Sixteen Candles: The Rep. Foley Scandal

Mark_foleyWell, the main thing I was going to say about the Rep. Foley teenage boy dirty text message argle-bargle, Susie Bright has already said, and better than I would have. The upshot: Congress just abolished habeas corpus and legitimized torture, and the story got buried with the department store ads (the SF Chronicle put it on Page 3). But a gay teenage sex scandal in Congress — that’s the lead story everywhere, our top story tonight, front page above the fold, and probably will be for days. (Except for the Chron. The headline story in today’s Chron was the Michelin guide giving three stars to only one Bay Area restaurant in its new Bay Area guide. You kind of have to love the Chron sometimes. Foley did make Page 1 — just not above the fold.)

So here, instead, is the other thing I want to say about the Foley scandal.

*****

SixteenI was sixteen when I first had sex. (According to how I defined it at the time, anyway.) I had it with an adult, a man in his thirties. More than once, in fact: the affair lasted roughly a month and a half.

And while I don’t think the guy covered himself with glory, I also don’t feel that I was molested. My memories of the experience aren’t stellar, but they fall into the “stupid decision/learning experience” category — not the “invasive violation/abuse of power” category. I think the guy was a schmuck, but I don’t think he was a predator, and I don’t think he was a pedophile.

CongressBefore you flip out and hit the comment button, let me be very clear — I’m not trying to defend Foley. There’s a lot of stuff Foley did that the guy I’m talking about didn’t do. As far as I know, the guy I fucked didn’t make a habit of going for teenagers on a regular basis. He wasn’t aggressive or forward about pursuing teenagers, including me. He wasn’t taking advantage of political power and status to pursue teenagers — he didn’t really have any to speak of. And, of course, he didn’t head up a Congressional caucus on protecting teenagers from people like him. Foley is a Grade A asshole, and I’m watching his fall with shameless, gleeful Schadenfreude. As Molly Ivins once said, Mama may have raised a mean child, but she didn’t raise no hypocrites.

JusticeAnd let me be very clear as well — I support the idea of age of consent laws. They’re never going to be perfect — no matter where you draw it, there are always going to be people under the line who are ready for sex, and people over the line who aren’t — but I get that that’s what laws are like. I do think age of consent laws need to be tinkered with (I personally support a three-tiered system, in which under a certain age you’re off-limits, between certain ages it’s only okay with people close to your age, and over a certain age you’re fair game), but I think the basic idea is sound.

BritneyMy point is this. When we talk about the Foley scandal, I think we need to be extremely careful about we’re getting irate about. I don’t want to reflexively join in the hysterical chorus about pedophilia and molestation and “won’t somebody please think of the children?” There’s a big difference between having a thing for 16-year-olds and having a thing for, say, 12-year-olds. Having a thing for 16-year-olds makes you a chicken-hawk — but it doesn’t make you a pedophile. (If it did, everyone who watched the Britney Spears naughty-schoolgirl video with lust in their heart is a pedophile.) In particular, lots of gay men had their first sexual experience as teenagers, with older men — and lots of those teenagers had warm, positive feelings about the experience, and continue to have those good feelings into adulthood. A good case could be made that adults having sex with 16-year-olds should be against the law, and a good case could certainly be made that it’s creepy and fucked-up — but it doesn’t make you an evil despoiler of innocent children.

No, what makes Foley evil is the hypocrisy. What makes Foley evil is that he made political hash out of Scary Disgusting Sexual Predators On The Internet Who Are Trying To Seduce Your Children… while he was using the Internet to try to seduce teenage boys.

And what makes his Republican compatriots evil — more evil than Foley, I would argue — is that they apparently knew about the Foley thing and covered it up… while they’ve been busy frothing at the mouth about those awful liberals who supposedly want to protect criminals and terrorists.

By, you know, granting them habeas corpus and stuff.

Domesticity and Degeneracy

Note: This post include descriptions of my personal sex life. If you don’t want to read that, please don’t read the rest of the post.

SpankingSo on Saturday, Ingrid and I went to the “Perverts Put Out” erotic reading, where I read my “college girl gets spanked by her professor” story… which turned out to be one of the gentler stories in a program that included humiliating gang-bangs and Brady Bunch porn and burly ex-Marines in pink rhumba panties. It’s been a while since the last “Perverts Put Out,” and every one of the readers was in rare form.

Afterwards… well, I’m not going to tell you exactly what we did when we got home last night, but I will tell you that it’s now Sunday night and I’m still sore.

Crock_potAnd today, we woke up surrounded by cats, and we had breakfast and read the Sunday paper at our favorite local diner, and we went to the stationery store and the grocery store and the cheese store, and we made chicken stock and vegetarian chili while we wrote our last few much-belated wedding-gift thank-you notes and watched the Simpsons.

White_picket_fenceI’m not sure why I’m telling you all this… except it’s gotten me thinking about degeneracy and domesticity. I think people often assume that the one precludes the other. We tend to assume that when you make sybartic sensual pleasure a priority in your life, you have to accept instability and chaos as part of the package. And we tend to assume that when you settle down with a partner and a mortgage and a Sisyphian list of household chores, you have to accept that boredom and predictability are the natural result.

But I don’t think that’s true.

I think you can have both. I know you can have both. I’ve had both, just in the last 48 hours.

BookersWhat I do think is that when you try to have both, you don’t get to have either one to the most lavish extent that you might. Marriage and a mortgage has definitely put a dent in (not to say virtually eliminated) my slutty, casual-sex catting around. I just don’t have time. And making sure that we have sex and dancing and and parties and good food and good liquor and porn writing and reasonably frequent cultural outings in our life does mean that our home life is rather more chaotic than one might like, with piles of junk all over the living room and a chore list that’s just getting longer and nowhere near enough sleep. The domesticity isn’t as domestic — and the degeneracy isn’t as degenerate — as I might have hoped for in a perfect world.

Yin_yangBut that’s okay. I refuse to accept that the pursuit of loving domesticity means boredom and quiet desperation, and I refuse to accept that the pursuit of sensual pleasure means restlessness and instability. And I adamantly refuse to accept that the two things are incompatible and that I have to choose one. I do, however, accept that the pursuit of both means compromise. I can have it all, as long as I accept that none of it will be perfect.

