So it’s no secret around these parts that I (and all of us at The Gloss, really) like to read and write about sex. I find it an interesting subject for a variety of reasons: it can help us understand ourselves and each other, it’s often horrifying and/or funny, there is still a taboo around talking about it, you never really stop learning about sex, it can be empowering to tell your own story, I like reading other people’s personal shit…I could go on. But one thing I’ve noticed about most of the sex writing I’ve been reading these days is that the conversation seems to be dominated by people inhabiting queer and/or feminized bodies, i.e. everyone but straight, cisgender men. Why is that?
I should proceed with the caveat that I know there are some straight/cis men out there writing good things about sex. Just yesterday, I read a great essay by Jonathan Lethem about his coming of age that was included in Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s Best Sex Writing 2013 anthology. But when I consider the most prominent writers dealing primarily with sexuality, I think of women and gay men. I think of Marie Calloway, Karley “Slutever” Sciortino, Lux Alptraum, Stoya, Rich Juzwiak, Tracie Egan when she was “Slut Machine,” Audacia Ray, Tristan Taormino, Susie Bright, and of course, the great Dan Savage. (There are probably a lot more that I’m forgetting.) What kind of straight male sex writers occupy the popular imagination these days? Whoever writes the sex tips in Maxim?
James Deen has a great blog about his life as a porn star, which sounds genuinely wonderful and fun and uncomplicated. But if you look at the comments, or the comments on any article about him, you might find a clue as to why he doesn’t have more blogging compatriots. A lot of people seem to think he’s an asshole for 1.) being a porn star, and 2.) writing about it, because of course a man would want to do that. Men (I’m just going to refer to them as “men” now, but you know this is shorthand) are supposed to want sex all the time, and women are supposed to want relationships and babies. When women and queers write about sex, it is seen as transgressive, empowering, taking back the narrative. When men do it, it’s reinforcing the status quo, or simply bragging.
Of course, a lot of women who write about sex are also branded attention whores, hacks, and worse, which might be part of what scares men away. The majority of male sex writing I have come across is tucked tastefully within the pages of “literary” books, where it is assumed to say something larger about the human condition. I just wrote and deleted a paragraph about the history of male sex writing, because pretty much all of it has been subsumed into the larger literary canon to the point where no one considers it “sex writing”: Phillip Roth, John Updike, Henry Miller, etc. Is this an artificial distinction I shouldn’t be drawing? Probably! But I didn’t invent it. I’m going to go ahead and say this is part of the problem.