Episode 10: When We Write About Sex

Time-Stamped Show Notes

[0:00] – ADVERTISEMENT: Visual Quill.

[0:55] – SEGMENT ONE: Girl Friday’s marketing assistant Devon Simpson interviews Anna Katz, a Girl Friday editor and collaborative writer who formerly worked at Toys in Babeland in Seattle, where part of the job was recommending sex books to customers.

  • [1:35] – Anna defines what a sex book is.
  • [4:07] – Part of Anna’s job was to vet the right kind of books for the store. She says the key qualities to look for in a sex book are: the more inclusive the better; the book should have a sense of humor; and it should contain no bigoted language.

[5:50] – INTRO: In this episode of From the Margins, we hear stories about writing about sex, sexuality, and sexual experience. When something isn’t talked about much, how do we learn to write about it? How does a sex scene advance a plot? What are we really writing about when we write about sex? How can we use writing to process sexual trauma? And how can we write about our own sexual experiences to learn more about ourselves?

[7:27] SEGMENT TWO: Margaret Mallory, a historical romance novelist, shares her journey to becoming an author.

  • [8:13] – Margaret left her job to write full time. She and her husband decided to live on one income for two years while Margaret tried to get published.
  • [8:30] – She had been a lawyer—the first in her family—for more than twenty years, and had spent a lot of time and money building her law career.
  • [9:15] – Margaret treated writing as her job because she understood she was taking money from her family to follow her dream.
  • [9:25] – After writing her first manuscript, she joined writers and critique groups to get feedback. Then she found an agent. When her book didn’t sell in the two years she’d allotted, she got a job.
  • [9:48] – She wrote a second book, and nine months into her job, her agent sold a two-book deal. Margaret again became fulltime romance writer—this time for good.
  •  [12:13] – Most of the people she knew were surprised by her career shift. One hundred people showed up to her first book signing because they were so curious.
  • [12:41] – Even though she’s had the full support of her family, not all of her loved ones have read her books.
  • [14:55] – Margaret says the sex scenes are more than just the sex. For a writer, they’re a useful plotting tool.
  • [15:42] – Sex scenes can be pivotal because they push the story and character arcs forward.
  • [16:44] – With the help of her editor, Margaret learned a new vernacular, and how to make a sex scene anatomically believable, not just a “clinical step-by-step” guide.
  • [18:45] – Margaret says the sexual tension and emotional parts in a book carry a lot more weight than the sex itself. That’s what keeps a reader’s attention and drives the story forward.

[20:52]SEGMENT THREE: Sex columnist Larissa Pham describes why she started writing about her own sexual experiences and how it impacted her life.

  • [21:25] – Larissa is the author of “Cum Shots,” a column for Nerve magazine, where she writes vignettes about her own sex life.
  • [21:40] – Larissa says, “I’m obsessed with trying to represent what sex is like for a woman in this era.”
  • [21:55] – Larissa started writing as a political act because she felt that people like her were underrepresented in the media. Larissa says, “As an Asian woman, you get exoticized repeatedly to the degree you start to become desensitized to it.”
  • [23:00] – Larissa said it was really hard for her to find a good portrayal that didn’t play into typical Asian stereotypes.
  • [23:35] – After Larissa started writing her column, she was able to examine her race through the lens of sex.
  • [24:46] – Larissa’s mother was upset when she discovered her daughter’s column, but Larissa says she understands where her mother was coming from, because it would be “hard for anyone’s mother to realize her child is a sexual being.”
  • [26:16] – Larissa thought she would write about her dating life for the column—about hookups and flings. But then she met someone she started falling for.
  • [27:30] – Larissa also works at a sex shop. She says, “It’s really wonderful because I love being able to talk to people and help them figure what they want, what they might need—some kind of solution to feel what they want to feel.”
  • [29:11] – Larissa says, “Sex is the thing that yields the most when you touch it.”

[30:00] – ADVERTISEMENT: Visual Quill (custom book trailer).

  • [31:00] – Visual Quill ad that supplies a special offer code for a free consultation.

[31:27] SEGMENT THREE: Through writing about her sexual experiences, Elissa Washuta, author of the memoir My Body Is a Book of Rules, was able to better understand her identity.

  • [32:19] – Elissa is an enrolled member of the Cowlitz tribe. But she didn’t always feel secure in this part of her identity.
  • [32:34] – She felt disconnected from her tribe while growing up in New Jersey.
  • [33:28] – Elissa’s mother is an enrolled Cowlitz and her grandmother was part of the Yakima tribe. Elissa’s dad’s family is Irish American and Eastern European American. Elissa’s white complexion was something she struggled with in trying to understand where she belonged.
  • [35:13] – During Catholic school sex ed, Elissa felt uncomfortable with the idea of using her sexuality as an opportunity to further the aims of the Lord.
  • [36:17] – By college, Elissa had stopped going to church. She wanted to find a new way to view sex that wasn’t controlled by a fear of God.
  • [37:40] – Elissa lost her virginity when she was raped in college, but all signs in popular culture at the time told her that her experience hadn’t been rape, so she began to doubt herself.
  • [39:30] – After Elissa began experiencing intense mood swings, she started taking medications. And when the medications didn’t make her feel better, she started seeking comfort in sexual encounters. She says, “It was so much easier to expose my body, than who I really was.”
  • [40:50] – Readers of My Body is a Book of Rules may get the impression that Elissa is extremely open about her life, but in reality she’s quite private.
  • [41:24] – Elissa says, “In the narrator, I created a different person.” In order to write about these things, Elissa says she had to separate herself from the Elissa she was writing about.
  • [44:08] – The whole process began to feel therapeutic for Elissa and made her an authority figure on her own life.

[46:33] – LAST SEGMENT (FOUR): Young adult novelist, memoirist, and sex educator Allison Moon tells the story of how she started writing so openly and candidly about her sex life.

  • [47:00] – Allison is the author of Tales of the Pack, a YA coming-of-age series about a pack of lesbian werewolves. The idea came to her after an argument with a man who said he would never read or watch anything that featured a female werewolf because “nobody wanted to read about hairy aggressive women.”
  • [50:15] – Allison started to identify as bisexual when she was sixteen, and came out of the closet at seventeen, after she was outed by her city newspaper.
  • [51:41] – For a long time, Allison preferred dating women and eventually came out as a lesbian, after which she fell in love with a cis-gendered man.
  • [53:29] – Falling in love with a man was a huge contradiction to her identity as a lesbian, an experience which prompted Allison to write her memoir Bad Dyke.
  • [54:22] – As a sex educator, she felt it was a natural extension for her to write about her own experiences, and she hopes her writing serves as a beacon of permission for people.
  • [58:27] – Allison now identifies as “queer,” which is a deliberate word choice. She says, “For me, queer is an invitation to have a larger conversation.”

[61:48] – Closing credits.

Key Points

  • Anna Katz explains how sex books matter because they provide a safe space for people to learn about sex.
  • Margaret Mallory describes her road to becoming an author and discusses how sex scenes in novels are more than just the sex—they can be useful plotting tools for writers.
  • Larissa Pham describes how through writing about sex, she was able to examine her race, and she was able to be the role model she couldn’t find in media.
  • Elissa Washuta explains how through writing, she was able to reshape her rape experience and become an authority figure on her own identity.
  • Allison Moon reminds us that there is no such thing as a “normal sexuality” and that everyone is unique in their own sexual experiences.

Find Out More About the Writers and Guests