Perverts Put Out returns — and I’m reading!

GretaCome hear me read dirty stories — along with faboo sex writers Simon Sheppard, Carol Queen, Kirk Read, Charlie Anders, horehound stillpoint, and Lori Selke — when Perverts Put Out returns to San Francisco! Perverts Put Out was a long-running sex-writer forum/salon thing, which ended prematurely when host Bill Brent inexplicably decided to do what he wanted with his life and moved to Hawaii. But now Simon Sheppard and Carol Queen are reviving it as a benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture — and they very kindly invited me to be one of the readers at its debut!

Perverts Put Out always had a great and hilarious variety of sex writing — fiction, non-fiction, poetry, queer and straight, kinky and somewhat less kinky — and the return engagement promises to keep that tradition alive. I’m thrilled that it’s back, and I’d be going even if I weren’t reading. It’ll be on Saturday, September 23, starting at 7:30 pm, at CounterPULSE!, 1310 Mission St. (that’s at Mission and 9th, near Civic Center BART) in San Francisco. Admission is a $5-$15 sliding scale to benefit the Center for Sex and Culture, but no-one will be turned away for lack of funds.

I’d give you a taste of what I’m going to be reading, but I haven’t decided yet. Probably the story about the college girl getting spanked by her professor, but I might change my mind…

Are We Having Sex Now or What?

My apologies to my RSS people who get this twice. Something screwed up with my FeedBlitz feed, so I’m posting it a second time. Enjoy!

SevenWhen I first started having sex with other people, I used to like to count them. I wanted to keep track of how many there had been. It was a source of some kind of pride, or identity anyway, to know how many people I’d had sex with in my lifetime. So, in my mind, Len was number one, Chris was number two, that slimy awful little heavy metal barbiturate addict whose name I can’t remember was number three, Alan was number four, and so on. It got to the point where, when I’d start having sex with a new person for the first time, when his cock first entered my cunt (I was only having sex with men at the time), what would flash through my head wouldn’t be “Oh baby baby your cock feels so good inside me,” or “What the hell am I doing with this creep,” or “This is boring I wonder what’s on TV.” What flashed through my head was: “Seven!”

FourDoing this had some interesting results. I’d look for patterns in the numbers. I had a theory for a while that every fourth lover turned out to be really great in bed, and would ponder what the cosmic significance of this phenomenon might be. Sometimes I’d try to determine what kind of person I was by how many people I’d had sex with. At 18, I’d had sex with ten different people; did that make me normal, repressed, a total slut, a free-spirited bohemian, or what? Not that I compared my numbers with anyone else’s — I didn’t. It was my own exclusive structure, a game I played in the privacy of my own head.

Big_numbersThen the numbers started getting a little larger, as numbers tend to do, and keeping track became more difficult. I’d remember that the last one was Seventeen and so this one must be Eighteen, but then I’d start having doubts about whether I’d been keeping score accurately or not. I’d lie awake at night thinking to myself, well, there was Brad, and there was that guy on my birthday, and there was David, and…no, wait, I forgot that guy I got drunk with at the social my first week at college…so that’s seven, eight, nine…and by two in the morning I’d finally have it figured out. But there was always a nagging suspicion that maybe I’d missed someone, some dreadful tacky little scumball that I was trying to forget about having invited inside my body. And, as much as I maybe wanted to forget about the sleazy little scumball, I wanted more to get that number right.

BackrubIt kept getting harder, though. I began to question what counted as sex and what didn’t. There was that time with Gene, for instance. I was pissed off at my boyfriend David for cheating on me. It was a major crisis, and Gene and I were friends and he’d been trying to get at me for weeks and I hadn’t exactly been discouraging him. So I went to see him that night to gripe about David. He was very sympathetic of course, and he gave me a backrub, and we talked and touched and confided and hugged, and then we started kissing, and then we snuggled up a little closer, and then we started fondling each other, you know, and then all heck broke loose, and we rolled around on the bed groping and rubbing and grabbing and smooching and pushing and pressing and squeezing. He never did actually get it in. He wanted to, and I wanted to too, but I had this thing about being faithful to my boyfriend, so I kept saying No you can’t do that, Yes that feels so good, No wait that’s too much, Yes yes don’t stop, No stop that’s enough. We never even got our clothes off. Jesus Christ, though, it was some night. One of the best, really. But for a long time I didn’t count it as one of the times I’d had sex. He never got inside, so it didn’t count.

MartyrLater, months and years later, when I lay awake at night putting my list together, I’d start to wonder: Why doesn’t Gene count? Does he not count because he never got inside? Or does he not count because I had to preserve my moral edge over David, my status as the patient, ever-faithful, cheated-on, martyred girlfriend, and if what I did with Gene counts, then I don’t get to feel wounded and superior?

Years later, I did end up fucking Gene and I felt a profound relief because, at last, he definitely had a number, and I knew for sure that he did in fact count.

LesbianThen I started having sex with women, and boy howdy, did that ever shoot holes in the system. I’d always made my list of sex partners by defining sex as penile-vaginal intercourse. You know, fucking. It’s a pretty simple distinction, a straightforward binary system. Did it go in or didn’t it? Yes or no? One or zero? On or off? Granted, it’s a pretty arbitrary definition; but it’s the customary one, with an ancient and respected tradition behind it, and when I was just screwing men, there was no really compelling reason to question it.

HitachiBut with women… well, first of all there’s no penis, so right from the start the tracking system is defective. And then, there are so many ways women can have sex with each other, touching and licking and grinding and fingering and fisting — with dildoes or vibrators or vegetables or whatever happens to be lying around the house, or with nothing at all except human bodies. Of course, that’s true with sex between women and men as well. But between women, no one method has a centuries-old tradition of being the one that counts. Even when we do fuck each other there’s no dick, so you don’t get that feeling of This Is What’s Important We Are Now Having Sex, objectively speaking, and all that other stuff is just foreplay or afterplay. So when I started having sex with women, the binary system had to go, in favor of a more inclusive definition.

