The Best in Sex with Rachel Kramer Bussel
An interview with the editor of Best Sex Writing 2008
Rachel Kramer Bussel is a prolific erotica writer, editor, journalist, and blogger. She serves as senior editor at Penthouse Variations, hosts the In the Flesh Erotic Reading Series, and wrote the popular "Lusty Lady" column for The Village Voice. Her books include Crossdressing, Hide and Seek, She's on Top and He's on Top. She spoke with us about her newest anthology, Best Sex Writing 2008, a collection that opens the bedroom door and explores the complexity of modern sexuality with thought-provoking, cutting-edge essays and articles.
Kara Wuest: What do you think makes good sex journalism?
KW: You write and edit both fiction and non-fiction. Do you have different approaches to the material depending on the genre?
Rachel Kramer Bussel: I think first and foremost an ability to think outside the box, to cover sex in new ways. Sex will always be in the news but finding ways that sex intersects with politics and speaks to people beyond "have more orgasms" is essential. I think the biggest thing anyone, reporter or reader, can do is expand their minds when it comes to sex; no matter how much sex you've had or experienced, there are plenty of people who view sex entirely differently from you. I was looking for those different types of experiences in this book - to make people think and squirm and even disagree with what's there, but most of all, to truly expand what we think of as "sex."
KW: What trends or themes do you see in Best Sex Writing 2008?
RKB: I think there's a real yearning for a sense of identity through sex, and there are a lot of people in the book who do wild, outrageous things to get the sex life they want. It's also largely about challenging the status quo and saying, "This is who I am, deal with it," whether that's coming from black porn star Lexington Steele or people like me working in the "pink ghetto." There's a sense of exploration, such as Kelly Rouba's "Tough Love," about people with disabilities and sex. Also challenging what's seen as "given," whether that relates to gender identity, in the case of the eunuchs in Ashlea Halpern's piece or Paul Festa questioning whether circumcision makes men's penises less sensitive. A lot of these are hot button topics that are ongoing and will continue to be, because there are no easy answers, but writers like Ariel Levy, exploring older women sleeping with teenage boys, or Michael Musto, questioning the entire system of "the closet," are asking some very vital questions about desire and honesty and sexuality that should give us all food for thought. Scott Poulson-Bryant and Rachel Shukert look at sexual stereotypes, specifically, African-American men being "hung" and Jewish women being alternately prudes and oral sex goddesses, and don't just give knee-jerk reactions, but look at some of the truths behind the stereotypes.
KW: The intersection of sex and the law was a recurring topic in many of these pieces. Is it impossible to talk about modern sexuality without acknowledging how much trouble you can get into?
RKB: Well, I think sex and the law will always be intricately tied
together. We tend not to think about the ways our sexuality is shaped by the law until it's infringed upon. I love that Ariel Levy's
excellent article "Dirty Old Women" is also included in Best Crime
Writing 2007, and in many ways she looks at why and whether and how statutory rape works when it's female on male, and some of the
assumptions, legal and cultural, around it. Trixie Fontaine's look at
not just the legal implications of menstruation porn, but the
financial ones, was fascinating, and showed that money doesn't trump all. It's hard to say who the villain(s) are in Ashlea Halpern's piece and she does a great job showing that this doctor who acted outside the law by performing sex change surgery may have seen himself as doing something positive (or else just didn't care and wanted to make money). I found Kelly Kyrik's piece about those who go after child sex predators fascinating as well, because those working on the side of the law have to try to get into the heads of pedophiles. And all of these are in stark contrast to "Sex in Iran," where there's a huge discrepancy between the letter of the law and what's actually happening.
KW: Which contributions were the most surprising to you?
JL: Jill Eisenstadt's "To Have of Have Not: Sex on the Wedding Night" surprised me because I wasn't looking for it. It wasn't a formal
submission to the book or something I'd bookmarked along the way. I happened to be reading an anthology called Altared, about women's takes on modern weddings, and found her insightful essay questioning whether anyone gets busy on their wedding night anymore. And Ashlea Halpern's "Battle of the Sexless" gave me chills. I'd never really thought about eunuchs before, and her piece is both heartbreaking and fascinating and touches on the law, medicine, gender identity, and so much more. I know many people won't be able to get through it, and it's a very visceral, tough piece, but all the more provocative and powerful for it.
RKB: I definitely wanted the pieces in Best Sex Writing 2008 to be more varied than what you might find in an erotica collection. WIth fiction, I think it's okay if there's some overlap as long as the tone of the stories differ, but here I wanted topics that were distinct from each other so each piece could truly stand out. I think this one is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I wanted to include personal accounts, such as Greta Christina's "Buying Obedience" and the excerpt from Gael Greene's memoir Insatiable, as well as journalism that went far beyond the status quo. Nonfiction is really my first love and I discovered so many great publications and authors and articles while researching this book, but I like that I get to do both; fiction is very freeing because you can literally make up whatever you want, but sometimes I enjoy having the grounding of facts that I do with non-fiction.
KW: Were there any topics that did not make it into Best Sex Writing 2008 that you were hoping for?
RKB: Yes, I'd been hoping to include something on abstinence only education, as well as something on the many recent sex scandals we've seen. There were also a few good pieces about sex offenders that came out last year, notably one in the New York Times, and for various reasons, these topics didn't make it in. Part of what I hope to do with the Best Sex Writing 2008 blog is post updates about both the pieces and topics in the book as well as other sex-related issues in the news, of which there are many. I also liked some books that presented a different view of sex, such as Joan Sewell's I'd Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido, and could see her voice in a book like this as well.
KW: What does the future of sex hold?
RKB: This is a huge question! I think people are really still discovering so much about what turns them on and also now have access to so much more information about sex that gives them free reign for being voyeurs. I feel like I am seeing "Sex and the City" referenced everywhere, as if sex didn't exist before the show, and while I think it opened up a lot of conversations, there's so much more to sex than the world contained in that show.
KW: What's next for you?
RKB: I'm starting to get into teaching erotic writing, and am doing so in March at Dark Odyssey: Winter and in April at the "unconference" Sex 2.0, and am hoping to do more of that.
I'm still running my monthly erotic reading series In the Flesh and have Zane, Stephen Elliott and Nick Flynn coming on February 21st, and lots of great authors lined up in future months. I plan to start podcasting and maybe even vlogging some of my stories this year as well because I think people really value hearing erotica read to them, as opposed to just reading on the page (though personally I'm such a reader, I actually don't love being read to).
I've got lots of books coming out, pretty much one every other month- next up are the companion volumes Yes, Sir and Yes, Ma'am, which have the hottest covers I've seen - next to Best Sex Writing 2008. I was thrilled with the response to He's on Top and She's on Top and think these will be even better. I also have Spanked: Red-Cheeked Erotica coming out in July, and since that's one of my favorite erotic activities, I couldn't be more pleased. I'm wrapping up my first novel, Everything But..., which won't be out for another year or so, but I'm very excited about that, and doing some stories for national magazines. And blogging! In addition to the Best Sex Writing 2008 blog, I've started some other ones related to specific anthology topics and am finding it so fascinating to really dig into a given topic, so you can check these out:
Yes, Ma'am blog
Yes, Sir blog
And of course my main blog, Lusty Lady. After that, who knows?
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