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Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power

by David Shields

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-8142-5519-3
Publisher: Mad Creek/Ohio State Univ. Press

The provocative essayist contemplates the precarious mechanics of human intimacy.

In this bold mixture of stark honesty and humor, Shields (Other People: Takes & Mistakes, 2017, etc.) ponders how sex, love, attraction, and power all coalesce to both fortify and complicate the human mating experience. Snippets and subdivisions of thought, critiques, and inspired scenarios abound as the author’s entertaining musings range from confessional—he unmasks facets of his own marriage and imagines a love letter to his wife or a novel about their exchange of sexual fantasies—to examinations of oddities and taboo aspects of sexuality. The author explores intimate relationships through personal examples and experiences as well as copious references and allusions (presented in a collage style similar to that of the author’s Reality Hunger) drawn from a spectrum of well-respected writers, poets, journalists, and medical professionals; most reinforce Shields’ ideas and assessments and add zesty commentary to an already fiery topic. The book is separated into five sections, each one progressively more explicit. An introductory chapter of bite-sized observations on human togetherness as seen through the lens of popular culture heralds further introspections on the author’s own emotional landscape. Personal anecdotes on his awkward adolescence and family life and scenes of both romantic love and explicit sex interweave with outtakes from an ensemble of opinionated voices—e.g., utterances from a pre-presidential Donald Trump and a piece by sexologist Pepper Schwartz that psychoanalyzes Bernie Madoff’s behavior. In the opening pages of a graphically descriptive chapter on sexual fantasy and pornography (“the world’s one true religion”), Shields asks, “is sex really that awful?” The answer, found in a dizzying array of explicit and racy perspectives, will depend on the reader's reactions to the author’s revealing adventures, each buttressed by a supporting chorus of sex-positive cheerleaders and damning naysayers. Entertaining and contemplative, Shields offers focused philosophy and effervescent wisdom on some of society’s knottiest topics.

A sharp-eyed collection of bits and pieces that will appeal, at least in part, to readers on both hot and cold sides of the intimacy spectrum.