Donna George Storey

“Wonder Upon Wonders”: The Fanciful History of the Vibrator

There is no better way to immerse yourself in the daily life of times past than reading a newspaper of a century ago over your morning tea. I’ve discussed the scandalous pleasures of perusing old newspapers in previous columns, but as the year-end holidays draw near, I wanted to offer you this special treat of a discovery from the 22 April 1913 edition of the York Dispatch (see page 2). And you thought no one in 1913 had any fun!

Professor C.U. Hoke’s mesmerizing vibrating fingers likely inspire a smile, but the testimonial by the lady who preferred not to be named in the newspaper–a true lady may only appear in the papers at her birth, marriage, and death—may even provoke a chuckle. Imagine the poor hotel keeper, clearly a widow, who was languishing in her bed with heart and female weakness. Fortunately, Prof. See-You-Hoax’s miraculous vibrating appliance handily restored her energy and her will to live. Results like these can be yours, too, but only with regular daily applications of the professor’s miracle cure.

Beyond the obvious hucksterism, I imagine most of us have heard the following story of the invention of the vibrator. Apparently Victorian doctors believed that the ubiquitous malady of hysteria in the female (basically discontentment with her social role) could be cured by genital massage to provoke hysterical paroxysms. In this story, both doctors and patients were innocent of any sexual element to the treatment and entirely ignorant of the existence of the female orgasm. Doctor and patient merely doggedly repeated the procedure during regular appointments. The suffering ladies attested that the treatment worked wonders for energy and mood, but the bored doctors started getting repetitive stress injuries in their hands. Fortunately, an inventor (Professor Hoke?) saved the day and physicians’ hands with his vibrating electrical device.

A movie was made with Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal called Hysteria (2011), which dramatizes this very tale, and if it’s in the movies, it must be true! Even better, the story apparently originated with a scholarly work entitled The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel Maines (1999). The book won two academic prizes.

Maines’ discovery caught fire with the public. And it is a good story.

However, according to Robinson Meyer and Ashley Fetters in the Atlantic’s “Victorian-Era Orgasms and the Crisis of Peer Review” (6 Sep 2018), the vibrator origin story isn’t true. Scholars Hallie Lieberman and Eric Schatzberg determined that “[m]anual massage of female genitals was never a routine medical treatment for hysteria.” These later scholars found that Maines provided no real evidential support in her book. The citations simply don’t lead to her conclusion. Maines herself now contends that, “I never claimed to have evidence that this was really the case.” She expected immediate pushback to her “hypothesis,” but claims she was surprised it took this long. “It was ripe to be turned into mythology somehow,” she said. Her goal, Maines said, was to get people thinking and talking about “orgasmic mutuality.” (“Victorian-Era Orgasms”)

The encouragement of a discussion of orgasmic mutuality is to be applauded. However, perhaps Maines could have been more straightforward in her presentation of the evidence in a scholarly context. She was obviously right that the story was ripe to be mythologized.

The Atlantic article also uses this case to show that academic presses don’t really fact-check, but instead rely on peer review. Perhaps the reviewers were so enchanted with the fantasy of doctor-induced paroxysms, their critical faculties were mesmerized into blissful credulity?

In any event, if you’re at a holiday cocktail party in person or on Zoom in the coming months, and someone so happens to regale you with this history of the invention of the vibrator, you can set them straight. It’s nothing but a fanciful tale. That leaves us erotica writers a lot of space to make up our own vibrator origin stories. The field is wide open, so do like Professor Hoke and get inventing!

The impact of an actual vibrator, on the other hand, has been proven to be very real for many stressed-out ladies. Remember, as the advertisement states, the professor is “at home” at the National Hotel in York, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Hurry now before his appliances sell out for the holidays.

“The Ruined Girl”: Illicit Love in 18th Century Germany

When you’re completely immersed in 18th century German church records—as I must confess I am—the one word you see over and over is “legitimate.” In birth, marriage, and even death records for children and unmarried youth, the “legitimacy” of a daughter or son accompanies each entry as if it were a middle name.

I began to wonder if any child was ever noted as “illegitimate.” Soon enough, those records began to emerge as well. As one might expect, these irregular situations got more attention from the priest scribe. The formula of date of birth, name of child, name and residence of parents and godparent required additional discussion of the identity of the father or the lack thereof.

As we storytellers know, the unusual situation gets more attention from the reader as well. Thanks to the services of a kind family member who has studied Latin, we can get a glimpse into dramas of illicit love in 18th-century Germany.

My first example actually dates back to the 17th century, which shows that extramarital relations most definitely did not begin in 1963, as the poet Philip Larkin suggested in his brilliant poem of social commentary, “Annus Mirabilis.”

On the contrary, we have evidence in these church records that extramarital sex occurred several times all the way back in 1677. That’s when a woman named Margarethe, who was not given a surname, gave birth to a boy she named Hieronymus.

In the church record, the priest notes: “The identity of the father, or fathers, is thought to be one of the soldiers from Lünnenburg who were here this year in the wintertime.” One assumes he knew there could only be one biological father, but Margarethe’s interactions with a number of different soldiers was apparently noted and condemned in the record for twenty-first-century readers to ponder.

Not all of the villagers were as judgmental. Young Hieronymus Reber agreed to stand as the babe’s baptismal sponsor, and my seventh-great-grandfather, Nicholaus Hufnagel, served as an additional witness. It was unusual to have two people stand as sponsors. I like to think that Grandpa Nick understood that poor Margarethe was doing the best she could and needed the extra support of her friends.

During the 18th century, the mothers of illegitimate children tend to be out-of-towners, with unusual surnames, making me wonder if they sought to have the birth recorded in a neighboring parish so as to escape the sanctioning eye of the neighborhood. Generally the priest names a father and the circumstances through which his identify was discovered. One father was a French commissar, another a traveling salesman, men who could escape responsibility easily. Sadly, many of the babies died soon after birth.

In one case in 1720, a sick mother who had recently lost her illegitimate child was being cared for by friends in the parish of Somborn. The priest visited her every day and his kindness apparently swayed the Protestant woman into considering conversion to Catholicism. The priest notes that the woman passed away before she could officially convert, but he absolved her of her sins before she died and buried her in a Catholic ceremony anyway.

I can’t but help see the exultation of victory in the way he underlined “Catholic rite” in et in Ca’met: Somb: ritu Catholica Sepulta est [buried in the cemetery in Somborn by the Catholic rite]. Hopefully St. Peter took note when the woman passed through the Pearly Gates.

