Fifty Shades: Lonnie Barbach / Tania De Rozario / Avital Norman Nathman / Russell J Stambaugh

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My article Beyond the Hype of Fifty Shades of Grey features the expert opinions of ten professionals who comment on the cultural implications of the series, and share their recommendations for quality sexual literature.

I received some VERY lengthy and passionate responses, which I have compiled here on my blog, divided into three different posts. I could only feature excerpts in the above article, due to space constraints. Here are the full responses of the guest contributors #4-7!

P.S. Check out Part 1 and Part 3 for the full replies of the other guests.

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4. Lonnie Barbach, couple’s therapist and intimacy expert:

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Lonnie’s entire response is included in the article, so here is a short bio instead:

Dr Barbach’s work as a couple’s therapist for more than three decades and the publication of Going the Distance: Finding and Keeping Lifelong Love crafted with David Geisinger, Ph.D., her partner of 25 years, has defined her as an acknowledged expert on intimate relationships.

Dr Barbach has appeared on hundreds of local radio and television programs as well as most nationally televised talk shows, many several times, including Oprah, Good Morning America, The Today Show, CBS Morning News, and Charlie Rose.

In 2012, her first book, For Yourself: the fulfillment of female sexuality was recently ranked the #1 self-help book across all surveys carried out by the National Register of Health Care Providers in Psychology, the major credentialing organization for psychologists.  For Each Other: sharing sexual intimacy was ranked #4.

5. Tania De Rozario, award-winning writer on issues of gender and sexuality:

TaniaDeRozario

Well, I had the misfortune of hearing some excerpts from [Fifty Shades] before I got a chance to read it…and they put me of it forever. There’s good sex and then there’s bad writing.

I think there’s a lot of good writing to be found off the internet, actually. But you’ve got to sift through a fair bit of stuff to find it. And it’s usually from unknown authors :)

6. Avital Norman Nathman, a writer, advocate, and contract employee with the Yale School of Public Health:

avital

I’m happy to lend a few thoughts. I think women in particular deserve better in general. There’s a general sense that women readers will accept and enjoy sub-par quality, especially when it comes to erotic writing, and that’s simply not fair. There’s definitely an art and skill to writing in that genre and why shouldn’t folks receive the best, especially when they’re paying for it? Fifty Shades is an interesting case because it had a built in fanbase before it was even a published book. I think a lot of its popularity grew from the tight-knit community of  fanfiction readers that were there from it’s conception (as a Twilight fanfiction called Master of the Universe). And while the concept of the story is interesting, the execution could have been stronger. The good news is — there’s a ton of great erotica out there just wait to be read!

Instead of recommending just one book, I’m happy to point you to this roundtable I facilitated that offers some great suggestions!

Part 1: http://www.thefrisky.com/2013-08-27/real-talk-on-literary-erotica-part-1
Part 2: http://www.thefrisky.com/2013-08-29/real-talk-on-literary-erotica-part-2

7. Russell J Stambaugh, clinical psychologist and chairman of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) AltSex Special Interest Group:

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The Fifty Shades series is genre fiction. As such, the conventions of the genre have trumped realistic representation and good sex education at many points. While the vast majority of readers have not taken the novels as a call to action, either to try kink at home, or to seek out kink organizations where quality education about BDSM can be found, such organizations have seen a spike of interest attributable to the book series.

Market theory says people automatically get the entertainment they deserve. Aesthetic theory suggests mostly that they deserve better. Certainly, experienced denizens who enjoy BDSM lifestyles and sex play have created lots of critical discourse about how Grey and Steele are depicted, and problems with their communication. They think BDSM deserves better depiction.

But when you get down to it;  when genuine BDSM lifestyle practitioners describe the erotica they like, it doesn’t meet very high standards of Safe, Sane and Consensual practice, nor Risk-Aware Consensual Kink standards either.  Here are some things they liked:

The Story of O is very popular.  For years no one knew who Pauline Reage was.  Eventually she was revealed to be a writer/editor Anne Desclos at a European publishing house who wrote it for her male paramour on a dare.  He had made the rather French and arrogant claim that no woman could write decent erotica, so she wrote it somewhat to his tastes.  When the novel became a serious commercial success, their private debate was taken up by the critics, many of whom, thoroughly embedded in pre-feminist sensibilities, refused to believe that the author behind the pseudonym was actually a woman. It is by no means a catalogue of best kink practices.  Still, untold numbers of submissives have dreamed of an extended stay at Roissy, SSC or not!

