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From candid discussions about consent and STIs to self-worth and gender identities, as well as helpful how-tos about giving head, fingering, or preparing your bedroom for sexy company, Amy Rose Spiegel’s Action: A Book About Sex is a progressive holistic look at a modern sexuality. It’s complete with autobiographical moments from the Spiegel, a Brooklyn-based writer and former editor of Rookie.

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BUST: Your book speaks a lot about resisting traditional scripts of sexuality — ways we’ve been taught sex and dating are “supposed to” go. For instance, we’ve been taught not to talk during sex.

ARS: We’ve been taught not to talk, period! So much of my life was dominated by being concerned that I was being too revealing even when that meant showing the slightest modicum of anything honest about my heart or brain. We are taught especially not to talk during sex because the thinking goes, “Why aren’t you good at it?” or, “Why would you need to? Isn’t this a physical thing?” It seems counterintuitive to certain people to want to discuss it. I think that has to do with the idea that you need to present well during sex or else you’re not a sexy person — the idea of looking and responding in a desirable way. The pictures that we’ve been given of that often don’t include respectful talking.

So, when the scripts are flimsy or poorly architected, what do you do then? I like when people write and speak about sex because it’s a proliferation of scripts and you can pick and choose, put on and slough off.

BUST: We’re taught that our insecurities aren’t sexy. Cis women are also told we’re too much.

ARS: Non-cis women are told they’re too much far more than cis women. A girlfriend confided she feels afraid of being a trans woman who is really particular about her wants and needs when it comes to verbiage, pronouns, and experiences. But of course it's okay for her to do that — or not, if she feels safer not doing that — and it wouldn't make her "too much." 

I think cis women are absolutely told we’re too much. As a cis woman relating to a man, especially, you can feel that "too-muchness" bearing down on your shoulders. You can feel every Vanity Fair article about “how boys only like porn” whispering to you. Sometimes I’m flabbergasted by my propensity for briefly taking that into account as a serious thing.

The idea of being too much or outside of what is acceptable or comfortable for somebody else is a strange illusory fixture because not only is it not real, but you can never get it right. There’s no way of mastering whatever it is you think you’d have to reduce; you’d just have to keep reducing forever.

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BUST: I found it really helpful to just read that it’s not gross to queef.

ARS: It’s not! Grossness to me is not a thing that I’m assigning to any effluvia and/or sound that’s happening. It’s what you’re supposed to feel about it and deciding to feel another way about it.

BUST: Or sloppy blowjobs.

ARS: Yo, people love them! You think it’s unseemly to make noise or whatever, but certain people are all about that. People feel all kinds of ways about things and none of it is in your control.

BUST: When you were talking about open relationships, you explained that being in one helped you to “redistribute” your self-worth apart from your relationship. What else have you been finding to base your self-worth on particularly as it relates to love?

ARS: The Greek playwright Aristophanes believed every person is casting about for their perfect other. There was this Rookie theme called “A World of Our Own,” where we thought about that feeling in depth. “A world of our own” means you and someone else are partners. You have a secret way of being; you fit together in a way you don’t fit with the rest of the world. I wanted that with everyone: the old lady at church, or my butcher who is one of my favorite people, or my cousins, sisters, and friends. I realized that to make each and every person into an individual pillar on which all of my hopes and interpersonal ideas of value rest is not fair or kind or unrealistic.

The mindset in open relationships can really be applied to everything in my life. The more diversity of character and presence in everything that I care about, the better the whole is — the whole just being my life, as well as the smaller wholes that work within it.

I’m no longer an Aristophanes motherfucker.

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Screen Shot 2016 08 22 at 1.25.03 PMAmy Rose Spiegel, via Instagram

BUST: Action is an intimate book. How do you balance vulnerability and self-protection in your interpersonal relationships and in your writing?

ARS: I felt more powerful in a traditional sense when I didn’t ever talk about myself. I wrote about myself not in a dishonest way, but in a way that was very self-contained. I had a phrase I often thought of, that I was sending out a lamb of myself for slaughter. If the lamb gets slaughtered, you don’t send out the rest. Even though I was giving people a little, I wasn’t actually giving them much that was close to what I actually felt. I felt really lonely and alienated from the world, and that was all self-imposed. It wasn’t that anyone was misunderstanding me, I just wasn’t giving them much to understand because I was so concerned with keeping myself private. Then, I’d look around and go, “How come no one knows me?” Like, c’mon, that’s so unrealistic.

So I tried to become more vulnerable, and I have to go about doing that without applying potential consequences. If I go about being vulnerable in a way where I’m wondering if this person won’t like me or if it’ll undercut my work, I’m seeing vulnerability inherently as a bad thing. In confluence with that, I have to start thinking about the inverse: how might vulnerability enhance my life and my relationships with other people. I want other people to feel like they can be vulnerable with me. I feel like sending out a lamb is still a good way of going about things, but I just try to make sure the lamb is actually representative of what I’m about and what I believe.

BUST: So you still send out a lamb.

ARS: Because some people don’t mean to hurt you, but they can. You need to be sure that you’re safe in some situations before you can really be all the way vulnerable. That’s especially true in certain scenarios if you identify a certain way or are a certain race. The world teaches you to be cautious sometimes in very unfortunate ways, but the most powerful thing you can do for yourself is have that inner store of what you really want and what’s important to you. If I am scared of what other people will disagree with or malign or think is dumb or corny about me, then I’m reinforcing that I think they are too. I don’t want that for myself or anyone else.

BUST: In this crazy violent world right now, where does sex fit in? Why do you think Action is important right now?

ARS: No matter how hard things are to digest sociopolitically, every person has a real responsibility to themselves to try and enjoy their lives regardless of the constraints placed on them. Given the world we live in, that will be inherently easier for some people. Especially if you’re involved in the identities that are being policed, you deserve it all the more to make yourself happy and be kind to the people you love in any way you can. I think that it is so affirming and almost medicinal to feel connectivity with other people outside of the looming dread imposed on you by the state or people in your life who are fuckheads or whatever, whenever you can. This is inherently easier for white, straight, male people, but the idea that they are the only people who deserve pleasure, because they say so, is one worth jettisoning.

Having relationships with people that you like or love or even enjoy in a minute way...every time you do that, that’s thrashing against what other people wish that you had, which is often less than that. No matter how you're doing it — sex: optional!

When it becomes clear to you in certain situations that people don’t want you to be free or happy, you have to make freedom and happiness for yourself however you can, and you have to share it, and that’s I think why the book matters to me.

This post was originally published August 22, 2016.

Images via Instagram/Amy Rose Spiegel and amyrosespiegel.com

Top photo: Girls

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Jera Brown writes about being a queer kinky polyamorous Christian on her blog scarletchurch.com.  She's an MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago. Follow her on twitter @emotichew.

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