I'm gearing up to teach my nonfiction sex writing class (along with my erotica workshop) at CatalystCon March 27th in Arlington, Virginia, and also planning an online extended version of that class, along with writing sex columns for Philadelphia City Paper and DAME, so I've been thinking a lot about sex columns, sharing, getting personal and getting your words out there.
To date I've written sex columns for The Village Voice, Penthouse, The Frisky, and the current two, and I've found that having the ongoing platform of a column is very different from sporadic articles and essays. In those, I also apply these principles, but one of the main differences is, when I know I'm filing every week or every other week, I'm constantly paying attention to what's happening in the world of sex and looking for a way in to these topics, ideally a way that hasn't been done a million times already. I've been reading a lot of Penelope Trunk's blog, which I highly recommend, except for the fact that every time I visit I want to feast on so many of her career advice posts and the things she links to that a "short" visit to her site often leads to hours of reading. The way she styles her blog posts inspired me to write this one.
1. Write what you know
I agonized and procrastinated and almost scrapped this spanking column, because it felt self-indulgent. Yes, I love spanking, so what else is new? But funnily enough, even though it felt like that to me, this column has been one of the best performing ones at City Paper and even got reprinted in Metro. Why? My hunch is that because I wrote exactly what I thought. I wasn't trying to look at all sides of an issue because it's not really an "issue," but a practice or interest or kink or fetish. It's okay, desired even, to be personal, which is why the title is (emphasis added) "A good spanking really turns me on."
2. Write what you're curious about
This week I wrote about nipple play, which is something I enjoy both from a giving and receiving perspective, but wanted to go more in depth about. When I saw Jerome Stuart Nichols' post about it, I knew I'd found someone who could answer my questions. I did the same thing with my bisexuality column at DAME. Yes, I'm a bisexual woman, but I didn't think I'd offer much in this case with my experiences alone, so I sought out women with varying perspectives on their bisexuality/queerness.
3. Get political
I introduced myself to Philadelphia City Paper readers by asking "Are you a slut?" because I think slut shaming has become so rampant and insidious that stamping it out is at the root of true sexual freedom. By that I mean both the way we slut shame other people and the way, sometimes more subtly, we slut-shame ourselves, or allow slut shaming to run rampant. That's political and personal and something that applies to people of all genders and sexual orientations, albeit often in different ways.
4. Ask questions
I have way more questions than answers about sex and dating, and in this case, kept getting what I felt were mixed signals. Is it a date? Is it not a date? Where's the line between friends and something more? I think this goes along with curiosity. When you make your questions public, you admit you don't have all the answers, but you also invite people to help you with your conundrums and share their own questions or just commiserate. You make it a conversation, rather than a proclamation.
5. Respond to what others are saying about sex
FYI, I think if we'd called this column "I Want To Be Your Blowjob Queen" it would have done better. But anyway, when I see something I vehemently disagree with, I don't want to let it go, especially because with sex, so many of us approach the acts and topics without truly seeing our biases. Of course we don't get pleasure from using our mouths might seem obvious, until you start to unpack it.
6. Be timely
I wrote "Spanking Jessica Cutler" when her story was a hot topic. Same for "USC's Topless Professor". Strike while the news is hot, but add your own twist, either by doing original reporting or exploring a new angle.
7. Write about sex that surprises you
When I wrote about going on a date with Betty Dodson's boyfriend Eric and how pee factored into it, I got some shocked emails. I was shocked myself. To me one of the biggest things I've learned about sex from writing about it for so long is that I always have the capacity to surprise myself. Life does, sex does, and being open to those new frontiers and to my feelings about them is what makes personal writing, well, personal. It's not about shocking for the sake of shocking or chasing those surprises, but being open to them and recognizing them.
8. Get naked (literally) (topless photo warning NSFW)
In this case, I mean literally, but I think the more emotionally naked you can get in your writing, the deeper the ideas will penetrate, if you will. People respect bravery in writing (and other kinds of art), and can tell when you are giving something of yourself that's challenging. In August 2005, I wrote: "Putting the real me out there requires setting aside every body image woe and believing, wholeheartedly, that I'm worth photographing, worth having my curvy, imperfect, rounded body captured forever on film." That's still true, and something I've certainly been contemplating this week while on a beach wearing a bathing suit that fit me better 20 pounds ago.
9. Give sex advice
I am not a sexpert, and while there are some topics I do feel comfortable expounding upon in terms of advice giving, most I don't. But I do love picking people's brains about their expertise, and in that way I can offer tips on, in this case, talking dirty, while also sharing my own personal perspective.
10. Be of service to those in need
When I first read about Crista Anne's OrgasmQuest, I had an immediate feeling it was an important story. Why? Because while it's a very personal journey for her, depression and mental health issues as they interact with our sexuality is something extremely common, possibly universal. "Mental health" is something I think almost everyone has a story about, whether of their own or a family member, friend, loved one, etc. It's a perfect example of the personal being so bigger than just one person, which is I think why this story has gone viral and opened up so much discussion. I want to write more columns that explore how sex intersects with other parts of our lives and can be deeply transformative.
Bonus: embrace the word "fuck"
I don't know if you can get away with curses in mainstream print mags, but in alt weeklies and online you can, and when used judiciously and accurately, it can add a little fun to a title and topic.
Want more writing tips and to find out about my upcoming classes? Sign up for my monthly newsletter below or on my website! Want to read more of my nonfiction? Check out my ebook Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays.