My First Non-Monogamous Relationship: The Blowfish Blog

Please note: This post, and the post it links to, contains references to my personal sex life — not very explicit ones this time, but family members and others who don’t want to read about that stuff at all may want to skip it.

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog (where I’m doing some of my best sex blogging these days), with the rather self-explanatory title My First Non-Monogamous Relationship. It’s an unusual and (I think) interesting piece, and it begins thus:

It wasn’t the non-monogamous marriage I’m in now.

It wasn’t my first and very short-lived marriage, in which my husband-to-be and I unsuccessfully cruised in singles bars trying to pick up women.

It wasn’t even my first serious adult relationship, in which my boyfriend unilaterally decided that we should be non-monogamous, spouted non-monogamy platitudes to defend doing anything at all that he wanted including ignoring me to chase other women, and then went into a weeping rage when I wanted to sleep with one of his friends. (Thus turning me off non-monogamy for some time.)

It wasn’t any of those.

It was when I was about eight.

Like I said — a little unusual. To find out how the rest of the story goes, visit the Blowfish Blog. Enjoy!

My First Non-Monogamous Relationship: The Blowfish Blog

Greta’s Reading at “Perverts Put Out,” Sat. July 28

This Saturday, July 28 — the evening before the legendary Dore Alley Street Fair — there’s going to be another in the excellent “Perverts Out Out” erotic reading series — and I’m in the lineup once again! It should be a great evening, with writers including not only moi, but Charlie Anders, Gina de Vries, Thea Hillman, Mattilda (Matt Bernstein Sycamore), Kirk Read, Lori Selke, horehound stillpoint, and emcees Carol Queen and Simon Sheppard.

So if you want to hear me and a bunch of other good sex writers read about, you know, sex, then come to CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission Street in San Francisco, this Saturday, July 28, at 7:30 pm. Admission is a $10-15 sliding scale. And if you’re one of my blog regulars, please come introduce yourself. Hope to see you there!

Greta’s Reading at “Perverts Put Out,” Sat. July 28

“A price I was willing to pay”: Hard Porn, Sex Work, and Consent

This is one of the smartest, most thoughtful things I’ve read lately about sex — not just porn or SM, but sex — and I wanted to call y’all’s attention to it and talk about it a little.

It’s by spanking model Adele Haze (I don’t know why spanking models are called models instead of actors or performers when they work largely in movies, but except for curiosity I don’t really care). In this piece, Haze talks about a shoot she did with Lupus Pictures, a kinky video production company that’s renowned/ infamous for making movies with extremely heavy content: very hard spankings/ beatings, done with intense implements, causing real suffering and serious bruises and marks.

Haze makes no bones about the fact that the actual “getting caned” part of making this video was very difficult and not at all pleasurable. But she also makes it clear that she found the experience extremely satisfying, and doesn’t regret it in the slightest. She found it professionally satisfying — Lupus’s production standards are apparently very high, and as a performer it was an artistic pleasure to be working with them. And she found it sexually satisfying — the caning itself was far from enjoyable, but the prelude and the aftermath were an intense erotic pleasure, and she was able to tap into some very dark fantasies of non-consent in a way that she hadn’t been able to before in a professional setting.

Pertinent quote: “So yes, I knew there would be pain, and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it. I wrote it off as a side-effect: a price I was willing to pay. In hindsight, I’m glad to say that my judgement on this was sound.”

I think the thing I like so much about this piece is that it makes the parallels between making spanking porn and doing any other kind of job vividly clear. And it makes the parallels between making spanking porn and being in any other kind of sexual relationship vividly clear as well.

See, in any kind of job, and in any kind of relationship, there are things you like and things you don’t. Even if it’s a job or a relationship that you’re basically happy with, there are going to be parts that are hard to deal with. What makes a job or relationship a healthy one is that the good parts make the bad parts worth putting up with — and that you’re free to make that decision.

