Tag Archives: Book Review

Are you getting any closer? A pocket-sized primer on female sexuality

By Clarissa Fortin

Stay curious between the sheets, friends.

Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality
by Sarah Barmak
(Coach House Books, 2016; $14.95)

If it weren’t for Sarah Barmak’s Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality I might have gone for years of my life without ever finding out what my clitoris actually looks like.

“Illustrations of it resemble a swan with an arched neck,” Barmak writes. “When I saw an closerillustration of the clitoris’s true shape for the first time I felt like a blind man finally seeing a whole elephant when all he’s ever known was the tip of it’s trunk.” I realized while reading those sentences that no one in my Catholic high school health class ever bothered to show me such an image and I’d never thought to seek one out.

I consider myself a feminist and a sexually liberated woman. Yet, there are still surprising gaps in my understanding of my own body. And that’s why a book like Barmak’s is important. Closer tackles its subject with eloquence, intelligence and humour.

The book is split into five essays that tackle the “fear of pleasure,” the history of female sexuality, the science and psychology of the orgasm, the “female sexual underground” and the politics of acknowledging female desire.

While each essay has its own strengths, I think the most effective chapter is “A History of Forgetting.” This section aligns the historical “discovery” and “loss” of the clitoris with the individual experience of a woman named Vanessa — an actual interview subject.

We first meet Vanessa on the table at the doctor’s office filming herself masturbating in order to prove to the doctor that she can indeed ejaculate. We learn that Vanessa has been having a series of problems — pain after sex, recurring yeast infections and so on — that no doctors can figure out.

From here Barmak momentarily leaves Vanessa’s story behind and turns her attention to the clitoris itself, noting that “the mapping of the human genome was completed in 2003, years before we got around to doing an ultrasound on the ordinary human clit.”

While the tendency is to see history as ever moving forward and progressing, Barmak counters that “women’s sexuality began by being celebrated, then was feared as too potent, before being downplayed and denied in the scientific era.”

The Christian church, the scientific revolution and various other factors resulted in a demonization and rejection of female bodies. It’s a generalized historical account to be sure, but Barmak does point readers in the direction of Naomi Wolf’s Vagina, a much more comprehensive book on the subject.

What makes this essay so powerful is the way it revisits and concludes with Vanessa and her struggle. Her story held up against the larger history of the clitoris itself demonstrates all too well an overall contempt for and neglect of the female genitalia.

Along with research and anecdotes, Barmak amasses a diverse collection of interviews with doctors, researchers and sex educators. I was excited to learn many factoids that I will surely whip out at dinner parties in the future — for instance, vaginal self stimulation actually blocks pain in women, and even women who are paralysed can sometimes still feel sexual pleasure because of nerves which bypass the spinal cord and communicate directly with the brain!

Barmak combines this research and traditional journalistic writing with first-person narration, bringing her own experience into the story. This means attending seminars and workshops, watching a demonstration of a female orgasm at Burning Man, and getting a vaginal massage.

Barmak is open about her own skepticism and trepidation during these investigations. “I like to consider myself open to new things,” she writes. “Yet, the idea of a strange lady’s gloved fingers all up in my jade palace falls somewhat outside my personal boundaries.” She goes through with it and the personal account makes for a richer narrative overall.

A note about the term “woman”: Barmak uses it throughout the book to generally refer to the cisgendered female experience. If I have any strong critique of the book it is that by celebrating the distinctly female anatomy, the book sometimes verges on unintentionally emphasizing a gender binary. This is something Barmak herself seems aware of. She notes on pg. 21 that “the word woman can refer equally to cisgender, intersex, genderqueer and transgender women all representing varied shades of experience.” While it’s good that the acknowledgement is there, I think a declaration like this belongs even earlier on as a note for readers to keep in mind before the book even begins.

That said, Barmak does make an effort to include the experiences of typically marginalized women such as trans women and women of colour in her narrative. “Being white affords privileges even in non-mainstream spaces of revolt such as sexuality,” she notes.

The topic is something “that requires far more depth and attention than this little book can offer,” Barmak says and while this seems like a partial cop-out for having only a few pages devoted to women of colour and trans women specifically, Barmak makes a valid point. Issues regarding sexuality faced by marginalized women warrant entire books altogether, preferably penned by a writer who has lived those experiences.

Nevertheless, I think this book would have been more complete with a sixth section devoted specifically to these issues.

At its core this book is compassionately optimistic, celebrating the innate complexity of sexual pleasure itself and arguing in favor of orgasms for all, something I can definitely get behind.

