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Best Sex Writing 2008
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VINE VOICEon October 6, 2010
To start, just gotta say I appreciate the cover photograph. Simple, straightforward and evocative; Shakespeare's "high fantastical" somehow comes to mind. It's wonderful stuff, Alex Treacher (as credited).

I received this book as a gift, from someone believing it was a collection of erotic fiction. For anyone not paying close attention, make sure you understand this: this is not erotic fiction. As the back cover says, "this provocative collection explores the complexity of modern sexuality," and the intro says the various essays (there are 21 in 200 pages) "...shed light on the current erotic climate." The intro wraps up by providing the most direct purpose of this book: "...when it comes to sex, we can all learn something."

Well, I guess I did learn a few things, like that Philadelphia is the castration capital of the U.S., what it's like hanging with Jamie Gillis at home, the current state of the necessarily clandestine hook-up in Iran, the overwrought semantic drama of lesbian labels, the ring-of-fire danger of phthalates in sex toys, tips for renting your very own submissive, and then some. I even learned a new word: heteronormativity.

But, only a couple of articles into this book, the scholar in me was squirming at the glaring absence of any kind of referencing or citation of facts in these reprinted articles. While some of the articles are light and tongue-in-cheek, such as the first article on the possible deep and mystical connection between the Jewess and fellatio, many of them are serious articles exploring sexual identity, repression, health, and--duh--sexual politics.

The data page offers details on the original publication of all of the articles, a mix of online sites, journals, and books. But that's it. In this book there are no footnotes, no endnotes, no parentheticals, no citations whatsoever that support for some of the statements made and facts presented. While the article advocating a lot more menstruation in porn is interesting, overall it's an opinion piece, and requires no citation. But Liz Langley's "Sex and the Single Septuagenarian" at one point cites the rate of HIV infection among Florida seniors at 11 percent (of all FL seniors, apparently). I live in the Washington, DC metro area, with an HIV rate of over 3 percent (as relayed by local TV and radio), and that's a public health crisis that's in the news almost every night. Yet more than one in ten old folks in Florida are HIV-positive? Where is this alarming data coming from, and why is it that there hasn't been a flood of articles, a week-long Good Morning America segment and an Oprah remote on this staggering infection rate 27 times the national average (CDC and US Census Bureau online, 2006)? I can't help but be incredulous of this data point, but have no author sourcing, other than going back to the original article as published at Salon.com in December 2006 (which I did; this article is still available, and there's no citation there either).

Ariel Levy spouts facts about men seeking sex with underage girls, facts that may be true but which strike me as far too easily supporting her argument. Kelly Kyrik cites a "Keene study" identifying sexual predator types, and goes on to provide a great deal of hard statistical data on predators. I'm not saying either of these authors are right or wrong, but how in the world do I begin to make that determination? Where does their information originate? One of the most important things I was ever taught about research and writing: a confident writer provides full citation, and those who do not are suspect.

Bottom line: if you like reading about sex, from many angles and on many unanticipated subjects, and if you're not too hung up on facts and figures and their origins, you'll enjoy this book. If you're uptight, ashamed, repressed, or close-minded, you especially need to buy this book; read it in private, and hopefully you'll get better. And if you're a stickler for scholarly accuracy through direct citation of facts, figures, and statements, the fun and informative nature of this book will be overshadowed by skepticism and nagging doubt.
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HALL OF FAMEon February 22, 2008
"If I had my way," says a professor in the Human Sexuality Department at San Francisco State University, "sexuality studies would take over the entire university, because everything relates to sexuality." You might accuse her of special pleading coming from a particular professional viewpoint, but she is quoted within the book _Best Sex Writing 2008_ (Cleis Press), edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Bussel says in the introduction that the 21 chapters included here, all by different authors on different subjects, "... taken as a whole, give a broader view of sex than you've likely ever considered, dealing as they do with biology, gender, crime, politics, the environment, health, religion, race, and much more." Indeed, everything relates to sex! Be warned that this is a collection of sex reporting and essays; it may have an erotic black-and-white photo on the front involving high heels and a thong, but these aren't bawdy stories, and unless you have a sexual kink for expressive and well-written reportage, you will find little titillation here. What you will find is plenty to think about, and if some of your fun in sexual issues is thinking deeply about them, this will be a very satisfying book for you.

