Best Sex Writing 2010
Diana Joseph, author of the memoir I'm Sorry You Feel That Way, talks about her essay "The Girl Who Only Sometimes Said No," teen girl sexuality and the word "slut"
Introduction: My Favorite Sexual Outlaws by Rachel Kramer Bussel
The Girl Who Only Sometimes Said No Diana Joseph
Secrets of the Phallus: Why is the Penis Shaped Like That? Jesse Bering
The Vagina Dialogues Johanna Gohmann
Sex Laws That Can Really Screw You Ellen Friedrichs
What Really Turns Men On John DeVore
It’s a Shame About Ray by Kirk Read
Race Play Mollena Williams
Remembering Pubic Hair Paul Krassner
Sexual Outlaw Betty Dodson
Go Thin or Bust: How Berkeley’s Mayer Laboratories won the battle of the thin condoms Rachel Swan
‘Sex Surrogates’ put personal touch on therapy Brian Alexander
What’s The Matter With Teen Sexting? Judith Levine
The Anatomy of An Affair Michelle Perrot
The Portal Janet Hardy
Bite Me! (Or Don’t) Christine Seifert
Hot. Digital. Sexual. Underground. David Black
Loving Lesbians by William Georgiades
Lust and Lechery in Eight Pages: The Story of the Tijuana Bibles Chris Hall
The Trouble With Safe Sex Seth Michael Donsky
Piece of Ass Monica Shores
The Future of Sex Ed Violet Blue
A Cunning Linguist John Thursday
SWL(actating) F Seeks Sex With No Strings Attached Rachel Sarah
Toward a Performance Model of Sex Thomas Macaulay Millar
The Client Voyeur debauchette
My Favorite Sexual Outlaws
If there is a theme to this year’s anthology, I’d like to think it’s one of being a sexual outlaw, echoing the title of Betty Dodson’s essay. Because it’s the outlaws who, I’d like to think, are getting the most out of sex. That’s not to say that we should all be off having unconventional sex for the sake of being an outlaw, but rather that instead of listening to and blindly adhering to the conventional wisdom about sex, we need to create our own.
We see this theme in the pieces here about sex work, which defy the “sex worker as victim” trope to evoke new ideas about sex work and the people who engage in it as well as those who purchase sex. In “It’s a Shame About Ray,” Kirk Read is actually the one left wanting, when his client, Ray, knows exactly what he wants, and gets it. Read is left a bit wistful, wishing Ray had occupied him for a full evening rather than a mere two hours. In many ways, debauchette experiences the same thing when she’s hired by a voyeur. “The intensity reminded me what it felt like to want, and not have. He hadn’t touched me, but in all the silence and focused attention, I’d slowly let go of my resistance, transformed from defensive affectation to open, raw lust,” she writes.
John DeVore, one of the few straight men writing a regular sex column (for TheFrisky.com), challenges his fellow males to fess up to not necessarily lusting after Megan Fox—or at least, not exclusively lusting after Megan Fox. Paul Krassner takes us back in time to an era when Brazilian bikini waxes weren’t the norm, lamenting the loss of pubic hair. For William Georgiades, stepping out of the straight male norm and into Northampton, Massachusetts, where “I soon found that the only people who were making sense to me were the die-hard gay grrrls.” He navigates the tension between being a straight man, a breeder, and falling for women who sometimes, maybe, wanted him, in “Loving Lesbians,” one of several essays here that defy our need to put labels neatly around sexuality. (Betty Dodson says it much more emphatically, giving herself this advice when it came to the dreaded “S/M” label: “Embrace the label to destroy its power over you.”)
One of the most cherished tropes about sex is that monogamy, and marriage, are what will make us happy. That the two are intertwined is a given even in an era when acts like BDSM and alternative sexualities are more accepted. That’s why a piece like “The Anatomy of an Affair” by Michelle Perrot (a pseudonym) is so powerful. She’s claiming her marriage and her sexual autonomy, stating:
I don’t want 1950s-style advice about “date nights” and lingerie and role-playing. I don’t want to “spice up my marriage.” I want rough sex. Dirty, spit in his mouth sex. Wet, disgusting, nasty talk about pussies and cum and fuck-me sex. The kind of hate fucking where afterward you can’t move. And the bottom line is that I don’t want that kind of sex with my husband, this man I love.
Each of these authors has inspired me to think about sex in a new way, to not accept the norms, whether it’s Diana Joseph defending her slutty self to both herself and her son, Judith Levine reassuring us that sexting is not the evil of teenage life it’s thought to be, or Rachel Sarah weighing in on the erotic allure of breastfeeding. Noted sex and tech expert Violet Blue schools us on where our country needs to go if our sex education is truly going to serve the people it needs to, while Jesse Bering giving us a science lesson all about cock (okay, he calls it the phallus or the penis, but cock is my personal favorite word for that particular body part).
Some of the pieces here may unnerve you: Mollena Williams’s extended meditation on “BDSM and Playing with Race” is thoughtful, honest, brave and at times, disturbing. I’ve included it because this is one of the most taboo topics, along with the realities of safer sex that Seth Michael Donsky uncovers. Williams calls humiliation a “delicate balancing act,” and while the specific type of race-based play she’s talking about takes that to an extreme, I think sex itself, and sexual fantasy, are so often very delicate balancing acts where we are trying to make sense of the insensible, or perhaps, the opposite, letting ourselves lose our senses only to find something that defies logic, sense, smarts, and instead stems from the body. “For me, humiliation is a broad-brush full-bore way for me to feel the worst of how I feel about myself, give it away to someone, and have them hold it. Once someone else holds it up for me, mirrors it back, shows me the depth of my own feelings, my self-deprecation, I can see it for what it is,” writes Williams.
Each of these writers brings a powerful way of looking at sex to this book. I’d love to hear what you think and welcome your suggestions for future editions of Best Sex Writing—feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about the series and my guidelines at bestsexwriting.com.
I’d also like to add that some people have commented that the erotic covers on these books trick people into thinking there will be more arousing material than what’s actually inside. To me, though, as an ultimate voyeur, reading about other people’s turn-ons, unearthing their sexual secrets, seeing how the other halves live, is not just educational or entertainment. It enhances my sex life because it leads me to new possibilities. These authors, the smart, daring, provocative sexual outlaws, have taught me about biology, nonmonogamy, cybersex, and so much more. I hope these essays and articles speak to your brain, as well as other organs, and at the very least, clue you in that sex is a lot bigger, broader and more complicated than you ever expected.
Rachel Kramer Bussel
New York City