Many readers, especially west of the Hudson, say to themselves, "If this is the smart set, god help us." The cutting edge of Upper East Side eroticism is a wee bit more conservative than what might be taking place in California, for instance, or even parts of Brooklyn.
Nevertheless, I read it every year, even if it makes me want to scream.
This year there's a cover story called, "Marriage with Benefits," — the new vocabulary for non-monogamous couples who fuck other people with their wedding bands on.
There's also a story about the current crop of female sex columnists, which gave me pause about what it means to be a sex expert these days.
But back to "The New Monogamy"— here's a story about young lovers who are re-inventing open relationships— they create rules of trust to guide their affairs! Take note, you clueless old polyamourous duffers.
The "rules" are all things you've heard of before, like: "We only do threesomes," "We only fuck around out of town," or "We do condoms with everyone outside of our marriage."
Their true innovation is their nicknames for everything:
An agreement that any touching above the beltline is fair game.
When a couple forgoes the latex with each other but requires it for all outside sexual activity.
You don't sleep with anyone who lives in your city.
A woman or a man who engages in same-sex sex-play after multiple martinis.
To be in a committed threesome
The story keeps on the light side by avoiding the inevitable question, "What happens when your partner breaks one of the rules?" Now that's a story I'd like to read, or write— better yet, edit.
I have my own original slang to add to the New York collection: "Busyogamous." It means you are a major slut in principle, but are too tired and overwhelmed to do anything about it— I would think is a major problem in New York!
The sex columnist story, The Vagina Dialogs, concerns a crop of New Yorkers who all write sex columns, including one of my pals, Rachel Kramer Bussel. (I was glad to see Rachel wearing her Fuck-Me-Fluevogs in the feature photograph!)
The story, by Amy Sohn, made me reminisce how much the definition of "sex columnist" has changed since I found myself the same occupation in the 80s.
Back then, sex columns only appeared in randy men's mags. It was esoteric information. You had The Playboy Adviser, which i still love to this day for segueing seamlessly from advice about cunnilingus techniques to Louisiana Flip recipes and stereo hookups. Then you had Happy Hooker Xaviera Hollander at Penthouse.
In the early 80s, a sex educator named Isadora Alman, an alumni of San Francisco Sex Information, started a column in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. It was audacious for its time, because Isadora did not promote herself as either a doctor or a hooker, but rather as a well-informed, sex-positive woman who was open to kind discussion of every erotic situation.
Alman encouraged alternative sex and erotic identities of all kinds. She never pathologized a cross-dresser or issued warnings to swingers. it was more like, "Mazeltov!" This was before sex advice got snarky.
In '84, I started a column called "Toys For Us" for a my new magazine, On Our Backs. I started out like a Dear-Abby-turned-dyke-pornographer, with the usual tips and tricks.
I'd never written a column before. It sounded more like a diary than a formal sex column. It was more fun to tell a story that way.
My column grew popular in ways I didn't expect. I got asked to write a column for Penthouse Forum, and quit my day job at the vibrator store. Then, Salon invited me for their launch.
About a year later, Salon hired another young woman to write a second sex column, named Courtney Weaver.
I was puzzled by Weaver's debut. Courtney didn't suggest she was an expert or particularly knowledgeable about sex in any way. She was simply a young woman who was willing to dish about her dating life, embarrassing flukes and all. It wasn't pedagogical in the least. it also was not leftwing, not X-rated, or spawned from the old hippie counter-culture. Not one bit.
If you were over 40, it was like listening to a teenager pontificate about sex for an hour— fascinating, but whack. For Courtney's peers, it was a chance to empathize with her qualms about dilemmas like fucking an ex at a Xmas office party. Inquiring minds want to know!
It wasn't as sexually frank as the old sexperts... and it didn't need to be. The Gen Y appetite for "sex" advice that was more concerned with status anxiety than orgasm.
Courtney's column broke the mold. Although you still have feminist radical smartypants writers like Rachel and Tristan Taormino, (how did she not get in the NY story?) they are the disappearing minority.
The more mainstream sex columnist of today is like Jessica Cutler or Stephanie Klein, who are masters of self-gossip. They haveno interest in "sex-ed" or helping anyone out... it's more like a lovely narcissist with wet panties.
Amy Sohn asks Jessica, "How many lovers do you have currently?"
Jessica answers, "Seven."
"Do they know about each other?"
"Well, they will after this article comes out!"
I like chick candor. But I think the soft flesh is missing from a great deal of the current crop of most-hyped writers. It's like that book "How To Make Love Like a Porn Star" which doesn't once discuss making love. There's no there there.
These publishing decisions are made by media executives who look at the success of "Sex and The City," and say, "Ah yes! What we need is more chatty, acquisitive, materialistic celebration of the most shallow and superficial elements of sex in our culture." Bring it on, indeed.
You may read the latest sexgirl's exclamations of exhibitionism (ohmigod i walked down the street without my Victoria's Secret thong and my boss would die if he knew!) but we never get to hear about the breeze that caresses her cunt, or the intimate risks of trading shopping for sex.
I'll never get sick of a terrific young femme writer, especially when she tackles her desires. But meanwhile, there's about five zillion other types of people we have not heard from. Like straight men, for instance. Or married people. Or women who are having a hell of time masturbating. Or Mommy's.
Someday Gidget is going to grow up. I swear I'm going to publish a new magazine, called "Worn Out Slut." The slogan will be: Je ne Regrette Rien. I have a feeling we're going to be the next wave. I wonder if I can get Dan Savage to write something.
(Top Photo: Phillip Toldeano, Bottom photo: Christopher Griffith, both from NY mag)