Tasting Him: Oral Sex Stories by Rachel Kramer Bussel

It’s said that the difference between liking, loving and showing off is spitting, swallowing and gargling. I don’t approve of vulgar humour like this. I find these sort of jokes leave a nasty taste in my mouth. That said, I was once of the opinion that oral sex was when a couple shouted, “Fuck you!” at each other.

Tasting Him is an anthology of stories centred around the theme of oral sex. I can hear you now saying, “That sucks!” If you are saying that, clearly you’ve been reading the same crap joke book that I’ve been using. And, if you are saying that, it’s obvious you haven’t read the brilliant stories contained within this wonderful anthology.

Tasting Him begins with Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Gloss” – a story that hits hard and fast and delivers the sort of powerful punch to be expected from this doyenne of erotic fiction. “Gloss” is the story of a woman with a craving and it tells how she goes about satisfying that need with typical RKB panache.

And then there’s Robert Peregrine’s “A Treatise on Human Nature.” Robert is a fluid and competent writer, not leaving a single word in the final story that isn’t working hard. Over five short pages Robert builds a delightful tension that culminates in a truly satisfying climax.

Throughout this anthology the sexual content remains orally fixated but I have yet to hear anyone complain about such a fixation. For those who want to find new ways to add spice to their love life, some of the many different approaches to oral sex are laid out in this anthology like a cunning guide book.

In “Frosted,” the inimitable Kristina Wright suggests a sweetened coating to an otherwise savoury snack. In “Prego,” Alison Tyler shows how spaghetti sauce can add to the experience of a blowjob. (This story touches on the aphrodisiac quality of certain Italian words—a language I’ve always adored and never been able to master—and I have to agree that a lot of the Italian vocabulary is inherently sexy. It just feels right in your mouth). Donna George Storey concludes the anthology with an appropriate postprandial treat: “After Dinner Mint.” Donna writes wonderful sex scenes and mouth-watering food descriptions. When these two genres are so skilfully combined with her penmanship, the story is wonderfully vivid.

Tasting Him also contains stories of powerplay—as would be expected. The act of fellatio is often seen as one of submission or surrender. However, this anthology works hard to subvert that norm. There are some wonderful tales of traditional powerplay—such as Terri Pray’s deliciously intense “Without Eyes” and Amanda Earl’s cruelly impartial “How I learned to Give Good Head.” But these power roles are subverted in some of this anthologies wickedly innovative stories. Lori Selke’s heroine wears a strap-on to receive the ultimate BJ in “Cocksucker” and Michelle Robinson’s vivid heroine Cindy takes a commanding role in “A Tongue is Just a Tongue.”

There’s an awful lot in Tasting Him from the quality of the writing through to the imagination of the authors. There’s an equal amount of fun to be had in the sister anthology Tasting Her—stories that focus on cunnilingus. If you really want to warm up the coming winter months, these books make for fun and inspirational reading.

Tasting Him: : Oral Sex Stories
(Cleis Press; September 1, 2008; ISBN-10: 1573443239)
Available atAmazon.com / Amazon UK

© 2008 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

Tasting Him: Oral Sex Stories, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

In Tasting Him, editor Rachel Kramer Bussel brings together twenty-three stories about an act that is purely about pleasure. As Simon Sheppard points out in his story “It’s A Wonderful Blow Job,” which person is in control during a bow job is irrelevant. While he’s talking about male-to-male, other stories in this collection point out that there are plenty of people, male and female, who enjoy giving and receiving.

Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Gloss” boldly throws out the stereotype that women don’t enjoy giving head. Her character goes out hunting for a stranger to suck off, and when she’s accomplished her goal, relishes walking through a bar looking like a woman who has just given a blow job. Which only goes to prove Ceaser had the order wrong. She saw, he came, she conquered.

“Logic,” by Jacqui Applebee is one of those stories that sticks with your imagination long after the story is over. The ménage a trios has a melancholy air to it at first, but ends on a brighter note. Most ménages are simple sex romps, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the way three lovers connected gave this story depth.

While the couple is male-female in “Cocksucker” by Lori Selke, he’s the one who gets down on his knees. Several days later, he admits that after sucking on her strap-on cock, he’d like to try a real one. Many erotica stories are about fantasy fulfillment, but it’s this one, with her realistic feelings about his confession and the beautiful way she responds to him easily makes this my favorite story.

Many of the stories in Tasting Him focus on the art of the blow job. While I’ve heard there are people who don’t like to give them, I doubt there are many lovers who don’t like to be on the receiving end. With contributions from many well-known names in erotica, and enough new names to keep things interesting, Tasting Him may teach you a new trick or two to share with the next cock you lure into your mouth.