Venus in Furs was Leoplod von Sacher-Masoch’s then scandalous novella of female dominance that so impressed physician Richard von Krafft-Ebing that he gave Masoch’s name to his new clinical syndrome sexual masochism.  Masoch’s early training as a lawyer and his active fantasy life led him to invent the first masochistic contract.  This is a cornerstone of play in Sacher-Masoch’s real life adventures, his book, and in Fifty Shades.  Christian administers the contracting process a great deal more like an End-User Licensing Agreement than a real kinkster would, perhaps because he’s a technology magnate.  More likely, however, it is because James couldn’t imagine keeping the contracting process sexy and foreshortened it to get to the good stuff.

The works of the Marquis de Sade are  probably better consumed as radical critical theory about personal freedom than as erotica.  It is easy to see how The Divine Marquis, imprisoned for genuine violence against women under l’Ancien Regime, then freed by the French Revolution got himself re-imprisoned for criticizing the Directorate for using the guillotine to dispatch opponents for purely abstract and political reasons, rather than proper passion.

Reading de Sade literally and then acting on his advice is an effective recipe for incarceration today.  His relentlessly transgressive vibe and explicit depictions still make de Sade a popular pornographer.

Excellent scene writers like Pat Califia, or Laura Antonieu have written much-admired works like Macho Sluts and The Marketplace that BDSMers find genuinely hot.  Calfia’s work has the special strength of crossing gender boundaries, an importsnt dimension of life in many BDSM communities that are not reflected in Fifty Shades.  For extra-credit, do not write Laura asking for the actual geo-location of The Marketplace.  She already gets plenty of such requests.

Finally, I would personally recommend the work of Mary Gaitskill, particularly Bad Behavior, a collection of short stories and Two Girls: Fat and Thin.  Gaitskill writes with economy, precision and feeling about outsiders and their sexuality.  By most, she will be read as serious fiction rather than erotica.  Bad Behavior contains ‘The Secretary,’ from which the screenplay for the Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader movie (2002) was adapted.

Author Interview, Brian Whitney

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Interview #80, with writer/editor, Brian Whitney!

Hi Brian! Describe yourself in 5 words:

Aware of who I am.

Cool! Share a short blurb of your work (10-100 words):

am_pleasing

Nate used to deal crack and be naked. Sometimes he wouldn’t put on clothes for weeks and people would come over and buy crack and Nate would just sit there, naked, dealing it out and sucking on a pipe. I mean, let’s face it, that sounds awesome, but how long does the story of a happy naked crack dealer last? Dealing crack and using it is like a monkey trying to sell bananas.

Share an excerpt of your favorite author’s work (10-100 words):

It wasn’t until a few weeks of living with her that I learned about her hooking business. When I was gone she would take men into our place and give them head for ten to twenty dollars apiece. According to her she never had real sex with them and I’m inclined to believe this because I have been in whorehouses before and they have a certain electricity to them. It’s in the air. I never felt this electric feeling when I walked into my home. ~ Arthur Bradford

Comment on the writing versus publication process, in your experience:

I am published with three different independents right now and all of them are cool. Of course I am broke as a joke, but I have been lucky to work with people that appreciate the work that I do without either of us having a lot of commercial expectations. [Note from Jess — have you met Cliff Burns? :)]

What is your definition of “good writing”?

I feel it and I know it when I see it.

Well-said. Please share your #1 tip for writers:

Just do what you do. Don’t think for a minute about whether people will like it. Sit down and write.

Your websites/blogs/etc:

https://www.facebook.com/37stories37women

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Much thanks to Brian for stopping by — do visit his website!

BRIAN’S SHORT BIO (in his own words):

I might possibly be the best author ever — and I am managing editor of a new mag. It has national distribution although it is at the grassroots stage. If your work gets in the mag we also do an ad for your biz.

It is an erotic-lit mag for the sexually entertained. So if you send me a photo of a kid and a dog, I am gonna turn you in to the cops.

