Department of Sex Ed
July 26, 2012 | by Hannah Tennant-Moore
Henry Miller has just been laughed at for rhapsodizing about Walt Whitman. He’s sore. A woman enters the apartment. Henry drags her into the bathroom. He fastens his “lips to her red mouth.”
“Please, please,” she begged, trying to squirm out of my embrace. “You’ll disgrace me.” I knew I had to let her go. I worked fast and furiously. “I’ll let you go,” I said, “just one more kiss.” With that I backed her against the door and, without even bothering to lift her dress, I stabbed her again and again, shooting a heavy load all over her black silk front.
I closed my copy of Miller’s The Rosy Crucifixion restored my tray table to its upright position, and avoided eye contact with the gaunt elderly woman in the aisle seat as I squeezed past her legs. Read More »
February 16, 2012 | by Vanessa Blakeslee
The slim novel came my way quite by accident. I had stumbled across a review of the film The Lover and ordered a VHS copy through my movie-of-the-month club. The first Saturday I could secure a house free of hovering parents, my fellow honors English friends and I, as sex obsessed as we were lit geeks, watched, enraptured, Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical depiction of an adolescent girl in French Indochina who embarks on an affair with a wealthy Chinese man. The girl’s family is crass and impoverished, but she is a good student and wants to be a writer. Soon after, I got my hands on a paperback with a cinema-still cover and was not disappointed.
“I’m fifteen and a half,” the unnamed narrator repeats early in the book. “There are no seasons in that part of the world, we have just the one season, hot, monotonous, we’re in the long hot girdle of the earth, with no spring, no renewal.” Nothing suggested sex as much as sensual lyricism, warm, distant places, and anything French.
I was also fifteen and a half, a virgin consumed with the mysteries of sex, of forbidden encounters. I was also going to be a writer. I read the book and watched the film again and again. Just what was The Lover’s appeal? By then I had discovered Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Lolita, but Duras’s novel resonated more acutely, an exotic Lolita tale but told from the woman’s (if she could be called that) point of view.
My favorite section was where the narrator describes herself on the ferry, wearing gold lamé high heels and a man’s fedora: “Going to school in evening shoes decorated with little diamanté flowers. I insist on wearing them. I don’t like myself in any others, and to this day I still like myself in them.” It is the day she is about to meet the “Chinaman” for the first time. She is fixated on this particular, outlandish ensemble, as stubborn as a child playing dress up. But the faint hint of pedophilia, of prostitution, fell so far into the background that it became practically invisible to me then, obscured by the striking imagery and strange, lush atmosphere of colonial Saigon. Read More »
January 3, 2011 | by David Amsden
We were in a used bookstore, the girl and I.
We were there, roaming the dim, musty aisles on an early summer afternoon, because the girl loved books and because I had lied to her about loving books. I was fourteen years old, as dumb and desperate as countless fourteen-year-old boys before me, and I had been sucked into a black hole of obsession from the moment I first saw the girl sitting three seats in on the second row in my first-period geometry class. Those narrow, discerning brown eyes. Those plush, effortlessly taunting lips. The thrift-store ensemble that improbably fused the elegance of Jackie O. with the edge of Liz Phair. I was ruined then and there, and devoted that first year of high school to studying the girl from afar, confident that it was only a matter of time before we would “accidentally” collide in the hallway and end up making out as the sprinkler system inexplicably went haywire, drenching the clothes we would soon be tearing off one another.
By late spring, however, the one thing I had gleaned for certain about the girl was that she liked to read—an unfortunate discovery. My logic was simple: If you were reading a book it meant you were likely sitting alone somewhere, and if you were sitting alone somewhere it meant that you were not making out under any sprinkler systems, and if there wasn’t at least the prospect, however delusional, that any given activity would result in your making out under a sprinkler systems, what, really, was the point? Regardless, I did the only thing that made sense; I adopted a completely false personality, approached the girl as she was waiting for her bus on the last day of school, and asked what she was up to over the summer.
“Cause there’s, like, this used bookstore I love,” I lied.
“You should check it out sometime. With me.”
For whatever reason, she said yes. And now inside the store she pulled every other book from the rickety shelves, offering brief but eloquent commentaries on each one before asking if I’d read it. Sometimes I said yes. Sometimes I said no. Best to keep it vague, I figured. But after half an hour or so something happened that, in a bizarre, circuitous manner, would turn out to be arguably the most profound moment of my sexual coming of age.
October 12, 2010 | by Justine van der Leun
I was reading a scene near the end of Harrison’s novel Dalva, when Dalva Northridge meets a Native-American cowboy named Sam Creekmouth and ends up having bourbon-fueled trailer sex with him. During their rib-bruising lovemaking session, Dalva’s pup howls along. “That dog music’s a real mood swinger,” says Sam.
