Everything You Always Wanted to Know About ‘Bad Sex’ but Were Afraid to Ask


Given the prominence of the raunchy 2020 hit song “WAP,” by Cardi B, featuring Megan Thee Stallion, I loved learning that in the 1970s “WAP” stood for “Women Against Pornography,” a feminist group that believed pornography promoted sexual violence (and was, somewhat controversially, affiliated with the idea that violence is baked into all sex between men and women). Aronowitz also explores, with the help of the 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,” Dodson recalls. “It was so boring you could die.”

An erotic massage, which Aronowitz undertakes to see if she can climax in such a setting (she can’t), yields an interesting history of female sexual pleasure — including how, before the 18th century, women were assumed to have the same internal reproductive organs as men, and thus, a woman’s orgasm was viewed as equally critical 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 couching every desire in “the political” can be complicated, if not plain exhausting. Recounting how she first learned to orgasm, Aronowitz says she felt “the specter of the pleasure gap hovering over my sex.” Of jealousy in nonmonogamous relationships, she writes: “It’s 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 encounters, she doesn’t believe they’re wrong about monogamy’s “mass indoctrination,” either.

Toward the end of the book, Aronowitz rereads her mother’s diaries from the early ’80s, in which Willis grapples with her own beliefs about free love — and her reality of a mostly monogamous relationship with Aronowitz’s father, who has had an affair.

The first time Aronowitz read those journals, in her 20s, she was stunned; 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 self-discovery, “I started thinking about my parents as just two out of so many poor souls who try to square 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 pp. | Plume | $28


Jessica Bennett is a contributing editor in the Opinion section of The Times. She teaches journalism at New York University and is the author of “Feminist Fight Club” and “This Is 18.”



Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/09/books/review/nona-willis-aronowitz-bad-sex.html