OneWhich meant, of course, that my list of how many people I’d had sex with was completely trashed. In order to maintain it I’d have had to go back and reconstruct the whole thing and include all those people I’d necked with and gone down on and dry-humped and played touchy-feely games with. Even the question of who filled the all-important Number One slot, something I’d never had any doubts about before, would have to be re-evaluated. By this time I’d kind of lost interest in the list anyway. Reconstructing it would be more trouble than it was worth. But the crucial question remained: What counts as having sex with someone?

Question_markIt was important for me to know. I mean, you have to know what qualifies as sex, because when you have sex with someone your relationship changes. Right? Right? It’s not that sex itself has to change things all that much. But knowing you’ve had sex, being conscious of a sexual connection, standing around making polite conversation with someone thinking to yourself, “I’ve had sex with this person,” that’s what always changes things. Or so I believed. And if having sex with a friend can confuse or change the friendship, think of how bizarre things can get when you’re not sure whether you’ve had sex with them or not.

Dividing_lineThe problem was, as I kept doing more different kinds of sexual things, the line between Sex and Not-sex kept getting more hazy and indistinct. As I brought more into my sexual experience, things were showing up on the dividing line demanding my attention. It wasn’t just that the territory I labeled “sex” was expanding. The line itself had swollen, dilated, been transformed into a vast grey region. It had become less like a border and more like a demilitarized zone.

JugglingWhich is a strange place to live. Not a bad place, you understand, just strange. It feels like juggling, or watchmaking, or playing the piano — anything that demands complete concentrated awareness and attention. It feels like cognitive dissonance, only pleasant. It feels like waking up from a very compelling and realistic bad dream. It feels the way you feel when you realize that everything you know is wrong, and a bloody good thing too, ‘cuz it was painful and stupid and really fucked you up.

ExplorerBut for me, living in a question naturally leads to searching for an answer. I can’t simply shrug, throw up my hands, and say, “Damned if I know.” I have to explore the unknown frontiers, even if I don’t bring back any secret treasure. So even if it’s incomplete or provisional, I do want to find some sort of definition of what is and isn’t sex.

OrgasmI know when I’m feeling sexual. I’m feeling sexual if my pussy’s wet, my nipples are hard, my palms are clammy, my brain is fogged, my skin is tingly and super-sensitive, my butt muscles clench, my heartbeat speeds up, I have an orgasm (that’s the real giveaway), and so on. But feeling sexual with someone isn’t the same as having sex with them. Good Lord, if I called it sex every time I was attracted to someone who returned the favor I’d be even more bewildered than I am now. Even being sexual with someone isn’t the same as having sex with them. I’ve danced and flirted with too many people, given and received too many sexy would-be-seductive backrubs, to believe otherwise.

Brain_1I have friends who say if you thought of it as sex when you were doing it, then it was. That’s an interesting idea. It’s certainly helped me construct a coherent sexual history without being a revisionist swine and redefining my past according to current definitions. But it really just begs the question. It’s fine to say that sex is whatever I think it is; but then what do I think it is? What if, when I was doing it, I was wondering whether it counted?

ArousalPerhaps having sex with someone is the conscious, consenting, mutually acknowledged pursuit of shared sexual pleasure. Not a bad definition. If you are turning each other on and you say so and you keep doing it, then it’s sex. It’s broad enough to encompass a lot of sexual behavior beyond genital contact/orgasm; it’s distinct enough to not include every instance of sexual awareness or arousal; and it contains the elements I feel are vital — acknowledgement, consent, reciprocity, and the pursuit of pleasure. But what about the situation where one person consents to sex without really enjoying it? Lots of people (myself included) have had sexual interactions that we didn’t find satisfying or didn’t really want, and unless they were actually forced on us against our will, I think most of us would still classify them as sex.

Two_brainsMaybe if both of you (or all of you) think of it as sex, then it’s sex whether you’re having fun or not. That clears up the problem of sex that’s consented to but not wished for or enjoyed. Unfortunately, it begs the question again, only worse: Now you have to mesh different people’s vague and inarticulate notions of what is and isn’t sex and find the place where they overlap. Too messy.

Bad_sexHow about sex as the conscious, consenting, mutually acknowledged pursuit of sexual pleasure of at least one of the people involved. That’s better. It has all the key components, and it includes the situation where one of the people involved is doing it for a reason other than sexual pleasure — status, reassurance, money, the satisfaction and pleasure of someone they love, etc. But what if neither of you is enjoying it, if you’re both doing it because you think the other one wants to? Ugh.

IntercourseI’m having a bit of trouble here. Even the conventional standby — sex equals intercourse — has a serious flaw; it includes rape, which is something I emphatically refuse to accept. As far as I’m concerned, if there’s no consent, it ain’t sex. But I feel that’s about the only place in this whole quagmire where I have a grip. The longer I think about the subject, the more questions I come up with. At what point in an encounter does it become sexual? If an interaction that begins non-sexually turns into sex, was it sex all along? What about sex with someone who’s asleep? Can you have a situation where one person is having sex and the other isn’t? It seems that no matter what definition I come up with, I can think of some real-life experience that calls it into question.

Sex_partiesFor instance: A couple of years ago, I attended (well, hosted) an all-girl sex party. Out of the twelve other women there, there were only a few with whom I got seriously physically nasty. The rest I kissed or hugged or talked dirty with or just smiled at, or watched while they did seriously physically nasty things with each other. If we’d been alone, I’d probably say that what I’d done with most of the women there didn’t count as having sex. But the experience, which was hot and sweet and silly and very special, had been created by all of us, and although I only really got down with a few, I felt that I’d been sexual with all of the women there. Now, whenever I meet one of the women from that party, I always ask myself: Have we had sex?

FloggerFor instance: When I was first experimenting with sadomasochism, I got together with a really hot woman. We were negotiating about what we were going to do, what would and wouldn’t be ok, and she said she wasn’t sure she wanted to have sex. Now we’d been explicitly planning all kinds of fun and games — spanking, bondage, obedience — which I strongly identified as sexual activity. In her mind, though, “sex” meant direct genital contact, and she didn’t necessarily want to do that with me. Playing with her turned out to be a tremendously erotic experience, arousing and stimulating and almost unbearably satisfying. But we spent the whole night without even touching each other’s genitals. And the fact that our definitions were so different made me wonder: Was it sex?

