I picked up Hot, Wet & Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex by Kaleigh Trace on the advice of Kerry Clare. When Kerry recommends a book, I listen, because she is infallible in this department. When I mentioned that we were doing a month of posts on sex, she recommended this book from 2014 when she read and reviewed it, and she insisted that we must, too.
As it happens, sex month at Plenty has also been sex educator month at Plenty. We’ve heard from The Red Tent Sisters on how to boost your libido and on how to choose the right sex toys, and from Carlyle Jansen on how to find the time and energy for sex.
Kaleigh Trace’s memoir rounds out this series wonderfully. Trace is a queer, disabled sex educator, and her sexual knowledge and self-knowledge is hard won. (I swear, it’s impossible to write about sex without tripping over all of the double entendres.) The book is a collection of essays about sex as she sees it: as a sex educator, as a fumbling young thing, as a woman frightened by an unwanted pregnancy, as a woman with a spinal cord injury that affects her mobility and sensation and bladder control, as a woman so taken off guard by her attraction to another woman that she mistakes her yearning for the stomach flu. She is funny and honest and raw and I loved every minute of reading her book.
In one of my favourite essays in the book, “Fresh-faced and Orgasm Free,” she describes how she learned to orgasm from books that gave advice that she then had to unlearn in order to adapt to her own body, needs and desires:
The problem was that none of this stuff made room for my disability. Every sex expert, masturbating master and intimacy theorist, whose writing I was reading, was operating under the assumption that I, the reader, was able bodied. … Realizing that none of the paths had been constructed in my favour freed me to bushwhack my own path and follow my own particular swaying and zigzagging way to my destination. My jerk-off practice was a deconstruction site. I was reworking everything [and] … my bodily explorations, now unencumbered from an ill-fitting and able-bodied standard, held the potential for all sorts of magic.
This essay is one of the best articulations of how a person wears her identity politics proudly that I have ever read.
She also reveals that at least three or four times a week, she begins her day by masturbating. Because she has a spinal cord injury, reaching orgasm usually takes her about 45 minutes. Any woman committed to spending 45 minutes, four times a week, to reaching orgasm has my undying respect. This is a woman who is devoted to nurturing her sexual life and sexual being, and after reading this essay, I was certain that she would have a lot to teach me about sexual health and well-being.
And of course, she did. She is not only sex-positive but so fierce about everyone’s being entitled to being sex-positive. She also amused me to no end because in addition to being charmingly frank she is utterly unafraid to share embarrassing episodes from her sexual history, and she has a wickedly wry turn of phrase. Witness her encounter with an older woman who works in a farmer’s market and who, she discovers, carves wooden dildos on the side:
“You didn’t think it was just you young city things who were up for a little fun,
She had me. I had not presumed the South Shore of Nova Scotia to be a hotbed for wooden dildos. Clearly, I had misjudged.
The voice that emerges in these essays is the voice of a woman enthused and empowered by her identity politics, by the very and by every fact of her disabled body. She writes, finally, from the comfortable vantage of having learned to think about her body and about sex on her own terms. And if she can learn to love her body, learn how to give herself pleasure and to speak to others about how to give her pleasure, we all can.