A huge “Thanks!” to Cleis Press for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. You can order Penthouse Variations on Oral directly from Cleis Press’ product page or from other book retailers, such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
…Oral sex isn’t something to be rushed through or performed out of some sort of duty. –Barbara Pizio, Executive Editor of Penthouse Variations
Released in October 2014, Penthouse Variations on Oral is the first in a series of erotica
published by Cleis Press and Penthouse Variations magazine. Having next-to-no
experience with Penthouse, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with this anthology. To be honest, I kind of feared that it would be ‘all blow jobs, all the time.’ But… Cleis Press is one of my absolute favorite erotic publishers, and they are responsible for such a wide variety of quality fiction & nonfiction that I was excited to read and review this new book for them.
Penthouse Variations on Oral was not a work of purely male fantasy and pleasure. The 22 stories are evenly split between male & female authors/narrators. Cunnilingus and fellatio both get their fair share of attention, and both acts are equally enjoyed by everyone involved. There were also a lot of good examples for not only communicating with a partner by telling them what you desire/enjoy but also, like in Screaming Orgasm by Chloe Parker, by directly showing them. Overall, I appreciated the normalcy and enthusiasm with which these characters approached oral sex.
There were also a few passages with, what I consider to be, exceptional (and rather hot) erotica writing.
And each time she told me what to do, I granted her request, because each of her demands mirrored my own desire as well. The desire to please her, to thrill her, to hear her scream when the pleasure broke within her and those walls came tumbling down. –Secret Appetites by Adam Vane
I felt that skillful writing was the exception rather than the rule among the authors in this anthology. Most distracting for me was the prevalence of ridiculous sexual metaphors. (If you’ve read my reviews for erotica before, then you know that this is my biggest pet peeve.) Petals, berries, pearls, and nectar were everywhere! Oral sex was related to food, eating, and being hungry until I lost my appetite. (I may have also screamed out “Cannibals!” when author William McLoughlin wrote that his characters were “eating each other…literally” in Icing on the Cake.)
Other prime examples? Thanks to a rather strange metaphor by Gary Holmes in Deep Hunger, I can now say that I have yelled “Your cum is lava!” at my partner. I had to momentarily stop reading Elisa Nolan’s Mouth to Mouth in order to text the terrifying phrase, “buzz-sawing my clitoris.” And Peter Berman’s Cabin Fever sent me into a fit of giggles with, “I vacuumed up her free-flowing honey.” Indeed, I was more amused by this selection of erotica than I was aroused by it.
But beyond the fact that the writing lacked a certain elegance…There was simply no variety to these stories. You may be thinking, “It is a book entirely about oral sex. What more do you want?!” However, if you’re going to make an entire anthology about one topic (oral sex), shouldn’t you find a way to keep things interesting? Shouldn’t you try to approach your topic from several angles, so that every single story doesn’t blend into the next? This is the grand mistake of Penthouse Variations on Oral.
The entire collection can best be described as vanilla & heteronormative. There are absolutely no gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans characters in any of the stories. When you do get physical descriptions of the straight and cisgender characters, words like “thin,” “lean,” and “tanned” are plentiful. They are cookie-cutter depictions of stereotypical beauty standards — and nothing more. There is also a surprising lack of casual sex partners. The majority of stories feature couples, a few follow co-workers who have had their eye on each other, and even some of the stories that start with casual sex end in “finding love.” Talk about conventional.
As for the erotic scenes that these characters engage in? After just a few stories, it was painfully obvious that I was going to be stuck with the same 4 sex acts: cunnilingus, fellatio, 69, and penis-in-vagina intercourse. The most risqué activity that these characters ever engage in is a little outdoor sex/exhibitionism and manual or oral anal stimulation. (Oh, and there was that one time when toe-sucking got included, and I got way too excited that maybe it was the sign of a foot fetish. Anything to break up the monotony!) Perhaps it’s due to my love of fetish/BDSM erotica, but I simply found this collection boring.
If you’re really into male/female oral sex with no frills and no deviations from “the norm,” this could be the book for you. (I’d still recommend not reading more than a couple stories at a time, though, so they don’t start blending together.) Otherwise, I’d suggest sticking with some of Cleis Press’ other erotic anthologies.