Juices flowing


By Susie Bright
Harper San Francisco,
$22, 163pp.


"We’re still dealing with sex like it was an eight-crayon box."

So says sexpert Susie Bright in Full Exposure: Opening Up to Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression.

Her latest manifesto is an attempt to get everyone to use all 64 colors – and to invent some shades nobody has seen yet.

Bright returns to Detroit Oct. 13, when she speaks at Wayne State. It’s her first trip back since she lived in Highland Park for a year or so in the mid-’70s, and felt called upon to instruct her teenage social circle in the finer points of her home state of California’s more advanced sexuality.

Full Exposure, Susie writes, is to reach out to anyone who’s ever thought, "There’s more to sex than anyone admits." She says it’s time sex stopped being a political whipping boy and got some respect as "the wellspring of our creativity ... one of our most demanding or enlightening teachers."

This is nothing new from the author of The Sexual State of the Union and editor of The Best American Erotica. We knew Bright was pro-sex, and unless you’re your great-grandmother, some parts of Full Exposure may elicit a "So what else is new?"

Bright admits that the notion of sexuality and creativity being connected has been around for a while: "Sublimation? Dr. Freud, hello!"

But she, of course, is not suggesting that we keep our jeans on in order to produce great works of art. Her message is that honesty about sex – not quantity – can get the creative juices flowing, and even make you a better person.

Since sex is still, in 1999, such a dicey subject, opening up – most of all to ourselves – about what really, truly turns us on unleashes the ability to be honest in all sorts of other ways as well. And it’s honesty that allows us to be good at anything else we do, from painting to writing to mothering.

This makes perfect sense to me. Think of the feeling of liberation, to use an old word, when you don’t have to pretend you’re straight, or pretend you like your sex dancing in a fairy ring under a rosy glow. Bright says sex just makes you feel bigger. If we released all the energy that’s used to keep sex under covers we could mothball the Hoover Dam!

Problem is, says Suse, we don’t have a good vocabulary for talking about sex. We have segregated sets of sex words – the medicalized, the four-lettered, the romanticized. "Fuck" was liberated in the ’60s, when the world "embraced free love and repudiated the war in Vietnam all at the same moment." ("One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war ...")

Even today, the movie ratings system allows actors to say "fuck" in a PG picture as an anger word, but not to refer to ... fucking.

I liked the chapter on parenting. Bright winces whenever someone says, "I can’t imagine my parents having sex." Seems unlikely her 9-year-old, Aretha, will develop that hang-up.

Bright’s take on what Dr. Spock left out is the simple acknowledgment that everyone in the family is a sexual being, with respect and appreciation (and privacy) for the sexual aspect of each member. That sounds a lot more honest than refusing to giggle at a dirty joke your child tells, or to get caught copping a feel from your partner.

The book also provides some answers to Susie’s FAQs. Does she ever get sick of sex? Well, no. The question implies, she says, a puritanical revenge fantasy: "After the sinners have gang-banged themselves into delirium, they will wake up one day ... and cry their hearts out. If only they had been happy with the missionary position once a week! ... Sexual satisfaction is the only fundamental need that people fear you can reach the bottom of ... Why do we think the storehouse is so small?"

One thing that makes Bright worth reading is her flair for the one-liner. My faves: "Improve your sex life: get older." And, "A woman dieting is a woman not having orgasms."

Her "roll-your-own erotic manifesto" contains 16 pieces of advice that, if you try them out, could make your socks curl up and down your legs, or at least start some interesting conversations.

Here are a few:

Talk about sex anywhere, at the dinner table, in church, at the airport. What could you say about sex today, to a friend or stranger, that would open the doors instead of shutting someone out?

Defy the quick description. Next time someone asks you what you "are," tell them that nouns (like het or gay or bi) will not do. Describe the last time you were sexual, or fantasized, and that story will be full of verbs and adjectives.

Write your fantasies down. Go further, imagine the taboo, the physically impossible, the offensive, the surreal. Let yourself be infected with others’ sexual charisma, even if you think you’d never do what they do in a million years.

Say what’s on your mind right in the middle of sex.

Make your own porn, or, if you must, erotica. The technology is there.

Assume everyone is sexual, from great-grandma to your precious baby to anyone you don’t desire.

Susie Bright speaks on Wednesday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Student Center Ballroom at Wayne State, sponsored by the Women’s Studies Student Association. Admission is free. Call 313-577-3444.

About The Author

Jane Slaughter

When she's not reviewing restaurants, Jane Slaughter also writes about labor affairs, having co-founding the labor magazine Labor Notes. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
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