As a 19-year-old, first-year resident assistant in college, I was once given some advice about promoting any type of program I was hosting in my dorm—on all ad signs, place the word SEX in a prominent place, regardless of its relativity. I may not have been brave enough to follow it, but I understood. Sex sells, and sex merits attention.
Read an excerpt from Sugar in My Bowl.
In our sex-saturated culture, one would think it must be a topic of conversation as easy to delve into as the weather. After reading Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex, a compilation of essays and fictional pieces, I'm convinced that it took real guts for these authors to put pen to paper in sharing their stories.
With Erica Jong as editor, famous for her 1973 novel Fear of Flying, I expected this collection to feature unabashedly forthright writing, and I wasn't disappointed. Among the almost 30 contributors are novelists, journalists, memoirists and poets, all offering individual takes on a topic old as mankind.
Early in the introduction, Jong sets the stage for the multigenerational tone of the collection with a series of pointed questions: “Isn't it our job to be appalled by our parents? Isn't it every generation's duty to be dismayed by the previous generation? And to assert that we are different—only to discover later that we are distressingly the same?” The contributors address sex across the entire lifespan in these stories, some fictionalized, others autobiographical, and the results include perspectives both graphic and modest.
Pieces most notable to me included Fay Weldon's essay about the loss of her virginity in 1949, “My Best Friend's Boyfriend,” which places this timeless experience in a very particular place in time, marked by a culture of privacy around sex that may befuddle women coming of age today. In the short story “Herman and Margot” by Karen Abbott, the subject of sex later in life is quietly yet passionately explored through the title characters, which may be one of the least talked about areas of sexuality in our American culture—and it introduces the concept of “orthopedic stilettos,” a striking image to blend our preconceived notions of both sexiness and the elderly.
Serious tones are taken by authors such as Min Jin Lee, who explores the effect that cultural stereotypes about sex have had on her own writing in “Reticence and Fieldwork,” as well as in Susan Cheever's musings about the appeal of one-night stands in “Sex with a Stranger.” For me, though, the stories that managed to incorporate humor into the narrative carried the most appeal. Researchers and scientific writers won't be the only ones to appreciate the pseudo-serious presentation of “Best Sex Ever: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis” by Jessica Winter, a research compendium of one couple's quest to engage in the exactly what the title indicates, complete with gut-busting footnotes.
Ironically enough, my favorite of the bunch is Julie Klam's “Let's Not Talk About Sex,” entitled in a way that seems to defy the entire crux of the collection. But talk about sex she does, and when confronted by the need to educate her 6-year-old daughter on the topic, she (painfully) reminisces about her own childhood experiences with a level of hilarity and self-awareness any humorist will envy.
With pieces as varied as individual sexual encounters can be, Sugar in My Bowl may appeal to readers interested in an armchair exploration of a topic universally experienced, sincerely written by a bevy of gutsy women.
When she's not reviewing books on 5 Minutes for Books, Dawn Mooney (and her online alter ego, morninglight mama) can be found blogging at my thoughts exactly, pondering parenthood on her local Patch, and being a twit @mteblogmama.