While illegitimate births were rare in the 17th and 18th-century records, the 19th century sees an explosion of children born out of wedlock. Perhaps the Napoleonic Wars made young people more willing to seize pleasure in the moment?

In 1821, Magdalena, the wife of Jakob Kreis who was a soldier serving in Austria, gave birth to a son fathered by a local widower named Konrad Schreiber. Although the record is disapproving, a modern reader can’t help but imagine the two providing comfort for each other in their loneliness.

In 1828, there were FOUR illegitimate births on a single page! Two of the children were subsequently legitimized by the marriage of the parents, as noted in the margins.

The 26 April entry for Johann Georg, illegitimate son of Christina Roos, notes that the sponsor was “Joanne Roos, fratre corruptae.” My helpful Latin expert suggested possible translations beyond the literal “corrupted girl.” Brother of the adulteress, brother of the ruined one, brother of the seduced girl, brother of the misled girl—all heap ignominy upon the woman who had a lover out of wedlock, but her brother stood with her in adversity.

Another Hufnagel who found fame in the church records was a certain Heinrich Hufnagel who admitted to fathering the child of Katharina Egold, born in November 1826. The child died 6 days later, and surely the priest hoped that the couple would learn from their disgrace. However, a year and a half later, in February 1828, the couple had another child and “Heinrich Hufnagel confessed that he himself was the father of the infant.” This child did not die, nor it seems, did the couple ever marry. Clearly they were ahead of their time in seeing marriage as just a piece of paper.

I’ll conclude with another story of Hufnagel solidarity and serendipity. In 1826, my third-great-aunt Maria Anna Hufnagel had an illegitimate child named Christina, father unnamed. Maria Anna’s brother Lorenz was my third-great-grandfather through my maternal grandmother’s father. The sponsor for the child was Christina Franz, who it just so happens was my third-great grandmother through my maternal grandmother’s mother.

Christina Franz was unaware that her granddaughter would marry her friend’s brother’s grandson in 1888 in Pennsylvania. Neither Anna Maria Hufnagel nor Christina Franz ever saw the sacred book which told the story of a friend supporting the mother of an illegitimate child. However, thanks to the internet, her great-great-great-granddaughter can appreciate her gesture of solidarity with a “ruined girl.”

Write on!

[The Nursery (1770) by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons].

Love on a Frosty Night: Marriage in 18th Century Germany

By Donna George Storey

The intimate lives of our ancestors in the 1700s and 1800s will always be a mystery to us. However, as this column has shown, the dedicated writer of historical fiction can discover many windows to the past that allow us to enrich our imaginative stories with fascinating facts.

This summer, I decided to take a break from genealogical research at a subscription site. I expected I’d be filling my time with projects other than family history research. How wrong I was!

I happened to check out a free research site called which provides access to digitized records from some Catholic dioceses in Central Europe, especially Germany and Austria. I knew that only a fraction of available records had been scanned, so I had low expectations. To my delight, the records of the parish of Somborn, Germany, home to three of my great-great grandparents, were available dating back as far as the 1670s.

On the face of it, these records, written in Latin by a succession of priests with varying skills in penmanship, mainly provide only the basic facts of my ancestors’ births, marriages, and deaths. But if we read between the lines, we can discover some interesting details about the daily life of all of those Hufnagels, Dornheckers, and Von Rheins in 18th century Germany.

Marriage records are of course the natural focus of a writer of erotic fiction. We can find evidence of honeymoon consummations in the baptismal records, as most couples had a child within the first year after the wedding. I’ve yet to find any obvious “premature” babies among my ancestors, but I found records for illegitimate children, generally from out-of-towners–a topic I will examine next month.

One big surprise was how different marriage customs were from our own day. For example, the most popular months for weddings were January, February, and November. “Das Jubelpaar” [by Hermann Bethke (1825-1895) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons], a painting of a German couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary, might be set in any of those months, with the snow sparkling in the dim winter light. I assume that when the fields were fallow, the villagers had more time to tend to their own fertility.

In the twenty-first century, the wedding is marketed as a gala event full of unique personal touches where the bride and groom are stars of the show. In 18th-century Germany, the church was open for weddings on weekdays—Tuesday being especially popular. Six to ten couples were married one after the other, rather like City Hall weddings today. I’ve found numerous instances where siblings were married on the same day and shared the same witnesses. Perhaps this indicates some practical economy, as the parents could host a midwinter feast of roast goose, sausages, and new wine for two children for the price of one.

After the celebration, when the couple retired to their marriage bed, they surely had to huddle together to keep warm with all that frost trimming the windows. As erotica writers, we can imagine a sweet union for bride and groom, the first time they could be alone together. A respectable couple living under the watchful eyes of parents and neighbors would have had more pressure to refrain so their children would be registered as “legitimate” in the church registry.

Married life seemed to be agreeable to the villagers in the parish of Somborn. Church records show that widowers of any age were quick to marry after the death of their spouses.

For example, Anton Zwergle married my sixth great-grandmother, Anna Maria Schaffrath, six weeks after his first wife died. Anna Maria waited a year and a half after her husband Melchior Schneider’s sudden death at age 33 to marry Anton in November 1732. She brought three young children into the marriage and had several more with Anton. No doubt before microwaves and washing machines, a wife was missed on long November nights. A husband’s economic support was likely missed just as keenly.

Peter Von Rhein, both my fifth and sixth great grandfathers, had three wives. He married his first wife, Katharina in 1729. Katharina died in 1750 while giving birth to their tenth child. Peter then married Eva Poer on 2 July 1753. Eva died on August 11, just one month later, and Peter went on to marry my ancestor, 31-year-old Elisabeth Peter, on 24 January 1754 at the age of 56. The couple had four more children, the last when Peter was 66.


Two of those Von Rhein daughters, Gertrude and Katharina, married two Hufnagel brothers, Lorenz and Andreas. The great-grandson of Andreas, Peter Hufnagel, ended up marrying the great-great granddaughter of Lorenz, Catharine Hufnagel, in Pennsylvania in 1888. Peter Hufnagel and Catharine Hufnagel were double third cousins—and my great-grandparents, pictured above! (For those of you who have not joined the genealogy craze, this is some serious-fun discovery for a family historian).

Most couples in the 18th and 19th centuries had a baby every other year until the wife was in her forties. Some births were closer, but this usually meant the previous baby hadn’t survived long. In my genealogy research, I assemble a list of births for a family, then check the death registry. I’d guess that over half of the babies born didn’t survive past the age of 3. And yet my ancestors soldiered on, marrying, birthing, and dying generation after generation, through the Thirty Years War and Napoleon’s advances and retreats, until many decided to try their luck in Pennsylvania–which still has the most residents named “Hufnagel” in the country, a fact that surely makes other all other states very jealous!

So, my dear reader and writer, remember that inspiration for our stories lies in many surprising places, including dusty church records that were once meant for the eyes of a few local priests. Armed with hard-won facts, and our vivid imaginations, we can surely celebrate our ancestors’ wedding days and nights once again.

Write on!

Horse Thief Detectives and Bonnet Bleachers: Making the Past Come Alive with City Directories

As writers of historical fiction, we strive to make the past come alive for our readers. Historical fiction creates a special contract between author and reader. The author is expected not only to create convincing characters, but to have deep knowledge of the culture and daily life of the times.

It’s not an easy task, but I’ve recently discovered a fun way to immerse myself in the world of the nineteenth century: perusing city directories from a century ago. Historical city directories are available in many library reference rooms, but better still are readily accessible online through historical society webpages, Google Books, Family Search, Ancestry, and other websites.

One might ask, “The people listed in this directory have long since passed on to their reward. I can’t even drop in for a chat and a cup of tea. What use are names and addresses from 1856?”

Of course names and addresses in themselves provide useful information for a writer. Which sorts of names were popular in that time and place? There are fewer Mabels and Clementines running around today. Where did one go shopping for certain items? Who lived in private residences, usually marked by “house” or an “h,” and who lived in a boarding house, marked with “bds,” one quick distinction between the higher classes and the lower?

That is just the beginning of the delights within the yellowed pages of a city directory, however. Let’s take a look at The York Gazetteer and Business Directory from 1856. This compendium contains historical sketches, lists of churches, clubs, post offices, schools, and merchants, “together with interesting miscellaneous articles and useful receipts” and, naturally, an abundance of advertisements.

The entries for service providers alone provides an enlightening portrait of commerce in a Pennsylvania town in the 1850s. Starting with “Attorneys,” highlights of the list include:

Coal Dealers
Gentlemen–And as such follow no particular occupation.
Inn Keepers
Livery Stables
Sausage stuffer [only one listed]
Soap and Candle Manufacturers
Whip Manufacturers

(The York Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1856 (York, PA: John Denig, Book Agent, 1856); “U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995,”, p 17-27, image 19-29.)

[The York Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1856, p. 30, image 32.]

My favorite discovery in this directory is the “Horse Thief Detecting Society of York County.” Am I too far gone in historical research to think that would make a good title for a story? In its day, the society served a useful purpose. What else was to prevent an unethical fellow from riding off with your horse one dark night and quickly selling or trading the animal to an unwitting new owner? Founded in 1850 for members who lived within a 12-mile radius of the Borough of York, the society and others in the surrounding area helped members in the recovery of a horse or paid for a new horse from the insurance fund created by the annual dues. Members were required to brand their horses with the society’s brand. As we see from the clipping at the top of this post, the president of the Paradise Horse Thief Detecting Society, a township close to York, placed a notice for a decent reward in the York Gazette. “$25 Reward,” York Gazette, 7 May 1872, p. 3;

By the 1920s, horse thief detection societies were disbanding due to the popularity of automobiles—which required their own more complex form of insurance. The dues that had accrued over the years were divided among the remaining members who owed their windfall to their thrifty ancestors. The 125 members of the Glen Rock society received $15.56 each in 1926, the year my father was born in York City. (“Horse Thief Detecting Society Will Liquidate–$1,945 in treasury,” York Dispatch, 6 Dec 1926, page 16;

Speaking of family addresses, let’s take a peak at the 1881 directory for the thriving industrial city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Note the advertisement for the services of my great-grandfather, Dr. Henry S. George. His office on Penn Avenue—the Park Avenue of Pittsburgh—marked the high point of his flamboyant career. [J.F. Diffenbacher’s Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities 1881-1882 (Pittsburgh, PA: Diffenbacher & Thurston, 1881); “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,”, p. 304, image 158]

It is amusing to find ancestors listed in old directories, but again, one can also get a real sense of city life in the 1880s. For example, if we turn to the list of businesses, we see that the listings for “Saloons” take up nine pages, from page 894-903, a testament to the thirst of Pittsburgh’s workingmen. In other words, there was a whole lot of boozing going on in Pittsburgh!

For me, leafing through these pages—or the equivalent via computer screen–feels like strolling down the streets of the Steel City in 1881. Do I need my bonnet bleached at George R. Lynch and Bros. on Fourth Street? Or shall I grab a fine stiff felt hat at Wm. Grabowsky’s establishment on tony Penn Avenue, where my great-grandfather likely shopped to show he wore only the best? (Directory of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Cities 1881-1882, p. 863, image 445)

As my imagination wanders apace, I stop in on the sausage stuffer and daguerreotypist and perhaps I encounter a gentleman with no particular occupation but the leisure to make mischief with a lady whose bonnet is impeccably bleached.

Before I know it, the past has come alive before my eyes, full of stories to dazzle and delight, all from the pages of directories of centuries past.

Write on!

Fifty Shades of Erotica: Five Years After

Recently I got an email informing me that there was a new comment on my article entitled “Six Secrets to Writing Your Own Over-50 Shades of Erotica” which appeared on a website for women over 50 called Zest Now. “Thanks, interesting thoughts!” wrote the gentleman. I’ll take all the positive feedback I can get, even if the article had been published five years ago as part of my campaign to promote the ebook release of my novel, Amorous Woman. I only vaguely remembered what I’d written, so I revisited the site. (The link to the article doesn’t always work, so I’ve reprinted the article in its entirety below in case you’re interested in how my advice holds up.)

I stand by all six secrets and was frankly surprised at how economical the writing was—I have a tendency to ramble on when I’m talking about sex. I was also amused to remember that when I wrote that article about being inspired to write your own erotica after reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I myself had not read Fifty Shades of Grey. However, a friend I trusted had told me that reading about the relationship between Ana and Christian was very interesting to her, so I built from there.

In my defense, so much had been written about Fifty Shades, I felt I knew it well enough to use the social phenomenon as a basis for my suggestions. Also, we erotica writers had been urged to take advantage of the Fifty Shades boom to elevate our own personal brands. I wanted to be optimistic and hope that the bestselling trilogy would whet the appetites of new erotica readers who might then seek out the types of anthologies where my work was published. Could the Fifty Shades wave lift us all?

