Let’s talk about sex: Is Atlanta uptight?

Originally published in the Dec. 15, 2011, issue of Creative Loafing Atlanta.

My four-legged daughter and I were playing tug-of-war in the backyard on a Friday night when I felt my ass vibrate. It was a text message from my buddy Jesus. “Wanted to get your freaky perverted perspective. Share a beer across time zones?”

Jesus and I met a few months back during his book tour for a novel in which sex takes center stage. That evening, on the patio of an East Atlanta coffee shop, he asked the audience questions on the topic. As dusk turned to night, the crowd’s shyness eased, and more hands were raised. I knew instantly Jesus and I would become friends.

I walked onto my backyard deck, lit a cigarette, and gave Jesus a ring. He was doing research for a new book and wanted to know my definition of the word “pervert.” (For the record: everyone, because there is no such thing.) The conversation rolled on when he asked me if I was seeing anyone.

“No,” I said. “Men I like don’t ask me out.”

“You intimidate them,” he said.

Guy friends always have a way of making the idea of intimidation sound sexy, as if I walked around in latex gear and a whip.

“Maybe it’s the leather jacket,” I said, laughing.

I told him about this one guy I hung out with briefly months before who bailed on our date last minute, via text no less.

“Ouch!” Jesus replied, sucking air through his teeth in a dramatic fashion.

“It’s cool,” I shrugged, my ego having time (and whisky) enough to heal. “We weren’t really compatible, anyway.” Because, as I told Jesus, I’d made him uncomfortable, as I do a lot of guys. Because I like to talk about sex.

I have this habit — a bad one, some might say — of bringing up sex early on in conversations with a man I’m interested in. It’s an important part of the learning process. The sooner I know a man listens to Nickelback, doesn’t cook, or gets off being naked, bound, gagged, and driven in the trunk of his car (#truestory), the faster I can plan my escape. I ask questions like, “What kind of porn do you watch?” and “Do you dirty talk?” and “What’s your opinion on hair in the bedroom?”

Before he bailed, the boy and I hung out on his bed, sitting cross-legged, drinking whisky, and swapping the names of punk bands we listened to, when I purposefully deviated from those topics.

“Tell me another one of your fetishes,” I said, very much aware I was wearing a dress. On his bed. With the door shut. What can I say? I love playing with fire. And dark-haired men. With tattoos. And clean bedrooms. Who make their beds.

“Stockings,” he said, getting up to change the music on his computer.

“Besides that. I’ll match you.”

What I really wanted was for him to touch the base of my neck and make my teeth tingle.

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. Most girls don’t ask these types of questions.” He climbed back into bed, kissed my forehead, and took me in his arms. “Shhh,” he said. “Let’s just lay here for a sec.”

I felt trapped. I cursed leaving my drink on his desk.

I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. I was just trying to find someone sexually akin. Someone who understands how important these discussions are to me. It makes me happy when friends (and, yes, even strangers) approach me with questions that they may not feel comfortable asking others. It means they know I’m not judging them.

Asking questions about sex can make for a sticky situation. Some men seem grateful to find a woman with whom they can share their perversions, others retreat into their good-boy shells, and some assume the question means they get a pass straight to the bedroom.

Of course, men aren’t the only ones cautious to bare all when it comes to sex. Women are, too. Lest we be labeled sluts. Or prudes. (We’ll address “head whores” in the future.) It’s easy to understand why it’s hard talking about it. Sex is the most naked a person will ever be, not just literally. Whether making love in a suite in Midtown or muffling the cries of fulfillment in the bathroom of an Old Fourth Ward bar, we remain naked, our neck jutting out, jugular pulsating, heart connected. Exposure like that, the shaving off of clothes and admittance of words, regardless of awkwardness, makes for the best sex — the kind of ear-piercing sex roommates think is fake. The kind we owe ourselves. The kind we all deserve.

Jesus offered advice: “It’s ’cause you live in the South. Move here to San Francisco.”

His answer caught me off guard. “This is Atlanta,” I told him, somewhat defensively. “It’s not as conservative as you would think. Especially not among my peers.”

To be clear, I’m not from Atlanta. I’ve spent my entire adulthood living in the South, and after eight years living in this city, it’s clear what I once thought would be a “stepping stone” to New York City has simply become my home sweet home.

Prior to the States, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico in a middle-class household by Catholic parents who are, for all intents and purposes, conservative. My father disagrees with Occupy Wall Street, my mother thinks women with tattoos “ruin their bodies,” and they both object to my being agnostic. Despite their right-of-center mentality, my older brother and I were always encouraged to discuss all topics, including sex.

