Penthouse Variations on Oral

Penthouse Variations on Oral [review]

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

Penthouse Variations on OralReleased 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.

My advice…

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.


Sex Soundtrack: BDSM

Work has been very stressful for the past couple of weeks, and while I finally feel like I’m making some progress on that front, I’m still trying to spend most of my free-time on relaxing activities. I’ve started working on a more substantial post for next week, but in the meantime, I figured I would try something a little different and share some of my favorite songs about BDSM.

“In Your Room” by Depeche Mode

In your room
Where souls disappear
Only you exist here
Will you lead me to your armchair
Or leave me lying here
Your favourite innocence
Your favourite prize
Your favourite smile
Your favorite slave”

A list like this just wouldn’t be complete without Depeche Mode. Although “Master & Servant” usually gets top spot on every BDSM music list, several of their other songs have an overlying theme of sexual power dynamics as well. And while I love “Master & Servant” for everyday listening, I enjoy the slow and sensual feel of “In Your Room” much more for actual intimacy.

“Discipline” by Nine Inch Nails

“I see you left a mark
Up and down my skin
I don’t know where I end
And where you begin

I need your discipline”

Trent Reznor certainly knows how to create powerful sex music. And while “Closer” usually gets all the attention, elements of Dominance & submission can be found in quite a few other songs as well — whether in a sexual context or not. “Discipline” is a recent favorite of mine, because if interpreted as being about D/s, the focus falls on the emotional side of a relationship rather than the purely physical/sexual.

“I’m Your Man” by Leonard Cohen

“If you want a lover 
I’ll do anything you ask me to 
And if you want another kind of love 
I’ll wear a mask for you”

Okay, I know that this song doesn’t have the kinkiest lyrics. But thanks to the movie Secretary, it will always make me think of James Spader as Mr. E. Edward Grey and send shivers down my spine. Plus, Cohen’s voice is so gravelly and deep that you can practically feel it reverberating through your body, which is an awful nice touch.

“Pain Makes You Beautiful” by Judybats

“No sorrow tied
Tied to my hurting you
To the compromising position to all the painful things I do

Pain makes you beautiful
I give you what you want, the pain and the pleasure”

I accidentally stumbled upon this song recently… and I became a little bit obsessed with it. It’s such a peppy, upbeat tune that really seems to embody the playful nature of BDSM and the connection between partners. This song doesn’t make it seem like it’s dark or taboo — just another way for people to enjoy themselves sexually. (Although there is a line about “not being good for you” that I wrinkle my nose at and choose to ignore.)

“The Power is Mine” by Lords of Acid

“Dance the dance of lovers
I don’t need no other
To ride the waves of pleasure and pain
Come on boy obey me
Lick my boots to please me
Maybe I will loosen your chains”

With the exception of the classic “Venus in Furs” by Velvet Underground, I don’t know of many songs about female dominance. I love the dual points of perspective in this song — switching between the submissive male’s spoken word and the more sensual & hypnotic dominant female. And although Lords of Acid are somewhat known for their raunchy sexual lyrics, this song is surprisingly clean for the subject matter.

“Little Whip” by Danzig

“You crawl across the floor
On your hands and knees
To seek revelation
Little whip
I pull you up
I grab your hair
I give you hope
Little whip”

Danzig is no stranger to incorporating BDSM into his lyrics and music videos. In fact, the video for “Wicked Pussycat” was what first caught my attention about him. And while his wailing certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, this song is incredibly sexy if you enjoy it (or can at least look past it). The way that it starts out so seductively slow is simply perfect.


“Games” by Ayria

“Monologue” by She Wants Revenge (A lot of their other songs have the same dark, sexual feel to them.)

“Breath Control” by Recoil (Obligatory Warning: Breath play can be very dangerous.)

“S&M” by Rihanna

“Fun with Ropes” by The Go Go’s 

“I Wanna Be Your Dog” by Iggy Pop & The Stooges

“Hurricane” by 30 Seconds to Mars (For the video more so than the lyrics.)

