David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: consent

I was Raped. My Girlfriend Was Raped. So I Wrote a Book.

I was 17 when I was raped.  By a stranger.  

I was 16 when my girlfriend confessed to me that she was raped.  By a family member.    

I’ve been grappling with these two events for the last decade as I wrote a novel about a 16-year-old orphan boy.  I didn’t even realize that I was writing about these two events until nine years in.  But I did know pretty early on that I wanted to show it’s possible for teenagers to experiment with their sexuality in a way that’s powerful, safe and enjoyable for all parties concerned.

I just finished the book, and I’m sharing part of it because I keep seeing parents asking if there’s anything they can show their teenagers about how to deal with this stuff.  I’m hoping this will be an example for boys and girls (and maybe men and women) of what true consensual sex is.  And maybe a guide on how to treat people who’ve suffered in ways that you don’t understand and can’t possibly imagine.

My heart goes out to everybody who has been devoured by predators.

Ask for help.  Tell your story.

From The Valley of Love & Delight: A Ghost Story

1

A Blade of Shame

“Did somebody hurt you?”  Finn asked softly in the Love Shack.

Elizabeth Winter-Rivers chewed her lip and nodded.

“When you were a freshman?”

Yes.

“Was it somebody you knew?”

Yes.

“Was it somebody in your family?”

She shook her head.  No.

“Was it somebody at school?”

Elizabeth jerked stiff.

“Did he make you do stuff?”

Yes.

“Oh my God!”  He shook his head hard.  “I’m so sorry.”

“He was so smart and handsome, and I see now how he groomed me and seduced me, told me how I didn’t have be who my parents were forcing me to be, how much more mature I was than all the other kids, how I was the brightest mind of my generation.  And of course I believed it because I wanted to believe it, and once he had me, he made me do things … he said if I told anybody …” Elizabeth choked up.  Pulled it back together.  “He said he’d hurt me, and nobody would believe me.  So I didn’t tell anybody.”

“That is so sick!”  Finn’s jaw screwed tight. 

“It was horrible, it hurt.  I … I felt like it was my fault …”

“Who was it?”  Finn asked soft.

“It was a teacher, my English teacher.  My parents found out, they saw something on my phone, a text he sent.  They went crazy.  In their own Winter-Rivers way.”

“What did they do?”

“Well, since they’re on the board, they put the fear of God into him, then they fired him.  But they wanted to keep the whole thing hushed up, so they had Headmaster Doggert get rid of him.  Nobody ever said anything.  They told me I couldn’t tell anybody.  I shouldn’t be telling you.  But I had to.  I felt like I was going to explode or something.”

“So what happened to him?  I hope he’s sharing a cell with somebody named Stiletto.”

“No, they just swept it under the rug.  Doggert wrote him a recommendation and he’s at St. Paul’s now.”

“No way!”  Finn was furious.  “What?  No!  Why would your folks do that?  Don’t you wanna see him punished?  Plus, I’m sure he’s probably doing the same thing to some girl at St. Paul’s!”

“I see pictures in my head of him doing stuff to me and … I can’t help it …  everybody keeps trying to fix me up with boys, but it’s no good, even if I like them …” Elizabeth started shivering and couldn’t stop.

He gently picked up one of her fingers.  It felt like glass that would crack if you squeezed it too hard.  Her shoulders shook.  Eyes crunched shut.  He slowly pulled her towards him.  She did not resist.  Body shuddering, breath catching, Elizabeth quaked. 

Finn thought his heart might crack.  He whispered like a lullaby:

“It’s alright … it’s okay … it’s alright … it’s okay… it’s alright … it’s okay…”

Finn’s shirt got wet.  From her tears.  The beat of her heart was so loud in the cage of her ribs.  He would’ve been happy to hold Elizabeth pretty much indefinitely.  Doing all the good he could.  Being useful.  Shaker-style.  He’d been talking his mom down off the ledge since before he could remember, but seeing it through Elizabeth’s eyes; it dawned on him that maybe comforting sad battered females might be a special skill.  And it filled him so full.  To suck up all that poison festering inside her.  From being broken into.  Broken in two.  Broken.

