Big Sex Little Death by Susie Bright: book review

Sex. Drugs. Rock and roll. If that were the whole story of Big Sex Little Death, Susie Bright’s memoir of the ’60s and ’70s, it would be enough.

But this brilliant memoir is much more, revealing Susie’s own childhood abuse and her commitment to social and political activism as a high school drop-out, the underbelly of the cultural/ sexual/ political movement, the heady thrill of working to make a difference in the world, and the bewilderment of being betrayed by the people she least expected to betray her.

I knew Susie Bright as a sexuality writer, but until this book from Seal Press, I had no idea how smart and deep she was. She’s the historian that the sixties need — a clear-eyed view of protesters, activists (many emotionally damaged), and those who went along for the ride.

Yes, there’s plenty of sex, too, but for much of the book, it’s body parts that go bump, devoid of passion, emotional connection, or even pleasure. That’s part of the sixties political and sexual “revolution” that we’re embarrassed to admit now: women were expected to have sex freely but we weren’t supposed to expect our partners to have any clue about satisfying us. Still, part of Susie’s fantasy was true, at least some of the time:

Women wouldn’t be catty. No one would bother to be jealous. Who would have the time? Sex would be friendly and kind and fun. You’d get to see what everyone was like in bed. You’d learn things in bed… Exclusivity would be for bores and babies.

Susie doesn’t glamorize the sexual/feminist revolution or gloss over the deep disillusions when women fought each other (she got death threats for her pro-pornography stance), betrayed each other, and, through it all, loved each other.

For me, the most interesting part of Big Sex Little Death was the story behind On Our Backs, the lesbian magazine that Susie co-founded. Before On Our Backs, female models, from fashion ads to male magazine centerfolds, “were shot the same way kittens and puppies are photographed for holiday calendars: in fetching poses, with no intentions of their own.” In contrast, “The great relief of dyke porn,” writes Susie, “was that all that went out the window. We had an objective on our minds… we had a sexual story to tell.”

I hope these snippets encourage you to read Big Sex Little Death for yourself — it’s an engrossing read, and guaranteed to be more than you expect.

FYI, my favorite line from the book: “My dominatrix friend Tina once told me, ‘I’m not spanking Republicans anymore. I’ve had it.'”

Have you read Big Sex Little Death? I invite you to comment!


  1. Ron on April 8, 2011 at 4:11 am

    Not spanking republicans any more reminds me of a favorite joke.

    Sadist and masochist walking down the street.

    Masochist to sadist, "Beat me, beat me."

    Sadist to masochist, "No way."

  2. Joan Price on April 8, 2011 at 1:04 am

    Tracy, the title in the review links to the sales page on Amazon.

  3. Tracy on April 8, 2011 at 12:37 am

    That sounds interesting. How can I have a copy of that book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it. I like it somehow.

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