When I first met with a Voice editor in 1999 about starting this column, he had a concern: “What if you run out of things to talk about?” I assured him I wouldn't. And I haven't — this is my 200th column. For whatever reason, my 100th came and went without much fanfare — no orgy, no cake. No girl jumping out of a cake, even. This milestone deserves better, and I want to celebrate by looking back on where I've been, what I've done, and what's changed in the nine years since I began.
When I started writing Pucker Up, it was still illegal in many states to have consensual oral and anal sex. The meatpacking district was New York City's sexual hub, home to the Clit Club and Jackie 60 at Mother, along with S&M dens Hellfire and the Lure. Viagra had been on the market for less than a year. You could still buy porn on VHS. And my very first column was about teaching an anal-sex workshop at Toys in Babeland. At that point, I'd done probably a dozen of these workshops, and people were still weirded out by the whole idea of butt sex. Since then, I've taught classes all over the world and definitely noticed a change in my students: They're more open and less nervous, with much more advanced questions. (“Can anal sex really feel good?” has been replaced by “Do you recommend a certain kind of butt plug to warm up for fisting?”)
One of the most challenging columns to research was my piece on diaper fetishists. Grown-ups who like to wear diapers are a very private bunch, especially with regards to the press. (No wonder: The track record for coverage of folks with this predilection is awful.) They're misunderstood and even shunned by other kinky people. So it took a long time to find someone to trust me, talk to me, and invite me to a gathering. Once I was in, I had to put aside my own hang-ups and judgments in order to get a true sense of what made these people tick. My contact, Daddy Russ, challenged me to don my own pair of Luvs in order to really, truly understand the fetish: It put me way outside my comfort zone, but I'm glad I did it.
A popular early column was The Queer Heterosexual, which was about straight people who challenge gender and sex norms. Queer culture's effect on the mainstream is increasingly obvious and significant, and I'm not just talking about Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. My piece about the sex-toy ban in Texas got an enormous amount of hits; a legal case challenging the ban went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2006. (The high court refused to hear the case, leaving the law on the books in George Bush's home state.)
I'm most proud of my two-part exploration of the potential dangers of phthalates in sex toys. In addition to getting a lot of reader responses, within weeks of its publication, several big companies, including Adam & Eve and Good Vibrations, announced they would begin phasing out toys with phthalates. Other companies responded to the issue as well, including California Exotic Novelties, which announced it would begin listing the materials used on each toy's packaging.
A lot has changed, for better and for worse, in the world of sexuality. Mainstream media coverage and dialogue among everyday people has increased on topics like anal sex, bend-over boyfriends (straight guys who like to get pegged), porn, sex toys, and BDSM. There are more sex columnists at college newspapers and more bloggers devoted to writing about sex. The Internet has given people greater access to sexual entertainment and information, as well as to each other—online dating and mating has increased tenfold. The Web has also diversified sex, creating niche markets and communities around a specific turn-on, fetish, or kink. Science and technology has brought us innovations in birth control, DVD formats, interactive sex toys, and virtual online worlds.
But we're still far from living in a sex-positive culture. There hasn't been any more research on female ejaculation than there was when I wrote my first column about it in 1999. Abstinence-only sex education continues to get more funding and support than other programs. Right-wing hypocrites continue to get caught with their pants down, sending inappropriate IMs or making moves in bathroom stalls. Lame celebrity-sex tapes have become more popular than big-budget porn features. People who practice BDSM, polyamory, and other alternative sexualities are still demonized and misrepresented. Meatholes.com still gets more traffic than planned parenthood.org. There are folks still writing to me every day that are struggling with confusion, disempowerment, shame, guilt, and a lack of knowledge about their sexual desires, fantasies, and identities.
Let me let you in on a little secret: Sometimes writing this column comes so easily, it feels like it writes itself—like when I'm a judge in Jamaica for a reality show to pick the next great porn star, or I find myself on the set of a transsexual-porn-star Buck Angel movie, or I've just hosted my first fist-a-thon at kinky summer camp. But other times, it's really difficult—like when a politician's sex scandal has been covered to death, or the big Vegas porno convention is uninspiring, or the latest sex toy someone sent me is crap. The highs and lows of my column mirror the ebb and flow of sex in general, whether it's on television, in the headlines, or part of my own life. Sometimes sex is magical, exciting, and ripe with possibilities; sometimes it's tedious, predictable, and just plain frustrating. Thank you, my readers, for sticking with me through it all. Here's to the next 200!
For more about Tristan Taormino, please visit PuckerUp.com.