Lusty_ladyFor instance: I worked for a few months as a nude dancer at a peep show. In case you’ve never been to a peep show, it works like this: The customer goes into this tiny dingy black box, kind of like a phone booth, and they put in quarters, and a metal plate goes up, and they look through a window at a little room/stage where naked women are dancing. One time, a guy came into one of the booths and started watching me and masturbating. I came over and squatted in front of him and started masturbating as well, and we grinned at each other and watched each other and masturbated, and we both had a fabulous time. (I couldn’t believe I was being paid to masturbate — tough job, but somebody has to do it…) After he left, I thought to myself: Did we just have sex?

QuarterI mean, if it had been someone I knew, and if there had been no glass and no quarters, there’d be no question in my mind. Sitting two feet apart from someone, watching each other masturbate? Yup, I’d call that sex all right. But this was different, because it was a stranger, and because of the glass, and because of the quarters. Was it sex?

I still don’t have an answer.

Copyright 1992 Greta Christina. Originally published in The Erotic Impulse, edited by David Steinberg, Tarcher Press.

Erotic_impulseA lot of you may have read this already. This is probably my best-known, most influential, and most widely-read piece of writing. It’s been reprinted numerous times (including a butchered version that appeared in Ms. Magazine with the references to kinds of sex they don’t approve of taken out), and it gets studied and assigned in several college and university courses. (Google “Greta Christina” + “Are we having sex” if you don’t believe me.) But Susie Bright suggested that I put it on my blog as well as my Website, since this is where a lot of people are finding me these days. And I think she’s right — I always tell people that if you were just going to read one piece of my writing, this is the one to read (this or Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God), and I try to make it as widely available as I can.

Tee Corinne, and my other mothers and fathers

Corinne_dreamsSomeone I never knew died on August 27, and I sat at my computer at work yesterday writing an obituary and trying not to cry.

Corinne_cuntIn case you’re not familiar with her, Tee Corinne was one of the earliest pioneers of the modern lesbian and women’s erotica movements — in photography, writing, and art. She’s probably best known for the “Cunt Coloring Book,” but I mostly knew her from her photography. She was one of the first women to create sexual images and writing for women, from a woman’s point of view, outside the male-driven porn machinery — and to do it publicly and shamelessly.

And by “one of the first,” I don’t mean she was doing it before it was cool. I mean she was doing it before it was being done. Her doing it is one of the things that made it possible for the rest of us to do it. She paved the way. She made a space.

I never met Tee Corinne. But she’s one of the people who made my life easier.

Corinne_intimaciesNo, strike that. She’s one of the people who made my life possible. I’m not a pioneer — I’m an early adapter, but I’m not a pioneer — and I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t have had the nerve to step into those woods if there hadn’t been Tee and people like her cutting through the brush and stamping out a trail first.

I feel bad that I never took the time to write her while she was alive and thank her. So I want to do that now — not just Tee, but all the people who’ve made talking about sex, and making art about sex, and providing/getting accurate information about sex, that much easier. I always get pissy when young sex writers/artists act like it’s always been this easy and don’t acknowledge the debt of gratitude they have towards the people who came before them. So I want to say thank you now.

Corinne_intricateI want to say thank you, not only to Tee Corinne, but to Joani Blank and Betty Dodson, to Pat Califia and Honey Lee Cottrell, to Felice Newman and Frederique Delacoste, to Priscilla Alexander and Scarlot Harlot, to Michael Rosen and Mark I. Chester, to Layne Wincklebleck and Kat Sunlove, to the founders of San Francisco Sex Information, to Nina Hartley and Annie Sprinkle, to Isadora Allman and Susie Bright. And I know there are more. I know I’m forgetting some people, and for that I apologize. If you think you should have been on this list, you probably should have.

To all of you I want to say: I am not an ungrateful child. I am more grateful than I could possibly say.

Spanking for Stagefright

Spank_3I don’t generally expect to get turned on by the New Yorker. But I just read this in the 8/26/06 issue, in John Lahr’s article about stagefright:

“(Carly) Simon has found that physical pain often trumps psychological terror. ‘If you have something that’s hurting you physically, the pain is the hierarchy,’ she said. To that end, she has been known to take the stage in tight boots, to jab her hand with clutched safety pins, and even, just before going on, to ask band members to spank her. At a celebration for President Bill Clinton’s fiftieth birthday, at Radio City Music Hall, in 1996, Simon, terrified of following Smokey Robinson, invited the entire horn section to let her have it. ‘They all took turns spanking me,’ she says. ‘During the last spank the curtain went up. The audience saw the aftermath, the sting on my face. I bet Olivier didn’t do that.'”

Horn_sectionSo does anyone else find this (a) totally hot, and (b) somewhat baffling? I mean, I get that stagefright is freaky-ass stuff, and I get that not everyone obsessively eroticizes spanking the way I do. But if I were suffering from severe stagefright and looking for some physical pain to snap me out of it, I’m not sure that “ask the entire horn section to spank me” would be the solution that would leap to mind.

I’ll have to remember it, though. The next time I do an erotica reading, I’ll have to insist on getting a spanking beforehand to cure my stagefright. Of course, I’ve never suffered from stagefright in my life… but that’ll be our little secret.

Hide and Seek: Dirty Found Magazine, issue #1

Dirty_found_1In my continuing attempt to keep this sex-writer’s blog at least marginally focused on sex, here’s another smut review I wrote for Adult Friend Finder magazine — my review of “Dirty Found” magazine. I do have a couple of rants-in-progress that I was hoping to finish this weekend, but with three parties plus picking up my mother-in-law at the airport, somehow having a life got in the way of writing about it. I promise to be out in the next few days with my rant about people who disrespect science while drooling over exciting techy toys. In the meantime, you’ll just have to settle for porn reviews. Enjoy!

Hide and Seek
by Greta Christina

Dirty Found Magazine, issue #1
Davy Rothbart & Jason Bitner, editors
http://www.foundmagazine.com/
$10.00

I can tell you this for certain: it’s not like any other dirty magazine you’ve seen.

