This Girl Likes Sex: Deal with It.
Advise and Dissent Column
by Suzi Parker
When you are a single girl in the South who writes frankly about sex, you can bet your pink plastic dildo that you will get in hot water.
You'll be banned from public television. Your best friend will tell you that her husband doesn't approve of your actions. Your college journalism ethics professor will tell you to lie. Some people will never speak to you again. Everyone around you will act squeamish, jittery, and odd as if you have just become Hester Prynne.
When the trouble arrived, I was pondering someone else's sex life rather than my own -- that of a United States senator, whose dalliance with a staffer resulted in his divorce. He was the chosen topic of Arkansas Week, a snoozer of a political talk show on the state's public television station, on which I occasionally appeared.
But I never taped that show. The station called to notify me that the producers wouldn't need my political banter that day. They had discovered a story I had written for Nerve.com and -- voila! -- I was banished from the show.
The Nerve.com story, which has become known as "that story", included my personal, admittedly explicit, experience with Niagara -- the fizzy blue aphrodisiac Swedish drink that makes women warm, tingly, horny and wet. (Faced with a lawsuit from Viagra manufacturer Pfizer, the Swedes have since changed the name of Niagara to Nexcite.) It's a story that Hollywood found intriguing enough to buy for possible motion picture development. But "that story" I wrote about having sex with my boyfriend, Cameron, and a neon red coming-hard-and-fast orgasm, was enough to make Little Rock -- a small conservative Southern city that still cannot readily admit what Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky did with a cigar -- collectively gasp.
The capital of Arkansas is one of those places not exactly bypassed by the sexual revolution. Rather, these prim southerners kidnapped it, put it in the closet, and only bring it out when nobody's looking. It's a city with more Baptist churches than barbecue joints, home to both a philandering president and a Southern Baptist reverend/governor. It's the home of swingers and saints, civil rights and world-famous groupies. It's a place where no one admits to buying porn, but erotica books are prominently displayed near the front door of Barnes and Noble. Every Bible-Belt city needs a demon, and I became the Devil Du Jour.
My sex life split the city into a political chasm. I wrote about fucking and fell down the rabbit hole. Everything became an Alice in Wonderland topsy turvy. Friends took sides, politicians spun, and my mother began monitoring raunchy morning talk radio to see what was said about her daughter. Others whispered the morality police would soon knock on my door.
The local progressive weekly, which had defended Clinton's private life, chastised me: "Note to Suzi: Some things you don't discuss in public." Editors of the weekly even called Nerve.com to ask if my sexual caper had been fact checked. No, I didn't mail a used condom, video footage or a blue dress to my editor. Who knew it was so hard to believe a woman could have good sex?
I became a cause celebre on websites and talk shows around the country. While the national, and even international media, was supportive, locals might as well have bombarded my mailbox with embroidered Scarlet A's.
A local media friend fretted whether her employer would be aggravated if she was friends with me, and another friend's husband forbade me to come over and be a bad influence on the children. She even dubbed me Public Enemy Number One -- but not before asking for two bottles of Niagara.
Surprisingly, Bible-thumping Republicans rallied to my defense, citing my right to free speech as equal to their rights to bear arms. On the flip side, a former journalism professor, who is as granola as a hippie cereal and taught me ethics in graduate school, told me to say the story was a work of fiction so that I could return to Arkansas Week. I didn't, and they still haven't invited me to return.
Certainly it's hard for people to talk about sex. It's acceptable for a former presidential contender -- Bob Dole -- to hawk Viagra and watch a skimpy Britney Spears dance, but certainly not politically correct for me to talk about my orgasm.
Even with glossy shows like Sex and the City leading a semi-revolution of women talking frank about blow jobs, penis size and bondage, it's still difficult for America to accept a simple fact: People have sex. They try kinky stuff. They drink aphrodisiacs. They may even have a black silk blindfold hidden away in a drawer somewhere. And they might just enjoy every minute of all of it.
Some women know what they want and realize they no longer live in the Victorian day of chastity belts. They possess the key to their own desires. Women's magazines continuously teach readers about the fine art of being a man's dreamy desire, packaged up in silk, lace, and romance. Just don't talk about it too much in public.
Even the weakest, most Milquetoast man is used to taking charge in the bedroom. The thought that he might not be is every man's greatest fear. Men, as a group, are used to taking charge in the sack--missionary position and all. They don't know how to deal with a woman who has had lovers, refuses to fake orgasm, talks dirty, and isn't afraid to tell the world all about it. It makes them look twice at something that they don't want to admit exists outside of masturbation fantasy.
Every woman wants to be a sexually confident vixen who rolls around on satin sheets in merry widow garb. They secretly long to walk into a sex toy shop and buy a goody bag full of tricks. But it seldom happens. When generation after generation of women, especially in the land of prim and prudish Southern belles, get married at 18, men have no exposure to women who are sexually confident and expressive.
Even die-hard feminists don't want to admit that they might enjoy sex. And those who are sexually confident get labeled a slut by women who lash out in catty jealousy. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once said, "There are two types of women: those who want power in the world, and those who want power in the bedroom." When the two mesh, the world tilts.
For both men and women, it boils down to an innate fear. Men are afraid they won't measure up, women fear they'll lose their man to a woman who is confident and bubbling with power and sexual aggression.
Rosemary Daniell, a Savannah, Ga., writer who has written about sex for two decades, recalls writing a piece about sex in her new collection of essays. She says she wrote about sex and subsequently was called a whore. "Society has a hard time with a woman who knows anything about sex," she says. "They don't understand a woman who can be an equal to a man, who may look at porn, who may know how to pleasure herself."
Addressing sex in the South is even harder, yet more tempting, than other parts of the country. Daniell knows it, and so do I. Southern women fall into two categories--Melanies and Scarletts. A Melanie is a meek, shy submissive who worries about her Junior League hairdo as her husband pounds her. A Scarlett is an untamed wildcat who wears vivid red at the most inappropriate times and screams during sex, preferably while she is on top. But for both, discussing sex openly teeters within the bounds of good, polite etiquette.
I broke the rules. I drank Niagara -- which most women won't even confess -- and wrote about it. Punishment -- in the form of banishment -- was in order. No one at the television station would admit they even read my article. They told the media that they understood I had written for an "adult website." That threw me into some imaginary newsmaker category and off the air.
Sure, I wrote frankly about sex, and I've paid a certain price. I've lost friendships with women who can't stomach that I wrote about sweaty sex yet feel fine reading a trashy novel when no one is looking. Some people no longer speak to my parents in their tiny southern town. I'm known as that infamous girl who, you know, wrote "that story." Frankly, I don't give a damn. I wear my Scarlet J -- for journalist -- with pride.
The author is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The Economist, Salon, the Dallas Morning News, U.S. News and World Report, and many other publications. The film rights to her story about Niagara were recently bought by Revolution Studios.
Read more from Suzi Parker on this subject and more at Nerve.com