Five years later I have to say that Fifty Shades mostly just fucked the rest of us over.

Now I don’t have data to back me up, but my sense it that publishers are all the more disappointed when erotica anthologies or novels don’t become the next Fifty Shades. It’s rather like the film industry. The period of openness and artistic risk in the 1960s and 1970s that gave us Five Easy Pieces and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice was destroyed by the blockbuster Jaws, which I recently watched. It hasn’t aged well.

The 1990s marked the advent of the Erotica Revolution, with presses like Cleis and magazines like Yellow Silk and Clean Sheets showing us that “nice” girls and boys could write thoughtful, steamy stories. Again, this might just be me, but the literary quality of Fifty Shades branded all erotica as a mediocre guilty pleasure for mommies. Literary erotica editor friends who’d been getting commissions from mainstream publishers suddenly found the river had run dry.

I still remain optimistic for the future of literary erotica. History shows us that cultural setbacks can be succeeded by leaps forward. In the meantime, I stand by my words of yore: “Whether you’re aiming to publish or please a special audience of one, writing erotica helps you focus on pleasure, which is guaranteed to improve your sensual life–even if it’s already very good indeed.”

Six Secrets to Writing Your Own Over-50 Shades of Erotica
(Zest Now, June 3, 2013)

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, who will turn 50 this year, has shown that the world loves a sexy story. Reading erotica is a great way to spark your libido, but have you ever thought of writing your own? As a 51-year-old wife and mother who’s been publishing erotica for over 15 years, I can confirm that there’s nothing more sexually empowering than putting your own steamy story down on paper. Whether you’re aiming to publish or please a special audience of one, writing erotica helps you focus on pleasure, which is guaranteed to improve your sensual life–even if it’s already very good indeed.

Here are six secrets for bringing your unique erotic stories to life:

Find A Safe Space. Although our generation came of age during the Sexual Revolution, most of us still hesitate to express our positive sexual desires. Find a safe space, both physical and mental, to create your world of pleasure. Close the door against the voices that urge you to feel shame for feeling good. In this protected place, you are free to get in touch with your fantasies, memories, images and scenes that turn you on. Suddenly everything is possible.

The Pleasures of Research. Erotic writers transform sensual experience into vivid words and images, but it takes practice. First, read some erotic books to learn what you like in style and content. Which stories do you wish you’d written? Which scenes turn you on and why? The assignment gets better. The next time you make love to your partner or yourself pay close attention with all of your senses. Where is his skin the softest? When does the sound of his breathing change? Slow down, enjoy each sensation. Try out a new position you have in mind for your story to get the logistics right. Homework has never felt so good.

Start Slow and Let It Flow. Start slow with a sketch of a sex scene or a list of scenarios that turn you on. Erotic stories can be about real experiences, but they are just as often about fantasies, dreams, forbidden desires. Let the thoughts and images flow. Experiment and discover. You’ll surprise yourself with the magic you create.

The Real Secret to Good Erotica. Dirty words only take you so far. The real secret to a compelling erotic tale is the relationship between the lovers. Critics panned Fifty Shades of Grey, but the characters’ deep feelings for each other enchanted millions. Write about a couple you care about, their desires and conflicts and how they overcome them to be together, and your reader will be right there in bed with you. As older women, we bring a wealth of life experience to the writing process. Use your wisdom!

Share It With Your Lover. I’ve published over 150 stories, but my greatest joy is still that gleam in my husband’s eye after he’s read my latest story. A story is also a great way to suggest a new bedroom activity or introduce a fantasy. Use your judgment as some partners can be uncomfortable. If you think your partner might be open to it, start out gently, with a sketch of what you enjoy doing with him, rather than, for example, a hard-core BDSM scene.

Share It With the World. Today it’s easier than ever to share your work with a wider readership. Post your story on Literotica for appreciation and feedback. Self-publishing on Amazon is another popular option. For more traditional validation by professional editors, check out the Erotica Readers and Writers Association Calls for Submissions. Remember all writers face a lot of rejection, so keep trying!

Midlife brings a flowering of confidence and creativity for women. Writing erotica is a rewarding way to renew your passion as well.

When “Good” Girls Write Dirty Stories: Kate Manne’s “Down Girl” and the Logic of Misogyny

I’ve always been a good student and a “good” girl. Or at least that’s what most people think, if they think of me at all. However, there is another side to me, one you here at ERWA know well, but that would surprise many: a woman who is deeply skeptical of authority and who dares to make my private pleasure public in prose, whether that be the joys of female sexuality or my delight in analyzing American history and culture.

In spite of myself, my “good student” ways led me to soak up the messages our society sends to girls and women. Even if I don’t agree with the values of the patriarchy, I know them and feel them and, I’ll admit, even live my life by some of these rules willingly. Still, sometimes I’m confused. How can men love their mothers, wives and daughters and still support laws and customs that harm women? How can so many men be against contraceptives? Do they want a future where they must either be celibate or have twenty children? Why do women as well as men attack the credibility of victims of sexual assault and harassment and make the assailant into the “true” victim? At times I wonder: If men didn’t need us for heterosexual sex, would they simply do away with all women since they seem to be so angry at them all the time?

I’ve been considering these questions for a lifetime, but just this past week, I actually got some interesting answers, thanks to Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, by Cornell professor Kate Manne. Professor Manne’s book is not a beach read, but it’s accessible and especially relevant in these turbulent times. It clarifies so many things about being a woman in our man’s world and about my own actions as an erotica writer, as well as the nature of what men want from women and why they’re so mad when they don’t get it.

I can’t do justice to Manne’s argument in a blog post, so I’ll try my flawed best with a summary of those points that directly impact my experience of writing and promoting erotica. First, Manne discusses the popular, or “naive,” conception of the misogynist as a man who hates all women irrationally, just because they are women, like the way Hitler hated Jews. By this definition, misogynists would be rare. After all, most men love their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters or some subset thereof. And many women are misogynists, too—could they hate themselves in such a way?

Manne then presents a more satisfying functional definition of misogyny as the means by which a patriarchal society polices and patrols female behavior. Sexism holds that women are naturally subordinate, or more euphemistically complementary, to men. Misogyny attempts to put wayward females back in their designated place by “condescending, mansplaining, moralizing, blaming, punishing, silencing, lampooning, satirizing, sexualizing, belittling, caricaturizing, exploiting, erasing, and evincing pointed indifference.” (Manne, 30)

Misogyny also valorizes women who behave properly. Manne’s framing of proper behavior was particularly enlightening for me, in what she calls a bad gendered historical bargain (from the female perspective, that is):

“Women may not be simply human beings but positioned as human givers when it comes to dominant men who look to them for various kinds of moral support, admiration, attention, and so on. She is not allowed to be in the same ways as he is. She will tend to be in trouble when she does not give enough, or to the right people, in the right way, or in the right spirit. And, if she errs on this score, or asks for something of the same support or attention on her own behalf, there is a risk of misogynistic resentment, punishment, and indignation.”