Tasting Him: Oral Sex Stories
(Cleis Press; September 1, 2008; ISBN-10: 1573443239)
Available atAmazon.com / Amazon UK

© 2008 Kathleen Bradean. All rights reserved.

Tasting Her: Oral Sex Stories, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Tasting Her is the companion book to Tasting Him. Shanna Germain, Thomas Roche, Donna George Storey, Alison Tyler, Craig J. Sorensen, Kristina Wright and Rachel Kramer Bussel contributed to both. But from the interesting differences in the covers – Tasting Him shows a happy hetero couple in a close embrace, Tasting Her shows a close up of a woman seemingly in orgasmic bliss while the other person is blurry, distant, and easily overlooked – to the tone of the stories, these anthologies aren’t mirror images.

It’s disheartening, but probably an accurate reflection of the world, how many women in these stories don’t like to have oral sex performed on them. In Jeremy Edwards’ “Cavanaugh’s Ridge,” he has to work a long time just to get her relaxed enough that she can stand to be touched. In Julia Moore’s bright and funny “Down There,” all she needs is a lover willing to ask for direction. Given space to figure out what she wants, she discovers a whole new world.

It was a relief to see Shanna Germain’s “All About the Girls,” where not only does the character want her clit serviced, she carries dental dams with her. I’ll admit I shared the narrator’s brief disappointment about the lack of tongue on skin, but also like the narrator, I got over it quickly. What made this story stand out though was how Shanna took time to build the desire and seduction. Too many writers ignore the foreplay with the reader. By the time her characters got together, I was ready to go along with them.

While Tasting Him is full of how-to instructions for the giver, most of the stories in Tasting Her are about learning to enjoy receiving head. One notable exception is Stan Kent’s wonderful “Read Her Lips.” I wish every lover I’ve ever had read it. Heck, I wish I’d read this twenty-something years ago. But don’t let the instructional side put you off reading this. It’s hot and sweet at the same time to worship a woman’s body through his point of view.

“… I knew in that moment that I was being revered,” Jen Cross says in “Queen of Sheba.” You could stand being revered, couldn’t you? She writes, “He got me off so many times when he was down there, like that was the whole point. Can you imagine?” Well, yes, fortunately I can. Hopefully you can too. If you can’t, maybe your lover’s been wanting to share something with you, and it’s right at the tip of his/her tongue.

Tasting Her: Oral Sex Stories
(Cleis Press; September 1, 2008; ISBN-10: 1573443247)
Available atAmazon.com / Amazon UK

© 2008 Kathleen Bradean. All rights reserved.

The Shadow of a Dog I Can’t Forget by Mary Kennedy Eastham

You wouldn’t guess that the title above belongs to a love poem, would you? You’ll find many surprises in Mary Kennedy Eastham’s slim volume of poems and prose, most of them wonderful. Ms. Eastham’s poetry is sharply observed and emotionally genuine. It encompasses both humor and pathos. While not all of the pieces in Shadow of a Dog are erotic, many focus on desire, love, and loss, and in particular, the power of fantasy and memory.

Undress Me

His name was Jinx,
a dark-haired Californian
with hands too pretty
to belong to a boy.
I was sixteen, a virgin,
girl-silly from fantasizing
about what men do to women
and what women do back.

I cut my jeans into short shorts
and cut my tee shirt to just half an inch
below my swelling breasts.
I rubbed the juice
from a bottle of maraschino cherries onto my lips
and put a drop of pure vanilla extract behind each ear.

Memory rearranges itself over time
but the good parts stay.
I remember the Volvo pulling into the driveway
the sound of his voice drifting in through the torn screen door.
As I climbed from my bedroom window
onto the hot porch roof
the strap of my sandal lets loose
casting tiny particles of tar into the soft, summer air.
Gardenias bend toward me
as I slide down, down, down
into arms that felt like part of a landscape
I’ve lived with all my life.
Jinx was mine.

Poetry, like music, is a highly personal taste. When I turn on my favorite songs, my husband holds his hands to his ears. Some poems resonate, setting up harmonious vibrations of emotion. Some do not. Not everyone will enjoy Ms. Eastham’s style, superficially casual but cutting to the bone. But I did.

My favorite poems in this book are the ones about love and desire. “Kissing Harrison” chronicles a fantasy relationship with a “bareback meteorite cowboy” who comes to town looking for a “good girl/bad girl” who isn’t the narrator:

He opened up my eyes to me
said he saw me, or someone like me
in the pages of Vogue
a girl on a raspberry satin chaise lounge
disobedient gold high heels dangling from my feet.

Or the dark imagery in “Stripping for Blind Men”:

The men ask me to describe the movements
which I am only too happy to do.

I am cat-crawling on the floor for you now boys, I say
blowing a handful of my Braille business cards
toward bodies pressed hard
against the stiff bar rail.
My hot breath gets the men crazy.