Sex educator and vlogger Lindsay Doe has a motto she repeats at the end of each of her videos: “stay curious.” Closer isn’t the definitive book about female sexuality and it doesn’t claim to be. But it made me curious about my own body, and even more curious about the wonderfully vast array of experiences we humans have between the sheets.

I recommend it to my friends of all genders, my boyfriend, my sisters, and especially the woman who started it all, my mother.

Complete Article HERE!

REVIEW — Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin

In celebration of black history month.

The proof that one believes is in action. — Bayard Rustin

The proof that one believes is in action. — Bayard Rustin

The best way to destroy a culture is to deny, suppress, or appropriate that people’s history. A culture without its art, without its myths, without its heroes will soon wither and die. For millennia indigenous peoples all over the world have suffered this kind of cultural rape at the hands of more powerful invaders. In America, slavery and segregation did its worst for African culture. And, in a rather different way, homophobia robbed LGBT people of their sense of self.

Do you know who Bayard Rustin is? I’m gonna guess not. That’s no surprise really, because his life exemplifies the impact that both segregation and homophobia has had on our culture. Despite being pivotal to in the struggle for civil and sexual rights for well over 50 years, he is all but forgotten now. His memory has been whitewashed, if not totally wiped out, and our culture is the poorer because of it. But thanks to Time On Two Crosses this American patriot is reinstated to his rightful place in the American pantheon.

Time On Two Crosses showcases the extraordinary career of this black, gay civil rights pioneer. The book combines classic texts ranging in topic from Gandhi’s impact on African Americans, white supremacists in congress, the antiwar movement, and the assassination of Malcolm X, with never-before published selections on the call for gay rights, Louis Farrakhan, affirmative action, AIDS, and women’s rights.Time on Two Crosses

Bayard Rustin was a key civil rights strategist and humanitarian whose staunch advocacy of nonviolent resistance shaped the course of social protests from the 1950’s through the close of the twentieth century. And he was also openly gay at a time when that simply didn’t happen, especially among people of color.

Perhaps because of his unique position at the crux of the struggle for civil rights and sexual rights, Rustin insisted on the interconnectedness of all human rights and justice movements. He focuses not only on overturning racism and prejudice but also the systemic causes of injustice and disparity in the US and around the world. And his message on many issues is as relevant today as it was in his lifetime. He writes of himself:

“I am Bayard Rustin, Chairman of the Randolph Institute and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which is composed of over 150 national groups dedicated to human rights for all. As one who has been active in the struggle to extend democracy to all Americans for over fifty years I am opposed to any attempt to amend the recently enacted law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

I have been arrested twenty-four times in the struggle for civil and human rights. My first arrest was in 1928 merely for distributing leaflets on behalf of Al Smith’s candidacy for President in a climate of anti-Catholic hysteria. Since that time I have fought against religious intolerance, political harassment, and racism both here and abroad. I have fought against untouchability in India, against tribalism in Africa, and have sought to ensure that refugees coming to our shores are not subject to the same types of bigotry and intolerance from which they fled. As a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council I have fought anti-Semitism not only in the United States but around the world.”

But Rustin’s sexual openness and his controversial political positions came at a great personal cost. He wound up behind bars for practicing his nonviolent Quaker faith (from 1944 to 1946 in a Pennsylvania prison for conscientiously objecting to serving in World War II) and for practicing homosexuality (60 days in a California jail for “sex perversion” in 1953). And his many achievements — like pioneering one of the first Freedom Rides, refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus in 1942, more than a dozen years before Rosa Parks did, and helping found the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition to support the efforts of a then young, largely unknown minister named Martin Luther King Jr. — often were tainted under the threat of exposure for his unpopular behavior and criminal convictions.

Bayard Rustin introduced Martin Luther King, Jr. to the precepts of nonviolence during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, thereby launching the birth of the Civil Rights Movement in 1955. When that movement needed a man who could get things done, even his detractors acknowledged he was the best organizer in the country. He was the man who was able to turn out 200,000 people on the Capitol Mall in an orderly fashion when no one else had ever done such a thing. He singlehandedly created the blueprint for the modern American mass political rally. The 1963 March on Washington was the pinnacle of his notoriety.

cover of LIFEFew African Americans engaged in as broad a protest agenda as did Rustin; fewer still enjoyed his breadth of influence in virtually every political sector, working with world leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, President Lyndon Johnson, and Golda Meir. Yet, for all his influence and all his tireless efforts, Rustin remained an outsider in black civil rights circles because they refused to accept his homosexuality, which remained a point of contention among black church leaders, a controversy that sometimes even embroiled Dr. King himself.