Thus women owe men of equal or superior social status their good will, what Manne calls “hers to giveor feminine-coded goods and services: attention, affection, admiration, sympathy, sex, and children; also mixed goods such as safe haven, nurture, security, soothing and comfort.

Masculine-coded perks and privileges are “his for the taking”: power, prestige, public recognition, rank, reputation, honor, “face,” respect, money and other forms of wealth, hierarchical status, upward mobility, and the status conferred by having a high-ranking woman’s loyalty, love, devotion. (Manne, 130)

If a woman tries to take what is “his,” she is “bad” and misogyny punishes her by calling her out as selfish, negligent, irresponsible, ungrateful, and unfair to men. (Manne, 87)

Manne compares our reaction to this “unnatural” dynamic of female self-regard to a situation where a waitress refuses to take our order, then asks us to serve her. Who wouldn’t be outraged by this betrayal of expectations? Where’s the service with a smile? (Manne, 50)

As I mentioned earlier, women, too, police the behavior of other women. Consider the female commentators who blame #MeToo victims for wearing the wrong clothes, not being strong or savvy enough to fend off a boss’s advances, and worst of all, destroying a good man’s career because she’s a whiny drama queen who wants attention and lots of money.

I also found Manne’s explanation quite reasonable concerning why some conservatives so vehemently oppose the ACA’s coverage of female contraception but not coverage of Viagra: “…We can now make sense of contraception coverage becoming a common point of contention, too. She is asking to be provided with an antidote to human giving—and in a way that often highlights her human capacities being deployed in self-development or geared toward financial success, that is, his province. The latter also threatens to turn her into a usurper.”

Whether this resentment of women who put their own pleasures first must lead all Americans to have families of twenty children is another matter, of course. But at least the outrage makes more sense.

As I was reading Down Girl, I also had some insights into the relationship between misogyny and my erotica writing.

As long as I can remember, I knew I existed to please others. I was supposed to be a good daughter and student and be as attractive a female as I could manage, given my natural limitations. The stares and catcalls of men on the street that began when I was 13 were a reminder of what movies, TV and magazines preached: I existed to please male eyes and egos. I learned to be careful when flirting because if I gave my attention to one boy, then another, the first would take it personally and punish me. While my actual relationships were not nearly as reductive as the messages bombarding me from the media, I knew that, rightly or wrongly, my chief purpose was to be a loyal girlfriend and wife, an enthusiastic sex partner, and a devoted mother. Public achievements were icing, as long as they didn’t interfere too much. As an empty-nester, I’m doing community service and baking cookies for the holidays to please the palates of my friends. Yes, I have my secret life as a rebel, a scholar, and a feisty truth-teller, but for the most part, I’ve chosen the safe route for a woman in a patriarchal world.

Writing erotica under my own name, of course, is the exception to my conformity. I have felt that I am a “bad” girl—the closest I’d ever come to hanging out in the smoking area in high school–for speaking frankly and positively about the female sexual experience. It has been mostly thrilling, although I have been occasionally attacked and shamed.

Manne’s book made me reconsider just how “bad” I am.

For indeed, am I not still a “good” girl in terms fulfilling my patriarchal purpose of pleasing men? I’d guess most of my readers are women, but I’ve gotten fan mail from a good number of men over the years. Many men read erotica because they are genuinely interested in women’s sexual experiences, and that’s a good thing. Still, as I’ve gathered from our cultural messages, sexuality seems like the only thing about women your “average guy” would be genuinely interested in reading about–with the goal of satisfying his own sexual desires. The type of erotica I generally write affirms the desirability of the heterosexual erotic experience (with some lesbian detours, but men like that, too). My work offers support and solace and might even serve as a surrogate partner. If I wrote instead on female friendship and quilting, I’d probably have zero male readers, no matter how eloquent my prose.

On the other hand, a “bad” female erotica writer would make male readers uncomfortable. Some writers I admire greatly do. While I sometimes challenge traditional sexual values, I tend to do it gently, with humor, and accompanied by a fundamental pleasure in male company. What’s there for a man to hate?

I’m not saying any of this is wrong. I just find it interesting how my way of being in the world has been informed by these time-worn values.

Manne also made me more aware of my internalization of the danger of trying to claim any position of privilege traditionally seen to belong to men.

When I published my novel, Amorous Woman, I found it hard to “toot my own horn” to promote the book. It felt dangerous, selfish, and stuck-up to claim for myself public importance as a Published Novelist. Who did I think I was?

I managed to overcome my reluctance by framing my book as my “child.” I had given birth to her and owed my newborn baby a good start in life. Thus I transformed myself from a selfish, egotistical artist into a self-sacrificing mother. That kept me going through many a cold call or excruciating snub from a “serious” bookstore that didn’t have the time of day for novels like mine. My little girl needed me to be strong!

To be honest, I sincerely do not see my work as a means to show the world how great I am. I see it as a way to connect with others, assure them they are not alone in their feelings and desires. I also felt a duty to present a view of Japan that engages with but also transcends stereotypes as a way of paying back the warmth, humanity, and hospitality of my Japanese friends.

So I just have to face the fact that I’m bad at being the bad girl. I’ve learned my good girl lessons too well: Stay safe in a man’s world by being the pleaser, the giver, the titillating, but reassuring entertainer.

Yet I won’t fall prey to another common misogynistic reflex—that anything a woman does is automatically devalued. Manne agrees that men still want women around because the comforts they give are “truly valuable: they are genuinely good and the lack thereof bad. Consider that, as well as affection, adoration, indulgence, and so on, such feminine-coded goods and services include simple respect, love, acceptance, nurturing, safety, security, and safe haven. There is kindness and compassion, moral attention, care, concern and soothing.” (Manne, 110)

I also happen to know many men who give these wonderful human qualities to me and other women–it’s just that it seems they’re allowed some time off now and then with no harm done. Still I’m proud to value those qualities and offer them freely to my family, my friends, my colleagues and my readers. Thanks to Manne, though, I’ll definitely examine my feelings of safety and danger and “good” and “bad” as I continue on my writer’s journey.