And that’s true for porn — all porn, not just spanking porn — as much as it is for any job. I think some people have a tendency to think that if every single thing on a porn shoot isn’t a perfect erotic dream for every performer, it’s therefore exploitation at best and coercion at worst. (Eros Blog, the blog where I found this piece, has an excellent analysis of this coercion/ exploitation question with porn in general and with Lupus Pictures in particular, in his piece Evil Porn Werewolf Enslavers Debunked.) But if you look at making porn as (a) a job and (b) a sexual relationship, you realize that porn doesn’t have to make all its performers perfectly happy in order to be a healthy job. It just has to make them happy enough. There has to be enough about it that they like, sexually and professionally, for the stuff they don’t like to be worth putting up with.

(Via Eros Blog, who got it via Spanking Blog. God, I love the Internets.)

“A price I was willing to pay”: Hard Porn, Sex Work, and Consent

Mighty Real: A Review of “9 Songs”

I was digging through my archives the other day, came across this, and was extremely entertained by it. I think I’m the only film critic on the face of the planet who actually sort of liked “9 Songs.” I may be the only sentient being on the face of the planet who actually sort of liked “9 Songs.” I think there are giant seven-eyed mollusks from the planet Zarquon who hated “9 Songs.” So I decided I should come clean about it and stand by my eccentric opinion. Here’s the review I wrote of it for Adult FriendFinder Magazine. Enjoy!

Mighty Real
Copyright 2005 Greta Christina. Written for Adult FriendFinder Magazine.

9 Songs. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Michael Winterbottom, Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. Starring Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. Unrated.

Before I say anything, let me get this out of the way: This is the movie where people have sex. If you’ve heard about “9 Songs,” this is almost certainly the Number One thing you’ve heard about it. The actors — not the characters, the actual actors playing the characters — have literal, explicit, non-simulated, actual real-life genital fucking-and-sucking sex. And rather a lot of it, too.

Now obviously, if I were talking about a porno movie, this would be so uninteresting as to be laughable. But for a non-porn, semi-mainstream art-house movie, it’s pretty much unheard of. And whatever buzz is being generated about the movie is being generated because of it. Which is kind of too bad. Because while the sex in “9 Songs” is pretty interesting, the fact that it’s “real sex” isn’t the most interesting thing about it.

So I wanted to get that out of the way right off. And in fact, the movie gets it out of the way almost as quickly, establishing its “real-sex” credentials in the very first scene between the two main characters — so you can get a good look at it, and get used to it, and move on.

See, here’s the interesting thing about “9 Songs.” It isn’t that the sex is “real,” or even that there’s so much of it. What’s interesting about “9 Songs” is the way the movie uses sex. Directed by Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “Welcome to Sarajevo”), “9 Songs” uses sex to tell the story of a couple’s relationship (well, okay, sex interspersed with songs at live rock concerts). We find out about Matt and Lisa (Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley) and the rise and fall of their love affair, not through a series of conversations, but through a series of sex acts. The way they’re having sex — what they do, how they seem to feel about it, how it gets started, who takes the lead, how well they pay attention — this is how we find out about who these people are and what they’re like together.

And here’s what struck me. In most mainstream (i.e., non-porn) movies, when two characters have sex, it’s the very fact that they’re having sex that’s important. Typical movie sex shows people having sex for the first time; even when it’s not a first time, sex is almost always used as a plot point, a shocker or a turning point, a newly opened door or a burned bridge. Filmmakers don’t bother to show you anything special about the sex, don’t bother to make the style and the feel of the sex unique to those characters. The fact that they’re having sex is apparently special enough. The actual sex can just be generically hot movie sex, with perhaps a few broad strokes (rough or tender, quick or slow, loving or cold) to paint a marginally more specific picture.

But in “9 Songs,” the fact that Matt and Lisa are having sex is a given. They’re having sex from the very beginning of the movie, and by the second or third scene, the fact that they’re having sex is no more surprising than the fact that any two people in a relationship are having sex. So it’s the kind of sex they’re having, the tone and flavor of it, that becomes important.

For instance. There’s a scene where Matt ties Lisa up, blindfolds her, and begins guiding her through a fantasy, telling her “Forget where you are” and making up an erotic story for her to imagine and enjoy. But almost immediately she takes over the storytelling, picking it up and running with it in an entirely different direction, taking control away even as she’s bound and blindfolded.

