When I first started writing my sex column, I was what one might consider “sex positive.” As a kid growing up in rural Maryland, I had been influenced by the sexually liberated Bay Area—the place that elected the first openly gay mayor, inspired famous sex writers Susie Bright and Carol Queen, and, of course, was home to the Sexual Freedom League of 1966, a UC Berkeley student organization that campaigned for legalized abortion and held massive orgies in protest of sexual stigma. I admired the activists and radical journalists who laid the groundwork for the famous, fabled “kink community”—the group responsible for keeping the hippie sex parties, dungeon whippings, and sexually progressive San Francisco alive today.
Back in my hometown, I was surrounded by abstinence-only sex ed, bigots, and misogynists aplenty. I also was raised in a puritanical home where having sex out of wedlock was condemned, and my bisexuality was considered to be a blemish on the family name. The sexual mores I was handed seemed irrational and foolish to me, so when I moved to the Bay Area at 24, I hoped to discover the sexual Shangri-La I had always longed for. I hoped to learn the intricacies of sexual exploration and activism from rational, revolutionary minds, to finally earn the sexual respect and freedom I deserved, and in the process, do what I love most: write about my experiences.
Immersive sex writing in the Bay Area, for me, was supposed to include liberation, education, and glamour. When I told the folks back east of my ambitions, they agreed that San Francisco has long been the most sexually progressive place in America, and if I was going to find what I wanted, I’d find it there. And I would love to tell you that I did—and that I’ve become a sexually satisfied, powerhouse of a woman who reaped what I sought.
But after covering this beat for the last two years, I must confess that being a Bay Area sex columnist is an overrated turd of an occupation—buffed and shined to appear appealing until it inevitably bakes, melts, and festers under the harsh light of reality. And after examining Bay Area kinksters under the journalistic microscope, I’ve found that they’re just as messed up as the puritans back home. Worse, in that they maintain the façade of a rational, sexual utopia when they really offer anything but.
First off, most of those running Bay Area sex events claim to be “trained” in the field of sexuality, so I assumed I’d meet people who could intelligently justify and explain seemingly bizarre sex acts. But I soon discovered that most of these self-proclaimed “sexperts” barely have a GED, much less a rational thought in their heads.
I recently went to a class for people who pierce each other for sexual gratification. The man running the event has absolutely no medical qualifications, and yet holds classes where he teaches others how to puncture flesh with sharp objects. When I asked him why he ritualistically sticks needles in himself, he explained that it helped him overcome his fear of medical shots. When I asked him if he had yet overcome his fear, he said no.
He’s been doing this for over a decade.
When I tell other people in the community about similar instances, they simply say, “You don’t have to understand it to accept it.”
Because we’re in the age of the sex-positive movement—which embraces an anything-goes mentality—no one in the community seems to question anyone else, for fear of being labeled “sex negative” or, worse, no fun.
You want to get tied to a table by a man four times your size and be whipped senseless? It’s “Hey, whatever!”
Having refused most of the malarkey that people attempted to feed me growing up, I looked forward to being around people I could trust. But many of these sex-positive humans are really just scam artists, from the “tantric healers” who claim they can “see people’s auras from across the world,” to the frauds who charge large sums of money as “sexual healers” who promise to “mend” the gullible.
I once did a story about “explosive sexual healing sessions,” run by a couple who had their sexuality training in the “school of life.” The husband was an ex-con, a former bank robber, and the wife was transitioning from math teacher to “spiritual healer.” For the sake of the story, I participated in a session, where the couple poked and prodded me, then told me that all of my emotional baggage was leaving me. And in just five more sessions, worth thousands of dollars, I could heal all my pain. Needless to say, I didn’t schedule follow-ups.
Despite the oft-heard claim that San Francisco community sex events provide “safe spaces” where “consent” is valued and the “fairer sex” is put on a pedestal, misogyny is rampant. At every event I cover, there’s a 90 percent chance that I’ll leave feeling disrespected and, for lack of a better phrase, totally perved on.
I met a 6’ 3”, totally ripped “body work practitioner” at one event who claimed to be trained in erotic massage. Shortly after meeting me, he loomed over me, stared me down, and told me that he knew I liked pain. I disagreed. He insisted. He continued to insist, until I had to walk away.
I did a story on OneTaste, the orgasmic-meditation organization that trains people in clitoral stimulation as a meditative aid. One of the 20-something male practitioners insisted that I didn’t “understand” my sexuality, and that he, in all of his infinite wisdom, could teach me. He told me that I had a lot of “intensity,” that I “shouldn’t be with just one man,” that I “could exhaust MANY men,” and that for me to “only sleep with one guy would be a waste.”
It was a wonder that I could even see these men from so high up on my pedestal.
So what am I trying to say? Certainly not that investigating Bay Area sex culture isn’t interesting, or that no one should cover it. Someone should report on any community that’s behaving questionably. But in the time I’ve spent on this beat, I’ve met maybe three people I respect—two of whom moved away because they were sick of this community’s hypocrisy. Every time I sit down to write a column, I wonder if my continuing to cover these stories is just a freaky, masochistic act in itself.
Some Bay Area natives have asked me how I could be so naïve, how I could believe any part of the sex community wouldn’t be creepy or awful or disingenuous. I guess I just had hope. And as much as I hate to admit it, having hope has made me the most irrational fool of them all.