Learning from sexperts

A young journalist gets an education in smut


I'd never considered a career in smut until I got fired from my day job as a waiter. As a freelance journalist, my first instinct was to find a stable writing gig. But after hours of meticulously scouring Craigslist, I was a beaten man. There just aren't that many full-time writing positions available. And though the perks in freelancing are great (changing the world, getting free shit, etc.), the financial ceiling is pretty low. But thankfully, as I abandoned my job search that night, I found myself surfing the Web for free porn and thinking about my mother. Wait. Let me explain.

My mother is also a writer. And after getting a series of rejection letters, she sought career advice from an esteemed professor. He suggested sex writing as a fast, easy way to make money, likening it to the advertising work American actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Charlize Theron do abroad. Thanks to pseudonyms, writers can publish erotic fiction without tarnishing their reputations. After all, who would know A.N. Roquelaure, author of the Sleeping Beauty erotic series, is really Anne Rice — unless she'd wanted us to know?

My mother was financially stable enough to disregard the professor's advice, but in that moment it seemed to be a perfect solution for a struggling journalist. I figured all I needed was some practice and a good pseudonym.

Sound easy? It's not.

Sexy prose does not come naturally — at least, not to me. I had to find my e-zone, to push my inhibitions aside and turn up my id. I put in a heroic effort with my first story, but the pirate-themed fetish piece was dripping with the self-deprecating humor I inject into my usual culture stories — and not all that sexy. I needed some guidance.

I figured Good Vibrations, with its wall of books with titles such as I Once Had a Master and Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z, would be a good place to start. So I went to the Mission location, bought some anthologies, and signed up for the next night's erotic writing circle. I thought if I met people who were working out the kinks in their writing, maybe I could work some into mine.

The next night I smoked nervously in my car outside the Center for Sex and Culture. No doubt the room would be full of semiprofessional sex writers, I figured, dressed for action in lingerie or rubber suits. They would be so comfortable talking about pussies and cocks and masturbation and fucking that I, with my red face and sweaty palms, would look like a fidgety prude.

Of course, I was wrong. I was first greeted by the center's cofounder, sexologist Carol Queen, whose sensible sweater and black-rimmed spectacles made her look more like a hip college professor than the porn star I expected. There were about seven other people, none of them dressed for sex either. Among them: a high school teacher, a social worker, and a life coach. They all looked as nervous as me, notebooks clutched in their laps.

Queen's cofacilitator, Jennifer Cross, began with a work in progress about a woman haunted by the memory of a rape. Her protagonist had no need for therapy, choosing instead to cultivate sanity in the arms of a lover with a taste for violent role play. Cross's lusty voice rose and fell with her characters' sexual peaks and valleys. It was fucking hot. And nothing like my story.

The high school teacher was next. Her story about a teenage girl's trip to the Holy Land differed drastically from Cross's. It seemed more funny than sexy, so I was surprised to see people squirming. The same thing happened when the life coach read. His story, told from the perspective of a young boy witnessing his first sex act, was also humorous. But it too had the desired effect on some. The grand finale was Queen's story about a star-crossed relationship she'd had with a lesbian in denial. Her piece was funny and realistic yet undeniably erotic.

I left the reading circle confused.

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