Then there’s the stunning prose/poem that opens the book, “Is there ever such a thing as a tiny betrayal?”

‘Do you close your eyes when you kiss?’, he asks me. He’s left the hotel door half-open. Someone looking in would see my bare legs dangling from a persimmon and gold chaise, my platinum silk high heels ready to walk, or not.

The non-erotic poems are equally powerful “What He Did at the End of His Life” brought tears to my eyes:

His favorite nurse is due in soon, the one who said,
‘I wish I’d known you healthy.’

“6 Parisville Place” puts us into the mind of an abused child:

Pretty things will hang in her walk-in closet here.
Guns won’t fire. There will be no need to hide
foster brothers and sisters in another
cold white porcelain tub, her own feet
quivering on the toilet seat
as she searches for shadows in the thin line of light
beneath the locked bathroom door.

Poetry is difficult to describe. It exists only as first hand experience—hence all my quotes, frustrating attempts to convey the emotional impact which, really, can only come from reading an entire poem, the way the author intended—perhaps re-reading it, a second or a third time, seeing new angles, feeling new emotions.

If the quotes above resonate with you, pick up a copy of this book. And read it more than once.

The Shadow of a Dog I Can’t Forget
(Robertson Publishing, April 13, 2007; ISBN 0972772170)
Available atAmazon.com / Amazon UK

© 2008 Lisabet Sarai. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Hurts So Good: Unrestrained Erotica, edited by Alison Tyler

Whilst researching my most recent book on swinging (SWINGERS: Female Confidential) I spoke with several couples who insisted they were open-minded enough to try anything sexual, except for those activities that involved the three Ps: Pain, Pee and Poo.

Except there was invariably an addendum. Whenever anyone said they didn’t do the three Ps, one or both of the partners would qualify this with, “Well—not too much pain.”

It’s hard to explain why pain and pleasure go so well together. It’s one of those things that most of us understand on an intuitive level but putting it into words is like trying to describe the smell of happiness of the colour of satisfaction. Some say it’s the heat from the inevitable friction that adds to the arousal. Others claim it’s the breaking of a social taboo—accepting the unacceptable. In short, every expert with an opinion is willing to inflict a punishing explanation on those sorry enough to enquire. And, usually, their answers seldom touch on the truth.

Alison Tyler knows why pain and pleasure go together so well. She knows why and she’s recruited authors to help her explain the details.Hurts So Goodis her latest anthology focusing on the satisfaction that comes from submitting to powerful forces.

Nikki Magennis opens the anthology with “The Sound of One Hand Clapping.” Nikki Magennis is an incredible storyteller who has a mystical ability with words. Her descriptions are so compact yet effective that the story comes easily to life. Like the most perfect blend of pleasure and pain, “The Sound of One Hand Clapping” is hard, punishing and beautiful in its execution.

Equally adept at weaving wonderful worlds with his fiction is the marvellous Mike Kimera. “Toying with Lily” is his story about a submissive who is testing her master’s boundaries. Mike creates a narrative that is compelling, consistently sexy, and inspirationally innovative.

Rachel Kramer Bussel, with her wicked story “Crossed,” and Shanna Germain with her delightfully underplayed “Rock Paper Scissors,” both show that – as there are two sides to pleasure and pain – there are also two aspects to dominance and submission. And both those sides can be equally rewarding.

The whole collection is a joy to read – a rare example of pleasure without the pain. However, for descriptions of how good suffering can sometimes be, this anthology is one that every aficionado of passion and punishment will want on their shelf. With twenty one sizzling stories from masters of erotic writing, Hurts So Good is a book that’s needed to help readers better understand why pleasure and pain go so well together.

Hurts So Good: Unrestrained Erotica
(Cleis Press; October 1, 2008; ISBN-10: 157344328X)
Available atAmazon.com / Amazon UK

© 2008 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

Out of the Shadows by TreSart L. Sioux

From an outsider’s perspective, Tess has it all: a handsome, attentive husband, adorable four year old twins, a gorgeous house on the ocean. Love, family, security: the goals of every woman. Appearances are deceiving, however. Tess is miserable and guilty, living a lie. All she wants is to be with her lover Diane, but as Out of the Shadows begins, she doesn’t have the courage to make the changes that she knows, in her heart, are required. Out of the Shadows chronicles her painful progression to the point where Tess understands that she can’t hide her true self anymore.

Tess has been attracted to women since she was a teenager, but given her conservative, religious parents, she never dared to act on her true desires. Instead she married Kirk, a nice guy who treated her like a princess, and for whom she did care—even if she had to fake the physical passion. Then five years into the marriage, she meets Diane at one of Kirk’s business functions, and realizes how much she has been missing.