The very people who he was fighting for shunned him. He was indeed the proverbial prophet “not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house”. (Mark 6:4)

For example, in 1960, Rustin and MLK were preparing to lead a protest of African Americans outside the Democratic National Convention. This would have deeply embarrassed the leading elected black politician of the day, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. Powell threatened to spread a rumor that Rustin was having a sexual relationship with King. King canceled the protest, and Rustin resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization he helped found. Bayard Rustin felt that his homosexuality, which he never tried to hide, put him in a unique position, a minority within a minority, as it were.

That year was not the first time Rustin was forced to negotiate how much sex could be a part of his life. After his 1953 arrest, in which he’d been picked up with two men in the back seat of a car in Pasadena, California, he wrote, “Sex must be sublimated if I am to live in this world longer.”

Though marginalized by the Civil Rights movement he helped found he was not embittered by the experience. Yet, when one lives in a society in which they’re constantly being told that they’re less than or that they’re not as good as, because of being black, or a Jew, or gay, or anything else deemed less than, a certain amount of the negation is bound to get internalized. That can’t be helped.

Despite it all, Rustin remained upbeat. In 1986, just a year before he died, Rustin gave a speech at the University of Pennsylvania in which he exhorted gay people to “recognize that we cannot fight for the rights of gays unless we are ready to fight for a new mood in the United States, unless we are ready to fight for a radicalization of this society.”

Veering into the economics of poverty, Rustin said, “You will not feed people à la the philosophy of the Reagan administration. Imagine a society that takes lunches from school children. Do you really think it’s possible for gays to get civil rights in that kind of society?”

His thoughtful writing ennobles us all. Rustin never fails to come down on the proper side of a moral or ethical question, no matter whom it may offend or support. He was willing to stand up for people — even though they had mistreated him — if it was a matter of principle.

Rustin’s legacy doesn’t live in the past, but in the present and future of America. His work linking sexual, racial, and economic rights was not only forward-thinking in 1963, but it is also forward-thinking today.

“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers,” Rustin said in one of his most famous quotes.

Time On Two Crosses is the first comprehensive collection of Bayard Rustin’s writings ever published, comprising forty-eight essays, speeches, and interviews, many of which were never widely available. From the birth of nonviolent direct action to the rise of Black Power, Rustin’s writings function as a road map for the meandering course of the black protest movement over the past century.

As a gay man, I found Bayard Rustin’s writing fascinating and uplifting. They give an unvarnished look into the civil rights movement through the ‘50s and ‘60s, and also a view into the heart and mind of one of the most remarkable men of our time. The book also includes twenty-five photos from the Rustin estate and a foreword by Barack Obama, and an afterword by Barney Frank.

Bayard Rustin is a true hero for the ages. And Time On Two Crosses is a marvelous and edifying read.

Full Review HERE!

Review: The Killer Wore Leather

With the advent of the 50 Shades of Grey movie looming, the interwebs are abuzz; once again calling attention to this deplorable trilogy. (Apparently, the movie isn’t any better than the books. Ya don’t say?) To counteract this virus real alt-culture folks are trying to direct our attention to books and authors that better represent life on the sexual fringe. Why, there’s even a ‘which book should you read instead’ meme springing up amongst those of us who care about good erotica and authentic power play. Here is my contribution.

Just so you know, I wrote this review for a print magazine awhile back, and I thought now would be an excellent time for me to share an updated version with you here.

The Killer Wore Leather is Laura Antoniou’s new murder mystery with a fictitious international leather competition, Mr. and Ms. Global Leather and Bootblack, as its backdrop. Think IML (International Mr. Leather)… no, don’t think IML. Oh forget it; go ahead and think that if you want, because this fictional competition is clearly a very thinly veiled replica of that alt-culture institution.

Full disclosure: Laura was a guest on The Erotic Mind Show. (Look to the Podcast Archive, right here on my site, to find these great shows. You’ll find Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE!

These interviews were a great way to get to know Laura and hear the delicious back-story dish on the novel. Laura is wickedly funny and astonishingly subversive. Interestingly enough, these are the very same characteristics that I liked most about her novel.

In Part 2 of our conversation we chat about:

  • James Lear’s quip on the back cover: “A murder mystery with a fresh, funny take on the fetish underground.”
  • I ask if The Killer Wore Leather is her first murder mystery.
  • I ask how she happened upon this genre?
  • We talk about her main character, a lesbian homicide detective, and two of her delightful supporting characters, the boys Jack. They’re adorable.
  • I ask if these characters are based on real people she knows.
  • We discuss the very unique slice of society that is the gay leather/kink subculture and her insider connection to it.
  • I ask if how she was able to add the refreshing comedic aspect to the otherwise hardboiled murder mystery.
  • And how she got away with making light of it all?

