Say the name Susie Bright in mixed company and quite often you'll hear, "You mean Susie Sexpert?!" Alternately worshipped and reviled by both the public and the media, she is perhaps the best-known sex writer in America.
Billed as her most personal book to date, Bright's new book, Full Exposure: Opening Up to Your Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression explores how sexual passion can inform creativity. In it, Bright explains how she discovered her sexual philosophy, and urges readers to create their own "erotic manifesto" to gain sexual freedom and celebrate the individual sense of the erotic.
AlterNet correspondent Amy Durgan spoke with the author recently about Full Exposure.
AD: Your book argues that much, if not all, creativity is erotic. That cooking a meal or looking at art or even being immersed in your work can be erotic. Could being in touch with this concept actually lead to less sex and more satisfaction with life?
SB: Sexual energy is going around all the time, and once in a while you end up in someone's arms with it, but other things happen too. Let's say that when you are working on your macrame it's extremely pleasing to you. That doesn't mean you're not ever going to want to touch anyone again. I think it's sensual enjoyment and inspiration that make you want to appreciate everything more. But it's not a replacement for sex.
In America, we explicitly try to divorce sexuality from creativity. There's been a lot of personal stuff about Einstein recently and it's being revealed that maybe he was a little kinky in his sex life. Are we now supposed to say that since he was really weird sexually we have to throw the theory of relativity in the trash? His sexuality was part of his brilliance but it doesn't mean every aspect of it is bathed in a golden light.
AD: How can people increase their erotic quotient?
SB: Talk about sex in social situations without fear or prejudice. Stop lying about sex constantly. Become more conscious of your sexual thoughts and fantasies, even to the point of writing them down. Decide you'd like to keep an eye on your sexual subconscious. Listen and observe and record some of these thoughts. Think about what it tells you about who you are, what motivates you, what excites you.
Assume everyone is sexual. I don't mean that you're supposed to imagine your grandmother in sexy lingerie but you'll start to understand her as a woman more, and someone who at one time was young and had her own fantasies and thoughts about what would make her life satisfying and complete. She's more than someone who's nice and makes you cookies.
Appreciating people's sexuality is appreciating their humanity, and about seeing them in more than the role that you know them in.
AD: Society seems to be increasingly hypocritical about sex. It pervades every nook and cranny of advertising and media, yet the backlash against liberal sexual expression, including books like Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty, have received a lot of media attention. How do you see this split and is it irreconcilable? Is there more sexual repression down the road?
SB: In advertising and the media they aren't talking about sex. They're using titillation, the intimation that something sexual will happen if you buy something. But when it doesn't happen, you have to buy something else.
It's that constant vicious teasing that is not sexuality. It means commerce. It's as crude as selling snake oil in a vaudeville show. If people would see how crude it really is, no one would say they're using sex in advertising all the time. They're using titillation all the time. That's why so many people find me shocking. It's disconcerting because I talk about my real feelings and experiences with sex, and we're unaccustomed to seeing that anywhere.
A Return to Modesty has been a sick reaction to two things. The first is the fear of AIDS. No matter what you try to tell people scientifically, people will say, "It's all my fault." They take it as some sort of moral retribution instead of the virus that it is. The second reaction is to the end of conventional sex roles in America. Some women, in part women who come from a wealthy background, like the author of A Return to Modesty, and women who aspire to be wealthy, have convinced themselves that, at least on the surface, they prefer to be ornamental. They're attracted to old-fashioned femininity like people are attracted to French provincial furniture: It looks so nice but you try to sit in it and it is so uncomfortable. There's something disingenuous about their proposal, not to mention ridiculously unrealistic.
Women make up half the workforce in the United States, and they're still in charge of the child care. Who has the time to consider being such a fragile protected creature? Life has a lot of really hard challenges and when you meet someone who you feel like you could have a good relationship with, keeping your virginity is not the first thing on your mind. Unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool "Rules" girl. A Return to Modesty should be retitled A Return to State-Sanctioned Prostitution, because my sexuality is not commerce.
AD: The growing popularity of church-based "virgin" movements like "Love Waits," and the government's push on abstinence-only programs demonstrate a nostalgic yearning for "the way things were" when it comes to protecting women's sexuality. Why do you think the born-again virgin movement is gaining popularity among young adults?
SB: I have met people for whom it had a religious aspect, but for some people, they wanted to remake themselves. Something had happened that they were ashamed about, something that punctured their dream about what was going to happen in their lives. Maybe they had an abortion or got divorced.
They are going to be a new person and the new person is pure as the driven snow and is going to get a whole new start. Many born-again virgins have a secret that they don't want to talk about, and if they have a religious cover for an excuse, all the better. But then they fall off the wagon, or have an affair. Something digs up the grave of their secret and all of a sudden there they are.
AD: What about teenagers? There's lots of discussion about how kids are very sophisticated about sex and that even oral sex has become a casual activity among some young people. Is early sex healthy? What ground rules would you suggest for healthy early sex?
SB: Teenagers have been having oral sex for a long time as a means of not getting pregnant. Any Catholic schoolgirl could tell you that! There's no such thing as saying "x" is good for teenagers. Some people aren't ready to have sex when they're 35, while others are ready when they're 13. But our society doesn't treat teenagers as individuals. When you're a teenager you're at your most insecure, so to have a supportive family who you don't have to hide from and deny and lie to is important. If my daughter has a lover in high school and she's living with me I'd rather they spend the night together at home than in a ravine somewhere.
As for advice: Know what makes you feel comfortable but follow what feels good to you. Experiencing pleasure is important, but not trying to impress someone. Having a sense of security in your own body, and setting boundaries and limits is good. But that's the kind of thing I'd say to people at any age.
To learn more about Susie Bright, check out her Web site at: http://www.susiebright.com.