Behind the Bedroom Door: Getting It, Giving It, Loving It, Missing It
“Daring. Provocative. Unflinchingly honest,” the book jacket proclaims of this anthology subtitled “getting it, giving it, loving it, missing it.” It is sex, and Behind the Bedroom Door is a collection of essays from twenty-six contemporary women writers.
Don’t be confused. While some of these essays are sexy, this writing is neither erotic nor academic. These are personal essays covering points across the adult female life cycle, the thoughts and feelings of individual women about their individual sex lives.
In “The Sweetest Sex I Never Had,” Hope Edelman recalls her first sexual experiences as a teenager. “If you define sex as an act of penetration, we weren’t having it, but that feels beside the point,” she writes of the hours she and her boyfriend spent giving each other pleasure. Sadly, some teenage sexual encounters are actually sexual assaults, which cause repercussions well into the adult years, as attested to by Stephanie Dolgoff in “Kiss Poker” and Anna Marrian in “Under the Influence.”
We know that pregnancy and childbirth are not only the biological culminations of sex, but also two factors that change the way a woman and her partner(s) interact sexually. In “Pregnant Pause,” Pari Chang tells how her husband stopped relating to her sexually during her pregnancy, while in “Sex with a (Much) Younger Man” Elizabeth Cohen confesses that she was the one who halted sexual intimacy with her husband while pregnant with their child. Brett Paesel shares her experiences of trying to get pregnant and how that affected her sex life in “Procreational Sex.” She says, “…sex, always so easy throughout our relationship, became a thing to be calculated, negotiated, withheld.” Both Susanne Paola (“Toys in the Bedroom”) and Lori Gottlieb (“Mommy Lust”) divulge secrets of sex once there are kids in the house.
I especially enjoyed the essays steeped in humor. With “Ouch, You’re Lying on My Hair!” Valerie Frankel deals specifically with the comedy of sex. “Looking for Mr. Snickers” is Jenny Lee’s funny retelling of how, after she leaves her husband, she decides “sex is a commitment, even if it’s only for a night.” Although discussing the serious issues of what arouses her and what leave her cold, Bella Pollen keeps the tone of “Turn Me On, Turn Me Off” light and humorous.
The essays in this book are definitely hetero-normative. Twenty-four of the authors write about having sex with men. In “Look Both Ways Before Crossing,” Meredith Maran writes about having sex with men and women (although the word bisexual is conspicuously absent). Thankfully, Ali Liebegott does nothing to hide her queerness in her piece “In the Beginning,” a consideration of the early, heady days of a new love affair “pretty in all its potential.”
On the surface it may seem that sex is the theme tying together the stories in this volume. However, these essays truly deal with women learning about themselves through sex. The writers in this anthology don’t just write about the sex they’ve had; they use that sex as a prism through which to examine themselves, their hopes, their needs, their desires. Instead of using this collection simply as entertainment, readers would do well to use these stories as a catalyst for learning about themselves through studying the role sex plays in their own lives.