I’m reviewing Best Sex Writing 2012: The State of Today’s Sexual Culture as part of the book’s blog tour.
What an exciting opportunity! But what exactly qualifies as sex writing? I found myself wondering this very question as I opened to the first page. Apparently (just about) anything goes. The vast variety was what struck me the greatest as I made my way through this riveting collection. It took me longer to read than I had anticipated, perhaps because it was sometimes almost jarring to jump from one piece that had me giggling aloud to another that enraged me almost to the point of tears.
Those two stories I refer to are Camille Dodero’s “Guys Who Like Fat Chicks” (I was semi-wary of the title too, but trust me, this one is brilliantly told — funny and insightful, sexy and respectful) and Roxane Gay’s “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence” (a calling out of a New York Times writer who severely mishandled the story about an 11-year-old Texan girl who was raped by 18 men). I distinctly recall how problematic much of the reporting of that atrocity was and so I appreciated how Gay broke down several points, bringing light to how poor choices in language around violence can lend themselves to more violence. Her contribution reads (at least partially) as a therapeutic confession as well — raw and vulnerable as she confides in us about the dark places she herself must go to in order to write about rape. One could argue that the subject of rape doesn’t belong in an anthology about sex because rape is not sex (reasoning that closely adheres to my own), but I am, nonetheless, glad that Gay’s story was included. I think her examination of our culture’s desensitization to rape is so very important and I appreciate her own critical self-analysis.
I was sometimes surprised by what stories grabbed my attention. Such as Chris Sweeney’s piece on premature ejaculation (I’ll be honest; as a queer woman, I’ve never given the subject much thought, but his writing got me thinking). Certainly an interesting read, despite being very hetero-centric (all the studies were based on someone with a penis entering someone’s vagina — which is also a very limited view of sex — but I’m guessing that has a lot to do with very limited studies done on PE). I found myself thinking that although it can be very frustrating for me at times because it takes a long time for me to orgasm, I would never trade that for the frustration of PE. Mine seems like quite the blessing in comparison. Who would want sex to last less than a minute when you can roll around with a sexy lover for hours? I’ve only ever been with one woman who I might say had PE (though perhaps she would have a different take on the matter). Just as the sex would get really hot and she’d start fucking me fast and I was really getting into it (and, hence, starting to get off), she’d come and the fucking would stop. It only ever happened when she fucked me with her cock and I only slept with her a couple times, so I never felt it worthwhile to broach the subject, let alone communicate my disappointment with her. I’d be curious, however, about whether she would qualify to be part of a PE study (if they were open to people without penises in the first place).
But I digress.
So many of these pieces are deserving of attention. I reveled in every word of Joan Price’s exploration of and return to her sexuality after the loss of her beloved, especially loving the fact that it was a gift to herself on Price’s 66th birthday. Amber Dawn’s story of how sex work affected her relationships with the butches she loved through the years was beautiful and heartbreaking. I enjoyed how in Rachel Kramer Bussell’s contribution, she very explicitly explained how important consensuality is in kinky sex and, hence, defended the legitimacy (and hotness) of BDSM. I appreciated Lynn Harris’ honest portrayal of dating with an STD, in particular the challenges and double standards that women face in today’s society. And is any sex-based anthology complete without one very penis-centric addition? Adrian Colesberry made me thank my luckiest stars that I’m queer and sex can be so much more expansive and imaginative than that of some straight counterparts who solely focus on whether the penis is hard/can enter the vagina/has ejaculated – a point that was hit home for me in the endnotes section (which is hilarious and just about as long as, if not more lengthy than, the article itself).