10 Years of Sex…And An Open Relationship With Millions

10 Years of Sex…And An Open Relationship With Millions by Isadora Alman

(on the occasion of 10 years of publishing Ask Isadora columns)

 “Choices: the beauty and the bane of sex in 1985,” I wrote in my very first Bay Guardian column, Valentine’s Day issue of that year. “Whether to be celibate or active, single, coupled or tripled, call yourself gay, hetero or bisexual – from all these choices come not only confusion, but the real possibility of creating a style of life that is personally satisfying. Through communicating honestly with oneself and with present and potential partners, through becoming familiar with pertinent facts, options and opinions so that intelligent choices can be made, we are able to give and receive pleasure from those people whose lives we touch. The exchange of pleasure. Isn’t that about as basic as you can get on the subject of sex?”

So how have you done with your choices over the past ten years? Have the intimate relationships you’ve experienced in the preceding decade added more pleasure than pain to your life, more laugh lines than frown wrinkles to your face? Bluntly put, has the screwing you’ve gotten been worth the screwing you got?

Person ally, I regret not one zinging flirtatious glance of the hundreds I’ve exchanged, not one hour of erotic longing, not one night of gasping passion, or giggling play, nor one smiling sleep-deprived morning after. I can’t even say I would for go the many days of tearful mourning at the departure – by death or failure of nerve – of far too many people I loved…or might have.

I was barely in the foothills of the mountainous trek toward my California counseling credentials and American Board of Sexology certification when I first approached the Guardian with a column idea. An enthusiastic volunteer with San Francisco Sex Information, I was sure that the thousands of readers and responders to the popular Guardian personal ads would have many of the same questions as the phone line callers. And over the years I have been proven right. Whether by phone or by mail, in my radio audiences or live ones, there are recurrent themes to the questions I a m asked. “How can I find a partner (without, of course, taking any risks)?” and “Why won’t my partner do what I want (cheerfully and preferably without my having to ask?”) are common perennials. So are body concerns (“Hers is too hairy, his isn’t hairy enough”), labels (“If I’m gay/straight what am I doing fantasizing about him/her?”), communication quandaries (“How can I announce something likely to be dreadfully upsetting without having to deal with the other person’s inevitable upset?”) and popular mythology (“Is it true about black men, Jewish women or gerbils?”)

I have been both saddened and touched by the naiveté of some questioners, awed by the creativity displayed in the pursuit of pleasure by others, and exasperated beyond measure at the persistence of certain stupidities, But bored? Never? Not even by the hundred and first query on the same subject.

When my editor and I discussed what might go into an article commemorating  ten years of “Ask Isadora” something along the line of “the three or five or seven n most “Something” letters was an inevitable suggestion. But most what? Funny? Bizarre? Flack creating? My first column collection, Masquerade’s paperback Ask Isadora includes a major portion of the questions and answers published between 1985 and 1988. Let’s Talk Sex (The Crossing Press) covers the majority of 1989 -90, leaving more than four year’s worth still uncollected (publishers, kindly note) and possibly unfamiliar to many new or occasional Guardian readers. What w as decided upon was “memorable” – to me, of course, and to the Guardian staff, m any of whom had a favorite that I’d completely forgotten about. But there turned out to be far too many favorites to reprint; we’re culling something like 1500 questions and answers contained in approximately 500 columns. So with a nod of recognition to some often mentioned choices (e.g. the couple who made love in a meat locker and other freezing surroundings, the woman who used her lover’s semen mixed with Chardonnay as salad dressing, the guy who worried about tapping his partner with a ball pean hammer during moments of arousal, and if I’ve left out one of your cherished pets, I’d be delighted to hear about it) I’ve decided to s hare with you instead some background and follow ups to a few unforgettable moments in ten years of “Ask Isadora”.

#1 Very early on in the column’s history I received the following letter: Is there anything actually dangerous in being sexy with my dog? I mean, can I catch some disgusting disease or something? At t he time, I was not aware that involving an animal in human sexual pleasure was actually against California state law, nor was I aware of the depth of passion th e merest suggestion of animal discomfort could rouse in the breasts of creature rights activists. My concern, as always, was to give non-judgmental factual information, preferably pithily and even more preferably with humor. Since the letter writer gave no indication of his or her sex, nor that of the dog, or what the planned activities might be, I thought I covered all bases handily with my response: “…You could, if you’re male, wear a condom. I don’t know about fitting one on a dog. Dog’s penises have some unique properties, especially during intercourse, so if you’re thinking along those lines be sure to read up on their physiology. Other than that, there are fleas, poison oak, or bites and scratches, which would be a dog’s way of saying “Not tonight dear.”

Wow! The outpouring of outrage. One letter suggested that I put over my own head the condom I suggested for poor Fido. A local ASPCA president took me to task. I did write a subsequent column addressing the question of whether an animal was truly capable of giving consent which was the issue which bothered many people, and I told my mother about the whole brouhaha. Her comment was extremely uncharacteristic and memorable: “I’m delighted you’re enjoying your work and getting recognition for it, but somehow I never envisioned boasting about my daughter, the champion of dog fuckers.”