Diane fulfills Tess’ physical and emotional needs in a way that Kirk never has. The independent, self-confident graphic artist urges Tess to break with Kirk and make a life with her. But even as her relationship with Kirk grows more difficult and confrontational, Tess hesitates, making excuses, waiting for the “right” time. Finally Diane loses patience; she loves Tess, but she can’t keep answering the younger woman’s distress calls without seeing a future for the two of them.

Things reach a climax when Diane’s lesbian friend Carol meddles in the situation, exposing Tess and forcing her hand. Finally Tess realizes that she has to choose, to come out of the shadows of self-denial into the sunshine of Diane’s love.

Out of the Shadows is subtitled “A Novel of Lesbian Romance”. This is an apt description. The plot represents the classic “love in the face of obstacles” paradigm – even if the primary obstacle is Tess herself. However, despite the familiar premise, this book has a fresh, genuine quality; it does not feel clichéd in the least. Tess narrates, in the first person, and her frustration, fear, and desire are palpable. The reader wants to shake her, to say “Wake up, act, before you lose what you want most!” Yet at the same time, one sympathizes with the young woman, understanding how hard it is to take such a radical step.

Ms. Sioux writes with a direct, energetic style that propels the story forward while still revealing the emotions of her characters. She gets the details just right, for example, in the scene where Kirk and his buddies are watching TV and getting drunk. They’re typical guys, noisy, profane, and arrogant in their assumption that she’s there to serve them. One feels Tess’ revulsion; she clearly loves Kirk most when he’s showing his sensitive, feminine side.

The sex scenes fit smoothly with the rest of the story. The contrast between Tess’ frustration with Kirk and the deep satisfaction she finds in Diane’s arms is almost shocking.

Kirk pulled me onto the bed, laying me back against the numerous pillows. He trailed his chin down my belly to my opening, dragging his stubble over my skin. His warm mouth pressed against my clit, gliding down to my hole.


In reality, the only way I was going to become wet was if Diane were doing the deed. So, I imagined she was. Her tongue was inside me, swirling around and lapping it all up. The stubble was replaced by the softness of her face. The deep alto moans were easily replaced by her high loving moans of ecstasy. Kirk had been replaced.

I was feeling the moment. My dampness began to glide, my nipples became harder. I ignored what he had to tell me, his love, his desire. Once he placed his long, hard cock inside me, I had robed Diane in suitable attire – laced boots, strap-on, ready to fuck.

Ready to fuck me.

Tess is selfish and immature. Ms. Sioux doesn’t flinch from showing us this truth. However, as in all good novels, the characters are not static. Tess, Kirk, and Diane all have their lessons to learn. Even the fascinating secondary character of Carol, with her decidedly suspect motivations, changes as Diane’s and Tess’ mutual devotion overcomes her cynicism.

As this is a romance, Out of the Shadows ends happily. The break-up with Kirk turns out to be less difficult than expected. Though her mother more or less disowns her, Tess receives some support from her straight-laced father. However, before the end, the conflicts are sufficiently intense that one could almost believe the book would end in tragedy–that Diane would completely give up on Tess, or that Tess would make her choice, but too late.

Out of the Shadows is a sincere, realistic treatment of the pains and joys of coming out as a lesbian. Ms. Sioux clearly put her heart into the book, and I enjoyed reading it.

Out of the Shadows by TreSart L. Sioux
(Renaissance E-Books Sizzler Editions, 2008; ISBN 978-1-60089-344-5)
Available atRenaissance E-Books

© 2008 Lisabet Sarai. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Casanova: Actor Lover Priest Spy by Ian Kelly

If your name is famous or infamous enough, or if it fills some sort of lexical need, it can get used as a term of description on its own. We have been hearing a lot lately about people who are supposed Mavericks, for instance. If you call someone a Benedict Arnold, everyone will know you are paying no compliment. For centuries, lotharios have been called Casanovas, meaning a libertine who has made plenty of sexual conquests. It is only part of the picture Casanova himself gives in his massive twelve-volume autobiography, and most readers (like, admittedly, your present reviewer) have contented themselves with looking for the naughty bits and ignoring the rest. This leaves the stage open for a biographer to take the massive work, decide what can be chipped away to make for a full but accessible life story, and examine confirmatory contemporary texts to inform the reader of context. This is just what Ian Kelly has done in Casanova: Actor Lover Priest Spy (Tarcher / Penguin). Kelly includes “lover” in that subtitle, but he does not include plenty of other categories in which the multi-talented Casanova excelled and which are included in this exciting biography: violinist, soldier, alchemist, cabalist, con-man, prisoner, fugitive, traveler, and the list goes on. Casanova was not always admirable, but he was always enthusiastic, and was a model for living life bravely, if excessively. He thus makes a fascinating subject, and a theatrical one in both senses of the word. Kelly is himself an actor, and successfully concentrates on the theatricality of Casanova’s life. Indeed, his book is divided into operatic acts and scenes rather than chapters, with intermezzi between the acts to explain details about the eighteenth century versions of travel or sex habits.

