Whip Smart: A Memoir y Melissa Febos

“Attractive young woman wanted for nurse role-play and domination. No experience necessary. Good $$. No sex.” It was an ad at the back of The Village Voice in 2002, and it caught the eye of Melissa Febos, a college student at The New School in New York. She had done her share of jobs other students were doing, like working in bookstores or coffeeshops. She was interested in better money and was also inherently interested in breaking rules and taboos. The ad represented her start of four years as a dominatrix, years that she chronicles in a thoughtful, funny book, Whip Smart: A Memoir(Thomas Dunne Books). For those of us who won’t ever be answering such an ad, or hiring the services of such a one as Mistress Justine (Febos’s work name), this is an introduction into a strange world that only exists because it fills a need. Febos has insights into the men who make such a business possible, and into her own capacity for dishing out pain and humiliation, but suffice it to say that she doesn’t explain everything away; there is enough strangeness here for anyone’s curiosity, and it makes Febos’s book a page-turner.

Febos learned that another resident of her apartment in Brooklyn was a dominatrix. “Aside from a few tame experiments with handcuffs, I had no concept of what this meant. What was the job description for a dominatrix?” Ever the student, she started doing research into magazines that “consisted of erotic stories and advertisements for ‘dungeons.'” She could tell from the pictures of the glamorous models that they didn’t really work in dingy cellars. Eventually, she worked up the nerve to ask her neighbor about the job. The neighbor was going to law school (“She looked so normal“) and her ability to negotiate two such different worlds immediately appealed to Febos. The neighbor explained that there was not actual sex, though the work was sexual, and the money was good, and it was easy to get hired, but it was hard to keep the job. “Domming isn’t for everybody,” she warned, and that was yet another goad for Febos.

Answering the ad, she showed up at the sprawling Dungeon of Mistress X, though she admits she was “at a loss for how to dress for such an interview.” It was, indeed, no dank and dusty cellar, but “a high-styled big-budget dream,” the lush stuff of fantasies. “Excitement folded through me in waves. I had to work here.” Her introduction into the Red, Black, and Blue Rooms is very funny. Shown a table with leather upholstery and metal rings, her guide explained that the top of the table is a lid that opens. “For storage?” Febos asked. No: “For slaves. It doubles as a coffin… If you’re lucky, you get to tie them up – gag, blindfold, the works – and stick ’em in there for most of the session.” So much hardware: “Mounted on the walls were hooks from which hung leather floggers, whips, ropes, riding crops, paddles, cuffs, blindfolds, and even a couple of gas masks.” There were a dizzying array of stocks, a riding saddle, cages with locks, mirrors, a giant wooden cross, strap-ons, stilettos, nurses’ costumes, and more. “Reeling, I wondered how I’d ever remember the names of all this equipment, let alone learn how to use it.” There were plenty of monitors to keep track of traffic in the hallways, elevator, and entryway. There were managers on shifts who took the phone calls for bookings, on an hourly wage with commissions for booking clients. Mistress Justine (Febos enjoys the irony of having the name of one of De Sade’s decidedly non-domme heroines) could expect $75 wages for an hour’s session, plus tips that might be $5, might be $500.

The men were not the social outcasts she had expected. “They were seemingly normal. The majority of them were married fathers, and they were nearly all professionally successful. My client base consisted of stockbrokers, lawyers, doctors, rabbis, grandpas, bus drivers, restaurateurs, and retirees.” Their diverse needs she saw as compulsive, but routine, just an itch that had to be scratched. One good tipper merely wanted to arm wrestle for a half hour. More than one client wanted to play a kid who needed a spanking because of a call from a teacher for schoolroom naughtiness. Another common fantasy was to have Mistress Justine play “the high school bitch,” a role she enjoyed, one of the “most requested bullies, along with mom, stepmom, teacher, babysitter, and nurse.” One client, “filthy rich and dumb as wood,” had plenty of sessions “and never tired of the same scene, the same lines. Sometimes I would blindfold him just so I didn’t have to make all the facial expressions.” One had a sweater fetish, wanting to be swathed in sweater pants, underpants, booties, and all, and then tied up. The men would want verbal humiliation, or enemas, or spankings, or other abuse. They must have been having fun at some level, fun that is hard for the rest of us to understand. One client, in stirrups and nipple clamps while getting a catheter installed, “did not look like a man indulging in lascivious pleasure. He looked like a man suffering from painful constipation.”

She says of her high school bitch role, “Don’t mistake my enthusiasm for identification; I was not this type of girl in high school.” It’s all an act. When people asked about her work, the first question was always, “Do you have sex with them?” (No.) The second question was always, “Do you do it because you’re into it?” (No.) “It’s an acting job,” she explains to a date. “Probably one of the most reliably playing acting gigs in New York,” an explanation that always got a chuckle. Like any job, some of it was fun. “Pretending to admire a 250-pound man in a ratty wig and pink muumuu with lipstick smeared on his teeth and pretending enough to play his lesbian seductress often required rigorous effort. When I had another mistress to share the burden, that effort was paid mostly to prevent hysterical laughter.” But sometimes it was just work: “Relentlessly spanking someone for an hour is grueling.” And it wasn’t any fun cleaning up messes. But the job brought in money, and intangible results: “Being a dominatrix so quickly became a part of my identity.” She liked being wanted. She became comfortable in her body and she enjoyed having female friends at work. She did homework at the dungeon during down times, and her grades were good.

