Sex, lies, and print

A sex columnist tells why she's put down the pen.

Me write about sex? The idea still seems crazy to me, even after having written the "Cherry Pop" sex column for two years. On a bad day—which is all too often—I don't even look like I've had sex. A month ago, I got carded at an R-rated movie. I have small breasts, sensible hair, and short fingernails; I prefer sneakers to stilettos—hardly the love bunny people imagine when they e-mail me questions like "What kind of panties are you wearing?"

I'm just a writer who once thought a sex column would be a fun diversion from my more "serious" duties as a journalist. What a surprise I was in for. I didn't suspect how much self-examination it would trigger or how many people I would alienate by exposing my private life (I got a lot of funny looks at the office water cooler).

Good writing is as elusive as good sex. When I first started the column in February 1998, it was absent the feminist edge it acquired later. It was more porn-ish in the sense that it related many traditional male fantasies, such as recounting a m鮡ge ࠴rois with two women. But after a while, that didn't feel right. I began to wonder what a woman would really find sexy if our culture and language weren't so dominated by male-centered erotica. So much of what we think of as erotic is what men have found to be sexy, and so much of a straight woman's sexuality is driven by her wanting to please a man. That a Glamour survey found that 70 percent of heterosexual women don't experience orgasm during sex is a sad testament to our willingness to forego pleasure. The sexual revolution supposedly happened 30 years ago, yet most women are too chicken to ask for what they want in bed.

What does a woman really find sexy? Is it a well-hung man who'll fuck her hard like porn tells us? Is it wearing lacy lingerie and high heels ࠬa Victoria's Secret? I can't speak for other women, but I had to figure out what it was that I genuinely found erotic, not some clich餠images I'd been spoon-fed by the media. As a writer, I had to figure out how not to fake it.

Pornography works because it is free of things like jealousy and possessiveness, or the occasional flaccid penis or papery vagina. I attempted to write erotica that didn't dismiss such conflicts. The results were mixed. In being honest about my experiences, some of my columns weren't sexy in the traditional sense. Cherry Wong wasn't impressed by big penises; she preferred a talented tongue. Although she liked being with women, she didn't care for sharing her boyfriend with another woman in a threesome. She wanted devotion from her boyfriend, even though she wasn't certain she could return the loyalty. And she was often unflattering to men, criticizing them when they couldn't see eye to eye with her. To top it off, she dissed men who had a yen for Asian women, all the while knowing that her exotic name and illustrations were what had hooked them in the first place.

I made a lot of people angry. Many male readers berated me for being "spoiled" or "selfish." A few suggested I turn to Jesus ("The Lord's love will not disappoint"). Some assumed I was an escort for hire. Surely, I must want sex all the time, with anybody, because I talk about sex. Rewards came from female readers who said that they could identify with the writings, and the few male readers who managed to understand that by being so open, I was trying to encourage sexual communication between the genders.

I'd like to think that we all have an inner diva, a persona untrammeled by shyness or doubt, one who follows her impulses and gets what she wants. That was what "Cherry Pop" was for me, and the more I wrote the column, the more I became the woman I portrayed. "Cherry Pop" made me a more playful lover, but it also made me more reflective and more honest with my partners and myself. I also went from being one of the unlucky 70 percent to a screaming idiot—surely the best perk I ever got from my job.

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