Best Sex Writing 2012: book review

I love Best Sex Writing 2012, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel with guest judge Susie Bright, from Cleis Press. I always look forward to this annual series because it compiles the best non-fiction writing about sex published the previous year in magazines, newspapers, online sites, and books.

This is writing on the topic of sex — it’s not erotica. As 
Rachel Kramer Bussel says in her introduction, “This is not a one-handed read, but it is a book that will stimulate your largest sex organ: your brain.”

Rich with diversity of topics, points of view, writer backgrounds and styles, this is a book you’ll read hungrily and carefully. As 
Rachel Kramer Bussel  says,

What you are about to read are stories, all true, some reported on the streets and some recorded from lived experience, from the front lines of sexuality. They deal with topics you read about in the headlines, and some topics you may never have considered.

Rachel Kramer Bussel

In fact, I often found myself stopping to ponder an essay, halting the whirlwind of my brain absorbing new facts, new views, often new topics that had never been presented to me with such passion and insight before.

For example, in “Losing the Meatpacking District: A Queer History of Leather Culture,” Abby Tallmer takes us back to the Meatpacking District of New York City’s West Village from the 1960s through the mid-80s, when a “select group of queer and kinky people” roamed the streets where gay SM and sex clubs thrived. Categorizing herself as a femme lesbian, Tallmer let her boy buddies disguise her, complete with a sock in her pants and a fake five o’clock shadow, so she could get into the Mineshaft. She describes the scene:

I remember seeing a sea of nude, half-nude, harnessed and chained male bodies (the bottoms) and muscular men in full leather (the tops)… I remember all sorts of sounds: from the bottoms, cries and whimpers and gasps and moans and shrill but insincere pleas of “Stop!,” tops barking orders at their slaves sternly or angrily or calmly… All the collective words and sighs were punctuated by the unmistakable sounds of flagellation — wooden paddles striking flesh, the snapping of bullwhips slicing through the air and landing sharply on human targets… I stood there transfixed, thinking, This is what men do when women aren’t around.” 

In “Why Lying about Monogamy Matters,” Susie Bright slams op-ed columnist Ross Douthat who wants us to believe that abstinence from premarital sex makes us (and him) really happy. She conveys his viewpoint as this: “There are Four Big Kinds of Sex: casual, promiscuous, premature, and ill-considered.” In contrast to this “shaming, stunted fair tale,” Bright  fought her upbringing that “Sex is so wrong, there’s, like, a million ways to do it wrong and burn in hell forever”) and now she thanks all the lovers she’s ever had.

 In “Dating with an STD,” Lynn Harris points out that “Statistically, your date is more likely to carry a sexually transmitted infection than to share your astrological sign.” She quotes medical sociologist Adina Nack, PhD:

You should go out into the dating world assuming that the person you’re with has already contracted something, even though they may not know it. Even if someone says, ‘I’m clean–I’ve been tested for everything,’ they’re either ignorant or lying, because we don’t even have definitive tests for everything.

I’m happy that senior sex is included this year! I’m proud that this year’s anthology includes a piece I wrote: “Grief, Resilience, and My 66th Birthday Gift.” This is an expanded version of an excerpt from Naked at Our Age about reaffirming my sexuality with a gentle stranger after the throes of grief left me unable to imagine pleasure, sexual or otherwise. I’ve been told it’s a powerful piece of writing. I hope you agree.

I’ve just scratched the surface of what Best Sex Writing 2012 has to offer. I hope you’ll read it and share your favorite parts in your comments here.

Read what other reviewers have to say about Best Sex Writing 2012 by clicking here.


  1. Joan Price on March 25, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Actually, Onely, this book IS enlightening re gender expectations. I don't think the torso is salacious — it's just representative of a woman who isn't hiding anything, including her body. It's not a titillating cover.

  2. Onely on March 10, 2012 at 1:11 am

    This would definitely be an interesting read. What does trouble me is why the profile of the women's torso on the cover? Isn't that a cliched and in fact sexist representation of sex? Men's torsos are far less represented in equivalent circumstances.

    Though that said, this book is not necessarily a social awareness book so I guess we can expect some good, informative writing but not necessarily enlightened on the level of gender roles/expectations.

    = )

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