Her personal life, though, was a mess. She was using some of the nice money she made to buy heroin and cocaine, and Febos describes the effects of the drugs with detail but not drama. She is also matter-of-fact about getting to AA meetings, increasing her honesty within the abstinence program, and staying clean. She might not have been “into it” at the superficial level of getting off sexually on the scenes she played, but there was a deeper level to the power games. “I torture people for money and I can’t stop,” she says as a shock introduction to a new therapist, and eventually she does stop. She had the feeling that she had completed her anthropological investigation, and she had gotten the benefits of conquering her shyness. She won’t be going back to that scene, because now she is herself teaching writing in college. Her students who exhibit curiosity about their teacher’s past will find plenty of models of colorful descriptions in this volume, along with sometimes lacerating introspection, as well as astonishing depictions of peculiar behavior handled with tolerance and sometimes even affection.

Whip Smart: A Memoir
(Thomas Dunne Books, March 2010; ISBN-10: 0312561024)
Available at: Amazon | Amazon UK

© 2010 Rob Hardy. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Orgasmic: Erotica for Women, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Author and editor Rachel Kramer Bussel has compiled a one-of-a-kind anthology in Orgasmic: Erotica for Women. This collection focuses on an aspect of the sexual experience that often gets short shrift in erotic fiction—the female orgasm in all its wonderful configurations. From multiple Os to the elusive G-spot orgasm, Bussel has gathered twenty-five stories that not only focus on female sexual pleasure, but put it on a pedestal and celebrate it.

The stories in Orgasmic are as varied as the orgasms they feature. Several of the stories include domination and control within the context of loving, committed relationships—a refreshing element that does nothing to dull the sharp edge of desire. When a couple decide to play a friendly game of Cheat, delayed gratification is the name of the game in Elizabeth Coldwell’s deliciously anticipatory “The Waiting Game.” Jacqueline Applebee explores the variety of ways a woman can get off with a lover, and plays with the concepts of mental and physical stimulation, in her thought-provoking “What’s in a Name?”

Voyeurism and exhibitionism are also prominently featured in the collection. In “Animal Inside,” a woman escapes her day-to-day routine by slipping off to a hotel and sharing her orgasm with a stranger she spies through a hole in the bathroom wall. Louisa Harte puts a new spin on camping in the great outdoors in her story “Seeing Stars.” And Lana Fox’s delicious “Frost First” is a naughty tale of instant gratification no matter who might be watching or listening.

While all of the stories in Orgasmic creatively handle the topic of female orgasm, two stories in particular strike a unique note. Dusty Horn’s “Share” is a deftly written piece of erotic fiction that combines G-spot play and penis envy and addresses the many facets of queer female sexuality. And Andrea Dale tackles a subject not often seen in erotic fiction—the adjustments a kinky couple need to make due to pregnancy. It is an emotionally charged piece reinforces the idea that good sex is about communication and desire no matter the circumstances.

Rachel Kramer Bussel has a winner with this collection of stories revering the female orgasm. Orgasmic: Erotica for Women is a book you’ll want to share with a lover or pass along to a friend.

Orgasmic: Erotica for Women
(Cleis Press, August 2010; ISBN-10: 1573444022)
Available at: Amazon | Amazon UK

© 2009 Kristina Wright. All rights reserved.

The Marketplace by Laura Antoniou

If you had a friend who was interested in BDSM, but who didn’t have much experience, what fiction would you advise her to read? What books belong to the BDSM canon?Story of O, certainly. Maybe A.N. Roquelaure’s Beauty trilogy (although if the real author were not Anne Rice, I wonder if those books would get as much attention as they do). Perhaps Molly Weatherfield’s Safe Word and definitely a couple of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s D/s-themed anthologies such as He’s on Top, She’s on Top, Yes, Sir or Yes, Ma’am.

One book that would make almost everyone’s list, I think, is Laura Antoniou’s The Marketplace and its sequels. I’ve been hearing about these books for years – no, decades – ever since I joined the ranks of BDSM readers and authors. Although I’m a devotee of D/s fiction and to some extent practice, somehow I never got the opportunity to read any of the series. One reason was the fact that despite their acclaim they have received, the books keep going out of print. The Marketplace was originally published by Masquerade Books in 1993. A new edition was released by Mystic Rose Books (also responsible for the wonderful primer Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns) in 2000. Now Circlet Books, renowned for speculative and scifi erotica, has created a new imprint call Luster Editions to bring The Marketplace books back for today’s readers. When I was offered the opportunity to review the first volume, I jumped at the chance.

The Marketplace introduces a world where an elite cadre of dominants train, sell and buy willing slaves. The secrets of the Marketplace members are jealously guarded. In the everyday clubs and dungeons, BDSM afficionados trade rumors about the shadowy cabal of slave owners and their human property: the rigors the slaves must undergo, the enormous sums of money exchanged, the contracts, the collars, the decadent resorts, the beauty and the power of the masters and mistresses.

The Marketplace introduces Grendel and Alexandra, traders and trainers of premium slaves. Both are expert dominants. The book is deliberately vague about their relationship. Four would-be slaves apply to undergo the Marketplace training regimen at the hands of Grendel and Alex and their major domo Chris. None is a true amateur. In fact, all four consider themselves to be accomplished submissives. Almost immediately, the dominants strip the four of their illusions and show them how far they are from being Marketplace material.

Brian is a gay bottom who loves to be beaten and “forced” to suck cock. Despite his claims to being submissive, he is manipulative, sarcastic, cynical, rebellious and far too garrulous to be a good slave.

Sharon is used to holding men in thrall as she eagerly offers herself as a sexual object. Like Brian, she believes that being a slave is all about sex.

Robert has been feminized by his former mistress to the point that he has no self-confidence and hates his own penis. Although he is intelligent and well-educated, he becomes helpless and incompetent under pressure.

Finally, shy, virginal Claudia can act the part of the sweet, submissive French maid to absolute perfection, but that is the limits of her repertoire. Her mistress offers her to Alex and Grendel out of frustration and boredom, hoping that they can make her braver and more sensual.