The Killer Wore Leather opens at the Grand Sterling Hotel, NYC. Thousands of people are arriving for the annual leather killer wore leather covercompetition and fetish ball. Anyone who has ever attended one of these fêtes in real life will feel right at home. Most of the main characters and all of the supporting characters are right out of (fetish) central casting. There is even an Antoniou-esque, rabblerousing gadfly who makes regular appearances throughout the novel just to stir the shit. So unlike Ms. Antoniou, don’t cha know.

Don’t think this will spoil the plot, but the reigning Mr. Global Leather, Mack Steel, who is also one of the contest judges, is soon-to-be deceased. He is—how shall I put this—a real dick, and not in a good way. Just about everyone hates him, which makes for loads and loads of suspects once he is found dead in his hotel room. Mr. Steel is stabbed to death with a trident-shaped weapon and left wearing only a pair of frilly knickers. Oh, the delicious scandal!

Enter Detective Rebecca Feldblum and her new partner, Dominick DeCosta. Rebecca is a lipstick lesbian, and Dominick is a hot, straight, black guy. Both detectives are way out of their comfort zone surrounded by all the freaks and perverts. The convention/contest promoters decide the show must go on, so despite the murder, Feldblum and DeCosta have to do their sleuthing amidst the fetish circus.

The Killer Wore Leather is a good, old-fashioned whodunit. And Antoniou lays on the detail; we are treated to a baffling array of characters from the sexual fringe and a barrage of alt-culture jargon. But don’t let this deter you. The two detectives and another surprising character, a savvy newspaper reporter, act as a Greek chorus of sorts. Through them we are treated to a delightful exposé of some of the more fascinating nooks and crannies of the fetish and kink underground. It’s all great fun.

Antoniou’s writing style is sharp, witty, and smart. She lovingly skewers everyone and everything. I hasten to emphasize the word “lovingly,” because there are no cheap shots here. There’s never any doubt that Laura loves this slice of life and those who inhabit it. Her portrayals are hilarious, but respectful. However, she makes no bones about the fact that some of the minorities within this minority are being marginalized, and sometimes that gets ugly. Discrimination is rife, even here.

The thing that struck me most about the book is, as I mentioned earlier, Laura’s brilliantly seditious streak. She’s well known for her biting essays on alt-culture, sexual roles, and gender politics. And I am delighted to say that her keen observations bleed—you should pardon the pun—into her narrative. I loved it! And I know that you will too.

Buy The Killer Wore Leather for the mystery story; stay with it for the subversion.

I want to say another special thanks to Cleis Press, the publisher of Laura Antoniou’s The Killer Wore Leather, who sent me a copy of this book to review.

PS: This book would make a fantastic Valentine’s Day gift for any adventurous reader.

Review: The Ultimate Guide To Sex After 50

Hey sex fans!

2015 is turning out to be a banner year for sex positive books. Here it is still only January and this is my second review of a noteworthy book about human sexuality.

A few weeks ago, January 8th to be precise, I introduced you to Cooper S. Beckett’s book, My Life on the Swingset.  In that review I mentioned that Cooper had been a guest on my Sex EDGE-U-cation Show.

Today’s review features a book written by another guest on my show, but this time it was the SEX WISDOM Show. Today’s book, The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty: How to Maintain – or Regain – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life, was written by the brilliant, Joan Price.

Joan is on the forefront of our culture’s discussion on ageless sexuality. She is the author of Ult+Guide+Sex+50+covertwo other books, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty and Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex. She is a sought-after speaker and workshop leader. And, if that weren’t enough, she’s also a fitness expert. This woman is a ball of fire, sex fans, and an absolutely charming interview. Be sure to listen to the two-part interview I did with Joan, you’ll find them archived HERE and HERE!

Joan and I talked about some the many myths that surround sex during life’s second half; she covers this topic more in depth in her new book. The misinformation about sex after 50 is so pervasive that even many of us seniors and elders perpetrate it. And, of course, we’re often the butt of jokes.

1. We lose interest in sex as we age.
2. Senior sex is boring.
3. Dating as a senior/elder is depressing and hopeless.
4. Seniors with arousal issues just give up on sex.
5. Sex becomes more frequent as we age.
6. Real sex must involve intercourse and orgasm.
7. Health concerns and menopause will end one’s sex life.
8. If you’re interested in sex after you turn 50, you’re a dirty old man/woman.

The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty is the perfect antidote to the dismissive and degrading way that so much of the popular culture deals with senior and elder sexuality. Joan celebrates not only the existence and appropriateness of sexual desire for seniors and elders, but how sex can and does increase the health and wellbeing of older people.

