Best Sex Writing 2012: A Review

Posted: February 13, 2012 in Desire, Feminism, Reading, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

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.’

  1. I’m just curious, what do you dislike about Susie Bright?

    • I think she is one of the main culprits for being ‘evangelical’ about sex and ‘sex positivity’.

      I have quite an ambivalent relationship to sex and sexuality and I don’t want to be ‘saved’ by the sex positive movement.

      I also think she is woman-centric which is ok. I am probably ‘man-centric’ quite often! But it puts me off coming from an ‘activist’ rather than just reading her personal accounts about sex/uality.

  2. elissa says:

    It sounds very interesting, and your criticism is well placed. Sex Positive is turning into Sex Boring –
    That Hugo line is quite something too – is the story in the context of him being with a verbal type, or something other than that?

  3. Ginkgo says:

    Hugo is pretty cute and he would be hot….if he would just shut.the.fuck.up.

    “I’m just curious, what do you dislike about Susie Bright?”

    Maybe it’s just me, but a grown woman going by the name “Susie” should be wearing bunny ears and a pom-pom tail. I mean how passive-aggressive is it to do some shit like “Susie” and then expect to be taken seriously?

  4. […] this year I wrote a review of  Best Sex Writing 2012, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Now the book is on a Blog Tour and I […]

  5. This is the best “bad review” I’ve received in years.

    Of course I disagree with you in parts, but I enjoy your writing. It’s so rare to have anyone give an indepth book review anymore. Rachel and I read it out loud at a book-signing last night, and there was a good discussion.

    I too am frustrated with the clumsiness of jargon like “sex-positive.” It’s been difficult ever since the 80s sex wars.

    I blame Gloria Steinem, Dworkin, *et al,* for casting so many people out of the feminist movement (“You aren’t feminists! You’re expelled!”) such that people came up with something to differentiate themselves. Feminists since the 19th century have been arguing about sex, and yet they are all, in fact, feminists.

    I am not a prescriber of sexual conduct; I don’t need anyone to turn in their orgasm report card. I enjoy thinking about sex and politics always, regardless of whether I’m “in bed” or not. I am against social policy that is not fact-based about sex education or healthcare, i.e, most US abstience-programs in public schools. I’m against church morality in public policy; that would be another example. I am an activist, not an orgiast, but I certainly understand that many people see that as zealotry.

    Note to “Ginkgo”– My name is Susie. I’m 54. I’ve written 30+ books under that name, raised a family, gone to jail, and been investigated by the FBI under same. They seem to take it all in stride.

    • Matthew says:

      This is why I love Susie:

      “The notion of being “born” a certain way, sexually, is a Puritanical bear trap. I hate to see anyone, particularly a liberal, fall into it. You are born… sexual. That’s it. In the beginning, there is no difference to you between sex, hunger, being held, discovering light, coming to consciousness.

      And then some of us begin to identify what we like and don’t like, our various discriminations. Some of them change through the years, others remain steadfast.”

      She really can see through all the gay identity politics bullshit. As I have written so much last year in a bisexual identity crisis from Dr Baily’s stupidity that was spewed and reappeated over and over by so many ignorant gay and straight people. All I ever knew is I LIKE to have sex with women and men and everything inbetween. I think Susie’s sex positive message often is: can we actually just have sex because we like it! Can we stop figuring out if people are legitimately “gay” or “bisexual” or whatever. What if we are completely “straight-born this way” and CHOOSE to only have gay sex, because we like it. Or born this way gay and want to have sex with the opposite sex. Gay politics have often taken some serious wrong turns and I think she is well aware of many of them. Certainly she knows it’s about loving whomever the hell we want to love and sometimes for the ambivalent hell of it.

      • sure. But what if you don’t love anyone? what if you identify as asexual? what if you are a nun? a Muslim, a Christian? Does ‘sex positivity’ cater for those people? In the book, atheism and sex were linked and presented as GOOD things. I didn’t like that.

  6. Matthew says:

    Having meet Susie and her extended queer family I have a rather different take on this. She is definitely defiantly “sex positive” but as a recent article she wrote “being gay is a firewalk” she knows all the complicated hell that sexual freedoms and permissions bring, jealousy, shame, guilt. Her open bisexuality is a radical godsend to queer people (and straight people) who just can’t fit into boxes. And seeing her poly family in real life has given me hope of having my cake and eating it too – which for me is actually coming true, finally. Perhaps Susie’s sex positive evangelicism is accurate in much of what she puts out but I think she is well aware of the darker messier sides of sex.

    • oh I am sure she is! I expect that is in her memoirs. Oh there she is above! Her comment was in moderation.

      Hi Susie. Thanks very much for commenting. Yes I put a lot of blame on Dworkin et al. But not all the blame.

      I am definitely not a ‘feminist’. That is because I don’t prioritise women’s needs over men’s. I don’t need the ‘fem’ prefix in my life or politics. But you make some good and interesting points.

  7. Rick says:

    I don’t really think someone who admits to being ambivalent about sex is the most credible person to critique a book about sex.

  8. […] for years against anti-sex work feminists such as Julie Bindel. She also makes no reference to Sex Positive Feminism which has too been going for years, and has posed a direct challenge to draconian […]

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