As the Bachmanns continue to “correct” gay sexuality, I keep teaching erotic writing classes.  These multi-week courses are always a joy.  Writers with a rich range of sexual identities come into a safe classroom where they are actively encouraged to express desire and discuss its importance.  As artists, we ask questions about sexual expression:  Why do so many people think “cunt” is an objectifying word to use in a sex scene when “arm” and “hair” are perfectly fine?  Why is the vulnerability and power of desire, along with all its peacemaking qualities, seen as more denigrating than gunfire?  Why is erotica that is written to bring sexual pleasure, viewed, by many, as immoral or cheap?

There are countless answers.  Here’s an important one:  Many people are ashamed (beyond measure) of their own sexuality, so they project that shame onto those who aren’t.  The sexually attuned human beings of this world are attacked as if we are dirty.  Why?  Because if you make everyone ashamed of their erotic freedom, expression and pleasure, you control a heck of a lot.  And you get to feel superior while you’re doing so.

One of the biggest hurdles for the beginning sex writer is the rejection they often feel in their writing communities.  Suddenly, those who have always been supportive are asking, “But why is this piece of writing just about sex?  Can’t you write about something pure?  This is shallow, this is meaningless, this is frivolous, this isn’t your business.  This is sinful.  This needs correcting.”

Does that string of statements remind you of Michele Bachmann?

We’re in a dangerous time, right now.  We’re fighting anti-queer violence, both physical and psychological.  Religious rhetoric is often frightening to those who are already afraid.  And the message is that all of us, regardless of our sexuality, should be ashamed of human desire, intimacy and sensual connection.  The Bachmanns put sex in a box and say “This is separate to everything else,” which of course makes it easier to control.  But sexual identity and expression are about so much more than the body.  They’re about acceptance, openness and truth.

When debating the power sexual attunement, consider this:  In a multi-week erotica class that I taught in the UK, one of my students came up to me at the end of the course.  She told me how life-affirming it had been for her to write about sex in a supportive community, and how self-embraced and aglow she now felt.  “When I started this class,” she said, “I hadn’t had a period for ten months.  Two weeks ago, I had one.”  She put this down to the fact that she was feeling alive in her body.  Proud and unashamed.

Here’s my take:  When we feel good in our bodies, we’re also likely to feel good in the rest of our selves.  And if we all felt good, there’d be less war.

And where would the politicians be then?

There is a Medieval story in which King Arthur is given one of his stickiest challenges.  He will die unless, in just one year, he can discover what women most desire.  And you know what he finds?  Women want sovereignty over themselves.

Oh, eureka.

Yet look at how long it’s taken for society to accept that gazillions of women freely enjoy porn.  Thank heaven the myth that women aren’t aroused by visual images has now been exploded many times, notably by Sex and Tech expert Violet Blue whose Our Porn Ourselves campaign has taken the internet by storm. Blue incited many women – myself included – to declare that we were turned on by porn and that any generalizations to the contrary were attempts to control our sexuality. Many men also champion Our Porn Ourselves, relieved that we are shattering erroneous notions of porn as “so warped that only guys will watch it” – a belief that contains so much prejudice it’s hard to know where to start. But the sexist lies still run deep. I myself was devastated when a beloved sexpert hero of mine declared porn as “basically male entertainment.” In fact, my very first reaction to her statement was, “What if I love lesbian porn? Where’s the ‘male’ in that?”

But perhaps part of the problem with the term “pornography” is that its meaning shifts with time and usage. What is porn, exactly? Explicit visuals? Well, yeah, if you video-record sex with your lover, hoping to turn yourselves on with the images, that’s surely porn…but what if you record the sex aurally rather than visually, and listen to the noises at another time? Or what if you don’t record the sex, but just carry the memories around in your head, reliving the moment when he licked your breast or pulled your hair just right? That’s a visual used to arouse, right? So doesn’t that count? While we’re at it, can a oil-painted nude in the Musee D’Orsay be porn if it turns you on? And what of BDSM porn, in which, for legal and/or aesthetic reasons, genital contact doesn’t tend to take place?  Is such a dom/sub spanking vid only porn when it actually arouses the viewer? Is porn defined by the creator’s intention or the way the consumer uses it?

Whatever the answers, our attitudes are still shifting. This year, Oprah interviewed Violet Blue about women in porn (woohoo! A win for sex-positivity in the media!), plus mags such as the Atlantic Monthly have featured the topic. Porn itself is changing too, especially in terms of its availability. In fact, consumers of free internet porn are also becoming its performers and directors, especially now that sites like YouPorn are popular. Indeed, as internet porn becomes increasingly “real life” we may well see a rise in self-confidence among its viewers – what a great way of proving that you don’t have to be a big-boobed, California blonde to get your partners and viewers off.