Elizabeth melted into Finn, and she was part of him and he was part of her, and they were part of the Love Shack, the Shakers and the Berkshires; part of the stars, the moon, the universe. 

He wondered if maybe that was God. 

Finn had no idea how long she’d been in his arms when she finally stopped crying, caught her breath and pulled away. 

He saw a blade of shame slice into her.  He heard alarms shriek in her ears.  “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” she said.  “I have to go–”

Elizabeth charged towards the door like she was running for her life.

2

Life Sucks if You Can’t Breathe

“The same thing happened to my mom.”  Finn said it loud enough to stop Elizabeth.

She stood in the doorway, battling her desire to bolt.

“Only it was her dad, not her teacher.”

Elizabeth turned around and looked at Finn.

“He was a sick, evil monster.  When my mom told her mother, the old hag slapped her and called her a whore and a slut.  So Granny was a sick evil monster, too.  My mom had nightmares, flashbacks, paranoid delusions, like I said, she had a million disorders.”

“I can’t feel anything, everything just … shuts down.”  She stared off with far-away eyes, like a black-and-white photograph of herself.

“I’m sorry … no one deserves that.”

“Thanks.”

“I wanna kill him,” Finn growled.  “Don’t you wanna kill him?” 

“No.  Yes.  I don’t know … I can’t …”

“I think murdering somebody’s better than messing with them when they’re a kid.  It screws you up for the rest of your life.  I saw it every day with my mom.”

Elizabeth took in a giant breath, then blew it out like exhaust.  “Wow.  You’re right.  I thought I’d feel worse, but it’s like I can finally breathe.”

“Hey, life sucks if you can’t breathe,” Finn said softly.

“Yup.”  Elizabeth’s lips slid into a lopsided grin. 

“What happens to you,” Finn said, “is totally normal for somebody with PTSD.  They used to call it shellshock.  There’s actually a test you can take for it.”

“Really?”  Elizabeth looked like she was scared to hope.

“Yup.  My mom went over it with me a like billion times when I was kid.”

“That’s just … bizarre.”  

“Is it?”  Finn asked.  Thought.  “Yeah, I guess it is.”

“What kind of test is it … exactly?”

“Well, it’s a bunch of questions about how you react to different things.”

“What kind of questions?  Do you remember any of them?  What were they?”

“Well, like …” Finn fished back through his files.  “Do you ever have recurring memories?”

“Yes.  What else?”

“Ever have flashbacks?”

“Yes.”

“Ever dream about it?”

“All the time.”

“Do you ever feel like you’re outside your body, watching yourself?”

“Ohhhhhhhhh yes.”

“Do you get triggered by things that remind you of the event?”

“God, yes.”

“Is that what happened the other day when we were …?”

“Yeah,” Elizabeth whispered.

“Do you ever run away from people because you’re afraid they might  like you, and you might like you back?”

Heavy dark nod: Yes.

“Ever get the feeling that it’s literally impossible for you to have a normal happy life?”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“Well, I do, but I’m Finn, Son of Junky.”

“Riiiiiiiiiight.”

“Do you have a hard time concentrating?”

“What?”  Elizabeth asked.

“Ever have a hard time concentrating?”

“What?”

“Do you have a hard time–”

“Gotcha!”  She cracked a little grin.

“Nice!”  Finn wiggled his finger at her.  Then he took a deep breath.  “Yeah, you have full-blown PTSD.  Good news is, just learning about it is like part of the cure.  Especially for sexual trauma.  Isn’t that cool?”

“Yeah.”  She swallowed hard.  “Sexual trauma …  wow.”

“Just admitting you’re a freak helps.  Lucky for you, there’s lots of us.”

“Lots of whom?”

“Freaks.”  Finn shrugged like it was obvious.

Elizabeth laughed loud, harsh and barking, like it hurt coming out. 

She thought for a long time.  Or maybe it was a minute.  Finn couldn’t tell. 

