Rachel Kramer Bussel is a rock star in the sex writing world. A prolific writer and editor of a zillion (okay, 50+) erotica anthologies, she has just completed Sex and Cupcakes, a whip-smart, funny, and poignant collection of first-person essays. Read on for her thoughts about orgasms, her boyfriend’s weight, and what she might do if she ever gets over writing about sex and cupcakes.
You wrote first-person essays on two particularly sensitive issues: your difficulty having orgasms and your boyfriend’s weight. What was it like discussing issues that are often avoided? Did you have to push against your own comfort zone to explore these subjects or was it relatively easy to do so?
I actually think I gravitate toward the topics that make me uncomfortable. Sometimes it takes me a while to actually get up the nerve to write about them, but almost invariably if a topic gives me qualms or makes me uncomfortable, it’s usually one readers appreciate and that I learn from. So I wouldn’t say they’re totally out of my comfort zone, though they aren’t necessarily “easy” to write about.
Almost always, the topics I feel shame or discomfort around are the ones that yield the most fruitful writing. I also try very hard to never sound as if I have all the answers. I may have strong opinions and be impassioned about topics, but I’m only an expert on my own life, so I try to infuse all my work, but especially my first person work, with that sense of both passion and openness. I never think of my writing as the last word on any topic, and that helps me get over the hurdles when I do feel uncertain about proceeding.
In “I Have Trouble With Orgasms,” you bust the stereotype of the multi-orgasmic sex blogger. What has been the reaction from other sex bloggers? Has anyone confided that that they have the same issue? Has writing about it made it easier or harder for you to have orgasms?
I’ve mainly gotten appreciation for admitting that orgasms aren’t always easy. It’s something I still, even after writing that piece, feel a tiny bit of shame around, because it seems like something I “should” be able to overcome. That’s how deep our culture’s emphasis on orgasm is. Writing about it has made it possible for me to have intimate conversations about it, especially with lovers who feel like their “job” is to make me have an orgasm. In that sense, writing makes it more concrete and takes a little of the pressure off in the moment to explain it. I’m not always that great on the spot, whether in personal or professional situations, so writing is a welcome break because you have the time and space to accurately convey your meaning.
You’ve written boldly about personal topics that directly involve your boyfriend: orgasms, his weight, your differences of opinion on monogamy. What was it like for you (and him), and your relationship, when he read your essays? Did you learn anything about him that surprised you?
I can’t really answer this one because even though he’s read the book, he processed it more privately and hasn’t hashed out every detail of his thoughts with me, and that’s okay. lt’s one of the infinite ways we differ from each other; I’m the kind of person who wants to share pretty much their every thought, and he is more introspective. That being said, he is very supportive of me and the book and the way I write to figure out my world, even if that’s not his way.
You’re a prolific editor of sex writing anthologies. What was it like to turn the spotlight on your own writing, to make yourself more vulnerable?
Non-fiction is my first love, and while I enjoy erotica, I think there are things I can say in a non-fiction format I can’t always say with fiction, and vice versa. I’ve always found that when I am as honest as I can be about my own life, I reach people who may or may not have anything directly in common with what I’m writing about, but who can still see a part of themselves in the writing.
You can’t hide with non-fiction the way you can with fiction, where something may be true or inspired by the truth but can be played with and fancied up, turned darker or lighter. The pieces I chose for Sex & Cupcakes were ones that kept me thinking about them long after I’d finished writing them, and are topics I continue to ponder.
That’s a tough question! I’d probably scrap them both and start a travel blog. I’m always drawn to new topics and territory, so the fact that I’ve been writing about sex for 15 years and cupcakes for 10 says a lot! I’m grateful for being able to jump in and out of both worlds, though, and that I haven’t let myself be pigeonholed as only being able to write about one topic. That’s vital to me. I think if I could only write about one topic, be it sex, cupcakes or something else, I’d want to rebel.
Follow Rachel Kramer Bussel on Twitter @raquelita