Write on!

The Ultimate Sexual Conquest for the Twenty-First Century

If your sexual partner didn’t have an orgasm, would you want to know?

It probably depends on who you are. If reports from the high school and college heterosexual hook-up scene are any indication, mutual satisfaction is not the focus in most encounters. In Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All, Jaclyn Friedman reports that men are three times more likely to have orgasms than female partners in a casual college hookup (p. 194). She describes a Saturday night liaison where the woman gave the man a blowjob and he reciprocated with one lick of her labia.


Anecdotal evidence suggests that many young men believe a woman feels the same level of pleasure from vaginal intercourse that he does, and given the abysmal state of sex education, the blame is not all on them. But you’d think anyone would realize there’s an imbalance between a blowjob and a single flick of the tongue. Is it ignorance or indifference? Neither speaks well for a man, but then again by the traditional rules of heterosexual male conquest, only his pleasure matters. She has been “conquered” no matter what she feels.

In a long-term relationship, add fear to the reasons for the pleasure imbalance, from fear of wounding the lover’s ego to worse. Friedman tells how her beloved first boyfriend, Andy, “taught me about my clitoris and threatened to rip out my uterus and shove it down my throat if he ever discovered I’d been faking orgasms with him” (p. 50). Friedman loved Andy, but, faced with evisceration, just never get around to telling him that she’d never had an orgasm, not even with herself. Unfortunately for Andy, wherever he may be, he may have known about the clitoris in theory, but his prowess was built on lies.

Women might hesitate to offer the truth even when the threat is less explicit or dire. The first partner I was truly in love with thought my genuine moans of pleasure meant I was climaxing over and over. I wish! I didn’t have the nerve to tell him the truth either. Fortunately I figured out how to have real orgasms with him before the lie by omission became too uncomfortable. The first time with was oral sex, but one fine day, by being on top, it happened during intercourse, too. Ironically, he commented that I came very quietly that time, but I didn’t set the record straight. My joy at achieving the “right kind” of orgasm was mine alone. After we broke up a few months later (officially I broke up with him, but as is often the case, he made it easy by having a fling with another woman), I vowed I would always be honest about my orgasms with my future lovers. And I was. Who says anger can’t have a positive result?

Beyond the hook-up scene, Friedman reports that straight men are almost 50% more likely to have an orgasm with a partner than straight women are (p. 3). Every sex survey I’ve read claims that one-third of women have orgasms every time they have sex, one-third have them sometimes and one-third never do. There may be reasons for the latter situation that are beyond anyone’s control and there may be no easy solution.

But it also might be true that if a man makes a point to ask about what gives his partner pleasure—and is willing to listen to and act upon her/his answer—this will lead to more intimacy and hopefully more pleasure. At least it would cut back on the lies. And again, wouldn’t any responsible, self-respecting adult want to know the truth?

I’d also like to humbly suggest that if you know you’re having orgasms, but it’s unclear if your partner is, it’s on you to do the asking.

Friedman puts it well:

“Those of us who sleep with men pay every time we encounter a man who treats us like interchangeable vending machines that will dispense to him sexual pleasure if he inserts the secret coin. Because these men think they know What Women Want, they pay little attention to the needs and desires and boundaries of the individual woman in front of them, and women’s sex lives suffer for it. And if we have the temerity to refuse to play along with the script in his head, we know we’re risking him reacting with violence or abuse” (p. 51-52).

I wonder how many men are afraid to even ask? Talking about sex, particularly your own “performance,” is scary. We’re too busy admiring the players to recognize such courage publicly. So I’d like to do just that right here and now.

If you ever asked, with sincerity, what you could do to please your partner and listened to the answer, you are awesome! Really awesome!

If you ever had the guts to explain what you need even though everything you ever learned tells you to shut up and do it like they do in the movies, well, I think your courage in communicating honestly and your respect for your partner’s pleasure—because sexual pleasure includes the pleasure of giving pleasure—is equally awesome!

While we’re on the topic, here’s another question for you:

When did you lose your virginity?

Now suppose the official definition of “losing your virginity” changed. You could only claim graduation to the status of the sexually experienced if you were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs in any way and your partner definitely had an orgasm because you could trust him/her to be truthful.

By that definition, does your answer change?

The time difference between the first and second definitions for me is two-and-a-half years.

For those sexually active years, I was pretty excited just to be desired by men, and I was having plenty of orgasms on my own, so don’t feel too sorry for me. However, it does make me sad for all of us that such an amazing aspect of the human experience is silenced, sometimes by directly saying “don’t talk about this, it ruins the mood” and sometimes because we just don’t have the examples, the practice, and the knowledge that it can be different or better if we just express what’s really going on.

We don’t have to reserve sex talk for our lovers. While always keeping a sense of what’s appropriate in any given relationship, I wish we could talk about it honestly with friends of every gender. I’ve had the honor of doing so, although I wish I’d done it more. How much could we all learn if we share our experiences, our joys, and our confusion about sex and listen to what they have to say about theirs? What if we all treated sex as a complex and important part of the human experience, not as a dirty joke or a shameful thing to deny?

I remember as a child giggling with my friends about the meaning of “knowing” in the Biblical sense. Now as an adult, I think reviving the verb “to know” about our sexual encounters is a pretty good idea. In the twenty-first-century sense, everyone would know if their partners are experiencing pleasure, and everyone would know how to express it and receive it on their own terms, not those of the media or anyone else.

For me, this is the ultimate sexual conquest of the twenty-first century: vanquishing our society’s fear and loathing of sexuality by talking honestly and respectfully about this very important part of the human experience. I believe erotica writers are well-positioned to take the lead.

What do you think?

When Ladies Wore Open-Crotch Drawers: Sexy Surprises from Grandmother’s Lingerie Drawer

One of the chief pleasures of writing a historical novel is discovering the details of daily life in the past so we can recreate the texture and flavor of the time. The clothing of the period is, of course, an essential focus of research to put our characters in proper attire. But because erotica writers carefully undress our characters as well, we must also learn exactly the sort of undergarments an impatient lover will encounter for full authenticity.

Most of us know about corsets, petticoats and pantalettes from historical dramas. However, mainstream movies and TV leave out one important aspect of ladies’ drawers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—they had no crotch. Indeed they were almost completely split from end to end, two free-standing leg tubes held together by little more than a waistband as you see below.

Frederick’s of Hollywood doesn’t even dare to go that far.