#2 While we’re on that subject of the dire association of people, animals and sex (a combination which ever after I have treated VERRRRy care fully and very infrequently), here’s another: Sometime in the late 80s a woman wrote in to confess that she had trained her dog to perform cunnilingus by spreading Alpo dog food on her inner thighs. I commented, probably tersely, given my previous experience, to whatever her question about it was, and that would have done it for bestiality for the next several years had I not received in response to this column what I have since termed “the most Berkeley of letters”. In its entirety it went: “I can’t believe that woman would feed her pet Alpo. It has artificial coloring!”

I laughed, a lot, and told Paul Krassner who reprinted the original letter and that response in The Realist. Shortly thereafter he received a form letter from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice notifying him that “a specific factual determination has been made that this publication is detrimental to prisoner’s rehabilitation because it would encourage deviate criminal sexual behavior. Page 8 contains graphic depiction of bestiality (woman/dog.)” Krassner wrote back to the Review Committee: “I see that it is too late for me to appeal your decision, nevertheless, I would appreciate it if you would clear up the basis for this denial. The item you object to is a quote from a book of advice… Not only was the item funny, but there are neither women or dogs in (your) prison. How can it encourage what cannot be done behind bars?”

Paul sent me copies of this correspondence and I, thinking it right up their dual alleys of sex and censorship, sent it on to PLAYBOY. My Editor acquaintance there also thought it funny but refused it out of hand. Any mention of human-animal sex would ban the PLAYBOY edition carrying it from Canadian entry. So, no naked women with airbrushed pubes in this paper, but at least you can with your own eyes read a mention of this calamitous subject without fear of authorities. Oh, and one more thing. I am not now nor never have been on the payroll of the dog food company in question.

#3 There is a letter I don’t think ever saw print but it has become a favorite of my daughter’s to whom I showed it when it arrived. Whenever anyone asks her about the kind of mail her Mom receives she shows them this as typical, which, in a sense, I suppose it is. Verbatim: 

“Dear Isadora,
Penis penis vagina thrust penis cum. Vagina breast sticky orgasm clitoris, buttocks breast hairy soft sticky cum? Sweaty, anal anus, sweaty hand-job lips and tongue? Cucumber whipped cream belly-button nipple. Hard, slippery vaginal cum penis suck, blow penis cum fuck “cock”. Creamy wet re-entry hole, soft labium penis scrotum. Flaccid! Erect relationship blow job. Vagina rub rubbing pubic hair pelvis. Thrust thrust thrust thrust cum. Thrusting intimacy coming into slippery groping stretch. Thrusting cucumber vaginal come! Orgasm, throb bing fluid release. Orgasm, thrusting saliva penis cum. Yum! Penis hair body stroking. Love, Fart.”

Finally, a recent letter which is so very stereotypically real (right down to the ethnicity of the writer’s name, which, of course, I am not revealing) that I thought it had to be a put-on. I will assume it is not . If it wasn’t actually written by a disappointingly married middle aged woman (perhaps to her relief, now widowed), it very well could be: “I have been a reader of your column for many years and here is what I have come up with based on what I have read, seen and experienced during my 55 years on this earth. Sex is for reproduction purposes. We were provided with all this stimulation otherwise the sex act would not take place as who would care or bother. A smart intelligent woman would rather have a fur coat, diamond necklace and bracelet a new Mercedes and going out with the girls than having sex with somebody hot. Sex is messy, sloppy, and all this nonsense about hearing violins and super orgasms is just the myth of fiction writers…. Sex produces violence (especially when cheating and getting caught) and babies, which are a lot of work. For fifteen minutes of ugging and umphing, thrusting and gasping, you get a kid which puts a burden on your life for 18 years, perhaps more…. Tell your readers that sex isn’t that wonderful and they aren’t missing out as much as they think they are and that if they want to hear violins they should get good orchestra seats to the symphony.”

Well, okay. For violins, sure. But good sex does exist. As the joke goes (“What do you get when you cross a donkey with a Vidalia onion?”), there are some pieces of ass so sweet they bring tears to your eyes. And even if those delicious moments are few, just as with cooking, they are often sufficient to flavor a life time of memories. If I didn’t believe with all my heart that satisfying connections are not only what I write about but what life itself is about, I couldn’t – after ten years – continue writing this column with such passionate enthusiasm. What I said in conclusion to my first column all those years ago is unfortunately still as true now as then: “Loneliness is epidemic these days. The threat of AIDS affects us all. And the pendulum of popular opinion on personal liberties swings for the moment ever rightward. These are dangerous times for us all, folks, so let’s be kind to each other and treat the bodies and souls of those we encounter with gentleness, with what used to be known as courtliness and romance, and still should be.”