The theatricality starts right at the beginning; Casanova was born in 1725 to an actress in Venice, a city literally of masks, for citizens were required to wear them from October into Ash Wednesday. All his life, if he was not himself on the stage, he was hanging out with actors, making love to actresses, or traveling with a troupe. His family thought the boy was an imbecile, but an uncle realized that the nine-year-old Casanova had a voracious mind, and arranged for him to be schooled in Padua, where he was a sharp scholar and became a doctor of laws at age seventeen. He thought the church would be a good arena for his ambitions and his aim to travel, and as an abate he delivered his first sermon in the church of San Samuele, which earned him some money in the collection plate “together with some love letters all of which made me think seriously of becoming a preacher.” It is not surprising that he did not eventually find the church a perfect career. He was eventually to make money, a lot of it, as a lottery tycoon; he set up the first lottery in France, to the satisfaction of the government and to his own coffers. He had mathematical skills which were an asset in such work, but they did not help him retain his fortune, which was blown on food, wine, and fun. He was to have less success in efforts in businesses of silk dyeing, tobacco sales, or soap manufacturing, but his mathematical skills served him in his cabalistic efforts. Kelly gives a short explanation of the cabala, the “fusion of Gnosticism, Egyptian mathematics, neo-Platonism, Judaic mysticism and personal revelation” that was to intrigue Casanova all his life. It remains unclear how much Casanova really believed the occult system worked; he was dabbling in it late in his life when it could gain him no fortune, but he had been able to make it pay. This was especially the case in the notorious episode of the Marquise d’Urfé, a rich and mystically-inclined widow who thought she could get her soul reincarnated into the body of a young boy, and that Casanova was just the magus to make it happen. Preposterous ceremonies ensued, involving Casanova performing coitus with the aged Marquise and having to fake two of the three orgasms the ritual required while a naked girl danced around the couple to pique his ardor. He did get his share of the widow’s fortune, but he was always better at spending money than making it. He was to end his days as a librarian at Dux Castle in Bohemia; he did always love books, and it was the time when, slowed by age, he enjoyed his more active days by writing about them. “He became addicted to writing,” says Kelly, “as he had once been to adventure, travel, and sex.” There has always been a question of how much he padded his memoir and how much was sexual braggadocio, but Kelly finds corroborations for many of the episodes, including some that have previously been deemed questionable. It is likely that any errors in the memoir are due to simple and excusable lapses of memory more than to deliberate exaggeration.

There would have been little need to exaggerate, anyway. Someone has toted up that between age sixteen, when he lost his virginity to a pair of sisters, and age around forty-five when he lost his potency, he slept with about 130 women, or at least he wrote about that many. This is not a heroic number, if you consider that it works out to be an average of four a year. What he describes in his memoir is guilt-free enjoyment, and the stories of pleasure resonate for us more than routine porn from the time for a couple of reasons. Casanova knew of men who got pleasure from inflicting pain on their partners, but this disgusted him; he had no interest in this sort of kink, or in being on the receiving end. He had little interest in coercion and almost as little in conquest. He did have some interest in homosexual encounters, but is subdued about describing them. He was repeatedly attracted to women dressed as men, and had a spectacular affair with a girl who was passing herself as a man so she could perform as a castrato on stage. He realized that he had a compulsive interest in sexual adventure, but that the thrill was only partly physical. He was sincere rather than cynical. He liked (theatricality again) the performance, the act of bringing joy and pleasure by seductive play and then moving on. His accounts of his amours are playful and affectionate: “He was a libertine on the cusp of being a romantic,” says Kelly. He did not like sex unless it were linked with laughter, food, and joy. He liked intelligent women, and he liked pleasing them; he much preferred affairs to one night stands, and even his connections with prostitutes were long-term. He remained on good terms with many of the ladies after he had traveled away, sometimes leaving them pregnant. He was careful to keep their identities hidden in his memoir, although researchers have at least in some cases been able to give a name and personal history of some of the women he lists. He did not count himself handsome or well endowed, and he was frank about how he feared disappointing a lover, or losing an erection, or ejaculating prematurely.

