Few esteemed writers (if any) begin their careers writing about sex. It’s not that you can’t be a real writer if you write about sex – it’s just that if you do, it’s difficult to be taken seriously by the majority of people who see you as either fair game or some sort of deviant. When people openly moonlight as sex columnists or document their own sexual exploits (and when I say openly, I mean without being under the guise of complete anonymity), they’re usually making a living as high class hookers, sex party hosts or some other profession that lurks in the shade of the ‘adult’ umbrella; one that makes writing about sex seem like a walk in the park with your Grandparents on a Sunday afternoon in May. For everyone else, the very idea of writing about their own sexual experiences is, literally, unspeakable.
What kind of freak does that shit?!
‘Real writers’ are only prepared to tackle sex if it’s fictional. That way, it becomes artistic. (Save for Mills and Boon and Fifty Shades of Grey, obviously.) It would appear it’s less embarrassing to reveal the figments of your sexual imagination than it is to say what you’re actually doing.
I admit all of this with both hindsight and foresight. When, at the age of 25, I was offered the opportunity of a column with British GQ (the only downside being it had to be about sex) I didn’t hesitate. I’d rather have been asked to write about something that didn’t see me branded a whore and an attention seeker, but freshly graduated with a degree in writing and having only written for my tiny local newspaper until that point; GQ really was the dream. Who would say no? A lot of people, it turns out. But not me.
My predecessor went by a plummy fake identity and detailed her sexual adventures with so much hyperbole and a baffling over abundance of adjectives, it was hard to take her seriously. More importantly, she never grappled with the real issues that arise out of sexual relationships. It was rosy as fuck and dull as dishwater.
I can do this better I thought, naive and chomping at the bit – a notepad full of ideas of sexual topics I could tackle head on, with the kind of fearless honesty that I had not seen in a title like GQ before. Everything was lined up for discussion, not least my failing marriage, subsequent affairs and towards the end, an open relationship. What could possibly go wrong?
It quickly dawned on me that you can’t write about sex and keep your professional integrity in tact. How intelligent can sex writing be, anyway? Spend a few minutes Googling esteemed sex writers and you’ll find your answer. In conversation I was quickly reduced to ‘promiscuous with too much to say’ or simply ‘weird’. People even now, greet me with questions like ‘are you still writing those dirty articles?’ I feel like replying – “Yes. Do you still do those dirty things with your wife on the third Saturday of every month, or does your secretary have exclusivity now?” I swear to God, it’s like people completely disassociate from their own genitals at will, like some pious, celibate pricks who’ve never even considered sex before, let alone had it.
In short I became a bit of a fascination to people, but not one that they admitted having any respect for. It didn’t matter if I challenged gender roles or spoke intelligently about the unspoken effects of an open relationship. It was all sleaze at the end of the day.
My biggest irritation even now, is when men, after having discovered my writing, take it as an invitation to flirt outrageously or be sexually suggestive, as though my willingness to discuss sex means that I’m up for anything with anyone. I can feel myself bristle when it happens but I opt not to bark at them like the hypocritical feminist they’ll assume that I am. It just isn’t worth it. Women’s reaction on the other hand is one of complete disacknowledgment. I don’t know which is worse!
You might think I’d regret ever having carved out my identity as a writer in this way, but if nothing else it makes me stands out. The only personal issue I still have to battle with, each and every time I send a piece of work to an editor or hit the ‘publish’ button on my blog, is shame. It’s unwarranted, I know this despite everything I’ve been brought up to believe. But I’m human and as such, I’m affected by the judgement of others. Like most humans though, I also have sex and have a chronic desire to be understood and to make sense of people. It really doesn’t have to be so Taboo.
So if you want to talk to me about anything I’ve written, then feel free. You’re not going to appear even half as perverse as I do. But promise not to proposition me, you dirty old fuck. I’m taken and he’s a sublime shag. (He was my affair, so that can’t come as a surprise.)
P.S. I would like to thank Dylan Jones, editor of British GQ, for giving me an opportunity that has shaped me as a writer and a person. I might have regretted it at times but being asked to air your most private thoughts in public, when few other people are willing, is actually something of a privilege.