Grendel and Alexandra devise customized lessons and trials for each of the aspirants, seeking to teach them the reality of being a slave in the Marketplace world. Sharon is assigned to muck out the stables and study diction and opera. Brian is made to wear ribbons and bells and deprived of sexual satisfaction. Robert studies martial arts and is forbidden to shave his hated body hair. Shrinking violet Claudia is required to take responsibility for the entire household while the normal housekeeper is on vacation and to severely discipline the other aspirants.

Although many of the stereotypes in BDSM erotica may have started with The Marketplace, the book itself is fresh, original and engrossing. It considers the nature of D/s relationships with rare depth and insight. In the Marketplace world, submission (and in fact, dominance) is about far more than sex. For the first half of the book, few of the lessons imposed on the would-be slaves involve no sex at all. They learn to obey without thinking, to take responsibility for their successes and their mistakes, to trust their masters and each other. Over the course of the novel, each one changes, approaching the perfection required of Marketplace slaves – though how that is defined will vary for each one.

I loved this book. For one thing, despite its fantasy premise, it has a realistic, down-to-earth feel. The characters are complex and their interactions nuanced and believable. The Marketplace is the exact opposite of the kinky fairy tale world of the Beauty books – even though they share activities and physical elements.

I also appreciated the recognition of the deep sense in which the slaves’ servitude is consensual. The aspirants’ most cherished desire is to be accepted as worthy by the Marketplace. The most terrible punishment that can be threatened is for them to be sent away, to be released from the training and set adrift in the shallow world of BDSM “play”.

Finally, I resonate with the view of D/s as something more than just a game, as something that can transform one’s soul. To quote one of my favorite passages:

To be thrilled by the touch of leather, aroused by harsh words, or satisfied by the security of rigid bondage is the mark of a lover.

To be thrilled at the opportunity to provide useful service, aroused by a pleased nod, and satisfied by the proverbial job well done, is the mark of a slave.

It may sound severe. Almost anti-erotic. Until you see two people, owner and owned, existing in a complementary relationship where each suits the other like balances on a delicate scale. Until you feel the energy of their rapport, you cannot understand how they fulfill each other, take and give in ways no negotiation could possibly express.

Then you will understand the singular intimacy that drives such people on their search for perfection. It is beyond orgasm. Beyond love. It can almost be called rapture.

If these words speak to you the way they do to me, you must read this book.

The Marketplace by Laura Antoniou
(Circlet Press, July 2010; ISBN 1885865570)
Available at: Amazon | Amazon UK

© 2010 Lisabet Sarai. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Tracker’s Sin by Sarah McCarty

Official book blurb: Before his trade became his name, “Tracker” Ochoa was a scrawny Mestizo runaway. Now as fearsome as he once was frightened, he’s joined the notorious Hell’s Eight…and they have a job for him.

He must rescue kidnapped heiress Ari Blake and deliver her safely to the Hell’s Eight compound—by any means necessary. Turns out that includes marrying her, if he means to escort her and her infant daughter across the Texas Territory. Tracker hadn’t bargained on a wife—especially such a fair, blue-eyed beauty. But the erotic pleasures of the marriage bed more than make up for the surprise.

Tracker’s well-muscled bronze skin and dark, dangerous eyes are far more exciting than any of Ari’s former debutante dreams. In the light of day, though, his deep scars and brooding intensity terrify her. But he’s her husband and she’s at his mercy. With the frontier against them and mercenary bandits at their heels, Ari fears she’ll never feel safe again.

Tracker, too, remembers what fear feels like. Though he burns to protect Ari, to keep her for himself always, he knows that money, history—and especially the truth—can tear them apart.
Review: I haven’t read any of the other Hell’s Eight books, but I’ve never been one for reading a linked series in order, where each book has a separate couple at the protagonists. But I’ve read McCarty’s books before, and enjoyed them, and since this one is listed as an erotic romance, I thought it would do nicely.

The book doesn’t actually read very well as a stand-alone. There are characters who aren’t explained and parts of the story were unknown to me, such as the heroine being an heiress. It’s just sprung on the hapless reader half way through.
The first half of the book works well and consists of Tracker and his brother Shadow getting Ari from the house where they find her to safety at Hell’s Eight. It includes a perilous climb over mountains to get away from the gang chasing them. I thought that was well done, and I enjoyed it, though I have to admit I wondered when the erotic part would begin. But it’s an exciting section of the story, well told, and I enjoyed it.

The second part isn’t so well done, sadly. It involves a villain I hadn’t come across before, which I could cope with, as it’s a part of a series, and several chases and gunfights. Two incidents that I felt were important to the story happen “offstage,” and they read as anti-climaxes. I felt they should have been on the page, or not there at all, as I got that arriving after the party feeling when I read it. “Oh, okay, so they did all that while I wasn’t looking.”

Tracker is a great hero. Part American Indian, he is a Texas Ranger, and has the hallmarks of a true man of action, one who knows how to use the tools of his trade, but doesn’t glory in it. Ari, who has gone through unspeakable experiences before the start of the story, has blanked out her memories. She is, as far as she knows, eleven months old. This works well in the story’s context, and I liked Ari, who combined love for her baby with a growing love for her rescuer. She’s competent and yet, when she does get her memory back, that, too, happens offstage, except for the first revelation. I didn’t get to share that with her, or feel what she felt.

Erotic – hardly. What sex scenes there are, and there are three main ones, are very well done, hot and realistic. I enjoyed reading them, except for the last one which seemed put in so the book would class in the erotic category. I didn’t believe that Tracker would feel it necessary, and he’d never really shown a yen for the kink he uses in the last scene, so it seemed imposed. And since, by then, Ari had her memory back, I’m not sure she’d have been comfortable with it. But the first lovemaking scene after she regains her memory is lovely, and probably the best in the book.

