I’ve been a fan of the Best Sex Writing series for years, The most recent edition is Best Sex Writing 2013 because it doesn’t come out every year. This one was edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel with a foreword by Carol Queen, two names you’re probably familiar with if you follow sex education or erotica — or even if you’re just a fan of other Cleis Press publications.
This edition offers 20 different stories about the “state of sexual culture.” Each of the pieces is supposed to represent the sex writing about sex, but the authors, themes, subjects and approaches are all different. Some of the authors are those with whom you may already be familiar, including Carol Queen herself, but some of the authors aren’t really from the sex realm, which I find adds variety.
Of the twenty stores, two or three really stood out for me.
“Very Legal: Sex and Love in Retirement” introduces us to the dynamics of relationships and sex in a retirement community. The writer, Alex Morris, does a good job treating these people like people, which is sometimes difficult with a generation that the world would otherwise like to leave behind closed doors — let alone discuss their relationships.
“Rest Stop Confidential” was an interesting look at the culture of anonymous gay sex in bathrooms and one of the personal accounts that I found more interesting.
Lori Selke’s “Dear John” is literally a breakup letter to the leather community that has transformed and is no longer welcoming to her. I can imagine Lori might be stepping on some people’s toes, but I think it’s a very interesting glance into the workings of the alt community as a whole.
However, my absolute favorite must be “Lost Boys.” This lengthy piece toward the end of the book talks about issues with homelessness, sex work and abuse on the streets of large cities such as NYC. The writer, Kristen Hinman, takes a look into a groundbreaking study by Curtis in Dank, Not only did this research shatter the illusion of who was a child sex worker — teenaged girls — but it also painted a picture about how many underage sex workers were actually walking the streets. The importance of this, I learned through reading, has a lot to do with the organizations that are leaching money out of the government and taxpayers for programs to help this population, a population that is realistically little like the story we’re told that pulls at our heartstrings. You should really read the piece in this book or the published study because there’s a lot of interesting information to be had there, and it’s stunning that this survey hasn’t had a greater impact.
Overall, the submissions to last year’s Best Sex Writing anthology tended to be more personal or anecdotal in nature. This doesn’t make them less interesting to read, but for me, they’re less memorable. Pieces that are more scientific or studious in nature tend to resonate better with me, The notable exception is Carol Queens’ “Ghosts: All my Men Are Dead.” In this sad tale, the sex educator talks about how the men she met as a queer person who moved to California have passed away, almost all from HIV/AIDS. It’s a somber story but also an interesting look into sex education and rights movements, which initially had little room for a woman.
You might prefer the personal stories in Best Sex Writing 2013 more than I did as a whole. Either way, I am certainly not going to stop checking out these books. There’s certainly going to be variation depending upon what authors and researchers do over the past year or so, and I will always be interested in picking up the next Best Sex Writing book.