In all, Casanova was one of the most fascinating characters in history, and we do him a disservice to use his name as a quick synonym for a mere “lover”. There was far more to him. He talked with Dr. Johnson about etymology, for instance, and stayed with Voltaire, and visited Rousseau, the Pope, Ben Franklin, Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great, and Mozart. He might have contributed lyrics to Mozart’s Don Giovanni; he certainly had a box at the premiere. He enjoyed food, and may have been the fellow who started off the folklore that oysters are aphrodisiacs; Kelly points out that we should appreciate Casanova as a food writer. He made his own way, had an enjoyable time of it, made it enjoyable for others, and then turned out a memoir that is known by everyone, even if not everyone has read it. Kelly’s wonderfully sympathetic but unfawning picture is full of enthusiasm for its irrepressible subject, and it gives a fascinating account of the ways of life and love throughout eighteenth-century Europe.

Casanova: Actor Lover Priest Spy
(Tarcher; October 16, 2008; ISBN: 158542658X)
Available atAmazon.com / Amazon UK

© 2008 Rob Hardy. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Backdraft: Fireman Erotica, edited by Shane Allison

Editor Shane Allison has picked seventeen hot tales (oh, come on, you knew there had to a cliché in this somehow) that focus on firefighters as objects of desire. From the romantic to the down-and-dirty stories, this book from Cleis Press continues their long-running series of erotica anthologies. Backdraft: Fireman Eroticauses a somewhat politically incorrect title but its contents are right on target.

Allison chooses stories from some familiar names among gay erotica writers. Veterans like Rob Rosen, Simon Sheppard, M. Christian, Shanna Germain, Neil Plakcy and Jeff Mann join newer authors such as Charles Harvey and Elazarus Wills. These authors generate a variety of voices, settings, and styles for the collection. Many of the pieces have a dark side, an element of true-to-life tragedy is laced into several of the tales. It’s a surprising touch, one that editor Allison should be commended for.

The collection’s opener, “Four-Alarm Fire,” is a strong piece from Rob Rosen. Quickly paced, with short dialogue that works well for the characters, Rosen’s fireman hints at a dark past and a tragedy that’s unvoiced. When asked about the scars on his back, this fireman points to his head and acknowledges that they only hurt “up here.” This is a nice nod to psychological issues that show some realism and depth.

“Safety Zone” from Elazarus Wills is a romantic tale in which a firefighter’s own house burns down. Like several of the stories in the book, this one has characters who are involved with/cheating on partners, another nod to the realism of gay sex. In the end, the two lovers end up fighting fires together, and the warm implication of happily ever after lifts the story.

Stephen Osborne’s story, “Unattainable” splashes cold water on his character, Bobby, who pines for fantasy firemen when real-life possibilities are already in his life. In a distinctly non-sexy encounter with a fireman, Bobby’s first sexual encounter ends badly: no tenderness, no whispered sweet nothings, and no orgasm. It’s a surprising choice for an erotica collection, but once again, adds that touch of realism for a distinctive voice.

One of the strongest pieces is “Smoke and Semen” from Jeff Mann. With its strong images of passion and love, Mann mixes firefighting, bears, and bondage into a bittersweet combination of erotic and mourning. The narrator ponders his current lover: “I’ve never told him about Aidan, about that passionate love affair fifteen years ago, about Adian’s beauty, sweetness, and submission. Nathan doesn’t need to know he lives in a shadow.” With vivid imagery and a controlled voice, Mann’s story is worthy of re-reading.

Another mournful story is “Holding Pattern” by Tom Cardamone. This narrator survived a plane hijacking and spends his days taking pills, watching television and waiting for a lover. After seeing a fellow passenger shot dead right next to him, this is a character who is broken and cold. Ko, his part-time lover who has another boyfriend, comes to him with food and touch, trying to warm something that can’t be touched again. “…the permanent passenger who had absorbed the blood of the dead and milled it into ash.” There is no hope for this couple yet the story works as poignant reminder of mortality.

Other stories are the more traditional, meet-em, suck-em and fuck-em kind of encounters. Short-term encounters between strangers, men cheating on their partners (both male and female), quickies. These work just fine within the theme; firefighters are an enticing masculine icon, and reading stories about their sex lives is fun. Both as text and subtext though, some of these tales warn readers of the dangers of fire, the embers that never cool, and the warmth that can turn to raw heat with passion. Be warned: this is a hot book, in more ways than one.

Backdraft: Fireman Erotica
(Cleis Press; September 1, 2008; ISBN-10: 1573443255)
Available at: Amazon.com / Also Available in Kindle Edition

© 2008 Vincent Diamond. All rights reserved.

Swingers: Female Confidential by Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a prolific author of erotic fiction. Writing under a variety of pseudonyms, he produces more books in a year than I do in a decade. His short stories have appeared in dozens of acclaimed anthologies, and his full-length novels are renowned for their lively, entertaining treatment of various fetishes.

It turns out that Mr. Lister is an accomplished master of non-fiction as well. His first book on the U.K swinging scene, Swingers: True Confessions from Today’s Swinging Scene,published in 2007, explored the desires and practices of swingers using personal interviews and integrative commentary. The book received highly positive reviews and a great deal of media attention, at least in the U.K.