Tucker’s Sin by Sarah McCarty
Harlequin Spice, October, 2010; ISBN-10: 037360548X)
Available at: Amazon |Amazon UK

© 2010 Lynne Connolly. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission.

Coming Together presents C. Sanchez-Garcia, Edited by Lisabet Sarai

The Coming Together anthologies are probably one of the worthiest causes in contemporary literature. To date the single author collections have included M. Christian and Remittance Girl, amongst many other well known names from the genre. Anthologies of erotic short stories, that benefit charitable causes, allow readers to contribute to something worthy and enjoy the pleasure of erotic literature all for the same price.

The proceeds from Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia will benefit the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. It operates a national hotline, educates the public about sexual assault; and leads national efforts to prevent sexual assault, improve services to victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.

But Coming Together Presents C. Garcia-Sanchez would be worth buying without the benefit of supporting a worthy cause. Coming Together Presents C. Garcia-Sanchez is a bloody good book.

Because this is a collection of short stories, I’ll begin by saying that the quality is consistent and high, even though the approach varies in a range of eclectic styles and considered approaches.

‘Rough Draft’ is a perfect example of this eclectic approach, beginning in the style of a letter to a men’s magazine and starting to reveal the sexploits of a just-turned-eighteen narrator in the typical fashion of an ‘I-can’t-believe-it-happened-to-me’ exposition.

Garcia-Sanchez understands the reader’s needs and expectations. As the narrative is turning to the anticipated central sexual encounter, the author ends the first segment of the story and continues it as an example of fin de siècle erotica, complete with expository dialogue and the characteristic reliance on adverbs. The transition is abrupt, snatching the reader from the comfort of the established narrative with an abrupt reminder that the content is a fiction. And again, once the reader has continued in the fin de siècle, and become suitably immersed in the narrative, Garcia-Sanchez again stops the story and begins in another genre: fantasy erotica.

The playfulness of this approach is amusing and entertaining. More than that, because the central characters in each story are essentially the same, the illusion of the varying narrators suggests, despite the change of genre and styles, the events have the coherence of a thinly disguised truth.

If you’re not familiar with the work of Garcia-Sanchez then this title is an ideal introduction to his writing. If you are familiar with this author, then Coming Together Presents C. Garcia-Sanchez should already be in your have-to-have reading material.

Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia
(Coming Together, September, 2010; ISBN-10: 1450511910)
Available at: Amazon

© 2010 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

A Brief History of Nakedness by Philip Carr-Gomm

If you are like me, you take off all your clothes in order to change into other clothes, to bathe, to sleep, or to make love. You do not get naked to advance your religion, nor promote a good harvest, nor to support a political or social cause, nor gain money, nor participate in artistic display. There are, however, plenty of people who have done such things and continue to do so. In fact, throughout history people have taken their clothes off for reasons more than quotidian, and in fact, a history could be written about such stripping, and in fact, such a history has been written. A Brief History of Nakedness (Reaktion Books) by Philip Carr-Gomm is full of surprising reasons people get naked, and funny ones, and practical ones, and sensual ones, and many more. What might have seemed a topic that was too simple to repay extended thought turns out to have many subtle (and not-so-subtle) facets. The author, who has written many serious and academic tomes, says that when his friends learned the subject of his newest book, they wanted to know what could possibly be said about it. He has found plenty to say, and for the most part avoids any academic stuffiness; this book is as fun as history gets.

One reason that Carr-Gomm can exploit the subject in so many ways is that it is universal; all of us get naked from time to time. Another reason is that the subject is full of contradictions. Without your clothes, you might well be embarrassed in some situations, or you might feel confident and powerful in others. Religion has emphasized the shamefulness and lust associated with a naked body, and yet some highly religious people have abandoned clothes in a show of innocence, lack of shame, or denial of materialism. Nakedness can mean abjection, with nothing left to lose, but it may also be a show of power, which makes it good for political protest. Being naked is often quite the antithesis of titillation, as visitors to nudist camps will tell you, and yet in most places in the world, if you take off your clothes in public you will be arrested. (Notable exception: Public nudity is a recognized right in Barcelona.)

It is famously known that witches practiced their wicked rituals naked; there are plenty of pictures from the time of the Witch Craze to show us how they did so. There is scant evidence, however, that there was any sort of an actual witch religion. Far more likely is that any depravity of witchery was found in the minds of the witch-hunters, who were happy to imagine their prey committing all wickedness, and naked to boot. The belief of naked witches did give such artists as Dürer an acceptable reason to portray female nudes. Nakedness has been used as part of an initiation rite, as can be seen in the puzzling frescoes of Pompeii’s Villa of the Mysteries, and in Mithraic cults, and even in Freemasonry. Carr-Gomm himself is a participant in modern Druidism, which sometimes fosters naked ceremonies, but the modern Wiccan movement is more famous for ceremonies performed “skyclad.” It is a surprise that this term, which Carr-Gomm rightly says “is so much more romantic and poetic than the starker terms naked or nude,” is actually borrowed from Indian religion, some of whose followers are known by a word denoting “clothed with the quarters of the sky.” It is more of a surprise to recognize the role of nakedness in more familiar religions that are not known to promote the shunning of clothes. There must be sects nowadays that baptize only naked candidates, but the early church drew on Jewish immersion rituals that required nakedness; St. Hippolytus of Rome, for instance, wrote around 200 CE that those to be baptized had to be without clothes, and also the women without jewelry. St. Cyril a century or so afterwards said that such nakedness for baptism was an imitation of Christ’s nakedness on the cross. Isaiah underwent three years of nakedness as “a sign and wonder,” and in the seventeenth century, other Christians were shocked when some Quakers explicitly followed his example.