For another instance. There’s a scene where Matt and Lisa go to a strip club together, apparently to enjoy this naughty thrill together as a couple. But as the scene unfolds, Lisa become increasingly entranced with the dancer, ignoring Matt entirely and even forgetting that he’s there — to the point that she doesn’t notice when he takes off and walks out the door.

There are many, many more instances. There’s a scene where Lisa is masturbating, with the door open and Matt in the next room; not in a friendly “showing off for my lover” way, not even in a feminist-empowered “my body, my right to masturbate” way, but in a defensive, closed-off, “fuck you I don’t care what you think or want” way (exacerbated by the fact that, as always, they’re at his house). There’s a scene where Matt asks if she thinks they’ll ever have sex without a condom, and Lisa says no: not because of safety, but because she likes it better with one. There are scenes near the end of the film where Lisa feels Matt slipping away and starts becoming more sexually attentive and affectionate. I could go on and on. The whole movie is like this, with the actors expressing subtle emotional shadings and character traits during sex scene after sex scene after sex scene.

And again, it struck me how rare that is, in both mainstream movies and porn. Mainstream actors spend years learning to express emotion and character in the way they walk, speak, smoke, eat, scratch their head, look in a mirror, everything. But sex is either supposed to come naturally, or it’s not considered important and unique enough to work on. And porn actors — even the ones who can act — spend so much time and energy trying to look hot that there’s nothing left for depicting the way their particular character would have hot sex. (I still remember how great Rocco Siffredi was in the arthouse movie “Romance” — until it came to the sex scenes, and he stopped being Paolo the character and just became Rocco the porn star.)

The fact that the sex is real isn’t entirely trivial, of course. You’d think it would work as a shocker, and it does a bit at first. Even I was staring at the actor’s genitals for the first few minutes, making sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. But after a while, the realness of the sex has the exact opposite effect: it normalizes it. It presents sex as natural: one of the things people in love do together, and therefore interesting to look at and worth depicting as authentically as possible. (Director Michael Winterbottom himself has commented on this, pointing out that, “If you film actors eating a meal, the food is real.”) The scenes at the rock shows are given the same casually loving attention as the scenes in the bedroom, putting sex in the same category as music: an integral part of the characters’ lives, important but not separate. And while there’s no special attempt to show you the fucking and sucking in all its close-up glory the way porn movies do, there’s no special attempt to avoid the shot, either. It’s just normal, filmed like a normal aspect of love and coupledom, beautiful and moving and fucked-up and funny and sad.

And of course, the fact that the sex is real puts “9 Songs” firmly on the line between porn and art. You know how non-porn movies have become more and more sexually daring (some of them, anyway), and how porn movies have become more artistically interesting and innovative (some of them, anyway)? You know how that line between the two has started to blur, the way it seemed like it was going to in the ’70s before everything went to hell and the two split off back into their own little worlds? Well “9 Songs” is trying to make that happen again. It’s more than just the latest salvo in the campaign, more than just the latest push of the envelope. “9 Songs” has plonked itself squarely on the fence between the two territories, sitting its big naked butt in the gateway and holding the gate open for anyone else who wants to come through. In either direction.

But does it work? Sure, it’s an important event in the history of cinema, blah blah blah. But is it a good movie? For the most part, I’d say yes. It’s very much a small movie — it’s not even a slice of life, it’s a sliver — driven less by plot and narrative than it is by feelings and images. You have to have patience with that sort of thing, with a quiet, meandering story that takes a while to establish itself and doesn’t really go very far. And the voiceovers during the Antarctic scenes (the movie is presented as a flashback, with Matt remembering the relationship while he studies glaciers) are pretentious to the point of teeth-gnashing madness. So you’ll have to have patience with that, too.

But if you can deal with this sort of small, quiet, occasionally pretentious arthouse movie, I think your patience will be rewarded. It’s perceptive and thoughtful about sex, about love, about relationships, about the places they do and don’t overlap. The sex is beautiful to watch, even when it’s sad, erotic and romantic in the way that your own sex life might be erotic and romantic. And if you’re at all interested in the way sex is (and is not) depicted in movies, then rush your butt out to the arthouse before it goes away. You absolutely cannot miss this one.

