Collecting the best of sex journalism published in the past year is no small task given the sheer volume of material that is written about sex. Just reading it all (or as much as one can), sifting through it, discarding the dreck, paring down the good stuff to something manageable and gathering the best of the best is more than daunting—it seems impossible. However, that is exactly what editor Rachel Kramer Bussel has done with Best Sex Writing 2009.
From journalists and novelists to sex workers and scientists, Bussel has gathered some of the very best essays and articles on the topic of sex. The pieces range from personal essays to investigative journalism, which provides an interesting—and, at times, delicate—balance. For instance, author Kristina Lloyd’s intimate glimpse into the darker side of desire in “The Pleasure of Unpleasure” is brilliantly juxtaposed with MSNBC sex columnist Brian Alexander’s article “What’s ‘Normal’ Sex?” about the American Psychiatric Association’s attitude toward sexuality and what qualifies as dysfunction.
Many of the pieces in Best Sex Writing 2009 are sure to resonate with readers on different levels. Sex and the religious right is addressed Amanda Robb’s examination of purity balls and virginity pledgers in “Father Knows Best” while Dagmar Herzog shines a cynical light on evangelical sex manuals in “Soulgasm.”
The effects of war on sexual desire is deftly handled in Don Vaughn’s sensitive and thought-provoking “Sexual Problems: A Common Side Effect of Combat-Related PTSD.” Equally timely is Tom Johansmeyer’s examination of war-time sexuality and the rights of military personnel in “War Games: No WMDs but Military Police Find ‘Dangerous’ Dildos in Iraq.”
Best Sex Writing 2009 takes sex seriously, but it is not without humor. Former Onion editor Dan Vebber laments losing his virginity to a girl before losing it to himself in the hilarious “Sex is the Most Stressful Thing in the Universe.” The universal desire to be cool and in the know is reflected in Stacey D’Erasmo’s amusing quest for sexual knowledge in “Silver-Balling.” And Daphne Merkin waxes poetic over the male member in literature and life in “Penises I Have Known.”
There are also several pieces that will shock as well as educate. One of the more controversial pieces is “One Rape, Please (to Go)”, Tracie Egan’s personal experience with trying to fulfill a rape fantasy. David Levy’s “Sex Dolls for the Twenty-First Century” and Mary Roach’s “The Immaculate Orgasm: Who Needs Genitals?” address the future of human sexuality in very different ways. Snatching the sex scandals from the headlines are James Hannaham’s piece on “Why Bathroom Sex is Hot” and Keegan Hamilton’s “Oldest Profession 2.0: A New Generation of Local ‘Providers’ and ‘Hobbyists’ Create a Virtual Red-Light District.”
A lot of unnecessary criticism has been lobbed at the book covers of the Best Sex Writing series. As Brian Alexander states in the foreword: “While ‘sex’ may sell, sex writing has the reputation of being not only lowbrow, but lousy.” This collection is neither lowbrow—there are more academic degrees represented between the covers than many university textbooks—or lousy, though the cover might suggest a different kind of sex writing. One supposes the publisher could have slapped a dour, text-only academic cover on this collection and called it a day, but the slightly scandalous image holds its own appeal. It begs the question: just what is it about sex that captures our interest on such an immediate and visceral level? Best Sex Writing 2009 answers that question two dozen times over as it explores the intersections between sex and every other aspect of life.
In Best Sex Writing 2009, Rachel Kramer Bussel has compiled an impressive collection of sexual pop culture from the past year. It is impossible to finish the book without immediately turning an eye toward current writings about sex and wondering which pieces will make the cut for 2010. One hopes this series will continue for many years to come.
Note: The website bestsexwriting2009.wordpress.com was created to serve as an extension of Best Sex Writing 2009 and provide more articles and essays about sex in all its myriad forms.
© 2009 Kristina Wright. All rights reserved.