Women can't write about sex

Not in general and certainly not for her magazine, says the owner of Britain's Erotic Review.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
June 16, 2009 1:05AM (UTC)
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It's time for another round of our favorite game, Battle of the Sexes, in which we debate one of women's many incompetencies. Last time it was comedy -- or maybe it was math, it's so hard to keep track! Now, the new female owner of Britain's Erotic Review has brought up that favorite topic of sex. Women are just no good at writing about it, thinking about it-- why, they're even awful at enjoying it. That's why Kate Copstick, who bought the rag in May, is determined to employ almost solely male writers, in order to prevent the mag from being "drowned in estrogen," she says.

The great irony here, of course, is that Copstick is a woman, and a former writer for the magazine. She sees herself as an exception to her own rule, because she actually enjoys sex -- how novel! -- and can write about it with a "scratch and itch burst of endorphins." She tells Reuters that most women simply aren't "straightforward" enough about sex -- you know, they get all wishy-washy and focus on emotions rather than the engorgement of blood vessels. (Emotions, like condoms, are the bane of the boner, don't you know.) Sex writers have to be able to wax poetic about sensual indulgence, she argues. "It's almost like writing about food ... Ladies who lunch, should not really write about food because they don't really love food," she said. "They don't salivate at the thought of a great steak." Then maybe banish ladies who lunch, not the entire female sex?


The idea that only men enjoy pure, unadulterated sexual hedonism dies hard. Debauchette, a popular sex blogger and former "whoretesan," wrote me in an e-mail that the view of women only being capable of writing about sex "through a filter of emotion" follows from "the stereotype that women can't separate sex from emotion." She says, "It simply isn't true." One need look no further than her online magazine Filthy Gorgeous Things (NSFW, which should be assumed for all links that follow), which features mostly women writing decadently and viscerally about getting it on and getting off. Lux Alptraum, editor of Gawker Media's Fleshbot, says that "making generalizations about any group's sexuality, or attitude towards sexuality, is a very bad idea" for the same reason "'porn for women' is such an unwieldy concept: women are not a monolithic group with one set of ideas about what is hot." It's amazing that these things still have to be said.

The truth, says Debauchette, is that "it's harder to find 'straightforward' writing from men [because] their sexual narratives are often, though not always, obscured by ego." Rachel Kramer Bussel, former sex columnist for the Village Voice, says it's more an issue of a lack of male sex writers: "When I edit my erotica anthologies or the Best Sex Writing series, I sometimes get complaints that I don't include enough men," she tells me. "That's a function of the large majority of submissions I receive coming from women, and that women make up the majority of sex columnists, with some major exceptions." (See: Dan Savage.)

Maybe that has a little something to do with Copstick's campaign. After all, the Erotic Review is ailing and she's trying to revive it. One way to do that is with a jolt of scandal, as Salon's Laura Miller suggested in an e-mail: "As she well knows, women are as capable of naked and shameless sex writing as they are of naked and shameless bids for attention -- which is what her statements so patently are." The inimitable Susie Bright, who got a good laugh from Copstick's comments, wrote in an e-mail: "I do have to applaud her PR instincts ... say something ridiculous and put yourself on the map!"


Another way is to remake the magazine's image: Tracy Quan, author of "Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl," tells me that Copstick is simply "looking to put a new coat of paint on it." That metaphorical paint is a masculine -- and not at all feminine, she swears -- shade of dark, dark blue. One look at the current issue, which features several female bylines, makes it clear that it is indeed just a facade. Copstick is essentially shouting at the top of her lungs: This is a magazine for men, don't let the female owner or women's current reign over sex writing fool you!

On that note, there just might be a silver lining in this cloud of contrived women-bashing: "It's a sign of women having established themselves as sex writers," says Quan. "Anti-feminism is usually a sign of feminism's cultural power."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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