Found_1Here’s what it is. Have you ever heard of Found Magazine? It’s a magazine of “found” art and writing: love letters, to-do lists, snapshots, doodles, diaries, etc. People find stuff on buses, in garage sales, at cafe tables, even just on the street or in the trash — and they send them in to the magazine, which publishes them. It’s a cool thing, a fascinating glimpse into other people’s secret hearts and minds.

Dirty Found is the same thing, but… well, dirty. The letters, the photos, the drawings, the to-do lists, the email printouts… all of them have to do with sex. The photos found tucked into used books show people proudly displaying their naked or half-naked bodies. The drawings found on the street depict naked people, explicit sex, bizarre erotic scenarios. The journal found in the trash pile gives meticulously explicit details about the journal writer’s wildly kinky sex life — and the extreme sex fantasies that even she’s scared of.

Dirty_found_4In a way, it’s like a magazine of amateur porn: like letters written to dirty magazines, or photos published with adult personal ads. But unlike amateur porn, the stuff in Dirty Found wasn’t meant for public consumption. It’s not about what writers or artists or photographers think their audience will find hot. It’s about what ordinary people personally and privately think is hot. It doesn’t show the sex lives people deliberately show to the public — it shows the sex lives people meant to keep to themselves and their lovers. (There’s arguably an ethical problem with making this material public; but the magazine does make an effort to conceal people’s identities, with names blacked out in the writing and bars over the eyes in the photos. Anyway, if people wanted this stuff kept private, they probably shouldn’t have left it lying around.)

So like I said, this is definitely not your grandfather’s porno mag. It’s much more personal than that, more intimate. Dirty Found is like a secret spy camera in a motel room, like being a fly on the wall in dozens of bedrooms at once. It’s a peek through a keyhole at the dirty freaky things people do but never tell anyone about; it’s the naughty, nasty, voyeuristic thrill of seeing things you aren’t supposed to see.

At the same time, it’s unbelievably sweet and touching. The photos especially: the people in them look so pleased with themselves, so proud of their bare asses or their sexy underwear or just their cocks and cunts. And it’s so ferociously personal. Seeing these pictures and reading these notes, you almost feel like you’re the one they were meant for. It’s as if you’re the naughty secret lover these folks were thinking of when they scribbled their fantasies in a notebook, like you’re the giggling, dirty-minded boyfriend or girlfriend who snapped the picture when they took off their clothes and spread their legs for the camera.

Dirty_found_3_bedAnd the variety is staggering. There are love notes about sexy moonlit walks, and love notes about vibrators and jacking off. There’s a carefully typed story about watching a neighbor girl undress, and hastily scrawled notes about doing meth and getting gang-banged. There are drawings of women being pissed on, and of medieval gay orgies, and of schoolgirls fucking themselves with high-voltage vibrators. And there are photos. Oh, my God, are there photos. There are photos of naked girls with their legs spread, and of guys in bondage getting enemas; girls on all fours and guys with their hands in their pants; close-ups of hard-ons and close-ups of feet; women in lingerie and men in lingerie; and photo after photo of plain old ordinary happy naked people, in beds or on sofas or God knows where.

My personal favorite is the journal. Several pages of this one journal are reproduced in Dirty Found, the journal of a writer/performance artist/dirty dirty girl that someone found in some New York trash. The journal describes this woman’s kinky sexual adventures with her lover and her fantasies about him, adventures and fantasies that would put many a smut writer to shame. She writes about ordered to dress up like a slut and display her ass, being ordered to lick his asshole and beg to get fucked. She writes about pissing on her lover, and getting pissed on by him, and fucking him with an enema nozzle before she delivers the enema. She writes about the freaky shit fantasies they talk about while they’re fucking, and the even more freaky shit fantasies that she thinks about when she masturbates. (She draws, too, so some of these stories come with illustrations.)

But this is a journal, not a smutty novel… so not everything in it goes right. For instance: She describes a moment where her lover began to beat her bare ass with a belt; but he hit her too high, it was unpleasant and un-erotic, and she made him stop. Now, in a smutty story, this could be jarring, the sort of thing that jolts you out of the fantasy and back into the yucky real world. But here, the real world is the whole point, and the mis-strokes and awkward bits just make the image even more real, more immediate — and therefore, a whole lot more hot. I love what a shameless pervert this woman is, how intense she is about her dirtiness and how much she enjoys it. And I like her style — her journal is unpolished but quite well-written, probably the best-written thing in the whole magazine.

Dirty_found_2_drawingWhich leads me to my next point, and a bit of fair warning. The smut in Dirty Found isn’t professional, and as a result… well, it isn’t professional. The writing is badly spelled and often rather trite; most of the drawings are kind of cheesy; the photos are poorly lit, and the people in them are pretty average-looking for the most part, and their sexy poses are often awkward and less than entirely flattering. I’m not saying this as a criticism — if it were all super-professional and well-made, the magazine wouldn’t be what it is. I just want you to know what to expect. Don’t get Dirty Found expecting slick stories of perfect fantasies, or beautifully lit photos of exquisite models. Get it expecting a sweet, sloppy, vivid, unsettling, funny, tacky, and utterly true picture of what’s going on inside other people’s libidos.

Going Wild: A Feminist’s Defense of the “Girls Gone Wild” Girls

Ggw_doggy_styleIn case you haven’t read this already, Joe Francis, the guy who runs the “Girls Gone Wild” empire, has been revealed by the L.A. Times to be a crazy, abusive, profoundly fucked-up asshole. I don’t actually have a lot to add on that particular topic apart from “Damn, what a crazy, abusive, profoundly fucked-up asshole.” Actually, the phrase “crazy, abusive, profoundly fucked-up asshole” would seem to be an understatement.

EverythingsexBut I do feel somewhat compelled to comment. I wrote a fairly lavish think piece about the “Girls Gone Wild” videos for the big Disinformation anthology Everything You Know About Sex Is Wrong (you can read it on my website if you like), and since then, I feel like I’ve become the Feminist Sex Writer Who Thinks The “Girls Gone Wild” Videos Are At Least Somewhat Defensible. So whenever the topic of these videos comes up, I feel like I need to chime in.

What I want to talk about now is not the people who run the “Girls Gone Wild” empire, but the “Girls Gone Wild” videos themselves — and the women who perform in the videos.

And more specifically, I want to talk about what’s being said about the women in the videos.

