Behind the Bedroom Door (2009) is a series of essays about sex, written by women, and edited by Paula Derrow. I first saw it on display at a bookstore; and because sex is rarely uninteresting, I put it on hold at the library.
The essays came from women of a variety of ethnicities, ages, and sexual orientations, although I noticed that most were writers living in NYC, with a couple outliers in Los Angeles and Berkeley. On the whole, their stories were honest, open, and well-written. I continue to be fascinated by other people's lives and this book was no exception. I admire people who can just put their most personal and private lives out there--especially when it concerns a subject as emotionally charged as sex. I get a glimpse of someone else's life, and whether I can truly relate to them or not, I always enjoy trying to figure them out. This isn't a book of erotic stories; they aren't meant to be titillating. Although it's probably not appropriate for children, this is a book written for women, by women, and focuses much more on the emotional aspects of sex and relationships than the physical.
I was a little concerned when I first started reading, though. The prologue and first couple of essays read like this to me: "so then I cheated on this guy, and then that guy didn't work, but then I fell in love and now I'm happily married with children, which just goes to show <insert lesson learned here>." I found that any kind of generalizations about the genders, or describing what women want, or looking back with faux wisdom and sage advice were complete turn-offs.
Fortunately, most of the essays avoided this pitfall. Perhaps this reflects my unhappy single status at the moment, but the essays with the most meaning were the frustrating and sad ones. Maybe it's because pathetic stories make me feel better, but I admired the women who could unflinchingly and honestly tell how they messed up, were left unfulfilled, or were not living up to today's standards of women's sexuality. Lauren Slater discussed her low libido and low interest in sex in "Overcome." "The Sweetest Sex I Never Had," by Hope Edelman was a very moving and bittersweet story of her first boyfriend. And "Do Not Enter" just made me cringe as Betsy Stephens described a rare medical problem that made her feel like she had a really bad yeast infection for six years(!!), making sex incredibly painful and almost impossible.
The stories range widely from great sex, to revenge sex, to prego sex (or lack thereof), to date rape; I would be hard-pressed to find a woman who couldn't relate to at least one of them. And fortunately, most writers refrained from tying everything up with a neat and tidy bow about lessons learned and requirements for happy relationships and good sex lives. I was left with the impression that women's sexuality is so intricately based on personal chemistry, their history, childhood, self-esteem, and a million other factors, that defining a "typical" woman is virtually impossible.