Mighty Real: A Review of “9 Songs”

On Jealousy: The Blowfish Blog

Gotta say, I’m enjoying this Blowfish Blog gig. It’s forcing me to write something thoughtful and meaty and at least semi-serious at least once a week, which is hard but also kind of the point of me being a writer. And it’s neat to be getting paid to blog. When I’m feeling cranky and jealous of writers who are more successful than I am, I have to remind myself that plenty of writers would kill for that.

And speaking of jealousy, my latest piece for the Blowfish Blog just went up today, and it’s on that very topic. It’s called “On Jealousy” (hey, sometimes I’m good with the clever titles and sometimes I’m not), and here’s the teaser:

If your partner is casually attracted to other people, it doesn’t mean they have a serious desire to screw around on you. It just means that they’re, you know, alive. Human beings are animals, and a healthy human being with a healthy sexual appetite is going to get a hard cock/ wet pussy when they’re around other human beings who look like hot stuff.

To read the rest of the piece… well, you know what to do. Enjoy!

On Jealousy: The Blowfish Blog

“Let it be in the gray area”: An “Are We Having Sex Now or What?” Interview

Can two people disagree on whether or not they’re having sex?

Do I count how many people I’ve had sex with differently than I used to?

Can we define sex with gray areas, in something other than simple “yes” or “no” terms?

Do we even need to define what “sex” is at all?

Every now and then, I get surprised and tickled by where my writing is ending up and who’s reading it. And to this day, nothing surprises and tickles me more than the fact that my piece Are We Having Sex Now or What? is regularly studied at colleges and universities around the country — in sexuality courses, of course, but also in philosophy courses, women’s studies courses, sociology courses, and more.

I recently got an email from a student at UCLA who’s reading “Are We Having Sex Now or What?” in her Philosophy of Sex course, and who asked to interview me about it for an essay she was writing for the class. I said yes, on the condition that I could post the interview here on my blog. (Actually, I stupidly gave the interview and then asked if I could post it on my blog — but she very kindly said yes.) Here is that interview.

1. Would it be selfish, immoral, animalistic, or even unromantic in any way, if one were to make the determination of a sexual experience to be an act of sex without the agreement of the participant(s)?

No. I think that different people having different definitions of sex is a reality of life, and I think that, within reason, people have the right to decide for themselves how to define sex. Even if that means that one person in an experience says, “Yes, we had sex,” while the other (or another) says, “No, we didn’t have sex.”

What I DO think would be immoral — or if not immoral, than certainly unkind and insensitive — would be to insist that the other participant(s) share your definition. Or to put it more conversationally: It’s okay with me if my partner says we had sex and I say we didn’t, or vice versa — but it’s not okay with me if that partner insists that they’re right and I’m wrong. (It IS okay with me if they try to debate it — I’m almost always up for a good debate — but ultimately, I want them to respect my right to define sex my way.)

2. So now that you have exposed and exploded the definition or the defining of sex, what have you done with your count of past sexual partners?

I’ve definitely dropped the count. I now have a rough estimate of about how many sex partners I’ve had, but I gave up the list long ago. It’s just not that important to me anymore.

I do, however, still tend to define my “first time” the same way I did when I started keeping the list. I could, of course, revise the list according to how I define sex now — and if I did, my “first time” would be a lot earlier, since (like many people) I was experimenting with other kinds of sexual play before I had intercourse. But that’s not how I experienced it emotionally at the time. The earlier experiences didn’t feel to me like “my first time” — they felt like “fooling around.” And in general, when I do think about the count, I tend to define who counts and who doesn’t by what I thought of as sex at the time — not what I think of it now.

3. In post-definition, how do you now, or how should anyone define an act of sex?

I don’t think sex has a hard and fast definition, with all acts clearly either inside the line or outside. (Of course, that’s true even for less loaded concepts. Who was the linguist who pointed out the difficulty of clearly defining the word “chair”?)

Personally, I generally go with the definition I came up with in the essay: “the conscious, consenting, mutually acknowledged pursuit of sexual pleasure.” But mostly, I don’t worry about it very much. If an experience is in the gray area, I let it be in the gray area.

