emma (she/they) has a background in pleasure-based adult sex education and as a sex toy reviewer. They are currently earning their Bachelor’s Degree in cognitive neuroscience. When she isn’t studying, she can be found experimenting with wild fermentation and enjoying Chicago’s queer community.