Given the significance of Cardi B’s scorching 2020 hit song “WAP,” featuring Megan Thee Stallion, I loved learning that back in the 1970s, “WAP” stood for “Women Against Pornography,” a feminist group that believed that pornography promotes sexual violence (and was, somewhat controversially, affiliated with the idea that violence is built into all sex between men and women). Aronowitz also explores, with the help of feminist sex pioneer Betty Dodson, how men learn to have sex; as Dodson notes, in the 1960s and 1970s most men involved in the sexual revolution still viewed sex as quantitative, resulting in a lot of bad sex. “In out, in out,” recalls Dodson. “It was so boring you could die.”
An erotic massage, which Aronowitz sets out to see if she can climax in such a setting (she can’t), gives an interesting history of female sexual pleasure – including how, before the 18th century, women were supposed to have the same internal reproductive system. organs than men, and therefore a woman’s orgasm was considered equally essential to procreation. It was in the Victorian era, she writes, “that women’s sexual pleasure was knocked off its pedestal”.
Sex has always been political for feminists. And yet, inscribing each desire in “the political” can be complicated, even exhausting. Recounting how she first learned about orgasm, Aronowitz says she felt “the specter of the pleasure gap hovering over my cock.” About jealousy in non-monogamous relationships, she writes: “It is impossible to know whether jealousy is intrinsic or socially learned. And while she doesn’t buy the “political imperative” of polyamory, like some of the smug evangelists she meets, she also doesn’t believe they’re wrong about the “mass indoctrination” of monogamy. .
Towards the end of the book, Aronowitz rereads his mother’s diaries from the early ’80s, in which Willis grapples with his own beliefs about free love — and his reality of a mostly monogamous relationship with Aronowitz’s father. , who had an affair.
The first time Aronowitz read these diaries, in her twenties, she was amazed; she tried to remember all the good things about her parents’ relationship, which lasted 25 years. But this time, in the midst of her own sexual discovery, “I began to think of my parents as two of so many poor souls trying to reconcile their personal lives with their politics.” Indeed, sex – and politics – are never so simple.
BAD SEX: Truth, pleasure and an unfinished revolution, by Nona Willis Aronowitz | 352 pages | Feather | $28
Jessica Bennett is the Opinion Editor of The Times. She teaches journalism at New York University and is the author of “Feminist Fight Club” and “This Is 18.”