~ Brian Whitney | December 11, 2013 at 9:11pm

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Recommended Erotic Books

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* This post is part of a short series:

QUALITY EROTICA (aka “Jess’s Erotic Stash”)

PART 1: Introduction + Erotic Art Books
PART 2: Erotic Books (Non-Fiction)
PART 3: Erotic Poetry
PART 4: Erotic Books (Fiction)
PART 5: More on Love/Sex/Relationships

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erotic_books

Jess’s erotic stash / “sex education”

[PART 4: Erotic Novels / Anthologies]

These are some of the books/novels that REALLY opened my eyes re: sex/sexuality/gender/love/relationships.

Doesn’t get much better than Anais Nin and D. H. Lawrence, etc etc.

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lolita

16. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov | Amazon.com

Blurb:

Awe and exhilaration — along with heartbreak and mordant wit — abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love — love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

Excerpt:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

(Lolita, opening lines)

Exhilarating –“You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style…” (a quote also from this book).

Link: Amazon.com

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switch_bitch

17. Switch Bitch, by Roald Dahl | Amazon.com

Blurb:

Great wit, melancholy, and lust pervade this collection of four adult short stories by Roald Dahl. Included here are “The Visitor” and “Bitch,” featuring the hilariously vivid exploits of the notorious Uncle Oswald, as well as “The Great Switcheroo” and “The Last Act.”

In these taut black comedies of human weakness and unexpected reversal, Dahl captures the delicious thrill of sexual triumph and the galling deflation of defeat.

Excerpt:

I only hope that my reticence will not create too strong a sense of anticlimax. Certainly, there was nothing anti about my own climax, and in the final searing paroxysm I gave a shout which should have awakened the entire neighbourhood. Then I collapsed. I crumpled up like a drained wineskin.

(The Great Switcheroo, Page 76)

It’s funny how many of the books on this list were just books I “happened” to find or receive (I didn’t specifically look for them to make a purchase). I think I bought Switch Bitch at a used books store in Singapore (for $0.50 or so). I loved Roald Dahl’s books for children. His work for adults is equally impressive/superlative in terms of style and wit.

Link: Amazon.com

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venus_in_furs

18. Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch | Amazon.com

Blurb (including excerpt/s):

An early manifesto on the potent relationship between cruelty and the pleasures of the flesh, Venus in Furs was written by a man once called the “poet” of masochism. “To be the slave of a woman, a beautiful woman, who I love, who I worship.” This is the sole desire of Severin, a young aristocrat who has fallen in love with the beautiful Wanda von Dunajew.

Wanda is initially reluctant to embody his fantasy, to become Severin’s Venus in Furs. But empowered by his desire, she begins to play her role with a passion that surprises even her lover. “You will be mine,” she tells him, “my plaything, which I can break to pieces, whenever I want an hour’s amusement.” A fascinating exploration of power in sexual relations, Venus in Furs is an erotic detour down love’s thorniest path.

This is real BDSM in a very non “sensational” or hyped way. The term ‘masochism’ is derived from this Austrian author’s name (that alone is reason enough to check this out).

Links: Amazon.com | Wikipedia

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19. Little Birds, by Anais Nin | Amazon.com

Blurb: Delta of Venus and Little Birds, Anais Nin’s bestselling volumes of erotica, contain striking revelations of a woman’s sexuality and inner life. In Little Birds, each of the thirteen short stories captures a moment of sexual awakening, recognition or fulfilment, and reveals the subtle or explicit means by which men and women are aroused. Lust, obsession, fantasy and desire emerge as part of the human condition, as pure or as complex as any other of its aspects.

Excerpt:

She felt dizzy with conflicting sensations. She did not move or turn her head. A hand now sought an opening in the skirt and discovered the buttons. Each button undone by the hand made her gasp with both fear and relief. The hand waited to see if she protested before proceeding to another button. She did not move.

Then, with a dexterity and swiftness she had not expected, the two hands twisted her skirt round so that the opening was at the back. . .

(“The Woman on the Dunes” / Page 15)

OMG this was *the* erotic book which I started off with (bought it together with the Poe anthology at a book sale). I’d just finished secondary school at the time and this book was unlike anything I’d ever come across. It was the first time I knew of Anais Nin. I didn’t even flip through the book’s contents before deciding to buy (something I do very rarely). The back copy text (i.e. the blurb above) and the cover image convinced me of the inner contents.