Some of the reports here made me extremely uncomfortable. Take "Battle of the Sexless" by Ashlea Halpern. It starts with a description of how much blood a fellow lost the first time he tried to castrate himself. The first time. Further discomfort can be found in Kevin Keck's "Double Your Panic", wherein he describes how karma has returned for his adolescent fantasies of sexual liaisons with identical twins: his wife is now expecting twins. In "Dangerous Dildos", Tristan Taormino investigates the problem of the toxins called phthalates, often found in soft plastics, but banned from kids' toys or dogs' toys, not adults' toys. Trixie Fontaine in "Menstruation: Porn's Last Taboo" tells the difficulties of breaking boundaries by including menstrual blood in her on-line shows ("I'm just going to keep on offending in whatever ways sound like fun.") All is not darkness and fretting. Rachel Shukert has a funny chapter, "Big Mouth Strikes Again: An Oral Report", about society's view of the oral skills of Jewish women. Kelly Rouba in "Tough Love" reports good news for handicapped people who are interested in sex; a spinal injury doctor says, "There's always a way around the disability," and rehab centers are counting sexual needs as important. Especially remarkable is the chapter "Sex in Iran" by Pari Esfandiari and Richard Buskin, which has to do with fallout from a notorious celebrity sex tape released into that fundamentalist society. Non-procreative sex and the man's need to satisfy his sex drive are acknowledged by Islam, but the film shows a woman obviously enjoying herself. It has changed minds, has hit the governmental status quo, and has broken Iranian film profit records.

Readers who look for good articles on sexual topics may recall some of these, as most are reprints from newspapers, magazines, or websites. It is a stimulating collection, however, with evaluations of unexpected aspects of sexuality that are surprising, shocking, and funny.
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on February 10, 2008
I thoroughly enjoyed Rachel Kramer Bussel's collection of essays and other works that make up 2008's Best Sex Writing anthology, though it wasn't quite what I was expecting. With cover artwork displaying a black stiletto heel hooked around a thong pulled from a taut derriere, I was thinking Best Sex Writing 2008 would be more Penthouse Letters, only less...retarded.

The subject matter is certainly diverse, running the gamut from the sexual appeal of twins to the behind closed (and veiled) door sex parties of Iranian youth to the politics of porn's messiest taboo, menstruation porn. While the writing is probing and stimulates my favorite sex organ, the brain, masturbation fodder this ain't. What you get instead is a well-researched, albeit brief, peek into a fascinating array of topics that your average sex book tends to ignore.

I've worked in the sex industry for the past 5 years and consider myself pretty well-educated when it comes to sexuality. It was exciting to find myself voraciously reading with the joy of discovering something new. This book is an education in all walks of sexual life and left me wanting to research several topics further. Castration that doesn't involve gender reassignment? Hiring a professional submissive? As Rachel Kramer Bussel hoped for in the introduction, Best Sex Writing 2008 definitely succeeded in leaving me wanting more.
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on March 14, 2008
The problem with "Best Sex Writing 2008" is that so little of it is about, well, sex. Gael Greene's essay about her affair with '70s porn star Jamie Gillis is hot and funny and perceptive, and Rachel Kramer Bussel's essay is, as usual, a delight. The final piece-- on the pitfalls of hiring a professional submissive is a lovely and thoughtful comic piece. But so much of the writing here steps away from sex and into the merely...dull. There are two essays that are little more than tabloid panic-mongering and hysterical puritanism: "Older women are corrupting high school boys! The net is full of predators!" Eisenstadt's essay on why wedding nights shouldn't be about sex is...whiny--- about what could've been a funny topic. Michael Musto is strident and bitchy and self-righteous about closeted celebrities.

The Esfandiari-Buskin piece on "Sex in Iran" is fascinating-- and it's an essay that should be reprinted out in the mainstream world. Other essays-- about the safety hazards of dildos and the issue of "hung" black porn stars and the old "Jewish girls and oral sex" legend are...well...one wonders about the point.

