The title of Best Sex Writing 2010 may mislead some people — this (mostly) isn't porn, but rather a collection of essayistic pieces on topics ranging from condoms to fisting.
Which isn't to say the book — edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and with an intro by Esther Perel — isn't hot. "BDSM and Playing With Race," by Mollena Williams is as titillating in its violation of taboos as it is informative in its portrayal of the BDSM community. Williams writes,
For me, humiliation is a broad-brush full-bore way for me to feel the worst of how I feel about myself, give it away to someone, and have them hold it. [...]
Add to this mix the humiliation of years of racism, oppression, the struggle for identity. Add to this living in a country built by your ancestors and one where, in your parents' memory, your ancestors were living in segregation.
Imagine, instead of covering up that scar, that wound, pulling it open, letting that suppurating pain see the light of day, bare, open and painful, but able to breathe, to heal, and so find peace in surviving it.
Another standout is Betty Dodson's "Sexual Outlaw," about her post-menopausal discovery of a lesbian S/M support group: it's both a powerful refutation of the notion that women over 50 aren't sexy, and a sexy exploration of the idea that fucking is all about power. And Janet Hardy's "The Portal," about fisting, fingering, and general vagina appreciation, is dirty fun (example: "I do, however, like men. And since they don't have cunts, we use mine.").
Some essays are, um, dryer. The most successful of these is Seth Michael Donsky's "The Trouble With Safe Sex," about the rise of the barebacking subculture among gay men in the age of treatable HIV. Donsky doesn't offer any easy solutions, but piece is both clear about the dangers of unprotected sex and sensitive to the men who choose not to use condoms — a rare balance in writing about STDs. Ellen Friedrichs's "Sex Laws That Can Really Screw You" also deserves mention for shining a light on the truly unfair legislative landscape of teen sex. Less satisfying is Rachel Swan's "Go Thin Or Bust: How Berkeley's Mayer Laboratories Won the Battle of the Thin Condoms," a discussion of competition between various condom manufacturers that feels a little dull amid other, more exciting material.
The most appealing writing in the anthology manages to inform and enlighten while maintaining a lively tone. Williams's largely fascinating essay stumbles when it adopts polite, therapeutic language. Erring in the other direction, David Black's attempt to hang what's essentially a porn story on a profile of the Los Angeles swinging scene fails because he's the kind of writer who titles an essay "Hot. Digital. Sexual. Underground." (and who writes sentences like, "it was like having a harem made up of the Seven Dwarfs. Very sexy, lithe and lovely dwarfs: Sexy, Sleepy, Sleazy, Bashful..."). Unsurprisingly, what makes the best sex writing is often what makes the best writing, period: a willingness to examine serious topics without taking oneself too seriously.