They believed sex education was as important for a person’s emotional development as it is for one’s physical well-being, and, even though they are Catholic, they did not want us to feel guilty about our natural urges. As a child, my mother read me the definition of masturbation, which was her sly advocacy of deterring teen intercourse instead of preaching abstinence.

Perhaps because of my upbringing, sex has always fascinated me. The orgasm is the first and best high I have ever experienced. It’s the only drug I know of which doesn’t require ingesting anything. A flick of the switch, and, even if only for a few seconds, the world ceases to exist, my name escapes me, and I have to shake my head and stretch my body to awake from fantasy much like my dog does after a nap.

Growing up, I sought out shows like “Real Sex” and “Taxicab Confessions,” read Anka Radakovich‘s sex column in Details magazine, considered studies presented in Psychology Today, and watched “Sex and the City.” During my sophomore year, I polled all 200 students in my high school about what they found sexually attractive for my proposed science class project, my mother, outraged, telling me, “People will assume you’re easy.” (I’d barely had my first kiss.)

After determining I wasn’t a fan enough of school to get my Ph.D. in sexology, I moved to journalism, later writing a sex column for a Maxim-style men’s entertainment site and as a contributing writer for LA Weekly‘sAfter Dark column, all while reading books and research studies on sex.

Real-life research doesn’t always yield what one expects. While at an Atlanta Poly Weekend panel earlier this year, sitting among “triads” (three people romantically involved) and a man who sat knitting (wha?), I was distracted by a woman who struck me as familiar. The man next to her was shorter than she, wearing a billowy pirate shirt, a corset, and steampunk goggles atop his head.

It hit me: Dear sweet Jesus and Mary Chain, she was one of my college professors.

My memory flashed to days she missed class because her husband injured himself in a cycling accident. I considered events and conferences other panelists discussed participating in — KinkFest, S&M Convention — and I realized there exists a possibility her husband didn’t injure himself cycling. My imagination drew an image of him acting as her leather-bound submissive.

Outside the hotel, I phoned my mother. “I just left PolyCon,” I said. She wishes I didn’t tell her everything, I know.

“Guess what,” I said. “I saw one of my old professors.”

“Did he recognize you?” she asked.

“It wasn’t a he.”

“Oh.” I could hear her silent judgment. “I don’t understand your generation. You’re all so weird.”

Weeks have passed since Jesus and I talked that night on the phone, but still his notion that modern Atlantans are sexually inhibited lingers. It doesn’t square with the Atlanta I know. We idolize a stripper who crushes beer cans with her titswe have two sex clubs, Atlanta was named the “Gayest City in America” in 2010 by the Advocate, and men pay big bucks to bask in the curves of Magic City’s women. There’s also niche events that celebrate sexuality, such as Frolicon, Atlanta Bear Fest, Furry Weekend, KinkFest, andMondoHomo.

Are there things about the city’s sexual development that could be improved? Of course. Always. When you consider how incestuous we can be among our selected communities, we should talk more often of STDs and condoms, especially when there still exists men who pressure women to have unprotected sex (you know who you are) and women who accept it (I’m looking at you, too). Or that there are no free STD screenings for women in the city, that interracial dating is still frowned upon in some pockets, and that some men and women feel ashamed to express their deepest desires.

We must feel comfortable talking about our sexual preferences and limitations, as it not only helps us find a partner who allows us to be comfortable in our own skin, but also allows us to avoid those who make us feel weird for what we like or don’t like. In the end, it’s all about compatibility. Your girlfriend doesn’t like giving head? Marriage won’t fix that for the better. Your boyfriend keeps pressuring you into some backdoor action? Find a new boyfriend. Your girlfriend won’t give in? Find a woman you don’t have to convince. There is nothing wrong with your likes or dislikes, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Knowledge of one’s sexuality is power over one’s body. But you won’t know unless you ask. Unless you dig deep and bare all.

That’s what I’m hoping we can do with Are You Shaved?: recognize and embrace the importance of sharing experiences and open conversation. AYS? is about setting aside social stigmas and tuning into your inner sexuality, not because you are a “perv,” but because you recognize the ever-morphing definitions surrounding sex, the importance of those definitions, and the desire to keep sex exciting.

Jesus phoned me a few weeks ago with more questions.

“How are the boys of ATL treating you?” he asked.

“Well,” I told him with a sly smile, “as it turns out, some are man enough to handle the tough questions. Two of them, actually.”

“Ha! You’re such a man-eater,” he said, laughing. “So who are the lucky men?”

“Man,” I said. “Singular.”

“Oh?” he inquired. “Which one ended up winning over the pervert with a pen?”

“The one who made me smile most.”