5 Things I Learned Writing a Sex Column in the Bible Belt
January 22, 2014
So you guys like to have sex, right? If we had to take a poll, I’m pretty sure the general consensus on sex around here is, “Yep, sure.”
Sometimes I sort of wish I lived in the buttoned-up days of yore where I could still get old lady side eye for wearing a skirt too short and someone might earnestly call me, like, a “floosie.”
Oh, WAIT. I used to write a college sex column in Mississippi, the iron fist of America’s bible belt.
Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that MS is generally “conservative,” because I live in Jackson, a uniquely liberal stronghold. Have you guys read about our mayor? I really like him. As they say, Jackson is truly the San Francisco of the South. (No one says that.)
It’s easy for me to forget that just a few years ago I was getting called things like a “slut” in the even smaller town I went to college in, because I wrote this weird little sex column in the student newspaper.
I started out writing random things like concert reviews and news features. It was fun, and the first time I’d been paid to write things down, which was very exciting for me.
Then one day, one of the paper’s editors, my beautiful friend Wendy (yo Wendy!) called me out of the blue and was like, “Heyyyy girrrrrl, do you want to write a sex column?” and I gave it the amount of thought I give most serious questions (15 seconds) and responded “Yep.”
Boy, that was a strange time in my life. Writing the sex column taught me things, and lots of good and bad happened because of it. Here’s some things that happened as a result.
1. I Learned to Defend Myself
It sucks, but I got a lot of predictable hate for the column. It wasn’t productive, though, for me to yell back “NUH UH YOU’RE DUMB” when people accused me of being a slut or writing something I shouldn’t be writing. A lot of times, mom’s advice really is the best, which was always “Ignore them, or you’ll just stoop to their level.”
That said, as a woman writing in a public sphere, it’s important to learn how to defend yourself. The cool thing about someone hating something you wrote, is that you’ve already sort of won -- you got him or her to read what you have to say. The problem is, a lot of people who read things aren’t listening. They already know what they want to hear, and in my case they heard, “I’M A BIG SLUTTY SLUT AND I ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO BE THE SAME” which wasn’t what I was saying.
I wrote about everything from one night stands to experimenting, and interestingly, the article I received the most pushback for was an article in which I wrote about the double standards between men and women when it comes to sex. I wrote how most people call a woman a slut for engaging in the same behaviors a man would be praised for. There’s really no such thing as a slut, I wrote.
“Well, if you don’t think there are sluts, you must be a huge slut” was a tweet I received the morning the paper came out. Yeah, OK.
But occasionally, I was approached in person (it was a small campus and my face was in every paper) by someone looking to hurl insults, or preferably, challenge me in conversation. I got a lot better at understanding others’ points of view, and responding to criticism.
I’m still working on that advice my mom gave me, though.
2. I became a better feminist.
Sex stuff is really wrapped into feminism, mostly because we’re always defending our right to have it and enjoy it, or not enjoy it, or not have it, or have it without the goal of making a baby, or have it with the goal of making a baby, or have it with women, or have it with ourselves, or WHAT HAVE YOU.
Before I started the column at age 20, I thought about feminism mostly in the ways I learned about it in school, like its history and its role as a literary lens. I read Simone de Beauvoir and bell hooks, but I learned to APPLY feminism when writing the column. I think I learned the term “slut shaming” because it was happening to me and I got really into reading various women’s websites. (Yo, that’s when I started reading xoJane!!)
Lots of women came to me for sex and relationship advice, because they knew I was a judgment-free fountain of support. It was nice to feel like a part of something bigger than me. I’m not saying I’m a perfect feminist now, but this was an important step for me and I’m very glad to have done it.
3. I learned a lot about strangers’ sex lives.
When you write about sex, people take it as an invitation to discuss sex with you. It’s rad, but kind of weird, too. I used to get a lot of random emails about sex positions and sex toys and sex sex sex. I had a pretty X-rated inbox there for a while.
Also, here’s my favorite story. So, one time this dude emailed me and asked me out on a date. Going on a date with someone who only knew me through my column made me wary, because they usually only just wanted sex and assumed I was a 24/7 open-legged invitation. I said yes to this dude though, because he was from San Francisco and I wanted to move there so I figured I could at least pick his brain.
Anyway, we got to the bar and he immediately started telling me about the best orgies he’s ever been a part of and what his safe word is and I was like, “Oh, OK.”
So I texted my friend Andrew to come save me. He showed up, and then the group kept growing until me and orgy dude were just hanging out with a bunch of people instead of one on one. Anyway, the night got weird and everyone imbibed and what-not, and eventually dude I was on a date with went home with Andrew and I went home with some rando who passed out on my sofa after he told me about his ex for an hour and then I watched “Up” alone. It was awesome. That’s the secret life of a sex columnist.
4. Oh, and I got called a slut a lot.
I don’t even get how it’s an insult. If anything, I should have been getting high-fives every time I walked into the student union.
People really assumed I was with a different dude every night of the week. I mean, that would have been OK except I usually had a boyfriend and when I was single, I was pretty boring. For the most part I just watched Netflix and ate gas station gyros. It was very slutty.
I butted heads with a lot of folks with very traditional ideas about sex and marriage. These people, who are mostly lovely, took my writing as some sort of affront to their lifestyle. I never said, “Everyone should be banging everything they can find and if they aren’t, they’re a loser” but I might as well have.
In college, I knew a lot of virgins who planned to save themselves for marriage. When I was younger, I would have said things like “That’s DUMB.” But writing the column opened up dialogue for me, and I learned to be more like, “Hey, cool lifestyle choice, bro. It’s not for me, but you do you!”
Most people can grasp that concept. We all get these bodies and we can pretty much do whatever we want with them and we should probably not judge people. I didn’t get MUCH from my 13 years of Catholic school other than this tweeny sense of angsty rebellion, but I’m pretty sure even Jesus was like, “Yo, don’t judge each other. That’s my job. Cool it.”
It was frustrating to be judged by people claiming to represent what is righteous, but what’re you gonna do? I just kept doing my thing, and they kept doing theirs.
Plus, like I said, “slut” is basically a compliment in my book.
5. I got a lot of rad support.
While, yeah, a lot of people were big jerks about it, a LOT of people came out of the woodwork to tell me they loved the column. Mississippi is known for being a backwards, conservative hellscape of ignorance, mostly because our dumb people are way louder. That’s just the way it works, sadly.
Students, professors, total strangers approached me and emailed me to let me know they appreciated my voice. It was awesome. Before that, I still sort of saw MS the way outsiders do, but this experience helped me realize it wasn’t. Or at least, it didn’t have to be.
Looking back, it was strange and awesome. I got to write in my own voice for the first time, which is obviously something I still dig. I got to know people and myself. I got to spend a lot of time researching vibrators and brainstorming clever holiday related sexual innuendos. Sex and writing are some of my favorite things, and combining them was neat. No regrets.
Unless you’re a potential employer who isn’t cool with this, in which case, this was written by the OTHER Rachel Perkins.
Any other sex columnists out there wanna pitch in? Also, feel free to tell me about your sex life. Like I said, I’m used to it.