As society changes so do its art forms and stereotypes. Take what women want from porn, for instance. Coyote Days, Purchasing Manager at Good Vibrations says “Women often want to see very raw sexuality and more hardcore content than would be assumed by some.” That said, her female customers also buy porn for educational reasons, seeking answers to questions such as “How would I go down on another woman?” or “Would I really be aroused by a threesome?” But however we choose to use it, we need to keep defining porn for ourselves rather than letting the haters do the job. Lady Porn Day (the creation of Rachel Rabbit White) opened up this discussion by asking women “What’s porn for you?” Answers included erotic movies, pieces of classical art, feature films, and photos. For my part, I think of porn as a sensual trigger that I choose in order to turn myself on. And I want that route to pleasure, be it solo or partnered.

There you are, King Arthur.  Suck on that.

***

For experimental research into women being aroused by explicit sexual visuals, take a look at Professor Ellen Laan’s study, which is discussed here.

On the second day at your new job,
you leave a notebook on the break room table
that the mechanics read aloud from:

In tight spaces between zucchini
and eggplant, between my thighs,
I get so wet watching you weed.

Later the boss takes you aside
to warn you that the men are a tough crowd.
He looks away when he advises
against leaving personal stuff around.

He doesn’t believe you when you tell him
that this morning you accidentally grabbed
your wife’s notebook in lieu of your own.

Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in authors asking for a critique of the stories I’ve rejected from my anthologies. Most of them ask politely, and I send back the shortest reply I can explaining that I have a rule against giving any sort of critique. This latest round of requests made me wonder if perhaps I was being too harsh, but then I realized that there are very good reasons for me to refuse. Here are the top three:

Of course, Valentine’s Day ain’t just about romance. Other kinds of love count just as much – or even more. In fact, I treat Feb 14th as a great time to remember those who’ve influenced my sexual life, which is why I thought I’d share a few of my heroes with you. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the folks below I probably wouldn’t be writing this column. So here we go. I’m sending a valentine to…

Betty Dodson

If you’ve ever read Betty Dodson’s work or heard her interviewed, you’ll know how grounded, warm and wise she is about sex. From singing the praises of solo sex to encouraging us to value friendship rather than searching for an “other half” (see the videos on her site), Betty speaks her mind with spirit and integrity. The following quotes come from Sex For One, her groundbreaking book that has transformed attitudes towards solo sex:

“We have been so brainwashed by romantic love that when I talk about the importance of couples continuing to masturbate alone, and learning to share masturbation together, some assume I’m against ‘regular sex.’ Not true. I’m all for any sexual activity that makes both partners happy.  What I don’t support is ‘compulsive intercourse’ as the only way to be sexual. Instead of assuming the word sex means a penis inside a vagina, we need to realize that there are an infinite number of ways to express our sexuality.”

“Organized opposition to masturbation, like opposition to pornography, is actually opposition to sexual arousal; to be turned on is somehow considered antisocial. In truth, it’s just the reverse: to be sexually repressed is antisocial.”

Stephen Elliott

Stephen Elliott is a sexual hero of mine because of how totally he owns his sexual identity. He also writes like a flipping genius. His story collection, My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up, contains stories about a sexually submissive guy who derives pleasure from pain and violence during sex. A friend of mine once complained that he’d gone to one of Stephen’s readings and noticed the writer was all cut and bruised. But I was impressed to hear this! By modelling pride, Stephen Elliott liberates others to do so, including my own kinky self. (Pass me that paddle, will you?).

The following is from the title story in Stephen Elliott’s collection, My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up.

“She keeps going. Spanking me really hard, tying up my penis and balls, dragging me around the apartment by my hair. And it’s hours later when we go to sleep and she’s missed her train home.

“I sleep on the inside of the spoon. She’s my abusive boyfriend and I feel safe, her arms wrapped around me. She looks wonderful in her underwear. Her skin is warm, brown, and smooth. She smells so good. In the morning I don’t want her to leave. I slide my face between her naked legs. She opens her eyes and looks down on me. It’s only six and the alarm will soon ring. “What do you think you’re doing?” But she doesn’t make me move. She grabs my hair and closes her eyes.”

Susie Bright

Susie Bright, the famed feminist sex educator, is one of my heroes because of the ways she speaks out about sex. She takes sex seriously, but can also laugh about it. In her fabulous, worldly wise audio show, In Bed With Susie Bright, she is open about sexual politics while also encouraging others to speak their mind. Perhaps what I love most about Susie is her absolute commitment to helping us explore our sex-lives with compassion and excitement.

The following quote is from Born-Again Virgin, an essay in The Sexual State of the Union, by Susie Bright:

“The openness of lust, of sexual attraction, is often the way we learn to love somebody, and that’s no small feat. It is very difficult to love people, even though our communal evolution and ego lead us there in many ways. It is so much easier to be impatient, to discriminate, to draw as many lines in the sand as we can. For even the awareness of not loving someone, of one’s loss, is compassionate compared to the demands of shame and blame.”

So Betty, Stephen and Susie, you’re all getting valentines.  And I’ll also be sending a heart-shaped box of thank you’s to:

  • Anais Nin, who I have raved about recently at Erotica For All.  If she were alive, I’d have a massive crush.
  • Violet Blue, who, as you may well already know, is the famous pro-porn feminist and expert on sex and the web.
  • Steve Almond, who is master of the emotionally meaningful sex scene.  Check out his delicious little chapbook This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey.
  • Jennifer Lyon Bell, who makes beautiful erotic movies at Blue Artichoke Films and has a wonderfully wise and feeling attitude towards sex.
  • Freud, who, as we know, was a sexist old bugger, but he was one of the first people to state that our sexual identities matter and are utterly linked to our holistic health. In Victorian society, that must have taken balls of steel.

Do you have sexual heroes of your own? Movie stars? Directors? Sex activists? Artists? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Hearts and flowers, all. Enjoy Feb 14th, whether with others or alone.  Mind you, the 13th has particular potential if you’re a solo lover… Plus if you want to create romance without necessarily having it, join me for some romance writing here.

The picture on the main page is by Fecuop, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sex (I’m a…)

By Greg Olear

The Feed

Attention, New Yorkers,

On Thursday evening, September 16 — one week from today — I will be appearing at the famed “In the Flesh” erotic reading series, hosted by the inimitable Rachel Kramer Bussel.

The theme is “Virgin Night,” but I’ve been assured that Frank N. Furter lookalikes will not be pelting toast at newbies in attendance, nor will anyone be sacrificed to the dark gods.

Here are a few reasons to show up:

1.  The reading series, a mainstay on the Lower East Side, is winding down.  Because all good things must come.  To an end.  Must come to an end.  There are only four of these left.  So if you ever plan to indulge your deepest desires, now is the time.

2.  Past TNB readers at this event include Gina Frangello and Jillian Lauren. This makes me the first unsexy TNBer to appear.

3.  Joining me on the docket will be Marcy Dermansky, author of the fantastic Bad Marie (I read it. It really is fantastic.  I’m not saying that just because Gina liked it).

4. I will be reading a post that will never grace the pages of TNB.  Not something I want on the Internet. Nor will there be a recording. So if you want to hear my sort-of-sexy, sort-of-funny, sort-of-true tale, you have to show up at Happy Ending Lounge on Thursday.

5.  Free admission.

6.  Free cupcakes.

Here are the deets:

IN THE FLESH EROTIC READING SERIES
VIRGIN NIGHT
September 16, 2010, 7:30 pm – 10 pm
AT HAPPY ENDING LOUNGE, 302 BROOME STREET, NYC
(B/D to Grand, J/M/Z to Bowery, F to Delancey or F/V to 2nd Avenue, )
Between Forsyth & Eldridge. Look for the hot pink awning that says “XIE HE Health Club.”
Admission: Free
Happy Ending Lounge: 212-334-9676

Featuring Logan Belle, author of a forthcoming burlesque romance series, erotica writer Megan Butcher (contributor, Best Bondage Erotica 2011), novelist Marcy Dermansky (Bad Marie), novelist Lee Houck (Yield), Greg Olear (Totally Killer), Moshe Shulman (“The Wise One”) and Can’t Help the Way That I Feel: Sultry Stories of African American Love, Lust and Fantasy editor Lori Bryant-Woolridge and contributors Sasha James and Erika J. Kendrick (Appetites, Confessions of a Rookie Cheerleader). Hosted by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Fast Girls, Please, Sir, Please, Ma’am). 100 free copies of Sexis Magazine will be distributed. Free Baked by Melissa cupcakes, candy and chips will be served. This is the countdown to the final In The Flesh December 16th so don’t miss a very special night!