How do we find our authentic sexual selves in a society so devoted to selling narrow visions of romance, beauty, and sexuality? Is it even possible, let alone desirable?
These themes run through Want Me: A Sex Writer's Journey Into the Heart of Desire, a new memoir by the feminist journalist Tracy Clark-Flory. The book takes us from adolescent exposure to AOL chat rooms and HBO's Real Sex through young-adult encounters with pickup artistry, the porn clip site YouJizz, and Craigslist sex ads. We see the author in and out of long-term relationships and in and out of San Francisco strip clubs; we watch her search for answers in her hippie father's porn cache and in the Kink.com warehouse. She takes us through her early forays into sexting and BDSM, and eventually she grapples with married life and pregnancy.
Clark-Flory is an engaging writer willing to tell hard truths about herself—a good start for any personal yarn—and to question feminist orthodoxies. But what takes Want Me from well-worn sexual-coming-of-age territory to something more satisfying is the way she weaves in a quarter-century or so of cultural advice, warnings, and gripes about the sex lives of millennials. She also grapples with the contradictions inherent in today's ideals about liberated sex—for example, how it's seen as a source of both women's danger and women's empowerment.
On the question of sexual authenticity, Clark-Flory ultimately concludes that "what is right is not static: it means honoring the needs and desires of a shifting, growing self." Perhaps that's just as true for us as a culture as it is for us as individuals.