Tell me: What are your favorite BDSM songs? I love discovering more to add to my playlist!

The Act Itself

The Act Itself [review]

The Act ItselfI’m a big fan of erotic magazines. As internet porn and e-books increase in accessibility, there’s just something about the old formats that I find alluring. Every time I enter a used bookstore, I’m on the lookout for vintage pin-ups and underground bondage publications. I’m proud of my collection, even if it is still fairly meager.

So when BearManor Media offered me a copy of their new magazine in exchange for an unbiased review, I couldn’t help but give them an enthusiastic yes!

The Act Itself

The Act Itself is an ambitious publication, promising readers three issues a year — each with 150 pages of erotic writing and visual artwork. Unlike the most famous adult magazines, the focus here is on erotica as opposed to explicit pornography.

What Works:

Durability – Upon receiving my copy of the Spring 2014 premiere issue, I was surprised to find that it more closely resembled a large paperback book than a magazine. The cover is thicker, the binding feels more secure, and it’s not nearly as susceptible to wear and tear. In my opinion, this makes the rather high magazine price ($14.95) a bit more acceptable.

Variety – I was also impressed with the variety of content that The Act Itself has to offer. I was expecting mostly erotic literature and photography, but was pleased to find drawings, poetry, and non-fiction essays as well. Some of my favorite submissions were those that challenged the idea of what is “erotic”: the fictional account of a man who wakes up one day and decides to stop wearing clothes (One Day Naked by The Mrs.) and a photo collection of an adventurous & shirtless female, exploring the wilderness (Topless Tourism by Lilah Rose). 

What Needs Work:

Design – Although we like to say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” the truth is that the cover is what draws in potential buyers. The premiere issue of The Act Itself is not something that would have piqued my interest. The layout is awkward, with a lot of empty gradient space on the front and several unattractive end-of-line hyphenations on the back. It screams “self-published,” and if the exterior doesn’t look professional, I can’t help but assume that the contents won’t be either.

There was also a small-but-annoying design flaw with their subscription forms. Instead of using inserts, they printed the form on actual pages of the publication. If you do want to subscribe via mail, you have to either cut out part of a submission on the reverse side or go through the hassle of copying the page.

Print Quality – Despite the high-quality feel of the cover and binding, the interior pages of The Act Itself are thin and matte. The poor quality allows for visible print lines, the occasional distracting bleed-through, and most importantly, a lack of crisp detail. While none of these problems are excessively noticeable with text or line drawings, it made even the most beautiful photography submissions difficult to appreciate.

Typographical Errors & Crediting Sources – While reading through the first issue, I was extremely distracted by errors in the text. Words were mistyped, names were interchanged (a character from one story is referred to as both Laure and Laura), and sentences were at times poorly worded and confusing. A story which is credited to an anonymous writer from 1880 on the title page is also credited to a contemporary contributor on the contents page. Many of the photographs and other artwork that appear to be examples of early visual erotica simply go uncredited altogether.

My Overall Opinion:

Unfortunately, the premiere issue of The Act Itself neither impressed nor aroused meEven if I could look past the poor design and textual errors, much of the subject matter left me feeling bored. My personal tastes lie in the realm of BDSM and, with the exception of one cuckolding story and a few bondage photographs, most submissions were pretty vanilla. (In fact, the submission criteria states that only some “light” fetish-oriented material will be considered for publication. I’m not exactly sure what topics would be considered too heavy, but taboos such as sibling incest have passed the test.) Several submissions also appeared to be pulled from the middle of larger stories, making them seem random and unfocused.

Call me picky, but I also have an absolute, seething hatred for tacky genital references and poorly chosen metaphors — even in small doses. I do not want a vagina to be called a “castle.” I either want the intelligent, anatomical terms (penis, vagina) or dirty-talk slang that will get my juices flowing (cock, cunt). Some phrases were so absurd to me that I was completely removed from the story. (Ex: “Her lips were full like diapers,” being used to describe an ugly girl in The Pumping of Little Janie’s Cunny by The Mrs.) I recognize, however, that I have some pretty high standards for erotica. Blame the fact that I have a history of working in bookstores, a love of reading that borders on obsession, and a romantic partner that is a freelance editor.

