Rachel Kramer Bussel is one of those frighteningly prolific sex writers and editors who would scare the shit out of me if she weren’t so nice. I had the luck of meeting her at Catalyst Con this spring, and at the end of the night I found myself in a rowdy game of drunk Cards Against Humanity against her and a crew of sex writers, educators, and general personalities. I can’t say that I remember who won, but it was one of my favorite moments of the conference.
So when I found out RKB was working on a collection of personal essays for Thought Catalog, I knew it was a book I needed to read. Sex & Cupcakes covers all sorts of odds and ends, from her relationship with monogamy (forgive the pun, I had to) to her opinion on the sex app Spreadsheets. Some of the contributions are adapted from pieces she wrote for The Village Voice, while others are fresh and new. But my favorite essays were the ones she wrote about her own writing, especially as one of the highest profile female sex writers who uses her actual name as opposed to a pseudonym.
I’ve written before about why I decided not to use a pseudonym professionally, and after a few months out in the open I appreciated reading about RKB’s experiences. In “Sex and Cupcakes,” the titular essay of the collection, she discusses the weird reactions she gets after telling someone she writes about sex, from the curious and friendly to the insulting. She says, “The revelation of what I do… can be disastrous, if the person involved simply reads that as a code for “easy.” It’s as if your humanity is erased by the word “sex,” a glowing yet invisible stigma, which beckons assumptions of the worst sort, like that it’s okay to launch into an explicit story or ask for sex advice.”
Unfortunately I can confirm this. The worst reaction I’ve gotten to my work (so far) isn’t outright hostility, it’s creepy overfamiliarity. I’m fine with being the girl people in my office tell their funny sex stories to, but I’m not cool with being considered down to fuck just anyone because I write erotica. There’s nothing wrong with casual sex, but I’m not in a place in my life where I’m interested in having it. In fact, I’m a sexual person who isn’t interested in having consistent sex at all right now. Which presents another challenge, also addressed by RKB. “Can I claim the title of “sex writer” even after deliberately taking time off from having sex to get a better handle on other areas of my life that urgently needed my attention, or now being in a (mostly) monogamous relationship?” The unsaid answer she offers is yes she can, because what one does professionally or for her own amusement does not need to perfectly line up with how she lives her life. Writing about sex may blur the line between the private and the public, but it’s still a line an author gets to draw. That’s a lesson I’m learning, and it’s a lesson the rest of the world seems to need its time understanding. Again I’m going to point you toward Malin James’s essay on this topic, which is one of the best I’ve seen.
And to go back to the issue of judgment, offering up my total number of partners—or the fact that I only recently left a nine-month monogamous relationship—as some sort of defense of my character doesn’t make a difference. As RKB puts it, “being unashamed is seen as worse than being promiscuous.” But judgment and creepiness aside, I write about sex for the same reason she does. Because we can’t not. She puts it best when she says, “It’s not that I want to literally invite the world into my bedroom, but sex is something so powerful that of course it is part of my urge to express myself. When I experience an erotic moment that’s transcendent, that shakes me up, that takes me somewhere I’ve never been, I’d be hard pressed not to write about it. I don’t know why I’m wired that way, I just know that the writing helps me both relieve it and understand it.”
So Rachel Kramer Bussel will keep writing about sex, and thank goodness for that. Sex & Cupcakes is a quick read and a great glimpse at who RKB is beyond the name on the spine of over forty erotic anthologies. It was a pleasure getting to know her better. The ebook is available for download here.
Bonus: head over to her blog Lusty Lady for even more meta writing about writing about writing as she discusses how this book came to be.