Finally, a smile ran crooked across Elizabeth’s lips.

Finn cocked his head: “Whaaaaaaaaaaat?”

“I have an idea,” she said.

“I like it already,” he said.

3

Finn’s Telltale Heart

“Like this?”  Finn was flat on his back staring at the moon and thanking his lucky stars shining through the Love Shack roof.  “And I’m gonna just lay here and … not move?”

“Perfect.”  Elizabeth sat on him with a liquid grin, skirt billowing out around them.  “You don’t think it’s too weird?”

“I think it’s just weird enough.”  Finn said.  “So.  I have an idea, too.”

“I like it already.”

“What if we talk about what we’re doing while we’re doing it?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, with PTSD, the part of your brain that’s in charge of emotions lights up like the Vegas strip and you freak out.  But when you talk, the part of your brain where the commander of your ship hangs out can do like a manual override.”

“That’s totally contrary to the fundamental principles of the Winter-Rivers Dynasty.  But it does make sense.”  Elizabeth looked optimistic.  Or like she wanted to be optimistic.  “Continue.”

“So, theoretically, let’s say I was interested in making out with you.  I might say, ‘Elizabeth, I think I’d like to make out with you.’”

“Okay.”  She rolled it over in her head.  “Finn, I think I’d like to make out with you.”

Finn was sure Elizabeth could hear his telltale heart banging away in his chest. 

Elizabeth leaned her lips down in the Love Shack and kissed Finn so soft he shivered.

“What was that?”  She sounded like an alarm going off.

“That was me … shivering,”

“Is that good, or bad?”

“Good,” he said.  “Really good.  Like epically good.”

Elizabeth’s face looked relieved and happy.  Then it got serious.  “Was that a … decent kiss?”

“Well, to be honest I never really made out with anybody except you, the other day, so I have zero data for comparison, but personally, I think you’ve got mad kissing skills.”

“Thank you.”  She looked very pleased.  Which made him happy.  “Finn, I think I’d like to make out some more.”

That made Finn even happier.  “I think I’d to make out with you some more too, Elizabeth.” 

She leaned into him again.  Where she touched his cheek, it got hot.  Lying there not moving, completely still, waiting for her to come to him, was weirdly exciting.

Her lips touched light on his.  A sigh came sliding out of Elizabeth.  Which made Finn sigh. 

She kissed him harder and her body was on his body and her hands were in his hair. 

He had to force his body to stay still.  He wanted to give her exactly what she wanted. 

Elizabeth pulled back.  He thought maybe she was having a flashback.  But no.  Her eyes were blazing blue and gold in the candlelight. 

“That was a very good kiss,” he said.

“Yes, it was very good very good kiss.”  Her voice was all breath.  “I never thought I could feel … you know, because of my …”

“Disorder.”

“My disorder.”  Elizabeth thought for a while.  “Finn, I think I’d like to make out with you some more.”

“I think I’d like to make out with you some more too, Elizabeth.”

 

Jon Pressick on Best Sex Writing of 2015: Consent, BDSM, Porn, Race, Sex Work & Being Canadian

I met Jon Pressick a few years ago when I wrote a book about sex. That’s what happens when you write a book about sex. You get to meet Jon Pressick. He has talked about sex to some of the coolest sex people in America, and lived to tell the tales. He has put together a book about … wait for it … sex.  The Best Sex Writing of the Year: On Consent, BDSM, Porn, Race, Sex Work and More.  Quite a mouthful, eh?  So I thought I’d pick his brain about one of our favorite subjects. Sex.
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To read on Huff Po press here.

David Henry Sterry: When did you first become interested in sex?

Jon Pressick: I was a truly early bloomer. Blooming all over the place and making a mess everywhere. Middle school? Earlier? I really don’t remember, but I do know that sex has preoccupied my mind for a long, long time. It is great to take those thoughts beyond my own enjoyment.

DHS: I understand you’re Canadian, how is Canadian sex different than American sex? Are Canadians educated differently about sex than Americans?

