Sex" is available at Amazon.com
writer and sexual adventurer, David Steinberg, recently sent
me his latest collection of sexual photography. Unlike so many
books which languish while I finish the mystery novel under
my pillow, I dove right in. After all, photo books are irresistible,
from the seductive intimacy on the cover to whatever delights
lurk inside. Oddly then, when I finished noshing on the art,
I made a dessert of the introduction - that which so many of
us ignore on the way to the meaty stuff. Turns out that David
has some pretty interesting and possibly even subversive ideas,
but then that's pretty evident in his "Comes Naturally"
In the introduction
A.D. Coleman says, "the book in your hands is not just
another volume of loosely defined 'erotic' photography in which
formal nude studies and elaborately staged but fictional sexual
scenarios predominate. These are photographs of everyday people-not
hired models or professional sex workers-engaged in real sex."
"Thank heavens," I thought. I've pretty much had it
with staged erotica - the kind where a model stands against
a black backdrop in a latex maid outfit and a whip in her hand,
the kind rife at what he calls the "tens of thousands of
unfathomably popular, hopelessly boilerplate, sex websites,"
but hardly what I see in real life.
instead what David collected in Photo Sex, "Older people,
hefty people, skinny people, people with disabilities-these
and more mingle here, linked principally by their acknowledgment
of their sexuality as central to their lives and by their participation
in these acts of photo sex." Yes, people who look like
me, and like my friends. Yes, people like me, who celebrate
sex as the core of our being. And Yes, real sex and love and
affection, the kind I feel when my lover Griffin looks into
me, his hands on me and in me.
are beautiful. Sexual. Alive with hunger. But then, it turns
out that this book is about a little more than just that. Coleman
goes on to discuss this type of photography as inherently political,
saying that, "By its very existence, the range of sexual
images being produced opposes the core right-wing dictate that
sexual activity should properly be restricted to heterosexual
interaction between husbands and wives, without accouterments
and with procreation foremost in mind-and that sexual activity
should never involve shameless public display."
giant of sexual politics, Marco Vassi, would agree with Coleman.
Vassi said that, "a great deal of our confusion about sex
has to do with the fact that we don't understand it's purpose
in our lives. If we assume - as many people do - that the only
purpose of sex is procreation, then it is natural to see all
kinds of behaviors as wrong: premarital sex, extramarital, oral,
anal, manual, homosexual…" This is the approach that the
right wing uses to bludgeon us over the head, saying that BDSM,
which I practice, cannot by it's very nature be an acceptable
activity. Let us consider instead Vassi's definition of sex
as "the act of intercourse that a man and woman perform
in order to have a child. 'Metasex' is any other form of sexual
behavior, for any other purpose… two categories which should
never be discussed together."*
So it is
Metasex that we see in these photos, but maybe even more than
that. Coleman adds that the collection "represents a generational
shift in the socially acceptable level of frankness and disclosure
about individual sexuality and in the appropriate representation
thereof." By putting real people in them, the photographers
make them undeniably real, and render us unable to write them
off as pornographic slop. These are our sisters and brothers,
neighbors and friends, and their courage in being photographed
in such intimate moments is perhaps more of a political statement
than any single one of them realized. David writes that, "The
basic premise of this book is simple: that each of its images
is a photo of sex in one form or another-a sexual photograph,
rather than one that is more generally erotic or sensual. The
sex in a given image may involve a single person, a couple,
or a group; it may show kissing, dancing, touching, or sexual
intercourse; it may be graphic or muted, passionate, tender,
or humorous. But it is a photo of sex first and foremost, without
obfuscation and without apology." It is his "without
apology" that reminds me of my struggles with expressing
my own sexuality.
We in the
BDSM community are often reminded not to "scare the villagers,"
meaning don't let them see too much of our practices because
they cannot understand what they are seeing and will use it
against us. Maybe that's true, but in another way it so damages
us both in the public arena as well as in the private one. There
is another part of me, a hunger for my vanilla friends to see
me, the whole me, not just the fluff I assemble for public consumption.
My vanilla friends have responded in a variety of ways, from
mild titillation to a blank look. Even my kinky friend Susan
exhorts me to keep this side of myself under the blanket so
as not to make anyone uncomfortable by "unconsensually"
including them in my lifestyle, or because I might appear to
have gone "around the bend with that bondage stuff."
She is right in one way though, I also don't want to become
one of those BDSM-obsessed people who bore us silly, yammering
on and on about their sex life.
keep it all under the blanket though. The only way to remove
the stigma of an alternative sexuality is to educate our vanilla
brethren. Speaking openly about what we do and who we are is
part of that. It's not that I want to share what I did in bed
last night, but rather I want to be free to talk about the remarkable
world of sexuality and how that affects my personal and public
life. I am hungry for compatriots, hungry to connect on a deeper
level about what is meaningful. Sadly, in our culture talking
about sexuality is often not acceptable, not to mention alternative
sexuality like BDSM. Even when I do find vanilla friends open
to discussion, they must start at the beginning as in, "What
does that B-D-S-M stand for again?" With that in mind,
a deeper discussion of sexual politics is never going to be
on the table.
this is why I've found myself more and more wanting to hang
in the company of BDSM friends where not only do I not have
to dissemble, but where we can discuss the philosophy behind
what we do. Unfortunately, discourse on deeper topics such as
BDSM and spirituality are not common fodder for the BDSM community
either. I hope that I am in some small way changing that.
It is this
quality of being known, of having my sexuality on the table
as much as any other part of me that Photo Sex offers, because
in this book, sexuality is on the proverbial coffee table. Despite
the risks in sharing this part of their private lives, the people
in the photos chose to do it anyway, maybe hoping that their
small act might help to change our landscape of repressive sexual
culture. As Coleman says, it "represents a generational
shift in the socially acceptable level of frankness and disclosure
about individual sexuality."
my life will have its own generational shift, a shift that like
David's book, offers "glimpses of the playful, the tender,
the intimate, the affectionate, the delicate, the humorful,
even the goofy-sex in all its delicious, constantly shifting
intricacy." One day I will be known for all of it, and
then I too will be a coffee table book of delicious desserts,
easy to taste along with all the other flavors of my inner landscape.
editor of The Erotic Impulse, Erotic by Nature, and Photo Sex,
write the Comes Naturally columns, which are published in San
Francisco's Spectator magazine. If you'd like to receive Comes
Naturally and other writing by David Steinberg regularly via
email (free and confidential), send your name and email address
to David at email@example.com. Past columns are available at the
Society for Human Sexuality's "David Steinberg Archives":
Three books edited by David -- "Erotic by Nature: A Celebration
of Life, of Love, and of Our Wonderful Bodies," (www.sexuality.org/l/davids/en.html)"The
Erotic Impulse: Honoring the Sensual Self," (www.sexuality.org/l/davids/en.html)
and the just-released photo anthology, "Photo Sex: Fine
Art Sexual Photography comes of Age" (www.sexuality.org/l/davids/ps.html)--
are available from him by mail order.
* From The
Red Thread of Passion: Spirituality and the Paradox of Sex by
Sadie is the author of It's Not About the Whip: Love, Sex, and
Spirituality in the BDSM Scene (http://www.trafford.com/robots/03-0551.html).
She is the founder and leader (1999 - 2001) of Rose & Thorn,
Vermont's first BDSM group. Comments, compliments and complaints,
as well as requests for reprinting can be addressed to her at
SensuousSadie@aol.com or visit her website at www.sensuoussadie.com
. Sadie believes the universe is abundant, and that sharing
information freely is part of this abundance, so she allows
reprints of her writing in most venues.
2003 Sadie Sez Publications