I am finally trying to get through a bunch of sexy books I bought over a year ago- I just finished one. And loved it (for the most part).
Sallie Tisdsale’s Talk Dirty to Me: An Intimate Philosophy of Sex is engaging, informative, and thought-provoking. It was published in the early 90s, and some of what is in there is a bit dated, but a lot of her philosophizing on gender, sexuality, orgasm, sex, and love still applies. I bookmarked so many pages because her poetic words captured feelings of my own. (The parts I didn’t love as much were sentences here and there that I found surprisingly gendered- sort of a men-are-from-mars-women-are-from-venus sentiments. Otherwise, it was a solid read!) I also really enjoyed the parts about the intersection between law and politics and sexuality (porn, prostitution, medical laws surrounding transgender surgery, religious influences, etc.).
The book is separated into four chunks, each with a few different essays on different topics: Desire (discussions of sex, the myth of Adam and Eve, sexual orientation), Arousal (discussions of porn, prostitution), Climax (discussions of erotica, orgasm), and Resolution (discussion of breaking taboos, BDSM, transsexuals and transgenders).
I bolded my favorite parts of quotes (sorry for how many there are!! can’t help myself). Some I added explanation to, while many I let stand on their own.
Favorites from Desire
One of her opening quotes that I loved:
“Sex is, truly, not important- that is, something we can cease worrying about- only to the extent that we look at sex and see it for what it really is, and nothing more” (p6).
“Now I can see I’d lost my virginity- and lost is not the right word at all, because I never went looking for it again- years before that, when someone or other had touched me in a way so pleasurable, I couldn’t wait to be touched that way again. Sex begins, for each of us, when we feel as though we’d gone through a door and won’t be going back. Don’t want to go back” (p 34).
I love that line: “because I never went looking for it again.” I’ve thought before about defining virginity as somehow “lost” or “gone” once one goes through puberty. Her description (“when we feel as though we’d gone through a door and won’t be going back”) feels accurate for me.
I think I have, too, been seduced by the idea of same-sex sex, under the idea that this other woman will be just like me and know exactly what I want. What a silly idea.
“I have at various times in my life been seduced by homosexuality, by the very idea of it, to the same degree and with a similar sexual charge. I want its possibilities, its infinite variations on a theme. Women I recognize; they are the familiar, the known, different patterns cut from one fabric. One and one combined into more than two, additive rather than diminutive. The fantasy of homosexuality isn’t about being completed; it’s about being increased. And this is as much fiction as reality, too” (p 66).
“All relations spark with conflict from the movement toward anyone outside ourselves, since all others are inevitably apart from us, separate, ultimately unknowable. For all the ease in female friendships, my romantic and sexual attractions, my romantic and sexual attractions toward women have never felt safe or bland or controlled. They are just as risky and terrifying and pregnant with possibility as any involvement with men” (p 67-8).
“We are all in search of balance, and evening out of things, and whether we seek in our lover the ‘other’ that is missing or the ‘self’ that we recognize, it is our selves with which we are stuck” (p70).
“I believe most people are bisexual to varying extents. This seems so obvious as to sound mundane…I believe we are all penetrable, we can all penetrate, we can all be top, bottom, masculine, feminine, up and down…When we describe what attracts us, we are usually thinking too narrowly, and forgetting where our loyalties in fact lie, who our lovers really are and what they look like and how little that matters.
The range should not be zero through six [referring to the Kinsey scale], but zero through six hundred, or six thousand…Perhaps there is one sexuality for each of us…” (p 76).
I think perhaps so!! One sexuality for each person.
“The more I watched pornography, the more layers peeled off my experience of lust, one layer after the other, because I didn’t always like my response. When something dark and forbidden emerges, I resist still. My body is sometimes provoked by what my mind reproves” (p 97).
Favorites from Arousal
“Even when I’m not bashful in the act of purchase [of porn], I’m bashful watching. I can feel that way with friends, with my lover of many years, and I can feel that way alone. Suddenly I need to shift position, avert my eyes. Sex awakens my unconscious; pornography gives it a face. Bashful is not a bad thing, either; I’m repeatedly reminded this way that sex holds, perpetually, a special place” (p 133).