And I don’t care all that much how other people define it — as long as our definitions are close enough for us to be able to talk to each other. (I’m very much a usagist when it comes to language.)

What I DO care about is that people acknowledge the difficulty and complexity of this question, and the fact that so many people have different answers to it. That, I think, IS an ethical issue, and one with real-world consequences. In the sphere of public health and sex education, for instance — how can you do effective safer-sex education if you don’t know how people are defining “sex”? If you’re trying to teach teenagers to use condoms when they have sex… well, lots of teenagers think oral and even anal don’t “count” as sex, so they may not be protecting themselves when they should. A safer-sex message for teens needs to make clear that, as far as disease transmission goes, oral and anal sex definitely “count” — regardless of whether you think they make you not be a virgin or whatever.

And of course, there are legal repercussions. Example: When Queen Victoria was signing a law prohibiting homosexual behavior, she struck out all references to female homosexuality — because she believed it was impossible. So there were decades in British law when male homosexuality was illegal, but female homosexuality wasn’t.

I could go on about this for pages. The upshot: I don’t much care how exactly other people define sex. I do care about whether people understand that “sex” is a flexible concept, that it means more than simply penile/ vaginal intercourse, and that different people have different definitions of it.

4. The yes, it was sex, or no, it wasn’t sex binary, is typical of crude human thinking, would it be progressive, or practical, for one to adopt an elaborate spectral system to understand or keep track of personal sexual activities?

I don’t know how elaborate it has to be. Personally, I find “yes,” “no,” and “borderline/ maybe/ gray area” to be sufficient. But I do think a spectral system can work. In order for it to work, though, people need to be okay with the borderline/ gray area, and not care quite so much about having every act be either a “yes” or a “no.”

5. Can you conceive of a system that is superior or more accurate than a spectrum system regardless of practicality? In other words, what is beyond a spectral system, no categorization or defining at all?

I think “no defining” is impractical and unlikely. We’re verbal animals, we talk to each other, and we talk to each other about sex. (A lot.) And in order to do that, we need to have something resembling a definition, with enough overlap and common ground to understand each other.

What I DO think would be superior… well, see above, re: me caring less about what the definition of sex is, and more about whether people understand that the concept is a flexible one, and act accordingly.

But in addition to that:

I would like to see people let go of worrying so much about whether any given act or experience counts or doesn’t count as sex, and pay more attention to questions like: Is it pleasurable? Is it consensual? Is it ethical? Is it safe? Is my partner enjoying it? Is it something I want to do again?

That’s one of the main reasons I care about making our definitions of sex more flexible. I think if we’re less fixated on whether what we’re doing (and what other people are doing) counts or doesn’t count as sex, we can focus more on questions about sex that I think are a lot more important.

“Let it be in the gray area”: An “Are We Having Sex Now or What?” Interview

How I Write Porn: The Blowfish Blog

(FYI: This post contains a certain amount of information, not about my sex life exactly but about my sexual fantasies, which family members and others may not want to know about.)

If you’re interested in knowing how I write porn — either because you’re a porn writer yourself or you’re just curious — then check out my latest piece for the Blowfish Blog. The piece is all about my nuts-and-bolts process of writing erotic fiction — and, not coincidentally, my analysis of what makes erotic fiction work. Here’s the teaser:

I usually start with the physical actions. What the characters are doing, what they’re saying, which body part is going where.

“He gripped her wrist and twisted it behind her back.”

It’s what I call “the skeleton.” And the problem with most bad porn fiction is that it stops there. Too many porn writers think that a description of sex acts is all a porn story needs.

I have more sympathy with these writers than you might imagine. When I’m writing a first draft, I get very excited about these things, too. After all, when I’m having a sex fantasy, these are the things I fixate on: the breasts spilling out of a low-cut blouse, the cock pushing into a tight asshole, the hand smacking down on the bare bottom again and again. I know how those sex acts make me feel. Vividly.

And it’s easy to forget that conveying the sex acts doesn’t convey the feeling.

But it doesn’t.

So then I move on…

To find out what I move on to, read the rest of the piece on the Blowfish Blog. Enjoy!