I can only give "Best Sex Writing 2008" three stars--- and those only really because of Gael Greene's piece and the "Sex in Iran" essay. The two predator-fear scare-pieces and Musto's bitchiness did a great deal to make me think that somewhere there must be essays and articles about sex in 2008 that are actually about sex. Still--- Rachel Kramer Bussel's anthologies are always worth reading--- and this does have two very good essays which make putting up with many of the other collected pieces possible.
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on January 8, 2008
This book was nothing like I thought it was going to be! (I know, can't judge a book by its cover...) I am used to the erotica collections that Rachel Kramer Bussel edits and I assumed this book would be no different.

But it is different -- very different. It's more of a compendium of the best in writings about sex and human sexuality. This could easily be used in the syllabus at any top-notch university, and should be given to everyone you know as a basis for conversation about sexuality. This collection of writings is meant to stimulate the thought-process, and assist in discussion and dialog about themes and topics on sex. Each and every piece that was selected and included in this terrific work is a masterpiece in its own right. Some made me squirm -- see Ashlea Halpern's "The Battle of the Sexless," and some made me angry -- see Tristan Taormino's "Dangerous Dildos," but all made me think. This really is the best in sex writings for the year.
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on January 26, 2008
Rachel Kramer Bussel has done an excellent job of bringing together articles that fall into the broad catergory of 'sex writing'. Covering such diverse topics as circumcision, phthalates in sex-toys, eunuchs, sexual stereotyping, celebrity sex scandals, and pay for sexual services, all 21 articles provide fascinating insights, and un-put-downable reading.

The variety of articles provided in 'Best Sex Writing 2008' showcase a wide range of experiences and perceptions when it comes to sex - not only in America, but around the world. Touching on gender, race and religious issues along with sexuality, there is something for readers from all walks of life, and from any sexual orientation.

The writing within is all to a very high standard, and well edited. 'Best Sex Writing 2008' is a book that is relevant today, will be interesting in a decade, and still be an insighful look into our culture fifty years from now.
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on October 23, 2009
Like another reviewer mentioned here, this collection of intelligent stories, smartly collected, has little to do with sex itself or descriptions of the act. Rather these stories range from the outright funny (Big Mouth Strikes Again) to, for a lack of a better word, Gruesome (Battle of the Sexless). While 'Big Mouth...' concerns itself with the changing perception of a Jewish woman's oral abilities, 'Battle of the Sexless' is aimed at eunuchs and men trying to become eunuchs, with mostly illegal and sometimes gory means (this story really made me squeamish!!). 'Battle of the Sexless' was of particular note to me because it presents another point of view from the famous Italian movie "American Eunuchs", of which I was a big fan. I say 'was', because this story definitely changed many of my perceptions of that film. Kevin Keck's 'Double Your Panic' and Pari Esfandiari's 'Sex in Iran' are my other two favorites.

The other stories are all equally engaging and I never lost interest from the get go. Maybe if the title of the book was different, perhaps less overt, it would have done better business....which is a shame because I think this book deserved more kudos. But, for my part, hats off to the writers represented here and especially to Rachel Kramer Bussel who did an excellent job as the editor. I can't wait to get my hands on her other collections!!
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on January 3, 2008
For those of you who don't have RSS feeds of 100 blogs about sex and sexuality or dozens and dozens of magazine subscriptions, anthologies like this are a great way to catch up with what you missed.

It also presents a broad spectrum of topics -- from the marginalization of sex writing and writers to celebrities embracing (or not embracing) their homosexuality -- that informs across divides.

Now, I may be biased as I know the author (well, okay, I'm totally biased) but if you're looking for smart stuff to read about sex (not to mention sexy stuff) that's up to date, you're in the right place.
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on January 15, 2008
Best Sex Writing 2008 is full of essays that will make you think, laugh, flinch, scratch your head, and want to share with your friends. You'll get riled up politically, intellectually, and erotically. I know it might sound over-the-top, but I'm being honest: this is one of the best anthologies I've ever read. It presents a wide variety of viewpoints and topics, all without being preachy or judgmental. Read it!
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on January 12, 2008
It's difficult to find good, smart writing about sex -- let alone an entire book of it. Rachel Kramer Bussel's anthology is smart, thoughtful, and entertaining -- a must read for anyone who is, has been, plans to be, or knows someone who is sexually active. So basically everyone.
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