Ariel_levyThe writing I’ve seen about Girls Gone Wild is largely taking two directions. One is pity/concern for the poor exploited girls who are being taken advantage of when they’re too excited/too young/too drunk to know what they’re doing. The other is pity/contempt for the vulgar idiot girls who are squandering their feminist heritage by pulling their shirts up on camera… and are ruining things for the rest of us.

And I have much the same problem with both. I think there’s more than a whiff of patronization, and elitism even, in both attitudes.

Ggw_girls_who_like_girlsLet me talk about the first one first. In the strict Marxist sense, of course the women in GGW are being exploited. They’re being paid a disproportionately low amount for their labor — they’re getting paid in T-shirts and Mardi Gras beads, so duh — and someone else is getting rich off that labor. But I’ve seen a few of these videos, and it sure looks to me like most of these girls know what they’re doing and very much want to be doing it. They like the attention; they get off on exhibitionism; they enjoy feeling sexy and wild; they like having an excuse to do dirty things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Will they regret it later? Maybe. Some of them almost certainly will. But you know, a lot of us have done things in our youths that we now regret and can’t take back. (My entire first relationship leaps to mind.) Making dumb choices that you regret is part of being young. It’s the flip side of risk-taking and adventure.

TequilaAs to the women being too drunk to consent goes, I’m not seeing it. I’ve seen tipsiness in the GGW videos, high spirits, probably even some impaired judgement — but not blackout drunkenness, not drunkenness that would obliterate consent. I could be wrong, I’m not there on the streets of Spring Break with a Breathalyzer and a lie detector test (those don’t work, anyway)… but it sure looks to me like, hammered though many of them are, most of these girls know what they’re doing and know what they want.

Which brings me to my second point: the “they’re squandering their feminist heritage” argument.

This is the one that really bugs me. It’s as if sexual liberation is only for those of us with the right sex-positive feminist credentials — not for yahoo sorority girls who want to pull their shirts up on camera. Like they don’t deserve to have sexual choices, because they’ll make the wrong ones.

UlyssesBut we all deserve sexual liberation. We all deserve the freedom to make sexual choices — even dumb ones or crass ones. As someone whose name I can’t remember once said, not all censorship battles can be about Ulysses. (Does anyone know the source for that quote, btw? I couldn’t find it.) And the battle for sexual liberation and the right to sexual expression can’t always be about brilliant sex-themed performance art, or beautiful ecstatic lovemaking in loving long-term relationships. Sometimes it’s about college girls at big drunken parties pulling their shirts off for the video cameras. That’s the whole point of feminist sexual liberation — we don’t get to go around scolding other women for their consenting sexual choices. (Not on moral or political grounds, anyway. On aesthetic grounds… that’s another story.)

Nina_hartleyI’ve seen arguments that the problem with GGW isn’t the girls whipping their tops off for the camera — it’s the people behind the camera, the crassness of the videos and the company and the grotesqueness of the main man behind them. It’s not liberated or empowering if you’re whipping your top off for exploitative assholes, or so goes the argument. But while I’m certainly not going to defend the motives of the GGW empire (especially not now), I still think we should support the sexual agency of the wild girls themselves. Do you think every single porn movie that Annie Sprinkle or Nina Hartley ever made was a delicate work of artistic beauty and profound insight, made by sensitive feminists, with the profits going to rape crisis centers and saving the rainforest? I sure don’t. I’m sure that at least some of their movies were silly and dumb, and that the profits from at least some of them went to pay for the sports cars and coke habits of nitwit Silicone Valley porn producers. That doesn’t negate Nina and Annie’s sexual agency and power.

Guys_gone_wildAnd I think a lot of the “won’t somebody please think of the children?” hysteria about the women in the GGW videos is just flat-out sexist. The same company that makes the “Girls Gone Wild” videos also makes “Guys Gone Wild” videos as well… and I think it’s extremely interesting that nobody, not one person that I’ve heard or read on this subject, has gotten upset about the poor stupid young college boys with low self-esteem who got drunk and let themselves be manipulated into flashing their asses and dicks on camera, and who are going to feel violated and ashamed the next morning and will regret it for the rest of their lives. It’s apparently just young women who are incapable of making their own sexual decisions and living with the consequences.

Ggw_bad_girlsSo here is my plea. Can we please, please, try not to extend our excoriation of Joe Francis to an excoriation of the women who’ve performed in his videos?

Can we please treat them like adults, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they do what they do because they want to do it?

Can we please at least try to remember that other people like different sexual things from what we like… and not jump to the conclusion that if someone is doing something sexual that we wouldn’t enjoy, therefore they don’t enjoy it either, and therefore they’re only doing it out of manipulation, desperation, coercion, drunkenness, low self-esteem, cultural brainwashing, etc.?

Annie_sprinkle_1Because when we treat the Girls Gone Wild with patronizing pity and contempt, when we stop respecting them and their sexual agency, it’s a small step to disrespecting Nina Hartley and Tristan Taormino and Annie Sprinkle and Carol Queen and all the other great exhibitionists of the world. And it’s a small step from there to disrespecting every woman — and every man — who makes unpopular sexual choices.

For Better or Worse: “Taboo: Forbidden Fantasies for Couples”

TabooIn an attempt to inject some more sex into what is ostensibly a sex writer’s blog, I’m going to start posting some of my smut-and-sex-toy reviews here. Don’t worry — I’m not abandoning the rants and musings about skepticism and politics and music and weird dreams and Harry Potter and stuff. But since I am primarily known as a sex writer, I thought some of you might want to read some of my thoughts about, you know, sex.

This review originally ran in Adult Friend Finder magazine, where I’ve been writing for about a year and a half now. I’ve done a lot of good work for them, but this is one of my favorites. It uses a dirty book review as a jumping-off point to think about the anatomy of a dirty story, and how porn fiction works — or doesn’t. Enjoy!

For Better or Worse
by Greta Christina

Taboo: Forbidden Fantasies for Couples
edited by Violet Blue
Cleis Press, $14.95

OceanI realize that calling an erotica anthology uneven is like calling the ocean wet. It’s practically built into the definition of the thing. When you have a couple dozen or more stories by a couple dozen or more writers, you’re going to have ups and downs, higher points and less high points. And in an erotica collection, you’re naturally going to have stories that turn you on and ones that don’t, stories that cater to your favorite delectable desires and stories that cater to other people’s weird-ass kinks (or their totally boring ones).

