Being lectured by Susie Bright about sex is not my idea of fun. So maybe choosing to read a book, about sex, introduced and curated by the American sex positive ‘sexpert’ and activist was a mistake. But non, je ne regrette rien, and this is why.
The collection of 24 essays, with forewords by Susie Bright and the editor, Rachel Kramer Bussel, is interesting, political, occasionally sexy. But I have a few criticisms of the book which are as follows.
The main problem I have with the overall tone and emphasis of Best Sex Writing is that it presents what I think is a false, dangerous dichotomy: sex/sex positive ideas = good v chastity/abstinence ‘anti-sex’ ideas = bad.
This dichotomy is presented, too, in more than one place in the book, as a contrast between atheist and religious perspectives. The chapter for example called ‘atheists have better sex’ is infuriating in its smugness and its prejudice against religious people. Ironically, as I have found with many atheists and sex-positive people in general, this determination that ‘sex is good and atheist sex is best’ is actually an ‘evangelical’ message, and ‘Best Sex Writing’ reads like a religious tract in places.
Also typical of sex positive narratives, Best Sex Writing positions women’s experience and femininity as more interesting and worthy of study than men and masculinity. Amanda Marcotte’s defence of the Slutwalks (feminist marches protesting against a Canadian policeman’s remarks about how women should not dress as sluts if they don’t want to get raped) is an example of this. As is Tracy Clark Flory’s admittedly interesting and humorous account of a workshop devised to unleash the female orgasm. In a piece about some nefarious goings on amongst politicians, Katherine Spillar literally pitches ‘good’ women campaigners against ‘bad’ men politicians and their advisors. As an active non-feminist I am not impressed by this bias in the book.
These criticisms of Best Sex Writing though, do not detract from the quality of some of the contributions. I particularly recommend some of the more personal stories in the book. Rachel Rabbit White, one of my favourite ‘sex writers’, paints a wonderfully evocative portrait of Latina drag artistes and changing times. Marty Klein educates us about men and circumcision, and manages to be funny and sensitive at the same time. And, maybe a little surprisingly to me, Hugo Schwyzer’s honest account of his sexual experiences with men is touching and, I have to say, quite hot!
Maybe if the book was called ‘Best Sex Positive Feminist Writing’ I might be more generous about its contents. And whilst I don’t like being lectured by anyone about sex and sexuality, not even Susie Bright, I have learned from it. But I wish it had more lines in it like this, from Hugo Schwyzer:
‘As I lay beneath him on that lumpy hotel mattress, the dim light of the TV flickering in the corner, he said the words I can still hear nearly thirty years on:
You’re so hot you make me want to come.’