Such nakedness partakes in the contraries of humility and power, a two-fold punch that protesters have used effectively. One of the most famous examples of this probably never happened. Lady Godiva sympathized with tax protesters, but her husband said he’d only change the tax laws after she rode through the streets of Coventry naked. Naked people, especially naked women, have ever since used the power of being in public to get their points across without even the defense of clothes. An antiwar protest group Breasts not Bombs happily displays the former, with the sensible idea that anyone offended by seeing a breast but not by seeing young men killed in warfare needs an adjustment of opinion. In India in 2004, forty women marched naked to protest murders and rapes by soldiers. The protest was reported, but few Indian papers carried photos of the women, with one commentator noting that the press could not abide showing naked women protesting, but delighted in showing cheesecake of naked women deliberately posing. There are many protests of this type, of varying degrees of importance and indignation, but most of them seem to have been initiated by women, not men. It is a Godiva syndrome: “… the act of a woman deliberately baring herself in order to make a statement is more powerful than if a man were to do the same, and indicates a deep level of commitment to a cause, on behalf of which she is willing to override her instinct to maintain the protection of clothing.”

It is more fun to consider nakedness for fun’s sake. There isn’t much here about private nakedness, but plenty about the more-or-less organized nudist (renamed by many “naturist”) movements, which consider sunshine and fresh air far more healthful than purported propriety. Those who attend such groups have little interest in shocking anyone, and kept in their own confines, they do not; it is hard to imagine a more harmless enthusiasm. Nonetheless, it seems threatening to some people. “The Welsh Harp Incident” occurred near the Welsh Harp Reservoir in outer London in 1930. A mob of clothed people attacked the nudists who were bathing at the reservoir, shouting, “Not even cannibals would lie about in that condition! Hottentots would behave with more decency: you are a rotten lot of dogs!” (One assumes they did not shout in unison.) Even more fun is nakedness for the sake of a prank, streaking, which Carr-Gomm has traced to 1804 when college student George Crump ran naked through Lexington, Virginia. He became a Congressman. Students have continued to follow his lead, but the phenomenon seems to have peaked in the 1970s; after all, hundreds of naked students all running at the same time has far less shock value than one naked person running onto a football field. There is a nude rugby game held annually in New Zealand, and sometimes a naughty clothed person streaks across the field, only to be tacked and subdued by the players.

You can find out here about the disadvantages of nude air travel (no hot drinks were served by the attendants). You can see the famous picture of Michael O’Brien who streaked a rugby match and was arrested, with a thoughtful bobby doffing his helmet to place over the streaker at just the right location to allow a photograph that could be printed in the newspapers (in a pose which looks very much like Roman soldiers leading the naked Christ to Golgotha). Erotic films are barely mentioned, but the influences of The Calendar Girls and The Full Monty are examined, wholesome films that showed that taking off one’s clothes publicly can be heroic and generous. There is an explanation of the work of Spencer Tunick, who gets huge numbers of volunteers to disrobe so he can take pictures of the mass, often within well-known settings. John and Yoko’s famous pictures are here, along with one of the performers of “Puppetry of the Penis.” And here you can learn Lyndon Johnson’s nickname for his penis, which he displayed in a Zen response to a reporter’s question of why he continued to bomb Vietnam. Thoughtful and funny, here is a history book taking a unveiled look at varieties of a human universal. Not only that, but the beautifully-produced book seldom goes three pages without an illustration, and the illustrations are consistently of naked people, not always handsome (although plenty are) but always using a lack of clothes to provoke, amuse, or enlighten. So does Carr-Gomm’s book itself.

A Brief History of Nakedness
(Reaktion Books, May 2010; ISBN-10: 1861896476)
Available at: Amazon | Amazon UK

© 2010 Rob Hardy. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Control by Kayla Perrin

Harlequin Spice is the only Harlequin line that isn’t completely romance-oriented. So this book belongs here, as it’s less a romance, more one woman’s story. However, Spice books are supposed to be hot, and this book wasn’t about that. I can see why the Spice editors wanted this, but it’s an odd read for the line.

The cover and the blurb encourages you to believe that you’re in for a hot, steamy read, but that isn’t the case. I don’t think the author is at fault here, because it’s a well-written book, but it seems to have been shoehorned into the line.

The book is in two distinct parts. The first part follows Elsie’s marriage to Robert, a marriage that is in trouble, because Elsie is unfulfilled and unhappy. After eight years she has begun to realise that she’s been controlled for her marriage, not in a hot, BDSM way, but in a “you dress like this, you behave like this” way. Elsie was a waitress when she met Robert, a man 32 years her senior (she is 37), and he romanced her until she gave in. Now she lives in a mansion, has all she wants monetarily, including her life’s ambition of a florists’ shop, but she feels empty inside. Poor Elsie.

Then one day an amber-eyed man comes into her shop, and she’s captivated. But he doesn’t come back. I should maybe mention that this is a book featuring African-American characters, but that didn’t add or take from the book, which I liked. It was a story about people, not about ethnicities.

The first half of the book drags, and is gloom almost without respite. About half way through I wanted to say, “Yes, I get it, she’s unhappy,” but the book went on with different incidents where Robert tries to control her. Elsie doesn’t confront him, doesn’t ask him what he thinks he’s doing, doesn’t stand up to him. The book starts when she tries, by dressing the way she wants instead of the way he wants, but he sends her back to her room to change into the dress he prefers. It’s pretty much downhill from there. Elsie puts up with the manipulation, has desultory sex with Robert and masturbates, imagining the amber-eyed man in various situations.