I like how the title comes from the first story in the anthology (and the usage of the words in the story too). This slim (but extremely potent/influential) volume made the difference between my “young teenage” life and a more mature/worldly outlook ;) It was really a form of sexual awakening, in retrospect.

Link: Amazon.com

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20. Delta of Venus, by Anais Nin | Amazon.com

Blurb:

Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus is a stunning collection of sexual encounters from the queen of literary erotica. From Mathilde’s lust-filled Peruvian opium den to the Hungarian baron driven insane by his insatiable desire, the passions and obsessions of this dazzling cast of characters are vivid and unforgettable. Delta of Venus is a deep and sensual world that evokes the very essence of sexuality.

Excerpt:

Then John saw that she wanted him, that she was offering herself, but instead of being stirred, he recoiled. “Martha! Oh, Martha!” he said, “what an animal you are, you are truly the daughter of a whore. Yes, in the orphanage everybody said it, that you were the daughter of a whore.”

Martha’s blood rushed to her face. “And you,” she said, “you are impotent, a monk, you’re like a woman, you’re not a man. Your father is a man.”

And she rushed out of his room.

(Many Think Quintia’s Beautiful, Page 56)

I think this one’s even more hardcore (in the sophisticated/artistic/intense way) than Little Birds ;)

Link: Amazon.com

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21. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence | Amazon.com

Blurb: Lady Chatterley’s Lover is both one of the most beautiful and notorious love stories in modern fiction. The summation of D.H. Lawrence’s artistic achievement, it sharply illustrates his belief that tenderness and passion were the only weapons that could save man from self-destruction.

Excerpt:

Connie was surprised at her own feeling of aversion from Clifford. What is more, she felt she had always really disliked him. Not hate: there was no passion in it. But a profound physical dislike. Almost, it seemed to her, she had married him because she disliked him, in a secret, physical sort of way. But of course, she had married him really because in a mental way he attracted her and excited her. He had seemed, in some way, her master, beyond her.

Now the mental excitement had worn itself out and collapsed, and she was aware only of the physical aversion. It rose up in her from her depths: and she realized how it had been eating her life away.

(Chapter 9)

One of the best of the best. I had to read the book twice in order to appreciate it (I first read it when I was 16 — didn’t really ‘get’ some parts yet at the time). I can remember very well (in my mind — in terms of desire + emotional intensity) the part where Oliver Mellors (the gamekeeper) first meets Lady Chatterley.

Links: Amazon.com | Wikisource (Chapter 9)

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sons_and_lovers

22. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence | Amazon.com

Blurb:

D.H. Lawrence’s great autobiographical novel is a provocative portrait of an artist torn between love for his possessive mother and desire for two young beautiful women. Set in the Nottinghamshire coal fields of Lawrence’s own boyhood, the story of young Paul Morel’s growing into manhood in a British working-class family rife with conflict reveals both an inner and an outer world seething with intense emotions.

Gertrude is Paul’s puritanical mother who concentrates all her love and attention on her son Paul. She nurtures his talents as a painter — and when she broods that he might marry someday and desert her, he swears he will never leave her. Inevitably, Paul does fall in love, but with two women — and is unable to choose between them.

Written early in Lawrence’s literary career, Sons and Lovers possesses all the powers of description, insistent sensuality, and scathing social criticism that are the special hallmarks of his genius. “A work of striking originality,” writes the critic F.R. Leavis, by “the greatest creative writer in English of our time.”

Excerpt:

“A what?” she asked brightly and unashamed.

They thought awhile. He was sensible all the time of having her opposite him. Suddenly their eyes met, and she smiled to him — a rare, intimate smile, beautiful with brightness and love. Then each looked out of the window.

The sixteen slow miles of railway journey passed. The mother and son walked down Station Street, feeling the excitement of young lovers having an adventure together.

(Chapter V: Paul Launches Into Life, Page 89)

Wow, another best of the best. Words cannot describe the substance in classic works like this (desire is just one component; there’ll also be the social / societal / human condition aspect). I have other D.H. Lawrence books but if I had to recommend just two it’d be these two.

Link: Amazon.com

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QUALITY EROTICA (aka “Jess’s Erotic Stash”)

PART 1: Introduction + Erotic Art Books
PART 2: Erotic Books (Non-Fiction)
PART 3: Erotic Poetry
PART 4: Erotic Books (Fiction)
PART 5: More on Love/Sex/Relationships

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