Review of Susie Bright's Sexual State of the Union

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Susie Bright's Sexual State of the Union
by Susie Bright
Simon and Schuster: New York, 1997.

I suppose the comparisons with Pat Califia are inevitable. Both write from a sex-positive viewpoint, both are women-oriented women, both hail from California and a similar culture, and both have published anthologies of essays on the topic of sexual freedom in America.

Both Pat and Susie take American to task for its hipocrisy, but with very different styles. After reading Pat Calfia's Public Sex anthology and Susie Bright's State of the Union anthology, it ocurred to me that, from the perspective of middle America, Susie's essays are like being beaten over the head with a heavy styrofoam bat while Pat's essays are like being stabbed in the heart with a dagger.

But that's neither here nor there.

If you start reading State of the Union, you'll have a hard time putting it down. No, you're not going to learn how to fuck any better from this book. No, you're not going to find any sizzling erotica. But what you WILL find are 22 engaging essays, often from very personal perspectives, on any and all topics even tangential to sex. Susie aims her sights on subjects ranging from the state of America's youth, to safer sex, to fear-mongering, to double standards, to modern porn, and manages to shed light on each and every one.

Her writing is insightful and often very, very funny.

My only complaint is that on occassion Susie appears to be a bit facile on the topic the religious right. For example, on page 50 she discusses the "Saltpeter" theatre group, which puts on "just say no"-style plays for high schools. The Saltpeter group comes from a quite sex-negative perspective, and compares using condoms to prevent STD tranmission to playing Russian roulette. Pretty ugly stuff. But where I feel Susie missed the mark is in saying that "I'd be surprised if they coule make it through their three-hundred performances without a little hanky-panky...these people's own grown-up lives are going to make a mockery out of their script's message."

This passage rubbed me the wrong way, and passages like it popped up periodically throughout the book. In this Saltpeter case, Ms. Bright has no evidence that the actors discussed are being untrue to their spiritual beliefs. To predict that they will ultimately end up being hipocrites is purely speculative and unfair. Although it is true that living a life of church-imposed celibacy isn't easy, some people actually manage to do it. I'm very glad that I personally am not constrained by conservative sexual mores, but we seriously underestimate the religious right when we assume that they all violate their own principles in private.

But this minor complaint aside, I recommend Ms. Bright's new book. It's well written, entertaining, and thought provoking.

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