The second part of the book concerns her “affair” with Dion, the amber-eyed man, and its results. Since she meets Dion after she’s made the decision to seek a separation with Robert, I don’t think “affair” describes it completely correctly. I won’t say what the blurb describes as Robert’s ultimate manipulation is, as that constitutes a spoiler, but I’d have preferred a tighter build-up to it, as by the time she had her revelation, I was losing patience with Elsie. It took her eight years to realize what her husband was doing? Either she recognized it all along and learned how to deal with it, or she left him earlier. Eight years seemed a long time to me, to realize that being sent back to your room to change wasn’t normal behavior for a loving husband.

The sex between Dion and Elsie is fun, vanilla, but passionate. Nice to read. Not really enough for a spicy read, and since the book isn’t about Elsie’s sex life, but about her outer life, it doesn’t take center stage, so if you’re looking for steam, this isn’t really the place. However, Dion is handsome and sexy, Elsie is willing, and the language used is appropriate, although a little surprising for the naïve, relatively innocent Elsie. Somehow “cunt” and “pussy” seem out of place words for Elsie to use, and since this book is told in the first person, it’s either Elsie, or it’s in quotation marks.

Dion is a bit of an enigma, and there’s a revelation at the end which explains this. However, since Elsie is passionately against having her man lie to her, after she discovers Robert’s manipulations and lies, it wasn’t entirely convincing and was left hanging in the air. The ending was a bit of a cop-out and seemed to happen too fast. I wanted more. And Elsie has to do something that is completely TSTL in order for the ending to come about. I’d have preferred less space at the beginning describing Elsie’s empty life, and more with Dion and providing a more satisfactory ending. And erotic – no. There were plenty of masturbation scenes and sex scenes later, described in detail with appropriate words, and they were fun to read, but not particularly a turn-on. Looking at the Spice line, and I’ve read a few now, I don’t think it can compare with the output of, say, Cleis Press or Ellora’s Cave, which take erotic and make it hot and steamy, with lashings of, well, lashings. Spice books don’t come anywhere near this standard, either in the kind of sex described (so far in my readings, always m/f and always vanilla) or in the frequency of the sex. But they have been good, adult reads and I intend to continue to read them, although maybe with different expectations.

While I wasn’t wholly convinced by all the aspects of this book, I still enjoyed the read, for the most part. Dion was definitely sexy and I liked that Elsie didn’t go from one millionaire to another. Although she did seem a little slow on the uptake to me, that was consistent throughout the book, and so it worked with her character, and I appreciated the consistency.

Official back of book description – “Their romance was a modern-day fairy tale: handsome older millionaire falls hard for struggling young waitress. Robert swept Elsie off her feet—and into his bed—put a huge diamond on her finger and spirited her away in his private jet destined for happily-ever-after.

Eight years later, Elsie Kolstadt realizes the clock has finally struck midnight. The five-star restaurants, exclusive address and exotic vacations can no longer make up for Robert’s obsessive desire to control everything about their life together. From her hairstyle to her music playlists, Robert has things just the way he wants them. No matter what.

But it’s Robert’s ultimate, unforgivable manipulation that finally shocks Elsie into action. Though divorce would strip her of everything, she can’t live under Robert’s roof any longer. Making her decision easier is Dion Carter, a high-school football coach with a heart of gold and a body of sculpted steel. Suddenly Elsie is deep in a steamy affair that could cost her everything—because Robert will stop at nothing to keep Elsie under his thumb.”

Control by Kayla Perrin
(Harlequin Spice, September; ISBN-10: 0373605471)
Available at: Amazon | Amazon UK

© 2010 Lynne Connolly. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission.

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jeth

Marriage seems so much a given in our society that it is peculiar to question how essential it might be. And yet, if it were completely natural, would we have to have calls for laws to defend it? If it were everyone’s basic nature happily to conduct a monogamous marriage, would we need such legislation as tax breaks to support it? Why would we need to threaten to stone adulteresses? Why would marriage need sacramentalization by churches? Even with such social support, why can we expect half of marriages to end in divorce? If the family unit of husband, wife, and children was so essential, why is it present in less than a quarter of households? The answers may be that monogamy wasn’t part of our ancient ancestors’ culture and that we strain to instill it into our own. This is among the lessons in the provocative and entertaining Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality(Harper) by psychologist Christopher Ryan and psychiatrist Cacilda Jethá, themselves a married couple. If we look at such evidence of how our chimp and bonobo cousins conduct themselves or how our anatomy (male and female) is designed, we can get ideas of how humans comported sexually as foragers, in the thousands of years before just a biological blink of an eye ago we settled down to farm. The authors have given a guided tour of current research into these topics, and although the 300 pages of text deal with some weighty biological and social ideas, the summary here is engaging and presented with good sense and good humor. Even if you are determined that yours and everybody else’s marriage ought to prosper and continue, and that marriage must be politically defended at all costs, you are bound to gain insight on why this is so difficult for many of us to accomplish.

The very first quotation in the book is from The African Queen, where Katherine Hepburn in the role of Miss Rose Sayer proclaims, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.” Hardly. Oh, humans are special, and spectacular at times, but we have trouble accepting that we are merely one particular kind of ape. “Like bonobos and chimps,” say the authors, “we are the randy descendants of hypersexual ancestors.” The resistance to accept nature has played a role even in modern evolutionary psychology, and the authors critique what they call the “standard narrative of human sexual evolution” which goes like this: boy meets girl, the boy measures her for youth and fertility and the girl measures him for wealth and status, and they form a long-term pair bond during which she is alert for any sign he might abandon her and he watches to make sure any children she bears are his. Researchers say they have seen this pattern in one culture after another, but the authors show that it can be seen as a response to social conditions, modern social conditions. By modern, they mean in the past 10,000 years since the development of agriculture; but humans have been existence twenty times longer than that, and before farming, we lived in small groups on a large and fruitful Earth.