I think her views on porn and anti-porn feminists are fascinating (she is very pro-porn):
“There is so much wrong with traditional pornography. It just plain disgusts me sometimes, with its juvenile assumptions, boring repetition, lack of depth. But as much as what is wrong with porn, I see what is right: In porn, sex is separated magically from reproduction, marriage, and the heterosexual couple, all of which most feminists would argue have been oppressive to women….
Women like Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworking have allied themselves with a political camp that is also against reproductive choice, gay rights, and gender equality. Dworkin’s lurid antisex prose reads like arty dime-store pulp to me. She looks down on me and shakes her finger: Bad girl. Mustn’t touch. I’ve heard those words too many times before” (p 157-8).
I loved her essay on prostitution and sex work. She interviewed Samantha Miller, one of the co-directors of COYOTE (Call Off Your Tired Old Ethics, the oldest organization in the US for prostitutes and sex workers), and I love this passage:
” ” ‘Doing sex work is damaging,’ people say. ‘Giving all those blowjobs is damaging, it’s degrading.’ I think society’s attitude toward blowjobs it what’s degrading. Not the actual act,” says Samantha Miller. “My belief, and this is really a hard one for people to take, is that given economic equality for women-all things equal- there would still be women who would choose to do sex work, to call themselves prostitutes, to sell sex for money, however you want to say it.” ” (p 173)
She also interviews a young woman, Alex, who paid her way through college by being a prostitute. Alex’s points are right on:
” “To me, feminism is about choices for women, period…
I went to school with upper-middle-class self-identified feminist women who would argue with me in class about how prostitution contributed to the oppression of all women and how by participating in sex work I was furthering the oppression of women. Here I was, the only working-class kid in this whole classroom of upper-middle-class kids, and they were all going to tell me how horrible sex work was and how it was against feminism, and blah-blah. And it was, like, ‘Fuck you! Mommy and Daddy are paying for everything. I have nothing. Don’t you dare tell me what I can and can’t do.’ ” ” (p183).
“Say ‘sex work’ to almost anyone outside the industry, and that person will hear the word ‘sex’; ‘work’ is a distant and seemingly unimportant echo. To look at sex work as work first can turn every assumption on its head.” (p 195)
I love this point; rarely do people consider sex work as work because of the simple fact that sexual energy is involved. But the same issues involved in any other kind of work are involved in sex work- customers, colleagues, reputation, safety, skill, etc.
“The urge to romanticize the prostitute and her life is just like the urge to imagine her as infinitely sordid or as an inevitable victim- more about us than the whore. The whore scares us, the happy whore most of all, because she doesn’t need conventional rules to survive and thrive. She makes up her own” (p 204).
I love her description of her fantasies (too long to type and include here)- but it is so similar to my own. Just snapshots of different images, without any real storyline or plot:
“Some images, which have gotten so fragmentary they hardly qualify as fantasy, are twisted and nasty, and some are postcard-romantic” (p 221).
“…dominance is really about cowardice and courage, our unwillingness and inability to let go completely for even a second, and our wish to be dominated by our wish. To have sexuality itself say to us: I know what you want, baby, and I’m going to give it to you” (p 222).
Mmm I just love this one.
Favorites from Climax
“Penis envy is about something bigger, darker, more amorphous, more instructive than the body alone. We dress up in various symbolic ways to confuse and confound others into thinking we do have one after all, a real phallus- that is, power over others, potent and permanently erect… It’s [a penis] not as dangerous looking as a vagina, the most, dark cave out of which new people come, into which goes appetite, appetite almost ceaseless” (p 238-9).
“Adam fell when Eve fed him. Sex is food, and food is sex. Hunger leads to sin, and one solution is to eat again…” (p 252).
I like this one because of my own behavior and emotional patterns around touch, sex, and food. I notice that when I am craving touch, and find it hard to get, I overeat. I look for food to satisfy the desire for touch. Sex and touch and food are, somehow, intimately intertwined in my brain.
