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On the Bookshelf
Best Sex Writing 2008
			on sale at Amazon

Best Sex Writing 2008
- edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

ISBN 1573443026

available through Amazon

Reviewed by Donna Storey

"Whatever definition you currently have for sex, prepare for it to be shattered." So writes editor Rachel Kramer Bussel in her introduction to Best Sex Writing 2008, and after reading the twenty-one essays in the anthology, I can honestly say my perspective on sexuality in our culture was blown wide open by the variety of topics, voices, and emotion evoked in its pages.

Rachel Kramer Bussel's introduction provides a few hints about what we're in for: provocative answers and even more provocative questions about the role of sexuality in our lives, both close to home and in places as foreign, and strangely familiar, as Iran. If you're the type who thinks the brain is the most important sex organ, you'll definitely want to read on --and you won't be disappointed.

Rachel Shukert's opening essay "Big Mouth Strikes Again: An Oral Report," tackles stereotypes regarding Jewish women and oral sex "head" on with an old joke about a wife who would let her husband die rather than provide the doctor-prescribed blowjobs. Common wisdom once had it that Jewish women never gave head, but apparently, the word is now they're the best. Shukert explores this shift with interviews, self-reflection, and wonderful humor. Indeed many of the essays in this book are very funny which engages another taboo -- that a serious, thought-provoking treatment of sex must be serious in tone.

In "Double Your Panic," Kevin Keck's fantasies about identical twin sisters in high school come back to haunt him when he finds himself the father of identical twin daughters. Reassured by his wife that "sluts" are usually girls with "daddy issues," Keck responds: "I've published a book that's primarily about me masturbating -- badly. Explain to me how our children will avoid having issues?" Besides bringing back memories of the cult of the Zimmerman twins in my own high school (most schools seem to be allotted a set to torment the adolescent imagination), Keck's essay raises broader questions about reconciling our sexual selves with our role as parents, when the prevailing model in our society is silence and denial. Keck doesn't give us answers, but like every essay in this book, he sets a valuable dialogue in motion.

The introduction promises essays that will "thrill, empower, confuse, and electrify" and I found this to be the case in terms of writing style as well as content. Ashlea Halprin's "Battle of the Sexless," is the type of dramatic, grab-you-where-it-hurts journalism about men who go to extreme lengths to get rid of testosterone in their bodies and the decision of certain doctors to facilitate their choices. Other edgy essays deal with older women who seduce teenage boys (why do we assume a boy is less of a victim than a girl?), safe sex in the senior citizen community (dare we speak to our parents about "the nasty"?), and menstrual taboos in pornography (why is red sex a "messed up" fetish?).

A few essays are downright uplifting, such as Amy Andre's "The Study of Sex," about a sexuality course focusing on the experience of people of color taught at Cal State East Bay, and Scott Poulson-Bryant's "The Hung List," about African-American male porn stars finding ways to transcend timeless stereotypes at the most fundamental level of human interaction. Kelly Rouba's "Tough Love," a first-person report about how people with disabilities achieve sexual fulfillment in spite of their physical limitations broadens our concept of sex with poignant immediacy.

Other essays provoked mixed feelings. Kelly Kyrik's "Stalking the Stalkers" presents a disturbing portrait of pedophiles trawling the Internet to pick up gullible young teens. As a parent myself, I'm certainly all for protecting children, but as an erotica writer, the glimpse into workings of a police investigation and the assumptions under which law enforcers operate -- such as, that the increase in pornographic images on the Internet is the cause of an increase in child victimization -- raised questions in my mind about how easily such an effort could be turned on any expression of sexuality in the right (or should I say "wrong"?) political climate. Of course, my consciousness of such dangers was freshly raised by Violet Blue's " and Porn Hysteria: The Lie of Unbiased Reporting," which explores myths about porn that are thoughtlessly replicated in the media as objective truth.

The anthology ends with one of the strongest pieces in the book, Greta Christina's "Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive." Fresh from editing Paying for It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients, Christina began to wonder what it would be like to experience sex work from the other side, as a consumer. Fresh from the often hysterical reporting of the prostitute scandal involving former New York governor Eliot Spitzer myself, I found Christina's step-by-step report of her encounter, from shopping to planning to the insights she gained in the flesh with her hired pro, especially enlightening. In spite of, or because of, the fact there's little chance I'll pay for sex, I was surprised and intrigued by Christina's growing sympathy for the paying customer. In this, as in every confrontation with "otherness," an awareness of nuance, complexity and even similarities within that difference satisfies a human urge as powerful as sex -- to make sense of our world.

My one suggestion for the next volume of Best Sex Writing would be to indicate where each essay was originally published on its title page, as is done in the Best American series. The context of these essays adds an important dimension to their appreciation -- whether to explain the tone or introduce an interesting new online resource to explore -- and scanning the cramped list on the copyright page seems an unnecessary burden for the reader.

Rachel Kramer Bussel ends her introduction with the hope that Best Sex Writing 2008 will do "what good sex should do: leave you wanting more." I most certainly did want more. Like erotica for the intellect, the book got some juicy thoughts flowing and definitely made we want to try some boundary-breaking question-making of my own right here at home. Like satisfying sex, we can all use more of that.

©2008 by Donna Storey

Reader Comments

Donna George Storey loves to think about sex, and has published over sixty erotic stories in such places as Clean Sheets, Best American Erotica 2006, Best Women’s Erotica, and The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. She writes a column for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, Cooking up a Storey, and has just published her first novel, the tale of an American woman’s love affair with Japan, Amorous Woman Read more of her work at her Web site.



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