I had discovered Harrison during a lonely summer abroad. His novel Returning to Earth, sent by my mother, was comfortingly American—full of Michigan glacier lakes and complicated delinquents. Now back in the States, I was reading everything he had written. He was a master of the unconventional character, and Dalva was queen among them.
I very much liked the idea of being entangled with a shirtless horseman who fried up post-sex bacon before skinny-dipping in a pond and said things like, “If I see another oilman, I might shoot the son of a bitch.”
There were some challenges: I was not a grand, reckless, independently wealthy beauty who rode bareback over the plains; I gagged at the smell of brown liquor, and grass-chewing rodeo riders were hard to come by in New York.
But I did have a dog. And from now on, I would not shut her away in another room during relations. This was potentially the first step to becoming as brave and earthy as Dalva.
Immediately, there were problems. Read More »
October 1, 2010 | by Nick Antosca
When my dad gave me a stack of his old college paperbacks, I think the education he hoped to foster was aesthetic, not erotic. But one of the books was Lolita, and to a twelve-year-old boy with passable reading comprehension skills, the twelve-year-old girl with the “honey-hued shoulders” and the apple-patterned dress was, above all else, sexy:
There my beauty lay down on her stomach, showing me, showing the thousand eyes wide open in my eyed blood, her slightly raised shoulder blades, and the bloom along the incurvation of her spine, and the swellings of her tense narrow nates clothed in black, and the seaside of her schoolgirl thighs.
At least Nabokov was teaching me fresh vocabulary. I had to look up nates, of course, but another new word, nymphet, was helpfully defined throughout the book. Suddenly I saw the world through wiser eyes. Who among my seventh-grade classmates, I wondered with a frisson, was such a creature? What girl had that “soul-shattering, insidious charm” that, while invisible to me, made the antennae of certain adult males tremble?
For much of middle school, I’d been enamored of a smart and introverted girl in my grade. I’ll call her Anna. Red-haired, freckled, and painfully pale, Anna was hardly a dead ringer for Dolores Haze, but I was observant enough to recognize the “ineffable signs—the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb”—that marked her as a nymphet. Read More »
September 24, 2010 | by Jillian Lauren
My first sexual fantasy involved my abduction by a composite character made up of equal parts Danny Zucko from Grease and the weathered carny who had looked me dead in the nine-year-old eye as he pulled the lever of the Tilt-A-Whirl. The post-abduction details were unimportant. What mattered was the moment of being caught; what mattered was the fact that one moment I’d be navigating the root-torn sidewalk of my street and the next an arm would be around my waist and the world would be set into wild motion.
The next fantasy I can remember was a lesbian prison gang rape. I appropriated this fantasy not from the wonders of cable TV but from books. My mother was a voracious reader, if not a discerning one. Lining her shelves were the eighties airport standbys: V. C. Andrews, Danielle Steele, and Sidney Sheldon. Every night I sat on my white wicker bed and read trashy novels by flashlight until I began to understand what sex was in those stories—a plot device. Sex, I learned from my reading, was a function of power and nothing more. If one could just wield it properly, one might figure out a way to win a happy ending, or at least a prison protector.
But it wasn’t until age fourteen that I met Seymour Glass and fell in love. I read Nine Stories and read it again and found that it left me suffering more sleepless, feverish nights than the carny and Danielle Steele combined. I wasn’t even sure why I related to it exactly. I had so little in common with the female characters who populated Salinger’s landscape—slim, Gentile women in camel-hair coats sunk in noble pain while standing on train platforms in New England college towns.
There is nothing literary about the pain of a fat, Jewish Jersey girl wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt and sitting on a bench in the Livingston mall, eating bagels and smoking cigarettes.
And yet, boiled down to the metaphysics of the thing, there was my world, a world of persistent discomfort and inappropriate hunger. A world in which perilous desire trembles just under the surface of the polite world. Seymour kisses the arch of a small foot and moments later puts a bullet into his brain. Eloise, drunk and heartbroken, kills her daughter’s imaginary friend. It was a world of sensual details and dangerous, irreparable moments.
I first read Nine Stories and felt the nakedness of being recognized in my loneliness. Desire wasn’t a narrative device with a neat payoff; rather, it was an ocean of longing that unfolded toward an ever-receding horizon. The book got inside me in a way that changed me irrevocably and, conversely, felt like it had been there all along. And that, I imagined, would be what having a lover would feel like.
Trashy novels encouraged me to employ sex as a strategy. But it was ultimately Salinger who made me want to fuck.
Jillian Lauren is the author of the memoir Some Girls: My Life in a Harem. Her novel, Pretty, will be published by Plume next summer.