Review: Best Sex Writing 2008
Rachel Kramer Bussel has her finger on the pulse of the world of sex writing. Best Sex Writing 2008, from Cleis Press, is compilation of twenty-one provocative personal essays, sex journalism, and sex blogging that all focus on that one “dirty” word: sex. In fact, sex may be the only thing that links these essays, written as they are from an eclectic range of voices all with unique perspectives that explore a diverse range of topics from sexual culture, sex work, sex toys and health, gender identity, race and crime.
While all of the essays were provocative, revealing information about several topics I had never considered, some really grabbed me, including Ashlea Halpern‘s graphic “Battle of the Sexless.” This edgy essay examines—with razor-sharp detail—the agonizing journey through voluntary (sometimes self) castration and eunuch culture. It reveals the many motivations for men who go through such extreme measures to become genderless and rid themselves of their testosterone-producing overactive libidos. Castration, for reasons other than oncological, is considered “taboo surgery” in the medical community; so many men who want to get cut have to resort to the “subculture of underground cutters willing to perform guerrilla surgeries in motel rooms, at medical fetish clubs, and just over the Mexican border.” Although this article may make you cringe, it is not written for its shock value alone, but is treated with compassion. A must read.
Another very intriguing article was Trixie Fontaine‘s “Menstruation: Porn’s Last Taboo.” Oddly enough, I could identify with this piece very much as my study of film and feminist art has centered around the “abject” and the “monstrous feminine” which analyses women’s role in the horror genre and the fascination with the bleeding female body seen as the all-devouring vagina or vagina dentata. Fontaine explores the veiled eroticism in menstruation porn, and the obscenity laws and double standards in the porn industry that accepts some body secretions (semen) as acceptable, while others (like menstrual blood) are seen as obscene and offensive.
Kelly Rouba‘s “Tough Love” is a first-person account of sexual ecstasy and disability, as she describes the challenges and frustrations as well as joys and accomplishments she and others who have physical disabilities experience while trying to achieve a fulfilling sex life. This was a great article and a topic that isn’t written about enough. When we think of sex, we often think in terms of able-bodied people. Rouba notes that, “When we broaden our concept of sex, then it’s more inclusive.”
One essay that stood out was very different from the rest. It was “Surface Tensions” by Jen Cross, an intimate journal narrative written in stream-of-consciousness style that explores the author’s struggle to cope with her conflicting gender identity and how she is perceived by other queers in the lesbian community based on her “surface” appearance. This essay was emotionally and creatively articulated, and as a reader I could almost feel the tensions and emotional scars that lay buried just beneath the surface like violin string ready to snap.
Another one of my favorite essays was Greta Christina‘s “Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive.” This piece is a spellbinding glimpse into the world of sex work from a former stripper desiring to experience sex work from the other side, a consumer who pays for a professional submissive. Written in four parts, it explores the liaison from her first conceptualizing about it, her fears and expectations, to the encounter itself and her analysis of it afterwards. The writing is very sexually charged and riveting, and one feels as though they are a fly on the wall in the house of lust—at least the house of lust that is created within the writer’s own mind.
Sex bloggers Lux Nightmare and Melissa Gira’s “The Pink Ghetto: A Four Part Series” looks into the complex world of writing for sex and the stigmatism of having to deal with their “fringe identities” and mainstream’s view that only sluts write about sex that leads to getting themselves “blackballed (pinkballed?) from any kind of ‘legitimate’ work.”
Finally, other interesting reads include “Dangerous Dildos,” Tristan Taormino’s investigation into the phthalate sex toy debate; and “Sex in Iran” by Pari Esfandiari and Richard Buskin that uncovers the sex and drugs culture of Islamic youth whose ideals clash with the fundamentalist authority.
Best Sex Writing 2008 is a must read for those who want to be intellectually stimulated by provocative essays that explore the edges of sexuality, and as Rachel notes at the end of her introduction: “[like] good sex should do: leave[s] you wanting more.” It certainly did for me and I can’t wait for Best Sex Writing 2009 to come out.
Check out the Best Sex Writing 2008 Blog