Best Sex Writing 2013: The State of Today’s Sexual Culture isn’t comprised of the kind of sex writing that exists solely to turn you on, though sometimes it does do that. This book of essays, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and guest edited by Dr. Carol Queen (who’s weighed in on vibrator storage for us before) that all examine the contemporary sexual landscape. Covering topics like polyamory in the Bay Area to conflicts in sexual values between a Muslim woman and her boyfriend. This anthology deals with all sorts of sex – heterosexual, vanilla, kinky, queer, masturbation – the list goes on and on.
If I had to compare this book to a physical object, it would be a box of chocolates. But not fluffy, easy chocolates – I’m not talking Russell Stover, here. I’m talking complex chocolates, probably with liqueur in them. The kind you get from the tiny chocolate shop housed in a barn that you drive a bunch out of your way to go taste. Each chocolate is filled with nuance and undertone, with complex flavors with which you need to spend time. These kinds of chocolates are the kind you need to eat slowly, break apart, analyze. Enjoy one at a time.
That’s how these essays are, too. Complex. Meant to be enjoyed if you know nothing about sex or you know a ton about sex – guest editor Dr. Queen writes in her foreword:
“I think it’s safe to say that whether this is the first book about sex you’ve ever read or the thousandth, you will learn something about what makes people tick, about sexual desire and sexual community.”
As someone who considers herself well-informed about sex and the tangential issues surrounding sex, I can guarantee the truth in the above statement. For instance, I knew absolutely nothing about the state of Mr. Tim Tebow’s virginity. To be fair, I also know next to nothing about Mr. Tim Tebow or the sport he plays. But Jon Pressick’s The Fourth-and-Long Virgin let me know exactly what is up with that and why it’s important – Tim Tebow isn’t what we expect male athletes to be, sex-wise, and so everyone is talking about it. He also keeps talking about it, which is also why everyone keeps bringing up his trouser snake. But perhaps the most interesting point Pressick makes is about the rumors of Tebow’s closeted queerness:
“There is a strong sentiment that if Tebow ever does do a backfield rush out of the closet, he could be a tremendous bridge-building figure. Maybe he could get the Christians and the gays together. Maybe he could be the common ground. He would certainly be one of the most high-profile Christians to embrace his queer identity.”
And though I’m familiar with poly relationships and what those could look like, I was extremely impressed with Rachel Swan’s Sex By Numbers for her fresh, nonjudgemental look inside what polyamory could mean, at least to partners John, Jessica and Kate:
“‘So here’s a conventional relationship,’ she said. ‘You meet someone, you date, after six months, you use the L word.”She paused and glanced over at Kate, who nodded approvingly. ‘Then you wait for him to ask you to marry him. Then you have a baby.” That isn’t what she ever wanted.”
But perhaps my favorite essay is Julia Serano’s Cherry Picking, a miniature memoir of her life and transition and how that relates to sex. I love it for the voice, specifically. It’s like she’s just chatting to you, and it’s, in my opinion, one of the most accessible pieces in the entire book. I love her take on virginity as a concept:
“Some people have asked if I will become a virgin again when I eventually have bottom surgery. You know, a vaginal virgin of sorts. I just laugh. The whole idea of virginity is utterly ridiculous, as if every person’s life can be divided up neatly into an innocent childlike half and the impure adult half.”
In short, do I think you should read this book. Yes.
You should absolutely read this book, but slowly and piece by piece – you’ve got just a bit more of December to digest Best Sex Writing 2013 while it’s still 2013. So I’d get started soon. Keep in mind that these are essays about sex, but they’re not always sexy – if you’re looking for something to turn you on, perhaps check here. But if you’re looking to supplement your ongoing sex education, this is a kick butt way to do it. And beyond that, I think this book will hold up as a time capsule of what we talked about, sex-wise, this year. How sex is situated in our discourse says something about us, and I for one am definitely going to grant this a reread ten years from now (and probably many times before that).