How I Write Porn: The Blowfish Blog

The First Good One: The Blowfish Blog

I have a new piece up at the Blowfish Blog, and this is how it starts:

We talk a lot about The First Time. As a society we’re a little bit fixated on it. Losing your virginity, and the person you lost it with — it’s a rite of passage that we’ve made important to the point of making it a fetish.

But as rites of passage go, the loss of virginity can be dicey. It was for me, anyway. Sure it was important; but it was also awkward, depressing, and anticlimactic. Emphasis on the “anticlimactic.”

And I think that experience is not uncommon.

So I want to talk about something else. I don’t want to talk about the first person I had sex with

I want to talk about the first person I had good sex with.

That’s the teaser. The rest of the post is now up at the Blowfish Blog. Enjoy! And when you’re there, be sure tell me about the first good sex you ever had.

Note to family members and others who may not want to read graphic details about my sexual history: This post contains graphic details about my sexual history. Just so you know.

The First Good One: The Blowfish Blog

Lost Girls: A Review

I wrote this review for Adult FriendFinder magazine, but for some reason the publication got delayed, so the reprint rights only recently returned to me. Enjoy!


Lost Girls
by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie
Top Shelf Comix, ISBN 1-891830-74-0. $75.00.

It’s not just that it’s surprising — although it is. The first printing of “Lost Girls” — 10,000 copies — sold out in a day. The second printing, also of 10,000 copies, sold out in advance two days later. The day the book went on sale, it hit’s “Top 20.” And it’s gotten passionate rave reviews, not just from the adult press, but from places like Publisher’s Weekly, USA Today, Kirkus Reviews, Variety, Booklist, and many, many others — and from individuals ranging from Neil Gaiman to Brian Eno to Susie Bright.

A pretty surprising response for a book of pornography — and even more surprising given that it’s essentially a big, beautifully-made dirty comic book.

It’s not just that it’s groundbreaking, either — although it is. I’ve been reading (and writing about) adult comics and graphic novels for many years, and not only have I never seen anything like “Lost Girls” — I’ve never seen anything that comes close. “Lost Girls” is a full-length, three-volume, adult graphic novel that attempts to be both pornographically hot and artistically substantial… and that overwhelmingly succeeds at both. Now, I’ve seen excellent work in adult comics before — fun dirty comics with good stories and good art, comics that gave me new perspectives on sex while they were making me shove my hand in my pants. That’s not new.

But I’ve never seen anything this ambitious, with this much labor lavished on it — Moore and Gebbie spent sixteen years on the project. And I’ve never seen an adult graphic novel with anywhere near this much depth and breadth. “Lost Girls” has single-handedly raised the bar on dirty comics and graphic novels, destroying with a single stroke every snarky, dismissive assumption about what the genre can do. It’s profoundly important for that reason alone.

And it’s not just that it’s ravishingly beautiful — although it absolutely is. A hefty, hardbound, three-volume deluxe boxed set printed on thick, archival paper, the book is a sensual treat just to pick up and hold. Then when you open it up, the sensual treats pour out like a river. The elegant, luscious color art, influenced by Victorian and Edwardian illustrators of all genres, is both finely detailed and lush. And the exquisite beauty of the art takes the explicit images — explicit, excessive, wildly promiscuous, profoundly filthy, often perverse images — and makes them seductive and intriguing, like an upper-class courtesan or a handsome rake.

Yes, “Lost Girls” is all these things — surprising, groundbreaking, stunningly beautiful. But it’s also — and perhaps most importantly — all these things… while at the same time remaining blindingly hot.

There is way too much erotica in the world that’s artful and touching but completely forgets to grab your cock or tickle your clit. “Lost Girls” isn’t among them. Co-creator Alan Moore (“Watchmen,” “From Hell,” “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) has said flat-out that “Lost Girls” is not erotica — it’s pornography. It’s a story about sex, not love. And it’s clearly meant to get you off on almost every page. The first-rate storytelling and superb artwork are in service to the lewd, sybaritic sex … every bit as much as the smutty sex is in service to the story and the art.