It’s not the picture of the benefits civilization has bestowed upon us. The authors repeatedly turn to Thomas Hobbes’s famous definition of the primitive state being poor, nasty, brutish, and short. They do so only to show that the hunter-gatherers probably experienced none of that. The groups lived communally, and members didn’t need to own things, and they didn’t need to own spouses. They would have engaged in multiple ongoing sexual relations; this is what chimps and bonobos do, as do the few remaining hunter-gathering communities left. There used to be more such foraging communities until western ideas of property and propriety were forced onto them, but it is pretty easy to find missionary priests writing about how shockingly little the newly-discovered natives cared about marriage or fidelity. There are species whose males beat each other up and the winner gets to mate, but our ape branch competes another way, at the level of sperm itself. (This is bound to be a lot less bloody and a lot more fun.) The large size of human testicles and the large volume of ejaculate produced are dissimilar to the monogamous gibbons or gorillas. A human male produces hugely exaggerated amounts of sperm and semen because he wants to wash out semen deposited by any predecessor. In fact (and there are labs where artificial penises and artificial vaginas are employed to demonstrate this), the glans of the human penis is designed to help displace the semen it finds in a vagina before depositing its own. Not only that, but there are researchers who analyze the different spurts of ejaculate, beginning, midstream, and ending. The spurts are of different chemical content, with the first ones having white blood cells and antigens that can cancel out the final spurts sitting there from a predecessor. Monogamous animals just aren’t that interested in sex, mating rarely because there is no competition. Humans think of sex frequently and act upon the thoughts frequently, not the monogamous pattern. Did you ever wonder why with men supposedly on the prowl and keyed up for sex that it is the female who tends to make the most noise during the act? “Female copulatory vocalization” of many species is a topic researched by biologists with microphones, and humans fit nicely into the category of those who advertise coitus in this way, an activity many of us take pains to practice in private. Why advertise in such a fashion? To welcome all comers. The men, glad to let their sperm fight it out, got off on the general sex party, and that might be a reason that among the most popular forms of video pornography you can find are of multiple men and one woman. It is all a process of natural selection, but in a way that Darwin would not have expected. Darwin (and the authors reassure us that they are not Darwin bashers by any means) was a product of his times and saw pair-bonding in a monogamous light, but even he allowed that some sort of communal marriage was the original way of doing things.

So why did we ever give up our promiscuous paradise? (The authors remind us that “promiscuous” need not be pejorative; it comes from a root word meaning simply “to mix.”) It does not take an evolutionary biologist to know that sometimes people do things for short term gain that fail to benefit them in the long term. Settling down on a farm meant stability, and a relatively constant food source. Surprisingly, it might not have meant better health or nutrition, for the farmers didn’t forage for that wide range of foods available in the wild. It may have been that before farming, they didn’t have an idea about how sex made babies; some current foraging tribes, for instance, think that the developing fetus is helped by different men planting their contributions during the pregnancy. With possession of domestic animals, however, the lightbulb may have gone on, and possessiveness for offspring may have started. Cue the politicians. Cue the armies.

It is unclear where we go from here. The authors themselves say, “We’re not advocating any particular response to the information we’ve put together. Frankly, we’re not sure what to do with it ourselves.” It might be that our impermanent or unsatisfying marriages are the simple result of a societal distortion of a previous pattern of communal families and child-rearing, and some groups, of course are trying polyamory and group living. There is surely something wrong with a marriage in which, for instance, a spouse has an affair and the immediate response of the partner is to assume all is irremediably over and to pack up and leave, but that’s a frequent pattern. There are marriage therapists who themselves propose the dire dichotomy of “love it or leave it.” It’s not what our ancient forebears would have done, and in some societies (think of France) having relationships on the side is an accepted pattern. With tolerance, perhaps wedlock can be more pliant and not break with stress. Perhaps accepting how we are equipped with hunter-gatherer morals will make such tolerance easier to get.

Sex at Dawn
(Harper, June 2010; ISBN-10: 0061707805)
Available at: Amazon | Amazon UK

© 2010 Rob Hardy. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Like a Sacred Desire: Tales of Sex Magick, edited by Jennifer Williams

Sex is fun. Erotic fiction frequently focuses on this, celebrating sexual pleasure and the way it binds partners together. However, many of us know that desire and its consummation sometimes have deeper roots. Sex has power to open our eyes, to change us, to literally transform reality.

Sex has mingled with ritual and reverence since before recorded history. Consecrated whores have made fucking a form of worship. For millenia, witches, mages and shamans have used sexual energy to drive their enchantments and shape the outcomes.Like a Sacred Desiresprings from these traditions, exploring the relationship between sex and magick. Editor Jennifer William presents seven short stories that approach the theme in different ways.

In “Unquiet Ghosts” by Jana Denardo, a priestess struggles to heal the psychic wounds of a warrior turned into the catamite of a cruel master. In Elizabeth Schecter’s “The Hand You’re Dealt”, a warlock Dom allows the cast of a Tarot deck to determine how he plays with his blind submissive lover. “The Birthright” by Renato Garcia is set amongst political turmoil in Haiti, where young revolutionary discovers she has inherited the power to seduce and to shape perception from her grandmother. D.L.King’s “Perhaps a Worthy Offering” presents a cruel Mistress who tortures and teases her devoted male slave in order to summon a dark and terrible Goddess. “Wood” by David Sklar is a remarkable tale of a crone using sex to take her revenge on the philanderer who has impregnated her grand daughter. Angela Caperton’s “St. Nicolas’ Eve” confronts a modern woman employed as an elf serving a department store Santa with the ancient magic (and mischief) of the season. Finally, “Opening” by Raven Caldera highlights the gender ambiguity associated with magical powers in many cultures, beautifully capturing the parallel inner and outer journeys in sexual ritual.