My suggestion for The Act Itself team would be to rethink their goals for this publication. Although this was a surprisingly substantial first issue, quantity is not nearly as important as quality. I feel that reducing the 150-page publication to a smaller size might be beneficial. Ideally, this would create funds for a more professional appearance. Plus, more stringent submission standards would allow the good art to shine rather than be overshadowed by the mediocre and unpolished. The way it is now, a lot of content in The Act Itself seems on-par with the free content on Literotica — without the ability for readers to choose topics that appeal to their sexual tastes.


A big ‘Thank You’ to BearManor Media for giving me the opportunity to review this publication.

If you’re curious about The Act Itself, you can still purchase a Kindle version of the premiere issue on Amazon (at a discounted price of $6.99). The second issue is scheduled to be released sometime this month, although I have not seen any recent updates on their Facebook or blog.

Vulva Costume!

Read My Lips [review]

Read My LipsIf you ask me, one of the most awesome things about the Midwest is the The Kinsey Institute. Luckily, I live close enough that I am able to attend the occasional lecture, art exhibit, or book sale. On one of my recent visits, I was browsing the staff publications (the bibliophile in me cannot resist) when I discovered Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva by Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick. “What the hell?” I thought, as I broke my self-imposed rule about only buying used books. “Who can ever have too many books about vaginas?” What I didn’t expect was how quickly and easily this book would rank among my favorites!

The Authors

Both Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick are prominent scientific researchers at the intersection of public health and sexuality. They share a passion for discovering and dispersing knowledge about female sexual health and pleasure and have both published several very interesting articles in their field. If you’re a nerd like me, you may find these quite enjoyable. However, if reading academic articles is not your idea of a fun night, you’re still in luck. Debby is also very active in the media, writing for Salon and Men’s Health magazine, appearing in a couple of amazing Tedx Talks, and creating websites like My Sex Professor and Make Sex Normal.

The Book

Although it is written by researchers, Read My Lips is for the everyday person — not the academic elite. It’s for the woman curious about her own body, the man who wants to know more about his partner’s genitalia, or the parent who wants to share accurate sexual information with their maturing child. It is for the vagina novice, who was never educated about female sexuality, and the intermediate, armed with the basics but curious about some more nuanced scientific facts. The writing is both accessible and educational. This is something that I consider of upmost importance, because it makes spreading sexual knowledge so much more effective.

Vulva Costume!

If you’ve ever been curious about vaginas and vulvas, Read My Lips is a fantastically varied resource! (For example: Do you know how many vaginal shapes there are? What the coital alignment technique is? Or what horrible thing Lysol, Coca-Cola, and yogurt all have in common?) This book covers the basics of anatomy as well as vulvovaginal health, including a full section on vaginal products such as douches, menstrual products, and even dyes. It offers tips for how to experience sexual pleasure — alone and with a partner. There’s a very brief cultural history of the vagina & vulva, as well as lots of information about female genitalia in contemporary society (changing pubic hairstyles, cosmetic genital surgery, etc). Plus, there are craft ideas…like this giant vulva costume that I’m in love with! You can learn how to make your own here.

The Bottom Line

In our society, we’re not educated about female sexuality except for what is absolutely necessary for reproductive knowledge. We often allow ourselves to be influenced by societal shame and spread silence instead of science. Sexual health practices get glossed over. Pleasure gets ignored. Read My Lips embraces female sexual pleasure and encourages both body-positive and sex-positive thought. For me, it was one step along the way in learning to love my vulva. It is a book that I think everyone should read, whether you have a vagina & vulva or not.


5 Porn Stars (and Why I Love Them!)

It’s not a big secret that I’m a fan of porn. I also realize that a confession like that can make a lot of different people uncomfortable (or even angry). I’m planning a future post on porn from a more societal perspective, but for now, I wanted to share a few of my favorite well-known performers in the porn industry!