“Young [Wayland Young, author of Eros Denied] dislikes saying one ‘has sex’ because of the obscure and evasive meaning of ‘have.’ To have something is to possess it, and a sexual relationship is a kind of possession. It means possessing moments in time that are unique, irreducible, unrepeatable. It means having had a share of another’s surrender…To ‘have’ something is a passive state, static, and experience of being rather than doing. To fuck is to do…” (p 256).
I love the word “fuck.” So good.
“I catch myself talking about safe sex now and then, glibly, as though it had no psychic meaning. But for all the simplicity of latex, for all that protecting ourselves from sexually transmitted diseases is largely a matter of a few moments of forethought, there is a great price required. In the depth of sexual passion the skin of the other has the quality of treasure; the mundane secretions our bodies make are honey, manna, light. To be cut off from each other’s fluids is a terrible thing; our fluids are meant to mingle, we long for this mingling that is both so outrageous and so pure” (p 279-80).
When I first read this, I recoiled a little- a mixture of both my public health background and my own personal insecurities around giving up fluid-bonding as a measure of primacy in my own relationship (at some point, I am sure either J or I or both will have sex without condoms with another person, and I have come to recognize this as pretty inevitable. At one point in our open relationship, I used this fluid-bonding as a marker of our primary relationship, but it shouldn’t be. Our primary relationship is about life decisions and compatibility. And while safer sex is a big concern for both of us, when one of is seeing someone else long-term, I am sure it will come up as a desire for the people involved. And I am good with that.) And I think what Tisdale says is really accurate- there is a large part of my body and brain (and I’m sure for others as well) that craves the skin-on-skin, fluid-sharing part of sex. Also- the whole idea of “fluid-bonding” (at least in how I have approached it thus far in my open relationship) needs some improving. I have swallowed other men’s come, I have scissored with women, I have unprotected oral sex with men and women. There is fluid sharing there.
“Libido, to Freud, meant more than sexual energy, it mean energy, a life force, full of emotion. Reich took Freud’s theory of libido and expanded it: If individual sexual repression led to individual neurosis, then socialized sexual repression led to socialized neurosis. Sexually repressed cultures were violent cultures, despairing, tyrannical. Sexual freedom would lead naturally to socialism” (p 287).
Favorites from Resolution
“When people complain about how ‘exploitive’ or ‘degrading’ something like a sex club is (having never been to one), they fail to acknowledge how terrible and exploitive marriage, monogamy, and the nuclear family can be for millions of people; how painful and harmful are traditional gender roles for many people; how downright dangerous heterosexual, patriarchal culture is for all women. If radical sexuality works, if sex clubs, underground magazines, anarchic sex shows, and safe-sex education do what they aim to do, then a falling away will happen. Yes, as is feared, a crumbling of boundaries: between male and female, feminine and masculine, top and bottom, gay and straight. The center will not hold” (p 325)
I love the shivery, revolutionary feeling of this. I believe in this.
“An erotic reality would be one in which everyone is connected to us, where there is no moral distinction between friend, lover, and stranger. Erotic reality doesn’t mean promiscuity, though promiscuity might occur; nor does it mean celibacy, though certainly celibacy would exist. Both, and everything in between, would be equivalent acts. An erotic vision is one of engagement in the lives and experiences of other people, embracing them as they are, and living fearlessly” (p 333).
I think, too, inherent in this statement is the idea that romantic love is not put on a pedestal, and seen in relation to and balanced by the the love we feel for other people in our lives. Romantic love wouldn’t be for just one person, necessarily, and it wouldn’t be seen as “better” than any other, but just a different kind of love.
“There is peace in the chaos of sex, because it is one place we can find each other in ourselves and our selves in each other” (p 337).
And from her closing paragraph; this also makes me feel strong and confident and revolutionary to read it:
“My personal sexual revolution will come when I do what I really want to do sexually, don’t do what I don’t want to do, let others do what they want to do, with a whole heart. It’s not how mundane or exotic our behavior is, but how wholehearted we are that counts. I want to be the agent of sex. I want to own sex, as though I had a right it, as though sex belonged to me, to us all. Sexual freedom in my life means forgetting about sex because sex is so much a part of me as a healthy human animal that I can hardly see it at all anymore…” (p 338).