Swingers: Female Confidential is in some sense a sequel to the earlier volume. It uses the same format: lengthy extracts from first person interviews with swingers, interspersed with interpretation and observations by the author. This volume focuses on the experiences of women who swing. As the author explains in the introduction, this focus derives from the questions he received on the first book. It appears that non-swingers find it difficult to believe that women would actively seek out and enjoy the culture of swinging. A common assumption is that women are pressured into swinging by their partners, and that they participate reluctantly. One of Mr. Lister’s objectives is to debunk this myth, and he does so quite effectively.

Mr. Lister lets us hear the varied voices of the women whom he interviewed: the women who like to be watched; the ones who crave sexual interaction with other women; the ones who seek the extremes of “greedy girl nights”, where they might take a dozen men in one evenings. These women range in age from their twenties to their sixties. Their socioeconomic backgrounds, education, and marital history vary widely. But they all have something in common: they enjoy sex. Furthermore, they are comfortable asking for what they want, as well as setting boundaries.

At the same time, one of the fascinating aspects of the book is how different Mr. Lister’s informants are in their desires. Some women enjoy “same-room swaps”, where they can watch, and even participate, as their partners get involve with another women. Others prefer to swap and then retreat to separate rooms, so as not to be distracted from the experience of a novel lover. Some women want to mix sex and friendship, and develop close relationships with the couples with whom they swing. Others work hard to keep their swinging and their daily life as separate as possible.

I could not help but be impressed by the level of honesty and disclosure these women are willing to offer. Clearly, they trust the author with their “dirty secrets”. I wonder how many of them had read his previous book. I must say that he treats their confessions with discretion and respect. One gets the notion that Mr. Lister admires these women for having the courage to act on their desires. The reader comes to feel the same way.

Is Swingers: Female Confidential a sexy book? Yes, in the same way that gossiping about sex with your close friends can be sexy. The overall topic induces a buzz. The scenarios described are not as graphic as what you’d find in one of Mr. Lister’s novels, but hey—it’s fun to think about this sort of thing.

I will admit that I’ve done a bit of swinging myself (though not in the U.K.). All in all, it didn’t provide what my husband and I were seeking, which was a long term intimate relationship with another couple, but it had its good points. One of the things that I enjoy most is the sexually charged atmosphere at a party or club. Things that are forbidden elsewhere are permitted, even encouraged. You can be as outrageous as you’ve always dreamed. You can touch, and be touched, and still feel safe. You can ogle the other guests and know that they won’t be offended. You can let yourself be ogled in return, basking in the knowledge that others think you’re attractive. The air is electric; the night is filled with possibilities; even if nothing much happens, you still end up jazzed and aroused.

Reading Swingers: Female Confidential feels rather similar.

Swingers: Female Confidential
(Virgin Books; September 16, 2008; ISBN-10: 0753513439)
Available at: Amazon.com / Amazon UK

© 2008 Lisabet Sarai. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003 by William N. Eskridge Jr.

To some Americans, it seems obvious that consenting adults should be able to have sex with whomever they want; to others, it seems obvious that such things should happen only in marriage. Not only should homosexuals not be sleeping together, say some in this latter group, but also if our laws don’t restrict such activities, the homosexuals are going to be recruiting our children and who knows what else will happen. Theological and legal restrictions and punishments for sodomy go back for millennia, but American laws about sodomy came into their own in the nineteenth century, and have persisted, although they have recently lost much of their power to proscribe behavior. In Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America 1861- 2003 (Viking), William N. Eskridge Jr. has given a big and exhaustive history of such laws. A law professor himself, he filed an amicus brief for the judgement in Lawrence vs. Texas whose 2003 date indicates it is the climax of his book. Eskridge documents a change in national legal philosophy whereby adult sexual activity was acknowledged to be best regulated by the conscience of those involved, and for many reasons is best left alone by the government.

Blackstone referred to “the infamous crime against nature” and this particular wording is well known. The nature of this particular crime, however, has always been vague, allowing the definition to be expanded as those in power wished. Biological studies have shown that there is nothing unnatural about homosexual activity, as it appears all over the animal kingdom, and with special exuberance in our bonobo cousins. While many would insist that the Bible is clear in its proscriptions in Genesis, Leviticus, and the Epistles, it is not exact about what specific physiological encounters are the “shameless acts” between men, and it is even less informative about acts between women. Eskridge tries to explain why such acts have proved to be so worrisome, but he cannot penetrate far into that mystery. Sexual activity that cannot produce a pregnancy disgusts or horrifies some people; some religions even insist that it is sinful for married people to have sexual fun if the chance of pregnancy is nil. That people have heterosexual encounters far more often for fun than for an effort to produce a pregnancy seems not to matter. “Crimes against nature” has even included masturbation in some jurisdictions. There has been a longstanding fear (most loudly voiced by Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant thirty years ago) that homosexuals would recruit children or even adults, and such recruitment would lead to the doom of our society. Such fears now seem quaint and undocumented within recent history. The destabilization of society that was predicted to be the result of allowing sodomy (whatever the definition is) has not happened, for instance, in Britain which decriminalized consensual sodomy in 1967, or in the states which decriminalized around the same time.

