The education of a sex writer

What have I learned from a year covering eros? What lovable freaks we all are

Published January 1, 2012 1:00AM (EST)


I've been a full-time sex writer for a year now. In just the past 12 months, this beat led me to an orgasmic meditation demonstration, a kinky reenactment of a British foxhunt, a BDSM porn shoot, and a chat with the wife of a child-sex abuser. I've covered less extreme topics like the politics of sex education and the prevalence of infidelity; it’s been everything from the prosaic to the paraphilic.

You might expect that this talk of sexsexsex all the time would change my own relationship to the act in a profound way -- at least, I did. I figured it might lead to carnal fatigue -- after writing about it all day, would I really want to go home and do it? But sex as a topic can be broad and indefinite; conversations about things like the politics of sex education and philandering congressmen tend to melt away when you're in the heat of the moment.

That isn't to say that I never bring work home with me -- part of what makes sex interesting in the larger cultural sense is that it does have unavoidably deep personal implications. For instance, the time I witnessed the filming of a porn scene in which several amateurs slapped and spit on a naked woman while a popular male performer rammed into her and a dominatrix shocked her with cattle prods. Afterward, I felt ... annihilated, emotionally depleted, depressed. I called my boyfriend that night and told him I desperately needed a wholesome cuddle -- and, to my surprise, that wholesome cuddle turned into a deeply passionate romp. For me, it was a personal affirmation of the other, loving and intimate side of sex.

The biggest personal impact of writing about sex five days a week doesn't happen behind closed doors, though. People attach certain expectations to you: As my former roommate once told me, "You're the most prudish sex writer I've ever met!" (For the record, she had met exactly zero other sex writers.) A straight female friend said a similar thing when I turned down her drunken proposition for a make-out. There's a belief that if you write about sex, you will be an exhibitionist without boundaries (this is even truer for most anyone in the sex industry). I was on Judith Regan's Sirius radio program recently talking about how porn influences the way that people have sex, and the host asked me to reveal my most embarrassing fantasy; I shyly demurred.

Most profoundly, this trip through the vast landscape of the human sexual psyche has changed the way I view other people's sexual experiences. I've realized how deeply concerned we all are about whether our own experiences are normal. That basic concern is driven by the fear, a sneaking suspicion, that we are a total freak. That’s why I started my “advice” column, “Am I Normal?” -- where I take readers’ questions to the world’s leading experts. From questions about a distant lover to a cross-dressing kink, there is that one common thread. As I’ve developed relationships with leading sex researchers who are themselves wrestling with the scientific definition of "normal," I’ve realized how relative and subjective the concept is -- and, really, how little it matters.

This year has made me exceedingly compassionate about and open to the myriad ways that people seek sexual intimacy. Sex is one of the most profound ways that we have to connect with other human beings, to transcend our physical separation; and the fear of being sexually abnormal is ultimately a fear about being rejected, unloved and alone. Judgment is easy when it comes to extreme or socially unacceptable manifestations of sex. But, increasingly, my own reaction to people’s erotic idiosyncrasies -- whether it’s their interest in strictly vanilla sex or a fetish for latex animal costumes -- is: Aw, sweeties.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

MORE FROM Tracy Clark-Flory

Related Topics ------------------------------------------