But while all erotica anthologies are uneven, some are more uneven than others. Some hit a consistently high note, ranging from damn good to fucking great; others wobble about in the range from mediocre to pretty decent. And some, like Taboo, are all over the damn map, with stories that send you flying… and stories that make you wonder why even the writer cared.

Sweet_lifeTaboo was put together by the editor of the Sweet Life anthologies, and it’s in a similar vein: stories about (and for) committed long-term heterosexual couples acting out fantasies and exploring new sexual possibilities, aimed at a couples’ audience and meant to both arouse and inspire. But Taboo has an important twist. While the fantasies in the Sweet Life books are on the gentle, not-very-threatening side — first-time spankings, three-ways, dildos, and the like — the stories in Taboo are kinkier, edgier, more extreme. Taboo has public sex, public kink, medical scenes, rape scenes, gender-fuck, sex with strangers, sex with guns, and heaps upon heaps of heavy-duty hard-core dominance, submission, and sadomasochism. It’s all about couples consensually exploring fantasies together — but there’s a huge variety in the fantasies and fetishes that the couples in the stories are exploring.

And there’s a huge variety in the quality of those stories. Taboo is so interestingly uneven that you could almost use it in a writing class, an object lesson in what makes porn fiction work — and what doesn’t.

SpeculumLesson 1: You can’t write a good porn story by just describing a series of physical events. Really effective porn gets inside the characters’ heads and bodies, makes the reader feel what they’re feeling. “After Hours” by Dante Davidson does this exquisitely. One of the better and more twisted stories in Taboo, it describes a medical scene between a doctor and a nurse, a gynecological exam with a sexual edge that gradually crosses the line from nasty, forbidden thoughts to nasty, forbidden deeds. Davidson does a remarkable job of conveying how the doctor feels, the line he walks between detached professionalism and intense arousal and invasion — so much so that it takes a while to figure out that this is actually a consensual, planned-out scene between an established couple. And Davidson doesn’t just get you inside the doctor’s head — he gets you inside the nurse’s as well, conveying not just the man’s excitement but his awareness of the woman’s as well.

CucumberOn the other very disappointing hand, we have “Forbidden Fruit” by Pearl Jones. This is a prime example of the “series of physical events” theory of porn writing. In it, a couple has a series of sexual encounters involving fruits and vegetables. The woman masturbates with a cucumber, and later on her husband fucks her with a cucumber, and then they go to the grocery store and buy more sexy fruits and vegetables, and then he goes down on her with the cucumber inside her, and then they eat raspberries off each other’s bodies, and then she cuts a hole in a melon so he can fuck it, and then… and it goes on like this. Jones gives detailed descriptions of each act, occasionally even describing the couple’s physical sensations… with no sense at all of what it means to them, what it is about fucking their produce that they find naughty or sexy or special, how it all feels to them emotionally as well as physically. Admittedly, the “sex with food” thing doesn’t do much for me (and frankly, I’m hard-pressed to see what’s so all-fired taboo about it). But I’m not particularly into the medical fetish, either; yet “After Hours” got me inside that fantasy — and made me feel exactly what was hot about it.

Which leads me to Lesson 2: A porn story should be… well, a story. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it should have a narrative arc: it doesn’t have to have a lot of non-sexual plot, or indeed any, but the characters should be in one place at the beginning of the story, someplace else at the end of it. You can get away with a series of disjointed sexual images in video porn, since it’s such a visual medium; but unless it’s written by an exceptionally good experimental writer, a porn story has to unfold, with some suspense about where things are going. This isn’t just a literary nicety — it makes the porn hotter, making it easier to identify with the characters, and giving it a sexual tension right along with the dramatic tension.

James_deanFor an excellent example, take “James Dean, One Thousand Bucks, and a Long Summer Night” by Emilie Paris. “James Dean” starts out as a fairly standard (albeit unusually well-rendered) fantasy about a couple picking up a street hustler for a voyeuristic three-way. But as the story unfolds, the wife changes her mind about what she wants — and takes charge of the scene, directing it into an area she and her husband hadn’t anticipated or even agreed on. The moment when the wife takes control and shifts the fantasy from the standard “man watching his wife fuck another man” to the rather less commonly-seen “newly dominant wife watching her straight husband get fucked by another man” is a moment that’s both unnerving and fiercely exciting. The story gets across the essence of what makes taboos hot — not simply breaking society’s rules and boundaries, but breaking your own, with the excitement of genuinely unfamiliar territory that might actually change your life while it’s getting you off.

And of course, any good narrative has to have conflict. This may be the lesson Taboo was in the greatest need of. Far too many of its stories gloss right over the hard parts: couples venture into three-ways with never a blink of jealousy or insecurity, and try freaky new fetishes with pure eagerness and no hint of anxiety or doubt.

BabysittersI could once again cite “Forbidden Fruit”: a twelve-page story, packed with multiple sex acts, in which absolutely nothing happens. It’s a near-perfect example of how the lack of development or conflict makes for truly boring smut. (I’m sorry to keep harping on this one story; it was just so pointless and rambling and dull that it actually stood out, making me wonder what on earth it was doing in an erotica anthology with obvious aspirations to quality.) But I don’t want to keep hammering on this one poor sad piece of supposed erotica. And I actually have a better example of bad conflict-less porn: “Sometimes It’s Better to Give,” a “couple fucks their babysitter” story by Bryn Haniver. It’s a fun fantasy (or it could be), loaded with potentially hot taboo elements: the depraved older couple seducing the innocent girl, the wicked employers taking advantage of their employee, the moment when the young woman’s surprise and resistance turn to curiosity and lust, etc. etc. But the author goes to an absurd effort to de-fang the nastier parts and make it all safe and nice. The babysitter’s actually their ex-babysitter, a horny and flirtatious college girl with loads of sexual experimenting already under her belt, and when the couple propositions her, she says yes with barely a blink of an eye. The author didn’t let her be shocked or reluctant or even surprised, not even for one paragraph. As a result, there’s no suspense, no conflict — and no tension, sexual or otherwise. And it’s not even remotely plausible.