Yes, Stoya is beautiful. Her pale skin, small breasts, and mildly punky appearance (especially when she had pierced nipples & blue/purple hair) were the first things to catch my eye. But a pretty face isn’t enough to make me seek out more of a porn star’s work for years to come. No, I return to Stoya’s videos because she makes sex look fun. She giggles, squeaks, and makes the absolute best sex faces. Her scenes effortlessly switch from playful and light-hearted to rough and breathtakingly passionate, reminding me that intimacy is rarely “serious business.”

As if I needed any more reasons to adore Stoya, she’s also very talented off screen. She writes fantastic articles for Vice and educates about consent and adult performers rights as part of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee. Her blog and Instagram are intellectual but down-to-earth — filled with mentions of her favorite books, adorable photos of her many cats, and occasional appearances from her real-life partner, James Deen.

James Deen

***On November 28, 2015, Stoya confessed on Twitter that she was raped by James Deen. I can no longer support him as a person or suggest him as a performer.***

Deen has a certain charisma that is absent in a lot of male performers. Whether he’s doing mainstream porn or BDSM, his scenes aren’t focused on what he’s doing to a woman, but what he’s doing with her. I am continuously in awe of the on-screen chemistry that he shares with all of his female co-stars — especially Stoya. He’s always pulling them close, grasping them tightly, and whispering into their ears. (What I wouldn’t give to know what he’s whispering!) For me, his confidence and dominance are even more attractive than his physical appearance, but I can’t deny that I am also really curious about his signature vibrator.

To make him even more charming, he seems to have a very carefree sense of humor. This sometimes carries over into his work, like the internet-famous “Lemon Stealing Whore” clip and the video behind “I am a baby panda! I do what I want!” (Confused? You can read about it on his blog.) He also does an online video series called James Deen Loves Food where you can see him make a $580.37 burrito, taste test 27 different kinds of mustard, and occasionally lose some clothing.

Buck Angel

I firmly believe that porn can be used for more than just helping people achieve orgasm. As the self-proclaimed “Man with a Pussy,” Buck challenges our society’s gender dichotomy. He helps make transgendered individuals more visible in the sex industry and the media at large. His work with trans women forces viewers to question if what they are watching is still mainstream heterosexual porn — or if perhaps they should abandon those labels altogether. His body positive attitude towards his vagina disproves the widely-held belief that all transgendered individuals choose bottom surgery. Some do and some don’t. It’s a personal decision.

I highly suggest watching Dan Hunt’s 2013 documentary, Mr. Angel. (At the time of this post, you can find it streaming on Netflix.) Buck’s Youtube channel also offers a lot of uplifting and educational messages for trans men, including his Public Cervix Announcement.

Nina Hartley

As a fellow sex-positive feminist and advocate for sex education, Nina is a big inspiration to me. Her interviews show that she is a passionate and well-spoken woman who could be the official spokesperson of the porn industry. (She is also a member of Adult Performer Advocacy Committee.) With a degree in nursing, her fame proved that a woman could be professional & educated and still choose porn because she enjoys it. Poly, bisexual, and active in the D/s lifestyle, she completely owns who she is. She has also continued to be prolific despite the fact that she is an aging female in an industry that values youth and Photoshopped beauty. And people say that you can’t be an empowered woman in porn!

Ron Jeremy

Admittedly, I have seen surprisingly little porn starring Ron Jeremy. While I find the nickname “Hedgehog” completely adorable, he’s not exactly my type. However, I do have respect for the man. Watch Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy and you’ll see that he works hard and takes his job seriously. Because of that, he has made a name for himself in an industry that commonly reduces its male performers to nameless penises. Over the years, his body has aged and changed, only making him more of an idol for the “average guy.”

He constantly shows his fun-loving nature with comedy performances and parodies of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” video. I also had the chance to meet him recently, and he was just as nice as I had expected — even while I was reduced to nervous giggles and awkward silence. Fun fact: He has a Master’s degree in Special Education, freaking some people out but proving to others that ‘Hey! Porn stars are real people too!’