Joan states her credo in the Introduction.
“…being sexual at this time of life means:
• Enjoying arousal and orgasm, with or without a partner
• Having a zesty, sex-positive frame of mind
• Being open to new possibilities
• Giving pleasure to this body that is capable of great delights
• Making a commitment to myself to be sexually aware and healthy”

Joan invites her readers to join her in conversation. And a big part of that conversation is being aware of what’s going on with our body as we age. Being attuned to that, and being able to communicate that to a partner, is key to great senior/elder sex. (To be frank, it’s the secret of great sex at any age, but I digress.) To that end, Joan includes in her book actual comments from real people that she has encountered in her work. These anecdotes reflect an array of feelings that underscore the conflicts, successes, and complexities of real life situations. And this being the Ultimate Guide, Joan includes the input from many of our colleagues who weigh in with their expert opinion on the topics she is addressing.

I love that Joan often makes the point that having a fulfilling sex life is not dependent on having a partner. Lot of seniors and elders are without a partner, but that ought not be an impediment to sexual enjoyment. Self-pleasuring, with one’s hand, or any of the myriad toys available to us, is the foundation of a rich, healthy, rewarding, and ageless sex life.

Joan also examines a topic near and dear to my life. In my book, The Amateur’s Guide To Death And Dying; Enhancing The End of Life, I took great pains to include a chapter about the sex and intimacy needs of sick, elder, and dying people. Joan does something similar in her chapter — Cancer, Cancer Treatment, And Sex. I am so grateful that Join addressed this timely topic, suggesting, as she does, that people challenged with cancer, or any other chronic condition for that matter, take their sexual performance questions to their doctors. I think we both believe this will go a long way to underscore the notion that wellbeing is not merely about absence of disease, it’s’ about quality of life. There’s also a marvelous section about sex and grief too.

And, just so you know, this isn’t a hetero-centric book. Joan includes all sexual orientations and lifestyles.

I highly recommend Joan’s new book, The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty, to everyone. If you are a fellow senior or elder, this book is chock full of important and practical information about things we care about. It also provides much needed support and encouragement as we make our way through this season of life. If you’re not a senior or elder, this book is an indispensable resource for you too. Not just so that you will be sensitive to the needs of others, but that you’ll grow in appreciation of the fact that sex is for a lifetime. And hey, you just might learn a little something new from someone who isn’t “new”.

I want to say a special thanks to Cleis Press, Joan’s publisher, for sending me this review copy of The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty.

Kudos to Joan! Your book is a marvel.

Be sure to check out Joan’s websites: joanprice.com and NakedatOurAge.com.

PS:  This book would make a fantastic Valentine’s Day gift.

Book Review: The Gospel of Kink

by: Sophia Sky

The Gospel of Kink is the newest book by Richard Wagner, Ph.D., ACS, a Clinical Sexologist in private practice here in Seattle, providing Sex Therapy and Relationship Counseling for over 30 years. Richard is often known for his thought provoking podcasts via his website, Dr. Dick’s Sex Advice. Ever since he told us here at the Foundation that he was working on this book, we have been eagerly awaiting this new treatise.Gospel of Kink

And we weren’t disappointed! In the forward, he spends some time explaining his choice of word for the title, eloquently explaining the root meaning of “gospel” is “good news”, thereby priming us with the idea that our personal truths are our gospel.

The book is written as a “workshop in a book” which is similar to a workbook where you go through various self-awareness exercises intended to encourage self discovery. What is different about The Gospel of Kink is the group of fictional participants that go through these exercises with you. This is approach allows you to make personal connections with the participants, just you do with characters in a book. You have the same chances to empathize, be irritated and gain understanding through their process of self discovery.

foundation for sex positive cultureThese exercises are simple and common, with the added twists that are necessary to make them fully relevant to those in kinky, lifestyle or alt sex relationships. I am very impressed by the ways that Dr. Dick subtly offers “extra credit” assignments via his characters taking initiative to expand the exercises or seeking out addition exercises on their own. I found myself think “Ooo! I should do that, too!” as opposed to feeling resistant about “more work” or guilty that I didn’t do all the exercises.

The Foundation is very proud to invite you to meet Dr. Dick and his panel of alt sex experts this Saturday. You will have a chance to buy his book and get it signed by all the contributors after a short workshop, based on this new book. Since this is a book release party we will have red velvet cake and refreshments to celebrate.

The workshop at 3pm is $10, and the book signing starting at 4:30pm is free. For those in need, there is a discount code that can be used for online purchases. Just type in E8F3Y in the promo code field at check out.

Full Review HERE!