Skip to content

VERY IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: We Pause Our Regularly Scheduled Programming To Talk About Why You Should Just Go Ahead And Talk About Your Sex Life

Hey! Has anyone here heard of very respectable and excellent web publication The Atlantic Wire? I sure as heck have! For example, today, I hear that they are publishing that one Sady Doyle lady, and her thoughts on the Patti Smith memoir and so on and so forth!

Singer-songwriter Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids is, among other things, one of the more sustained apologias for Robert Mapplethorpe you will ever read. Smith spends many pages defending Mapplethorpe—her one-time lover and long-time friend, who also happened to shoot some of the more shockingly and controversially erotic photographs of the 20th century—against the personal and artistic charges that have been leveled against him. She describes, admiringly, pieces that portray bloody testicles, mutilated penises, Mapplethorpe’s own crotch. Then, abruptly, she records one of the greater ironies in art history: “Robert was so concerned about the content of my work. He was worried I wouldn’t be successful if my work was was too provocative.” According to Mapplethorpe, Smith was “always too crude.”

Ha ha, YEAH. And then, later, he put a bullwhip up his own personal nether regions, and shot a photo of it, and people lost their minds! But there is more. For example, have you ever wondered what Julie Klausner, Julie Powell, and Patti Smith have in common? It turns out to be a few things! Was Mapplethorpe’s advice that far off-target? Maybe not! (Was there room in the piece to address the troubling racial content in Mapplethorpe’s and Smith’s work? No!)  And did Patti listen to Mapplethorpe, about the “provocative” issue?

You tell me. Because, once you are done reading the piece (you guys: READ THE PIECE) you need to come back here and listen to my favorite Patti Smith song. It is the closest anyone has ever come to recording the noise someone’s heart makes as it literally breaks open and falls apart right in front of you. It has the word “pissing” in the title. Also, she refers to “excreting” someone’s “soul,” at a certain point. And you know what? It invests the various bodily processes with heretofore-unknown grandeur and importance. Which is why we should all be glad that Patti “Piss Factory” Smith is, it would seem, a selective listener.


  1. K wrote:

    From the article: When Powell stated that she sought and received her husband’s permission to publish the book, a blogger for NPR cried, “Why would you even ask him whether it’s okay for you to write in detail about your sex life without him? You already know it isn’t.”


    Did I do that? Well he’s not my husband yet anyway… What an interesting choice of words to say, don’t write about YOUR sex life… …without him. What? It’s her sex life, isn’t it?

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink
  2. jaded16 wrote:

    Oh my how dare SHE talk about her sex life!? Doesn’t she know her Lady Business will burn away in hell for speaking out? I’m going to pray extra hard today for her sake.

    Oh and John Meyer can talk about his sex life. It’s okay for HIM to say it because he is a dick and a dude.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink
  3. ASP wrote:

    Sady, I have questions (although, anyone else can offer an answer as well, by all means): which books by ladies about their sex lives would you recommend as interesting to read (apart from Patti Smith’s)? And which books by men who write about their sex lives would you recommend as interesting and insightful?

    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  4. Sady wrote:

    @ASP: Okay holy crap this is like a question that will take A LONG TIME to answer, in fact, but here’s a partial list: Michelle Tea. Read her, read her, read her. Valencia is the book that focuses most on her personal and recreational sex life, but really all of the memoirs do to some extent, and my understanding, based on rumors from her recent readings, is that she’s working on a memoir about her relationship with Rocco Kayiatos to which — if that is actually happening — I am looking forward. Eileen Myles, Tea’s inspiration and mentor, has a memoir called Cool for You that you should read (and that I have read), and also a book called Chelsea Girls which I have been looking for all over and haven’t found yet. Anais Nin is fucked-up in a lot of ways, but the first and second volumes of her “unexpurgated” diary, Henry and June and Incest, are worth a read if you don’t mind (a) Nin’s preciousness with language, which will either work or not work for you, and (b) being disturbed on every level a person can be disturbed. (And then, in the third volume, Fire, Nin, a Cuban woman of European/Spanish heritage who was typically read as white, starts dating a brown Guatemalan dude and he starts telling her stories about “the Indians” and it gets into this VERY STRANGELY RACIST AND EXOTICIZING PLACE WHICH I CAN’T EVEN PROCESS FOR YOU AT THE MOMENT, BUT IT IS FUCKED.) Anne Sexton’s poetry, particularly Love Poems, but really her sex life is all over her work; then, read Diane Wood Middlebrook’s biography, to learn some unflattering facts left out of the poems (such as: Anne Sexton was sexually abusive). Colette’s The Pure and the Impure.