The relationship between sex and magick has always fascinated me. Hence, I was excited to have the opportunity to read and review this volume. Unfortunately both the quality of the tales in Like a Sacred Desire and their relevance to the theme vary widely. I will not embarrass individual authors by indicating which stories I found wanting. However, I was dismayed by flaws in both conception and craft in some of the tales. On the other hand, several of the contributions are outstanding.

Because the book contains only seven stories, the weaker tales are more obvious. Circlet Press seems to have settled on this mini-anthology format for its recent ebooks, but as I’ve commented in other reviews, I personally would prefer longer collections. The publisher has great ideas for anthology themes. However, a length of hundred pages, more or less, is insufficient, in my opinion, to explore these ideas in any breadth.

Like a Sacred Desire contains a few stories that will cast a spell on you. The others may fail to enchant.

Like a Sacred Desire: Tales of Sex Magick
(Circlet Press, July 2010; ISBN B003U8AG30)
Available at: Amazon (Kindle Edition)| Amazon UK (Kindle Edition)

© 2010 Lisabet Sarai. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Backstage Passes: An Anthology of Rock and Roll Erotica edited by Amelia G

Where were you in the mid-nineties? Who were you? Are you a little, or a lot, sorry now that you didn’t dare go into that club, live for the night, or wear those skin-tight red plaid pants with the low-slung, studded black leather belt around your hips? Backstage Passes was originally published in 1996, but if, like me, you missed it the first time around, this is your chance to glimpse what might have been. Thankfully, words don’t grow stale. Stories like these still have the ability to confront and arouse. They may take you beyond your comfort zone. If the erotica you’ve read lately seems a little too safe, this is the anthology for you.

Erotic poetry doesn’t get enough attention. Lyrics are poetry, and this is a rock and roll themed anthology, so I was pleased to read Johnny Chen’s “Chanel No. 5.” It’s the only poem in this anthology – a pity -but it sets the tone perfectly.

Regret and mid-life angst are familiar themes in erotica, probably because most erotica writers spend a lot of time thinking about sex but don’t transfer that energy into real life any better than non-erotica writers do. (Sorry to kill that fantasy) In John Shirley’s “When Enter Came,” an ex-rocker finds his suburban life too stifling to bear. He’s aware that he’s never really contacted with another human, but isn’t sure how to make up for lost opportunities. With a little sex magic though, his wife breaks through to him.

Thomas Roche’s name is probably familiar to you. I’m always glad to see his name among contributors to an anthology. In “Sticky Fingers,” a woman slips backstage with a counterfeit pass that doesn’t fool anyone. She wants to be caught by security though, because she has a plan that will get her closer to the band.

“Temporary Assignment” by Will Judy doesn’t really fit the theme of this anthology, but it’s damn good, so I don’t care.

Cecilia Tan of Circlet Press fame is currently running a free read rock and roll story on her Live Journal. Like “Rock Steady,” her free read is a behind the scenes look at life on the road.

Nancy Collin’s “Demon Lover” is one of the paranormal stories in this anthology. Kind of creepy, but still sexy.

Do Goths dress like vampires, or do vampires dress like Goths? The worlds collide so well in our fantasies. In “Music of My Damnation” by William Spencer-Hale, a lonely vampire meets his soul mate in a club.

A chiropractor in a private sex club goes beyond a profession relationship with one of the clients in “Bodie” by Sephera Giron.

In Sarah Oakes’ “Accept No Substitutes,” a man sets up the girl he wants with another guy, but the idea of them together torments him.

Amelia G, the editor of this anthology and owner or BlueBlood Books contributes “Dreamgirl.” Years before, a teenager summoned a sex demon in a ritual that ended badly, to put it mildly. Now that he’s on the verge of becoming a rock star, she’s hunted him down.

Andrew Greenberg’s “Not Another Groupie” is the only gay story in this anthology. A rocker finds the boy he wants in the crowd at his show, but backstage, the seduction doesn’t go as planned.

Blood play isn’t one of the big erotica taboos, but not many writers are willing to go there. If you’re disturbed by it, Althea Morin’s “The Ceremony of Loneliness” isn’t for you.

In L’s “To an Excellent Slave”, a programmer leaves work late and on a whim goes into a club. The Domme he meets takes him home for a gender bending bondage fantasy.

T.D.K’s “Private” moves between the viewpoints of two people who hook up at a party. This is one of the few stories written in the I/You style that works well that way.

“Lacerations” by Yon Von Faust is another blood play story, although this one is more intimate than The Ceremony of Loneliness. If a touch of masochism and a lot of blood doesn’t bother you, this one offers up a scene sure to get your notice.

In Shariann Lewitt’s “Pipe Dream,” a rock star is supposed to be working on his third album, but inspiration eludes him. With blood ritual and some magic, he summons his muse, only to find out that she views him as hers. I’ll let you read it to find out which famous artist he connects with through time.

The final story is “America” by Poppy Z. Brite. Poppy doesn’t write anymore, a real pity. Hearing Poppy read “The Cocksucker Suit” from Love, Bourbon Street, was one of the highlights of the Saints and Sinners Literary Conference in New Orleans several years ago. In America, Poppy delivers once again with his amazing voice and sense of humor.

In some of these stories, music or a club setting is an important element, in others, it isn’t. What ties them together is the glimpse they offer into subcultures you might, or might not have, been part of. Beneath the Mohawks, ink, and piercings, past the blood play and pounding music, it all comes down to what John Shirley showed in the first story, “When Enter Came “– connection. You might not recognize the scene, but you’ll understand people trying to connect.

Backstage Passes by Amelia G (Editor)
(Blue Blood, June 2010; ISBN-10: 0984605312)
Available at: Amazon | Amazon UK

© 2010 Kathleen Bradean. All rights reserved.

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Hot Chilli Erotica


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