Eskridge may not be able to make clear the motivation for laws against sodomy, but he is exceedingly diligent in making clear the different steps and stages of the laws. The seventeenth century was marked by aggressive enforcement of sodomy laws, with capital punishment for violations. The states of the new nation eventually revoked the death penalty, but kept sodomy or “crime against nature” laws, most of which had to do with the insertion of a penis inside a rectum; thus, women could not commit sodomy, nor could men practicing fellatio. Eskridge says that in the late nineteen hundreds, people flocked to cities, they had better facilities for hygiene, they had more public parks and restrooms, and they had newly-invented zippers, all of which made fellatio more popular. Since it was not classed as a crime against nature, however, there was little those in authority could do. Little to do, that is, except make it part of the crimes against nature; in 1879, Pennsylvania had the first English-language law anywhere to class oral sex as sodomy, and other states followed. Incorporating cunnilingus under sodomy happened with less regularity; sometimes it was made illegal only when a man did it to a woman, perhaps reflecting that the state legislatures did not worry about or did not want to think about homosexual activity between women. Sometimes there was no allowance for being married, so that married couples who enjoyed oral or anal sex were breaking the law, although no state went after these particular miscreants. The new laws were seldom used, too, on unmarried heterosexual couples except for purposes of prosecuting prostitution, so that the laws against sodomy were in fact laws against homosexual behavior. Politicians found it convenient to link homosexuality with other practices thought nasty at the time: “… the Russians are strong believers in homosexuality,” said one representative during the McCarthy period.

As the twentieth century progressed, legislators leaned more toward the nineteenth century utilitarian ideas of Jeremy Bentham who wrote that British sodomy laws restricted pleasure (however much non-participants were disgusted by the idea) without giving social benefit. Thinkers like Margaret Mead and Dr. Alfred Kinsey (both of whom had some personal knowledge of the subject) went on record as opposing consensual sodomy laws. The famous jurist Learned Hand in 1955 got consensual sodomy dropped from a Model Penal Code, and dozens of states adopted the code. Nonetheless, some states kept the laws. In 1982 in Atlanta, Michael Hardwick was arrested for oral sex with another man, and local ACLU attorneys filed suit on his behalf. In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled that Georgia had acted properly. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.” Eskridge explains how Burger’s view was incorrectly reasoned (including the idea that homosexuals were recruiting others and contaminating society) and how it was evaluated that way by many experts at the time. It was not until 2003 that the Supreme Court got a chance to change the decision. It was a more conservative court at that time, and the country had gone through a spell of politically powerful Christian conservatism. The most conservative members would have kept the sodomy laws in action in considering Lawrence vs. Texas, but they were in a 6 – 3 minority. It was yet another case in which police had conducted a search of questionable ethics and legality into the apartment of one John Lawrence, and found him in bed with another man. Justice Anthony Kennedy in his majority opinion wrote, “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today.”

Much of Eskridge’s book is of legal analysis deeper than many layman will enjoy, but there are details here of the lives of, say, Bowers and Hardwick, and not just their legal cases. There are descriptions of lawyers on both sides of issues, and the judges who ruled on the cases, so that the book provides a picture of how the law works and how it has come to allow consensual sodomy today, while still capably prosecuting forced sex or sex upon minors. Given the subject, there are flashes of humor in what is otherwise a solidly serious tome. For instance, in the 1961 decriminalization debate in the Illinois capitol, one exasperated representative exclaimed that the only way sex would in the future be illegal in his state was “… if you’re doing it on the front porch and blowing a bugle! And you can do it with either sex!” Eskridge notes that there was an embarrassed silence, and then bill for decriminalization was passed. All the battles are not now won; Eskridge writes, “The state can no longer legislate gay people as outlaws, but neither must it treat sexual variation as completely benign or neutral… The United States has not become a nation of moral liberals generally, and certainly not as regards homosexuals.” The current controversies are over gay marriage or partnership agreements, and the controversies rage, but at least the era of legal persecution for the act of sodomy itself is over.

Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003
(Viking Adult; May 1, 2008; ISBN-10: 0670018627)
Available at: Amazon.com / Amazon UK

© 2008 Rob Hardy. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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