book pages bent into shape of a heart with the text "Small Presses & Sex Positivity" over the book

Small Presses & Sex Positivity

With stores stocked full of candy hearts, bouquets of red roses, and oversized stuffed animals, it’s hard to miss that Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. In 2017, nearly 70 percent of millennials surveyed by SKYN Condoms reported that “Valentine’s Day is the occasion on which they have the most sex.” With these heightened expectations around engaging in sexual activities, consider the role sex positivity can play in your life.

The International Society for Sexual Medicine defines sex positivity generally as “understanding your own sexuality and what it means for you and your relationships.” Some facets of being sex positive include prioritizing clear consent and respecting sexual boundaries, practicing safe sex, openness to learning about the human body and various sexualities, and talking about sex without shame.

For many people though, being sex positive is easier said than done. The talk about “the birds and the bees” looks different for everyone, and the information taught by formal sex education varies across the US. There also may be religious or cultural expectations complicating your efforts at being sex positive.

Small, independent presses across the country are leading the way in cultivating conversations about human sexuality through their fiction and nonfiction publications. Check out these four indie publishers promoting sex positivity, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Cleis Press

Cleis Press offers fiction and nonfiction titles focused on “LGBTQ, BDSM, romance, and erotic writing for all sexual preferences.” Their books include a myriad of erotica anthologies, relationship guides, instruction manuals, and even coloring books.
Notable books from Cleis Press:

  • Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships by Stella Harris
  • The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness by Miriam Kaufman, Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odette
  • Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry by Frédérique Delacoste and Priscilla Alexander

Microcosm Publishing

Microcosm Publishing is headquartered in Portland, OR, and is a “vertically integrated publishing house that equips readers to make positive changes in their lives and in the world around them.” Many of their publications offer education and advice about having more open conversations about sex, a key part of sex positivity.
Notable books (and zines) from Microcosm Publishing:

  • Consensuality: How to Love Other People Without Losing Yourself by Helen Wildfell
  • Sex From Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules by Sarah Mirk
  • Sex Without Roles: Transcending Gender by Eli Sachse

Cipher Press

Cipher Press is a publisher focused on fiction and nonfiction books by members of the queer community. Their goal is to “amplify queer voices and to champion LGBTQIA+ writers in the UK and beyond.” Cipher Press is a newer publisher, with their first book released in the midst of the pandemic in August 2020.
Notable books from Cipher Press:

  • Limbic by Peter Scalpello
  • Unreal Sex edited by So Mayer and Adam Zmith
  • There Will Always Be Nights Like This from Cipher Shorts

Thornapple Press

Thornapple Press is a Canadian publisher with its founding roots in Portland, OR. Their focus is on nonfiction books that “discuss relationships, love, sexuality, and relational ethics from unique and underrepresented perspectives.”
Notable books from Thornapple Books:

  • The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression, and the Conversations We Aren’t Having by JoEllen Notte, with a foreword by Stephen Biggs, RP
  • Nonmonogamy and Neurodiversity: A More Than Two Essentials Guide by Alyssa Gonzalez
  • Love’s Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities by Kevin A. Patterson, with a foreword by Ruby Bouie Johnson
A white bookshelf filled with books organized in rainbow order

Publishing Perspectives: The Books Students at a Small Press Want to Work On

As students running a small press, we get to work with a lot of books of all different genres. Each of the titles we get to work on is exciting, but there is always room for other exciting books to come our way! Here are some manuscripts we’d love to see come through Ooligan’s submissions.


Our front- and backlists have several nonfiction titles in them, and we’re always looking for interesting new nonfiction manuscripts. We aim to publish nonfiction works that are based in or about the Pacific Northwest, but there’s plenty of content out there to cover this area!

Our goal as a press is to publish diverse voices and perspectives, so we’re always looking for memoirs or other nonfiction work from BIPOC authors as well as LGBTQ+ authors.

Do you have a story to tell or a family history or a collection of personal essays about your identity and experiences? These are examples of some types of nonfiction manuscripts current Oolies have been itching to get their hands on. If your work fits any of these categories, consider submitting to Ooligan!


We also have a long list of fiction titles, but again, are always looking for more. Fiction is such a vast genre with many subgenres, and we’d love to see some more diverse stories and characters. So far, we have published books with queer and nonwhite main characters, but we’d love to see more! Personally, I would love to see more stories with transgender or gender nonconforming characters, and I’d also love to see more main characters of color!

If you’re an author in or writing about the PNW and have a diverse story to share, consider looking at our submission guidelines to see if your book would be the right fit for our press!

empty conference room with chairs

Choice May Favor Smaller Presses over the Power of the Big Five

In general, many people view publishing as a monolith, a pillar made up of the Big Five publishers that we all work with and rely on to produce the books that people are used to hearing about. This is true in some ways: the larger publishers tend to have larger marketing budgets, so we are bound to hear about some of the most funded upcoming titles, and celebrities with existing fanbases can receive higher advances from the larger publishers because they have the economic capacity to pay these high prices. However, as the Big Five (Penguin RandomHouse, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan in no particular order) continue to acquire and merge, smaller publishers can expand into the niches and the spaces that are left behind by the Big Five.

One of the side effects of being a part of a large company—at any level, imprint or otherwise—is working with people who make decisions that you might not agree with socially, ethically, or morally. In addition, there are so many people involved in the production of books that there is no way for readers to know who is behind them without a deep dive into the inner workings of a whole industry. This makes it even more noticeable when people take actions or stage protests against co-workers or clients of the same publisher, editor, or literary agency.

Some movements within the publishing industry as a whole address problems in traditional trade publishing such as #BlackoutBestsellersList and #PublishingPaidMe, which both address different problems with how Black authors are treated. Employees at Little, Brown and Company, an imprint of Hachette, staged a walkout to protest the publication of Woody Allen’s autobiography. In addition, a variety of memoirs and biographies have been have been canceled at some point during their production, including Blake Baily’s biography of Philip Roth, as well as his own memoir, due to claims of sexual misconduct.

In 2020, four authors represented by the Blair Partnership, a literary agency founded to work with J. K. Rowling, resigned after the agency refused to issue a statement in support of the transgender rights following a series of transphobic tweets by Rowling. In addition, Hachette UK employees attempted to convey that they didn’t feel comfortable working on Rowling’s 2020 kids book because of her transphobic views and were met with a statement from Hachette which said, “We will never make our employees work on a book whose content they find upsetting for personal reasons, but we draw a distinction between that and refusing to work on a book because they disagree with an author’s views outside their writing, which runs contrary to our belief in free speech.”

It’s not exactly the support one would hope for in an employer, but it is the response most would expect to come from a larger company that prioritizes the economic payoffs over a social issue that doesn’t affect most, if not all, of those in power. This is where small publishers may have the advantage. If consumers want to support people and businesses that they believe in, it is not feasible to fully support larger scale businesses. However, even though small publishers are also bound by some financial considerations as their larger counterparts, they have the unique ability to dedicate themselves to specific issues or people that traditional large publishers often leave behind and they can do so in a more mission-oriented way.

Although efforts have been made to create a publishing culture in which everyone can be represented, sometimes that leads to voices that cause damage to others being headlined. If you are someone who attempts to know exactly where everything you consume comes from, smaller publishers may provide an opportunity for this knowledge. Smaller publishers provide authors and publishing professionals with spaces in which they can truly believe in their message and the people they work with, which may be the future of book buying.