Book review: Anne Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex04/21/2009 at 6:33 pm | Posted in book review | Leave a comment
Tags: books, experts, Feminism, pornography, psychology, relationships, self-help, sex, Sexuality, vaginismus, vulvodynia
There’s a lot of useful books about sexuality & sexual health on the NVA’s reading list. I’ve been trying to catch up with them, although I probably won’t read every single one. Most of these books take a pelvic pain perspective, which is helpful for people in my kind of situation (or not.)
It’s not an all-encompassing list of sexual health books, but it’s a great place to start. Still, there are some books not on the reading list that I found helpful & informative.
Case in point: Annie Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex.
What the… you’ve got to be kidding me. Annie Sprinkle [nsfw] is a former porn star & stripper who earned her Ph.D. later on in life. She’s associated with sex-positive feminism, and even identifies as such. She’s been around the block a few times. Compared to her, I know nothing! I’m relatively young & some will surely say naive, and I struggle with vulvodynia and vaginismus. There’s no possible way I can compare to her! What possible thing could I learn from her? What new & useful information could she have for me?
So I went into the book feeling skeptical. I started reading, on the defense, fully expecting to not like what I was about to read…
It’s… actually pretty good…
I… like this.
What? Why do I like this. It’s Annie Sprinkle. I can’t do what she can do! How do I like this. What’s going on here.
Well, let’s find out what I liked and didn’t like about this book, and why you may want to think about getting a copy.
I went into Spectacular Sex with my guard up. I was soon disarmed by the author’s gentle, reassuring tone & positive affirmations. I was ready to mark the book up with my pen & post-its – and wound up putting them down for awhile. I had to go back & make notes after reading about halfway in. For the most part, I got lost in the story.
Spectacular Sex combines the best features of three of my favorite self-help books. It talks about how we must break away from an intercourse-centric mindset (Let Me Count the Ways,) it has features of a workbook (A Woman’s Guide to Overcoming Sexual Pain & Fear,) and is peppered with affirmations & humor throughout (The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting what you Want). The tone is non-judgmental and inviting.
Right away it is clear that Sprinkle is also operating under an expanded definition of “Sex,” and I like that. It helps that I’ve already been exposed to this idea before – sex means more than just intercourse. Sprinkle is a lot less brow-beating about it than Let Me Count the Ways, though.
Yet Sprinkle takes the expanded definition of sex even further than I. She recognizes sex as a physical act as well as a purely energetic one. This is a far-out concept even to me – it is an idea & practice heavily influenced by her experience with spirituality & Tantra. To Sprinkle, it’s possible to have a sexual experience without necessarily involving any physical contact at all (21). I was still able to go along with this idea, because I can see where the application would be practical to a person who experiences chronic pain or disability. It helps that I have also had some (very limited) exposure to Indian philosophy & principles of alternative medicine. I figured, “Alright, I’ll go along with Chi and Kundalini for a little while…” I see where you’re coming from, but I feel like an alien in that land, and am quick to return to the mundane physical world. Luckily, you don’t have to believe in that sort of thing for it to work.
On a related note, Sprinkle writes that it’s possible to have a more sexual experience in daily life, by recognizing ordinary sensations as being sensual (22). I felt this was an improvement over a similar statement made by the authors of Let Me Count the Ways. They kind of drag everyone into eroticizing the mundane, even strangers, whereas Sprinkle’s examples focus on only the individual.
There are many lists & blank lines waiting to be filled in with answers to some questions Sprinkle asks the reader. I participated in some of the workbook exercises Sprinkle suggested, but not all of them. Yet I spent some time to think about even the seemingly silly exercises – they may be silly, but they actually have some merit. You’ll be asked to think about and write down both positive and negative thoughts you have about your sex life, areas you’d like to see improved and how you think it would be best to bring about that improvement.
One of the most interesting self-reflection exercises I saw was the “$ex-Life $pread $heet” (163) – making a detailed budget for how much money you’re currently spending on sex vs. how much you would like to spend. Living with pelvic pain can get expensive, so I’m already spending quite a big chunk of change on it. But I can see where this would be useful for, pretty much everyone; even folks who do not live with chronic pain. We make household budgets but where do you usually lump the cash you spend on sex? “Discretionary/Miscellaneous” after every other line item? Perhaps even if you don’t get as detailed as this exercise, you should still think about giving sex its own line on your home budget.
Sprinkle is a big fan of props, costumes & roleplay, and she offers a few suggestions for each. You don’t have to use whatever stereotypical, conventional props first spring to mind if you don’t want to, although you may want to consider doing so just in case it turns out that you do like it. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money on any of this, but she advises that it’s still wise to invest at least some time. I’m more familiar with roleplaying in the nerdiest sense of the word, than I am with sexual roleplay… but my experience with RPGs still taught me that developing a character is a relatively safe way to explore other sides of yourself. Perhaps you yourself aren’t willing to act a certain way, but your character is. And at the end of the day or game, you can pack your character up, go home and be yourself again.
With a lifetime of experience under her belt, I fully expected Sprinkle to provide instructions for sexual techniques. I would have been disappointed otherwise. No need to fear though – the book delivers.
Much of the “Technique” is the theme that permeates the entire book – makeover your mind to makeover your sex life. Open up to new ideas & experiences, but recognize & respect your own comfort zone. You’ll still find how-to instructions on how to execute physical acts as well. There are tips for finding the G-spot in women and the P-spot in males, and there i’s a whole chapter on sexual massage. If you’re looking for a step-by-step manual on how to execute dozens of sex positions though, you may have to supplement this reading with another book.
Unfortunately, like all things, the book isn’t perfect. There’s still a few rough spots that didn’t jive well with me.
I didn’t like the way Sprinkle pushes those who have experienced sexual assault to become survivors and then “Thrivers” (34.) I feel it’s better to let the victim embrace whatever term they themselves are most comfortable with and work through it as they see fit. If you have triggers, you may want to skip this page – it’s a short passage.
When talking about living with chronic conditions, Sprinkle explicitly mentions “Vulvodynia” and “Vaginismus.” My goodness – how you know about these sort of things? Have you actually dealt with women like me before?
But then she does that thing where she talks about being unable to have sex for two years due to chronic yeast infections… …which, yes, still sucks & I can imagine the pure utter torture those two years must have been, but that’s still only sympathy. You still cannot fully empathize 100% with the women who’ve done this their whole entire lives.
Sprinkle mentions Dr. Lenore Teifer just a few times and provides a the name of Teifer’s book in the Resources section. I first learned about Teifer over a year ago, I’ve had over a year to process my feelings about this particular feminist doctor… and I still recoil from her. I run screaming in the opposite direction with my arms flailing wildly, in fact. Why provide Teifer’s view and book but not one of the books endorsed by the NVA? It’s perfectly relevant. Sprinkle, if you’re reading this, you should add a link to the NVA in the resources section.
Overall though, I felt that the positive outweighs the negative. I really enjoyed this book. I think Spectacular Sex has a lot of practical, hands-on exercises as well as advanced ways of looking at sexuality. I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually experience “Spectacular sex” during my lifetime, but whatever I do certainly won’t be boring. You don’t even need to have a partner to benefit from reading it, since so much of what it suggests, must come from within.