I first found out about this unspoken feature of female undergarments of the last two centuries when I was assembling a corset-friendly costume for a boudoir photo session a few years ago. I went to a local lace and antique clothing store called Lacis in the hope of finding a pair of old fashioned bloomers. To my delight, I found a pair in exactly my size for a reasonable price pictured in both photographs here. The open crotch was a surprise, but when I put the drawers on, the gap disappeared into a sort of short petticoat. Unless the wearer made an effort to spread the split seam, if you didn’t know, you’d never guess what did–or rather didn’t–lie within.

But of course, the women and men of the 1900s knew. I’ve read in several sources that working-class lovers rarely undressed fully when they had sex in Victorian times. Open-crotch drawers certainly support the logistics of that custom.

In An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality, Jill Fields provides further illumination about the history and sexual politics of open-crotch underpants for women. Until the nineteenth century, women didn’t wear any sort of protective clothing between their legs, although surely there was some provision for menstruation. (In the time period I’m studying, women wore diaper-like pants lined with cotton wool or rags; disposable pads were just coming on the market). Little girls and boys, who were dressed alike in feminine fashion until about the age of five, wore closed pantalettes under shorter dresses. Boys then were “breeched” and wore knee-length britches, then long trousers at puberty. When girls were old enough to put up their hair and lower their skirts—more or less at puberty—they also started wearing open-crotch drawers.

Fields acknowledges that the split crotch made it easier to answer daily necessities for a woman swathed in layers of undergarments and long, heavy skirts. Some experts claimed exposing the female genitals to the air was healthy. However, Fields also emphasizes the symbolic value of the female version of drawers. Women were not supposed to wear trousers—Joan of Arc’s cross-dressing preferences were part of her heresy. If a woman wore closed-crotch garments, she would be veering too close to the appropriation of male privilege, and no real lady would dream of such transgression. Thus, the gap at the crotch symbolized an adult women’s physical difference, her availability to men, and, ironically to our modern sensibility, her feminine modesty.

Around the late 1910s, the world began to change. Skirts shortened. More women were employed outside the home in offices and factories. Women went on “dates” outside the home, danced the tango in public halls and cabarets, and rode bicycles. Modesty in public now required closed-crotch step-ins, more like our tap pants, duly decorated with lace and wider at the leg to distinguish them from men’s drawers. From the end of World War I until the present day, open-crotch panties, once the sign of submissive and respectable femininity, became associated with naughty eroticism instead.

Fields writes: “The sexual access open drawers provided could coexist with woman’s propriety only in the context of an ideology of female passionlessness and social structures of masculine domination. When women publicly asserted their own claims to sexual pleasure, political power, and economic independence, an open crotch was no longer respectable.” (p. 42)

By the 1920s, ladies were now allowed, even required, to experience sexual pleasure in marriage to keep their husbands from straying. While I view this as a positive development, Victorian prudery did allow some women the power to control the number of marital sexual encounters due to their spiritual delicacy, as well as a desire to limit families. Now a woman “owed” her husband regular sex and an enthusiastic response. For the middle-class at least, with their greater access to birth control such as the new latex condoms and diaphragms, intercourse had fewer consequences to fertility than earlier.

Fields even describes a comic novel (1926) and film (1937) called Topper by Thorne Smith where the plot revolves around a prudish wife’s conversion to the modern underpants of a “forward woman,” which improves her sex life with her husband but deprives her of her power as the moral arbiter of the family.

Nonetheless, it would be several decades more before the average woman dared to wear slacks rather than skirts over her closed-crotch undies. At a family reunion last fall, my 96-year-old aunt described the momentous day she wore pants for the first time in her life during an evening stroll with her husband through the neighborhood–with his express permission of course. In the 1950s in the summer, small-town families still gathered on their front porches after dinner to seek relief from the heat. My aunt’s heart was pounding with anxiety as she wondered how the neighbors would react to her brazen outfit. But there were no earthquakes or riots, everyone simply nodded and wished her a good evening as they had the day before.

Some revolutions are quiet, yet significant, like the closing of the crotches on ladies’ drawers.

The Hidden Political Power of Erotica: A Reader’s and Writer’s Journey

“When you write, you illuminate what’s hidden, and that’s a political act.”

So said Grace Paley in a 1985 “Fresh Air” interview. I came across her quote in a New Yorker review of the new collection of her work: A Grace Paley Reader. It’s hard to get more hardcore literary than the New Yorker, but even as I held that august magazine in my hands, I thought, “She’s talking about erotica writers, too! Actually, not ‘too.’ Especially us.”

After all, who is best at illuminating what is hidden from polite society than erotica writers?

Sexuality is, even today for the most part, segregated in private spaces or specialized commercial venues. Writing erotica in any dedicated, and certainly celebratory, fashion (bad, uncomfortable, or punished sex is more acceptable for literary fiction than a good, contagiously hot sex scene) “cheapens” a serious writer.

But most human beings do have sex. It has meaning in our lives. It elates and confuses, embarrasses and enlightens, connects and exploits. To explore this aspect of our existence honestly in our writing is courageous, and indeed political, in the sense that it “speaks truth to power” by refusing to obey the rule of silence around sexuality.

Yet for me, erotica’s illuminations go even deeper. I speak now as a reader of erotica, the twin pillar of our association’s name. When I first encountered sexually explicit writing, through Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden and Penthouse letters, I was fascinated by the frank discussion of these naughty acts that I’d yet to experience myself. It was an education in the possible, and in some sense, even when I knew better, I took the stories at face value.

Once I began to write my own stories, I came to realize that a creative depiction of sex (or anything) involves choices and crafting, but also an intuitive understanding of what our culture considers compelling so we can connect with readers. Many readers probably believe we simply write what we personally find arousing or have done in our real lives, but I’ve written stories for calls that have drawn heavily from my imagination. I also came to believe that any erotic story, even one based honestly on actual experience, is a fantasy of a sort.

Many dismiss “fantasy” as second best to the “real thing,” but for me, the revelation of the sexual workings of a person’s mind is much more interesting and intimate than the most athletically orgasmic of physical encounters.

It’s also possible that I’ve read too much erotica to find entertainment solely in the descriptions of sex acts. There is as much pleasure to be gotten from considering what stories reveal in terms of power exchange—and I don’t necessarily mean just BDSM. Take a very common theme in erotic stories of sexual encounters between authority figures–teachers, doctors, policewo/men, bosses—and those with lower status such as students, patients, and employees. Polite society defines these relationships as public, proper, and untainted by sex, so just adding sex to the mix is in itself a transgression. But sexualizing a teacher or doctor also humanizes her and creates a kind of equality or even a reversal of status. Certainly during an orgasm, we are all equal in our transcendence of the civilized. Erotica of this flavor is thus an illumination of the humanity and vulnerability of authority figures.

