I love visiting our town’s country store when I return home. It still has the same penny candy I used to chow down on after riding my bike there as a kid, the same friendly faces behind the counter, and probably the same exact can of sardines that was there in 1995.
This is a town where everyone knows your name, who your parents are and what street you live on. This is the store where now, as an adult, I run into my childhood friends’ parents. Amongst the nostalgic jars of pretzel rods and Smarties, these parents catch my arm to excitedly update me on my long-ago friend and then promptly drop their voices to mention that I’m “such a talented writer.”
Suddenly my entire month of published sex columns are flashing through my mind with phrases like “your ding-a-ling isn’t ding-a-long enough” and an entire catalog of unsavory things these sweet-faced comforts from my past must know about me—what kind of porn I watch, which dildo I took to Argentina and my favorite lube-du-jour.
I write about sex and I don’t use a pseudonym (I know—thanks to hippie parents, my byline sounds very made up). And it’s at these moments I can’t help but ask myself, “Why?”
As a young female sex writer, I’ve been called names like “chauvinist porn-peddling pig,” and many other colorful phrases punctuate the pieces of hate mail sent my way that I’ve never actually bothered reading. My proud parents probably know a lot more about my personal life than anyone involved would like them to. My modest ex often complained about needing to keep her blush down when fielding followup questions about stories on butt plugs, orgasms and fetishes.
Though I’m lucky to have received more praise than punishment, the sticky part is that this praise comes from the likes of my childhood friends’ parents, my yoga instructor and—true story—my elementary school janitor.
Recently, I read sex writer Chaweon Koo’s heartfelt article on Nerve.com in which she discussed the complicated familial, relational and cultural implications she decided to face head-on by shedding her pen name. Her coming out of the sex writer closet was painful and powerful; mine is, at worst, just awkward. But the point is that coming out of the sex writer closet doesn’t happen often, and Koo really got me thinking about why it’s worth it.
Writing in a genre chock full of (typically female) pseudonyms shows that we’re still a culture grappling with much sexual shame—other people’s shame, shame put on us by others, and shame that comes from within. I’m a twenty-something making ends meet in an over-educated, under-employed area, so I work several jobs. Though I understand that I’ve French-kissed a job in politics goodbye with my honest byline, openly writing about sex is still personally and professionally risky.
But, just as faking your orgasms only ensures that you never start having better sex, faking my name and my experiences isn’t going to do anything to combat female sexual oppression.
I don’t want to be ashamed of my vagina, the things I like to put in it or with whom. More importantly, I don’t want you to be, either. How hypocritical would it be for me to encourage you to have sex with the lights on while hiding under my own dirty sheets? I want to promote healthy, enjoyable, well-informed human sexuality and I think having one more woman on this planet unafraid to say “dildo” in casual conversation is really the best way to do it.
So the next time sweet old Mrs. So-and-So drops her voice to ask me how my job is going in a country store aisle full of dusty boxes of Cheerios, I’m going to tell her, “Why, I love writing about female ejaculation, Mrs. So-and-So. How are you?”