I Unleashed My Freak!
You wouldn’t expect to find Suzy Spencer — a mostly celibate, middle-aged Southern Baptist with a self-described “terror of touch” — on Craigslist’s “casual encounters.” But for a year, the true crime writer and New York Times bestselling author took to the site, along with Adult Friend Finder, to interview kinky strangers about their most intimate moments for the book “Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality.”
Spencer, who felt sexually “dead inside,” figured her detachment made her just the person to write a sober, unbiased assessment of American sexuality — but her journalistic remove quickly dissolved. She found herself flattered by her subjects’ come-ons, titillated by dirty photos they had sent her and, by the end of the book, becoming more participant than observer. (Spoiler alert: The final chapter features her surprising sexual encounter with a swinger couple.)
Although Spencer fondly refers to her interview subjects as “my sex freaks,” it’s her personal journey that really shows just what lovable freaks we all are — whether it’s our taste for leather or our fear of intimacy. She shares detailed stories from her sources about everything from heterosexual male fantasies about gay sex to a BDSM session with a bullwhip that left 9-inch gashes — but there is one common thread: loneliness. Everyone just wants to be loved, accepted and understood — and they’re terrified that they won’t be if others find out the truth about them.
I spoke to Spencer by phone from her home in Austin, Texas, about religious guilt, seeing God during sex, finally admitting to her mom that she isn’t a middle-aged virgin and why people should read her book before getting married.
You start the book off by writing about your “terror of touch.” You hated to be tickled or even hugged as a child. You state flat-out that you don’t know whether this arose from abuse in your past, of which you have no memory, or whether you had simply been around so many people who has been molested that you “absorbed” their feelings. Have you come to any greater clarity about this terror through writing the book?
Unfortunately, no. I wish I had. That would have been a wonderful ending, but the honest truth is I haven’t. I guess I’ve come to a peace that I’ll never know, and that’s OK.
How does someone with a “terror of touch” end up writing a book that requires her to spend a year on the “fringes of American sexuality”?
I dunno, stupidity? I feel like writers have to do what scares them, to be challenged. To some degree I’ve gotten a little bit better at touch but it depends on who it’s coming from. I’m probably jumping ahead in the conversation a little bit, but the book forced me to talk to my mother about my sex life.
Dare I ask how that conversation went?
It was very difficult, and I actually did it in two parts because it was so difficult. The first time, and I know this is going to sound so stupid coming from someone my age, it’s almost unbelievable, but the first conversation was telling my mother, “I’m not a virgin.” She was so upset that she was dysfunctional for the next two or three days. It was also rather humorous because she said, “You mean you’ve had relationships?” And I said, “No, I haven’t had relationships, I’ve had relations.” She goes, “How can you have relations without relationships? With men or with women?” Then my sister said, “With both?” And I went, “Yes, that one.”