In another example, the theme of exhibitionism can be taken at face value as the desire to perform sexual acts for another’s gaze, but I also see it as a way to reach for validation and acceptance of our sexuality. The illumination here is how suppressed and shamed many of us are or at least were when we had to deal with our maturing erotic selves with so little social support.

A deeper look at our own writing can be illuminating. Which dynamics fascinate us? What haunts us? What soothes? As I mentioned in last month’s column, I’m realizing that I must have internalized the message that a man “wins” when he has sex with me, and I “lose.” I don’t believe that rationally, but that zero-sum equation still has power emotionally. Yet in the fantasies, I “win” because the man’s desire for me and his “domination” lead to my pleasure. My erotic mind transforms society’s message into a win-win.

Respecting sexual fantasy as transformative, healing, revolutionary. Isn’t that a political act if there ever was one?

Sexual fantasy is not usually considered worthy of serious reflection. It’s a use-it-once-and-throw-it-away sort of thing. Perhaps if we’re really perverted, a doctor should be called in to analyze us, but otherwise, polite society says erotic daydreams are best kept private—even as variations of the same are splayed across billboards and movie screens. The first-draft writer side of me hesitates to spend too much time on analysis or the big picture. Storytelling uses another part of my brain. But the reader in me delights in the illumination of secrets, including my own, and the personal power it gives me to make or re-make stories, the food of our intellect and our souls.

That’s a political act, too.

Write—and read—on!

Why “Real Sex” is the Biggest Fantasy of All

by Donna George Storey

In last month’s column, I discussed the implications of a comment by an elderly gentleman with a white mustache who imagined that “most erotica writers are fat and ugly, fantasy based [sic] women with a serious case of penis envy.” In particular I examined the long history of using “fat” as a way to shame people with less power in our culture and also discussed the denigration of sexual fantasy, which plays a significant part in the sexual experience of those of us with brains.

This month I’d like to talk about the implied opposite of “fantasy-based” sexuality—Real Sex.

Here’s the main problem. We have very little reliable factual data on humanity’s actual sexual experiences. Kiss and Tell: Surveying Sex in the Twentieth Century by Julia Ericksen with Sally A. Steffen discusses the obvious reasons why this is so. Both men and women feel shame in being honest about sex, because the tradition is still strong that “decent” people keep sex private and besides it wouldn’t do to expose yourself to accusations of abnormality. Equally importantly, it is extraordinarily difficult to get funding to do a comprehensive study of any sexual topic, unless it is related to the “problem of sex” such as teen pregnancy. And even studies that have been done such as those by Kinsey and Masters and Johnson are likely skewed by the design of the study (nonrandomness, how the topics are examined, interpretation of data) as well as the usual cultural factors affecting and reflected in the research. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this situation will change anytime soon.

And so, in the main, we are left with voluntary surveys in magazines, honest, intimate discussions with friends (if you’re fortunate to have such friends), and public pronouncements that reflect as much how the speaker wants sex to be as what actually happens.

I cannot help but conclude that Real Sex is the biggest fantasy of all.

In my study of sexuality in America one hundred years ago, Real Sex was understood to be as follows. A man had a natural sex drive, which he must strive to control, but a good woman did not until her husband awakened her on their wedding night. Her body had no sexual feeling until a penis was inserted into it. If she didn’t experience pleasure even then, it was because she was especially pure and above lustful concerns. This was a tribute to her fine character.

As the elderly gentleman with the white mustache’s comment illustrates, our culture’s view of sex is not so very different today. Women must have “penis envy” because only the penis possesses and bequeaths sexual feeling, not, presumably, because they wish they had boners at inconvenient times or ejaculated prematurely, for example. Female sex organs are, on their own, without sensation, desire or pleasure.

I’ll leave each individual reader to determine the validity of that view for herself.

But there are advantages to this antique approach. Men don’t have to worry about the details of an erotic encounter because just having a penis inside her is enough to drive a woman to ecstasy. Again, rather unbelievably, this is still a common presentation. I was dismayed that the most vivid sex scene in the Christmas special of Sense8, a Netflix original series I watch, consisted of a couple on a Tinder date who do it doggie style, with the man pounding hard and fast with no other stimulation to the woman but an occasional slap on her ass. “I love it!” she cries as her whole body jiggles from the assault. Oh, yes, I almost forgot, she is on top for a while but again with that super-fast up-and-down movement, which focuses on penetration and no stimulation of her clitoris or other body parts.

Sense8 is a cool show. It has lots of creepy supernatural stuff, artful orgies and tender gay sex, but heterosexual sex is presented as a porn cliché. Yet for many viewers, our eyes and the Tinder date’s enthusiastic review tell us we’re being shown Real, hot, casual sex, right? Clearly something is the matter with you if you don’t get off on such a vigorous, frenzied pounding of your cervix.

Another advantage of “the penis is sex, end of story” is that any complaints from the woman are covered. If she’s experienced enough to be picky about your technique, then she’s a slut. If she needs more, you know, that “fantasy” stuff like romance, a scenario where her needs are important and she experiences pleasure and orgasm in the encounter–like most erotica offers, by the way–then again, she’s being greedy, fantasy-based, high maintenance. This is problem sex, not Real Sex.

Naturally, this view does not benefit men if the man cares about “reality.” It only does if you measure your prowess in bed by the number of partners alone, believing that the insertion of your penis into a vagina—whether that vagina belongs to a cognizant, consenting partner or not–proves your manhood.

What if sex only “counted” if the partner genuinely had a good time? How many guys would still be virgins?

The fantasy informing traditional female behavior deserves attention, too. A variant on “the man awakens the woman” fantasy of Real Sex is that you expect the man to be “good in bed” and do everything right without a word or a false move. He knows instinctively how to pleasure your body in ways you’ve never even imagined. The problem is that if you believe that mutually satisfying sex comes naturally, then the best lover (male or female or nonbinary) never needs to ask what is pleasurable, or make a mistake and learn. If you believe that ecstasy is immediate in Real Love, the traditional female variant of Real Sex, then you’re as much a victim of fantasy as the guy who thinks his dick is the center of the sexual universe and everyone wants it hard and fast.

Good Real Sex requires time, communication, trust, understanding, and most of all, self-understanding. This was true one hundred years ago. It’s true today.

Here’s to speaking our truth in 2017.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at

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