In fact, the art and the smut aren’t separate. They’re intricately entwined, each supporting the other. This isn’t one of those art-smut books that alternates between plot and sex scene, plot and sex scene. Not only does the smut not conflict with the art and the story — there’s never a hint that they should conflict. When you read “Lost Girls,” the all-too-common idea that porn can have quality or heat, but never both at once, seems like a fading memory of a truly ridiculous bad dream.

Gosh, I’ve told you all this stuff about how great the book is, and I haven’t even told you what it’s about! “Lost Girls” is a re-imagining of three characters from classic children’s stories: Alice from “Alice in Wonderland,” Wendy from “Peter Pan,” and Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.” All grown up now, Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy meet at an elegantly decadent Austrian hotel just before the start of World War I. The three women — a decadent and seductive older Alice, a repressed and conventional middle-aged Wendy, and a young, adventurous, exuberantly horny Dorothy — soon discover that they have similarly bizarre sexual pasts. In the midst of seducing one another — along with the hotel staff, other guests, and anyone else they can get their hands on — they tell each other their histories… illustrated, of course, in full detail.

I won’t spoil things for you by telling those stories here. I’ll let you discover them for yourself. What I will say is that each of the stories is inspired by the children’s book it’s based on. Wendy does her sexual exploring with an innocent band of lost urchins; Alice does hers with a dizzying cast of fascinating but often selfish or cruel characters; and Dorothy does hers with an assortment of farm hands in sore need of brains, heart, and courage.

And when entwined with the women’s present-tense lives and explorations, their histories become more than just porny flashbacks. They become complicated ballets of the shaping of sexuality, sagas of sexual trauma and sexual healing, with the women’s libidos becoming stunted or nourished or twisted — or a little bit of all three.

On a purely smutty level, of course, the sexual images in “Lost Girls” are intensely compelling — a diversely perverted medley of lesbianism, heterosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, foot fetishism, orgies, sex toys, sadomasochism, dominance, role-playing, game-playing, and more, with a side story of male homosexuality thrown in for good measure. But both the sex and the story are made even more compelling — and more erotic — by the fact that, despite the sybaritic fantasy world the women lose themselves in, the sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sex is a powerful force in “Lost Girls,” with the power not only to create the ecstasy of a moment, but to drive and shape an entire life. Unlike so much porn that somehow dismisses sex even as it places it center stage, the sex in “Lost Girls” is never trivialized. It matters.

And that, all by itself, makes it a rare and important piece of work.

Now, before you go running to the bookstore with your credit card in hand, there’s something important you should know about “Lost Girls.” And that’s that it depicts underaged characters having sex.

Frequently. It’s not just in a scene or two — it’s all over the book. In fact, it’s one of the central themes of the book: how sexual experiences in youth can shape not only your adult sexuality, but your entire adult outlook on life.

Now, I happen to think that “Lost Girls” deals with this subject tastefully and thoughtfully, in a way that acknowledges the sexuality of minors without exploiting it. And when I say “minors,” I’m not talking about five-year-olds — the underaged characters in “Lost Girls” are, for the most part, in the fifteen-to-sixteen year old range, not legal in most states but not children either. More importantly, while the sexual play among minors is generally depicted as joyful and healthy and even innocent, the book has nothing but harsh words — and pictures — for any predatory adults who tamper with them.

But I realize that this topic pushes huge buttons for a lot of people — not unreasonably — and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. And in fact, it raises a crucial question: If it’s profoundly fucked-up for adults to be messing with minors, what makes it okay for adults to get off reading this smutty graphic novel about minors?

The authors don’t ignore this apparent contradiction — they deal with it head-on. In the third volume of “Lost Girls,” the proprietor of the hotel — and the creator of a pornographic book that he’s thoughtfully placed in every room — discusses this very question, in a voice that sounds suspiciously like the authors explaining their own erotic philosophy.

“You see?” the hotel owner says of his lavishly perverted porno book. “Incest, c’est vrai, it is a crime, but this? This is the idea of incest, no? And then these children: how outrageous! How old can they be? Eleven? Twelve? It is quite monstrous… except that they are fictions, as old as the page they appear upon, no less, no more. Fiction and fact: only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them… You see, if this were real, it would be horrible. Children raped by their trusted parents. Horrible. But they are fictions. They are uncontaminated by effect and consequence. Why, they are almost innocent.”