    The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is this fantastically bitchy, oversharing document of just about everything in Sei Shonagon’s life, but her love life does get a covered in a fair amount of detail: “A man with whom one is having an affair keeps singing the praises of some woman he used to know. Even if it is a thing of the past, this can be very annoying. How much more so if he is still seeing the woman! (Yet sometimes I find that it is not as unpleasant as all that.)” Shonagon was, uh, not well-liked in her social circle. And she also got much the same blowback as many women today; Murasaki wrote “Sei Shonagon has the most extraordinary air of self-satisfaction. Yet if we stop to examine those Chinese writings of hers that she so presumptuously scatters about the place, we find that they are full of imperfections… She is a gifted woman, to be sure. Yet, if one gives free rein to one’s emotions even under the most inappropriate circumstances, if one has to sample each interesting thing that comes along, people are bound to regard one as frivolous. And how can things turn out well for such a woman?” Also, all of this happened, and was written about, approximately a thousand years ago. The moral of the story is, some things don’t change.

    Anyway: Diane Di Prima’s Recollections of My Life as a Woman is worth a read. The poetry of Olga Broumas, and some of Adrienne Rich’s poetry and essays. You should keep in mind that I’m just pulling all this at random off my own bookshelf, and there’s undoubtedly more; I wrote a big long thing about the “more,” at one point in my life, but it was a long time ago and I can’t remember everything. You should probably read the sex-pos icons: Susie Bright, Pat Califia (who is not a lady! At all! But who identified and wrote about himself as a lady before transition), etc. I hear Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is doing good work, but haven’t gotten a chance to check it out. And there’s a book that’s coming out in about a month, which I recently got a chance to read, which I will, I think, recommend highly once it’s out there, but which right now is not out so I don’t even know if I should talk about it yet. And you could go to music, if you liked: Little Earthquakes, Exile in Guyville, Dig Me Out by Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre and Bikini Kill and duh Patti Smith. As for the dudes, well…

    Here’s a secret. I find straight white cis dudes who reflect on their sexual lives deeply, deeply boring. It’s either predictably prurient, or predictably pretentious, in my experience. Like, note to straight white cis dudes: We know all about your sexuality! It is fucking everywhere! Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about your sexuality! It’s one of the more dominant narratives in American culture and/or marketing! It’s when people who have been defined as objects, within that narrative (read: EVERYONE WHO IS NOT A STRAIGHT WHITE CIS DUDE) speak up, and start to redefine themselves as subjects, that I am interested. But I am sadly under-educated as to the memoirs and autobiographical materials produced by such dudes (aside from the obvious Pat Califia exception) on the topic of fucking. So anyone who can fill me in on that, I will appreciate very much.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  5. ukenagashi wrote:

    Coming out of lurkerdom for some drive-by Sei Shonagon love! Handsome priests, snow that shouldn’t fall on the houses of common people, what’s not to love?

    On a somewhat related note, Murasaki herself did some interesting things with the Tale of Genji (ostensibly the Tale of Genji’s Often Creepy Sexual Adventures, but there are some really fascinating streams of theory about how the women are the main characters). But I couldn’t really recommend it here because a) it’s not Murasaki’s sex life, b) the sexual relations *are* so creepy, and c) it’s a bajillion pages long.

    Ohgodi’msosorry *returns to lurking*

    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  6. Sady wrote:

    @ukenagashi: I like Murasaki! And I do think it’s maybe funny/interesting that she wasn’t a Shonagon fan, but also wrote The Tale Of Genji Sleeping With Literally Every Woman In Japan, For Reals. The women are all more interesting than Genji, though, is the thing! Like, he remains almost a cipher, getting older and more successful and going from lady to lady but not necessarily ever being as vivid as the ladies themselves. I would recommend it! Though not on this list! For it is not about Murasaki, and it is fiction. (There were some theories about Genji being closely based on a real dude, I have heard? And competing theories as to which dude in the court he might have been? Have these been discredited or advanced at all, that you know?)

    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
  7. ASP wrote:

    Sady, thank you very, very much 🙂

    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  8. My reading list just doubled, because all of those sound ridiculously interesting.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  9. Citizen Taqueau wrote:

    Frightwig: “My crotch does not say GO”
    A rockin ladysong about wanting to DO IT but not on all terms! Fucking While Feminist, if you will. And I do! But not at the moment! Argh!

    (I hope this link doesn’t get anyone in trouble: I believe the album is out of print)

    Friday, April 9, 2010 at 1:00 am | Permalink
  10. Citizen Taqueau wrote:

    Sady, your article in the Atlantic is some of your best work yet. It’s very direct, more daringly analytical than some of your already very good work (in that sometimes when you’re analytical, it seems you’re more comfortable joking to get at a point, whereas the wry line, “One imagines Smith, who walked like Bob Dylan, cut her hair like Keith Richards, and famously said “being any gender is a drag,” empathized.” just does the trick beautifully), and it uses your talent for synthesis to great effect while still remaining so brief. I’m glad you’re getting this kind of work.

    Friday, April 9, 2010 at 1:45 am | Permalink
  11. Citizen Taqueau wrote:

    That comment wasn’t meant to put down your jokes. Damn. I sit down for a snack and there’s my foot again!

    Sunday, April 11, 2010 at 12:19 am | Permalink