For erotica, I’ve become a big fan of Cleis Press. I’m especially impressed with Rachel Kramer Bussel, both as an editor and as a writer. So I was curious to read Best Sex Writing 2012, never having read one of these annual compilations of what people have been writing about sex. The fact that Susie Bright was a guest judge and wrote the introduction is icing on the cake!
I’m impressed. Not all of the articles appealed to me – I even disliked a couple of them, but every one of them inspired thought. Every voice had something provocative to say in the realm of sexuality. This is not erotica. These pieces are brilliant reporting, touching memoirs, and humorous expositions. This book engaged my brain – sometimes my heart, and occasionally my libido.
It’s hard to pick out my favorites. They tend to be the more personal pieces that touch my emotions and perspectives that are very different from my own. The book is excellent as a whole, but here are a few of what I consider the best essays:
“I Want You to Want Me” by Hugo Schwyzer discusses men’s longing to be admired. I’ve heard many of my partners express this exact desire, feeling that it is somehow disgusting or repulsive to be male and wanting on a deep level to be cherished, but this is the first writing I’ve seen on the subject. I found it very honest and brave.
“Grief, Resilience, and My 66th Birthday Gift” by Joan Price describes the loss of her great love to cancer and her journey out of grief back into being a sexual person. I was moved to tears because I can so easily imagine myself in the same situation. I also was impressed by her courage in writing about the sexuality of people over 60, which I don’t see often, and her frank discussion of buying sexual services as a tool for healing.
“Guys Who Like Fat Chicks” by Camille Dodero focuses on men who fetishize overweight women, but it says interesting things about why certain things turn certain people on. It’s often hard to say why we fixate sexually on particular things. This is fantastic reporting on an under-represented group.
“Adrian’s Penis: Care and Handling” by Adrian Colesberry is a humorous look at what it is to have a penis. Despite my reservations about someone who speaks of themselves (and their penis) in the third person and writes excessive footnotes, I appreciate what he says about being male. I think there are so many misconceptions about erections in our culture – how easy it is to get hard and come. I’m happy to see an open discussion about what’s normal for this man.
“Love Grenade” by Lidia Yuknavitch is a beautifully bittersweet ode to women she made love with during grad school. She manages to capture perfectly the tone of a lost weekend. Her descriptions of the people and activities are hot, but what really gets to me is the feelings I’m left with. It’s brilliant.
There are so many more I could mention, tackling topics like circumcision, dating with STDs, slut shaming, the criminalization of teen sex, poor reporting of sex and sex violence, and Latina transwomen performing in drag shows. Collectively, these essays please me. It means that there are a lot of people out there starting the conversations that I think we should be having. Many of these conversations happen on the internet, but I would totally recommend this book for an insightful overview of the year’s highlights in sex!