In other words, pornography, by its very nature, is consensual. Certainly pornographic writing and drawing is. The creator consents to make it; the audience consents to look at it; and nobody else has to be involved. Getting excited by immoral acts in a porn story is no more immoral than getting excited by immoral acts in a crime or horror story — and it doesn’t violate anyone.

Of course, the sex in “Lost Girls” isn’t uncontaminated by effect and consequence. It’s not some silly Victorian smut novel where incest and rape happen blithely with no repercussion but the reader’s orgasm. The women in “Lost Girls” are real characters, and while their sex lives are definitely on the fantastic and implausible side, you still care about how they feel and what’s going to happen to them next.

But that’s one of the things that makes “Lost Girls” so brilliant — not just artistically brilliant, but erotically brilliant. It makes the more twisted and perverse parts of the story that much more intense, by making you believe in the characters and care about how they turn out. Yet at the same time, it explicitly gives you permission to get off, even on the seriously fucked-up stuff — by reminding you that porn is fiction, and fiction is always consensual.

I could nitpick the book if I wanted to. I could point out that Dorothy’s Midwestern farm-girl accent doesn’t ring true. Or that some of the parallels with the original children’s stories are cutesy and awkward. Or that not all of the art is consistently stunning — some of it is merely lovely. I could even nitpick about how the deluxe oversized printing makes one-handed reading a challenge (the books are a bit too heavy to read with one hand, and they’re far too pretty and expensive for you to want to get goo all over them).

But none of this matters in the slightest. Of course I could nitpick on “Lost Girls,” and if there were more books like it, I might be more inclined to do so. But “Lost Girls” is a first, an important and groundbreaking book as well as a beautiful and blisteringly hot one, and I have no desire to lay anything on it other than praise. “Lost Girls” hasn’t just raised the bar for adult comics and graphic novels — it’s grabbed the bar and raced up the stairs with it, and is now dangling the bar over our heads from several stories high, waving it triumphantly and daring everyone else to chase it. And I passionately hope that its success — both artistically and commercially — inspires other serious comic artists to dip their pens into the murky but fertile well of pornography, and see what they come up with.

(P.S. Quick conflict-of-interest confession: I work for a company, Last Gasp, that sells Lost Girls. That’s not how I found out about it, but it’s how I managed to get my mitts on a first printing.)

Lost Girls: A Review

The National Porn Sunday Elephant

No, really.

I swear, I am not making this up.

It sounds like one of my stranger dreams. “I dreamed that a right-wing Christian organization was trying to stop pornography by carrying a giant inflatable blue elephant from town to town.” I was almost tempted to file it in my dream diary.

But this is a real thing. There’s an anti-porn Christian-Right campaign that has selected October 7th as National Porn Sunday, a day to draw attention to what they see as the national problem of pornography. Because they see porn as the “elephant in the room” (or the “elephant in the pew”) that nobody talks about, they are publicizing National Porn Sunday by taking a 25-foot inflatable blue elephant on a 20-city tour.

The National Porn Sunday Elephant.

I have been having giggle-fits about it all day.

The thing that keeps striking me about the National Porn Sunday Elephant is how much the phrase sounds like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” A collection of adjectives and nouns that are grammatically correct, and yet apparently selected almost entirely at random. Like a phrase someone would say if they had brain damage in Wernicke’s area. Noam Chomsky composed a famous sentence (I believe it’s in Bartlett’s Quotations) to demonstrate that a sentence can make perfect syntactical sense without making any semantic sense: “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” That’s what the National Porn Sunday Elephant sounds like.

I’m not going to get into the actual hysterical absurdity of trying to stop pornography by carrying a giant inflatable blue elephant from town to town. I’m certainly not going to get into the assumption that the existence and use of porn is a problem. I’m not even going to ask why the National Porn Sunday Elephant is blue.

I’m just going to say over and over again:

National Porn Sunday Elephant.

(Via Feministing. The finest source for all your porn Sunday elephant news.)

The National Porn Sunday Elephant