A DECADE ago, a heartbroken, twenty-something Dorothy Black, in a “crummy day job at the tip of Africa”, launched herself into a sex-writing career with a blog.
She had set out to write excoriatingly about her former lover — armed with pen names for them both. But within months, much to her astonishment, she had an extensive audience, “a drawer full of sex toys, and a bad reputation”.
Today, she still uses the alias, although her picture graces The Dot Spot’s back cover.
The writer, columnist, journalist, blogger and frequent radio interviewee’s “revenge” has turned into success. The reason for this becomes clearer with every page you turn.
Instead of “banging on about genitals”, she says, “my writing became an exploration into one of the most potent, honest aspects of our humanity — our sexual selves and the relationships we create.”
Nearly half the book concerns relationships. The second half focuses on sex, ranging from what Black terms “heteronormative, patriarchal” sex to the kinky stuff.
Now in her late 30s, Black has experienced many different kinds of sex. That is doubtless the key to her growing audience, for although she is quick to point out that she’s neither a sex therapist nor a psychologist, she writes openly, often humorously, with self-gained knowledge and insight about her topic.
Her voice is youthful and playful, yet firm and assertive, and she writes in the same easy-going manner in which she converses.
THE most common of all sex questions asked of her is, “How do I spice up my sex life?” She answers it with a question of her own, “How much fun are you open to creating?” Black points out that toys, role play, flogging, and so on are only tools that help to start conversations, “for by themselves they are nothing. It’s why getting to know your sexual self can be such a ruthless experience. You need to be honest with yourself.”
Another basic question she is always asked is “Am I normal?” Now that’s opening a can of worms — your normal may well be someone else’s kinky.
One of Black’s friends, who could not have an orgasm, realised she was turned on only by dominant men. Eventually, she found someone who gently tied her up with rope before suspending her upside down from the ceiling. “She was in a safe, but vulnerable position and so she had her orgasm,” Black says.
Many might not be motivated to explore their pleasure to the extent her friend was, but the author caters for almost everyone, and set out to write her book in as “gender-neutral and sexual-orientation nonspecific a manner as possible”.
In the process, she attempts to free men and women from the religious, binary, male-oriented approach to sexuality.
The latter’s image of the good, normal woman “is one with demure sexual power, buttressed with perfume, good thigh gaps, brittle with frailty, and waiting to satisfy The One”. Black believes there are few accessible “spaces” that allow women to enjoy their sexual selves for purely self-centred reasons.
“Many women feel bad about taking too long to orgasm, they consider their needs secondary to males, many of whom can be selfish and ignorant lovers.”
Most of us are brought up on a diet of Hollywood sex, where the man performs “three strokes (Black calls it “jackhammering”) and the woman orgasms”.
She directs us to “that most excellent sex organ — the brain”, as she discusses dirty sex talk, reading erotica out loud, and indulging in sexual fantasising.
There is far more to this book than sexual pleasure and attitudes. A great deal of it concerns common sense and wise advice. Black says if we took a quick poll, we would be surprised at how many couples, irrespective of age or sex, do not establish each other’s HIV and sexually transmitted infection status before penetrative sex. Furthermore, can one trust the answer? “No! You go for a test together,” she says. “Only then do the condoms come off.”
Black is referring to condoms for mouths as well as a penis.
“Sex is not just penetrative between a man and a woman. It can be oral, manual, in groups, and between partners.”
HER practical advice extends to sex toy maintenance — “hot water and soap, or the dishwasher for nonelectronic ones”.
Continuing with the hygiene theme, she waxes lyrical about vaginas being self-cleaning. “Don’t use strong soaps or douches, as they upset your pH balance.”
She gets cross about vaginal sprays and deodorisers. “An entire industry is built on the old story that women’s genitals are smelly, disgusting, and dirty. I’ve yet to see sprays for men’s balls.”
In a “Good Housekeeping” chapter, she discusses risky sex and the morning after pill (MAP). Access to this in SA is relatively easy, “but fear-mongering about infertility often stops women from using something that has the power to change lives”.
Conversely, in the US, “conservative politicising keeps MAPs prohibitively expensive and difficult to get”.
Black also discusses abuse and the power of saying no, a word she could not use as a child, “when I experienced an interesting collection of abusers”. Subsequently, she went for therapy,which is reflected in the book in her frank style. “But, by the time I wrote The Dot Spot, I had got through most of it and so, no, this is not cathartic. My therapy was offline, private, and personal.”
If Black had her way, there would be discussions about sex and relationships at family dinners, over coffee, around the kitchen table, in schools, and in university halls. “They need to come out of doctors’ rooms and therapists’ offices.”
Her book will and must contribute comprehensively to such vital conversations.