Dark_alleyAdmittedly, I have a personal bias towards smut fiction that’s plausible. It’s hard to lose myself in a sex fantasy if I’m picking holes in the backstory or thinking, “There’s no way she would do that.” But my desire for porn with real conflict and problems isn’t just about believability. It’s about sexual tension, the heat created by personal friction. As a marvelous counter-example, there’s “Dinner Out” by Erin Sanders, one of the best, scariest rape fantasies I’ve read. It works because it lets the rape be both terrifying and safe. It’s clear to both the reader and the “victim” that this is a couple acting out a rape fantasy and not a real rape — and yet it lets the victim feel panic and helplessness, violation and pain. And it doesn’t shy away from the tension in her own feelings, the unsettling and exciting disconnect between feeling violated by a stranger and feeling cared for by a loving partner. There’s also “In the Back of Raquel” by P.S. Haven, an entirely different “couple tries a voyeuristic three way” story that lets the scene be imperfect, that explores and even revels in its weirdness and jealousy and competitiveness — and that finds the fierce, driven, urgent intensity at the heart of the weirdness, the almost-angry tension that makes the story both arousing and believable.

Exam_tableAnd while we’re on the subject of plausibility, we have our final lesson: respect for the fetish or fantasy. The two medical-play stories in Taboo are perfect examples of what I mean. I’ve already talked about “After Hours,” (the perverse and lovely doctor/nurse medical exam fantasy) and how it made the gradual unfolding of the story feel like exquisitely tantalizing foreplay. But the story also works because it lets the characters get into their roles and act as if they were real. Their nasty thoughts and feelings are clearly there from the beginning, but they act like doctor and patient for a good long while, keeping the reader in suspense and sticking within the fantasy’s boundaries until almost the end. It lets you believe these dirty dirty things could really be happening, in a real medical exam — and this lets you have the fantasy, lets you crawl inside it and feel it down to your blood vessels.

Nurse_bootIn contrast, we have “Medical Attention” by Skye Black. In this one, the medical attention doesn’t get to be clinical and detached even for a minute before it becomes blatantly and explicitly sexual. It has no patience, doesn’t let you believe that this could really be happening even for a paragraph: it jumps to the sex right away, giving you the barest taste of the fantasy — and almost immediately smashing it to pieces.

Okay. All this babbling about the anatomy of a porn story is all very well and good. But it’s not helping you decide whether to buy the damn book or not. What’s my final verdict? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Taboo_1On the whole, I’d say thumbs up. While Taboo is seriously uneven, enough of the stories are good to make the book worthwhile — and several of the stories are better than just good. If you like porn that’s about taboo sex and edge play, do check it out. And if you’re intrigued and inspired by the idea of acting out edgy taboo sex fantasies in solid long-term relationships, then this is your baby. Just be prepared: you’re going to have to do some skimming. Even more than you usually would with a porn fiction anthology.

P.S. You can buy Taboo at Powell’s.

Bending and Bottoms: Erotic Reading by Greta and Others, Thursday 8/17

Threekinds“She loved being bent over. More than any fiddling that might precede it, more than any fumbling sex act that might follow. The moment of being bent over was like a sex act to Dallas, like foreplay and climax blended into one swooning, too-short moment. A hand on her neck, pressing gently but firmly downward, felt like a tongue on her clit; a voice in her ear, telling her calmly and reasonably to bend over and pull down her pants, felt like a cock in her cunt.”

Want to hear more? Come hear me read it in person! The Inside Story Time reading series is having an evening devoted to the topic of Bottoms, which they’re describing as “a literary exploration of the theme of sexual submission.” I’ll be reading from my erotic novella Bending (excerpted oh-so-briefly above), which was published in Susie Bright’s three-novella collection Three Kinds of Asking For It. Other readers at the event include Carol Queen, Stephen Elliott, and players to be named later.

Greta_in_top_hatSo why should you come? Well, at the risk of sounding appallingly arrogant, I’m a really good live reader. I love doing it — I’ve never understood the “fear of public speaking” thing, to me it’s like eating bon-bons and getting a neck massage — and I do it extremely well. Dirty stories especially. And this novella, “Bending,” is easily one of the best things I’ve ever written. It’s smart, it’s funny, it takes its subject seriously, and it’s unspeakably filthy. I love it, and I love reading it aloud. (And it’s been a while since I’ve given a reading from it, so I’m no longer sick of it.) Here are a few of the nicer blurbs, about “Bending” in particular and “Three Kinds of Asking For It” as a whole:

Kirkus_cover“Greta Christina’s ‘Bending’… is a surprisingly moving odyssey of exhaustiveness and exhaustion.” -Kirkus Reviews

Annie_sprinkle“A smart and delicious trio of erotic novellas — a must-read in bed with towel near by. I’ve been a long-time fan of Greta Christina’s writing, and here she is at her very best — and in excellent company. I was inspired, and perspired.” -Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D.

Sarah_silverman“The perfect book for intellectual sex freaks… Even the ones I thought were disgusting aroused me wildly.” -Sarah Silverman

Cleo_dubois“‘Bending’ is amazing. Kept me from sleeping. Truly brilliant.” -Cleo DuBois

Pwcover“Who needs a beach for this summer treat? Bright’s imprimatur guarantees heat sufficient to melt an ice floe.” -Publisher’s Weekly

M_christian“This is not a good book, or even a great book, but rather is an excellent book. The writers here have managed the near-impossible by presenting stories that are not just touching, amusing, amazing, evocative or poignant but also powerfully erotic. I cannot recommend it too highly!” -M. Christian

Alan_ball“Intense, unjudgmental, hilarious and wise.” -Alan Ball (yes, that Alan Ball, creator of “Six Feet Under” and writer of “American Beauty”)

The “Bottoms” reading will be on Thursday, August 17, from 7 to 9 pm, at the Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell Street in the Hayes Valley district of San Francisco. $3-$10 sliding scale. If you can’t come, you can read a more extensive excerpt from the novella on my Website. Plus, of course, you can buy the book at Powell’s.

And if you can make it to the reading, please say hi afterwards — I’d love to meet my blog readers. Hope to see you there!