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by Violet Blue (Editor)
Cleis Press, 2005
Review by Tony O'Brien on Jan 29th 2006

Best Sex Writing 2005

Edited by the appropriately named Violet Blue, this collection brings together a diverse range of topics and authors around the theme of sex. Readers should note that the title is 'sex writing', not 'erotic writing'. Although there is plenty of eros throughout the book, there is also plenty that is far from erotic, although the focus is always on sex. The seventeen chapters range from journalistic pieces to front line descriptions from the sex industry. Most are first person accounts, so there is a sense of immediacy about the book. Given the range of contemporary sexual expression the contents of the book are diverse. Indeed diversity is one of the book's strengths. There are accounts of being a porn journalist, visiting the Kinsey museum, providing what would be politely called 'member checks' at a gay night club, working as a teller in a sperm bank. The collection includes a number of personal stories about working as a sex worker or porn actor, and there are tales from the fringes of the sex scene, from the manufacture of sex devices, to fetish conventions celebrating (and sexualizing) everything from Star Wars Stormtroopers to characters from Lord of the Rings.

While the standard of writing is generally high, some contributions are better written than others. Amongst the things Michael Gonzales is fond of are adjectives and adverbs, and his contribution is replete with words like 'thrillingly' and 'luminous'. But if his prose is purple, the narrative is strong as he recounts his infatuation with prostitutes, including the one that got away. Don Rasner's contribution on Superheroines was probably chosen for its content, rather than the quality of writing. Rasner outlines the bizarre world of suoperheroine fantasy, with a bent towards humiliation. By contrast, Harlyn Aizley's snappy little short story is nicely written, and could find a home in many fiction anthologies.

Best Sex Writing covers a wide range of sex-related topics, so that each chapter engages the reader differently. Shirley Shave gives a matter of fact account of sex for money. Her name suggests one of her experiences as she finally leaves the 'dry land of bad jobs' to earn some real money. In the closet with Ken and Barbie (Harlyn Aizley), in addition to providing the collection's best individual title, extends the range of games most girls play with their Ken and Barbie dolls. The story is also a wry commentary on sibling rivalry. A genuinely moving description of providing sex education in South Bronx is provided by Ellen Friedrichs. Where some would be driven to despair by the sense of hopelessness conveyed by some of her young students, Friedrichs perseveres, well aware that later in life they are likely to figure in the sorts of scenarios described elsewhere in the book, and a little education may go a long way to protect them from its possible consequences. There is even an example of sex-related travel writing. Arlo Tolesco recounts his visit to the Khajuraho temples of India, forgotten examples of erotic architecture rediscovered by the British in the 19th century. Woven throughout Tolesco's description is a commentary on his relationship with his partner Anna. The couple explore the erotic potential of fruit, but not the forbidden variety.  I had always thought James Brown was a sex machine, but in Redwood Park California there's a man who makes such a thing in his home-based industry, taking care to pack everything away before the kids get home from school. Across America there are other manufacturers of sex machines. Timothy Archibald's chapter provides a beginners' guide.

There is more to this book. Each chapter is a revelation, the sum adding up to a synopsis of the avante garde in the world of sex. Every chapter is informative, although whether you need all the information is perhaps a moot point. The book treats sex seriously, and attempts to dispel some of the myths perpetrated by the more trivial sex journalism, including the mainstream press. This is a highly readable and enlightening collection.


© 2006 Tony O'Brien


Tony O'Brien, M Phil, is a lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Auckland, New Zealand:


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