JP: I’ve never had sex with an American! I don’t think so, at least. Does it involve guns and apple pie, because you know where all about maple syrup and canoes in our sexy time. And of course, it is so polite as to be awkward, at times.  We’re at a crucial time, in sex education where I live (outside Toronto). Our province has just mandated a progressive sex education curriculum that will come into effect next fall. We sex happy folk are rejoicing (even though the curriculum could use more work) while the right-leaning and religious folk are up in arms. On the other hand, I read with morbid fascination Alice Dreger’s livetweeting of her kid’s abstinence-based sex ed class…wow. The more I read and hear about American sex ed, in classrooms, communities and home, I think we Canucks are on a better track. We’re not chugging with great speed, but we’re not derailed either.

DHS: You talk about sex on the radio, is that different than talking about sex in the flesh? What are some of the highlights of your radio sex career?

JP: You know that thing about having a face for radio…? Well, it isn’t that bad, but I am, deep-down, fairly introverted. I can speak freely, openly and happily with my familiars and perfect strangers about sex…but it is even easier on the radio. Sex City has such an open concept with very few limitations so I’ve talked to Bigfoot softcore filmmakers, Dr. Carol Queen and everything in between. Some of my highlights are my infamous armpit fetish model interview and having Candida Royalle tell me I have a sexy voice.

DHS: I see that you are both a pundit and a mogul? How do you get to be those things, and do they conflict?

JP: Well, one is a misnomer, for sure. I’ve been around long enough, tickling keyboards and flapping my lips about all things sex that people actually ask my opinion. I’m still flabberghasted (and entirely Canadian) about that. But, I can usually be relied upon to give good words. Now, the mogul part I’m still working on. Am I wealthy in knowledge, experience and fantastic connections? Absolutely. Do I get excited about sales on sex toys? Of course, because I can’t afford them otherwise.

DHS: I understand you’re also a general gadabout. Is that different than being a specific gadabout? And how does one get started as a gadabout?

JP: I tried being a more specific gadabout. I wrote primarily for the queer community (publications and web) for a number of years. But I found that limiting and had to expand the bounds of my gadaboutry. It was only natural to spread my legs to sex. Since then, I’ve done the radio, performed burlesque, spoken at conferences, participated in sex work, taught workshops and now edited books–all while writing for whomever will take it. I flit around as much as I can. If someone would like to emulate this and embark on the gadabout life, I suggest you get yourself as scattered as possible–but invest in a dayplanner.

DHS: What was it like wrangling all these people who write about sex?

JP: I would offer the cliche that it was like herding cats…but it really wasn’t. Many of the pieces included in Best Sex Writing of the Year came to me (ahhh, willing submission). Others I sought. In almost all cases, the response has been one of joyous, enthusiastic consent. Now, as in all relationships, sometimes we lose focus, sometimes reminders on the fridge are needed. Sometimes we don’t always pick up our socks when we should. But I’ve spent years and years coordinating writers–the majority of whom I wasn’t paying with anything but my heartfelt thanks, good connection and experience. Now, with a budget behind me, I’m in a much better state to work with and help and coddle and cajole writers. Even though I really didn’t have to that much. But I was ready to!

DHS:If there were a position open in the government for czar of sex, and you were given this appointment, what would you do?

JP: In my role as Grand Poobah of Pleasure, I’d be writing cheques all over the place for groups such as Planned Parenthood. I’d get them in schools and make sex ed classes fun, shame-free learning environments. I’d decriminalize sex work. I address sexual assault by retraining police, reclassifying it as a crime to further protect victims while at the same time punishing and establishing rehabilitation programs for offenders. I’d strip any influence sex negative idealogues have out of the governance of sex and promote sex as a positive, pleasurable aspect of our lives.

DHS: What are some of the takeaways of the best sex writing of the year?

JP: This book is diverse–and that is the key to our evolving societal sexual conversation. All of the voices need to be heard. The young, the old, the people with disabilities, the sex workers, the pundits and gadabouts. There are so many stories, and many of those stories have another side to them. While sex is the common theme…the complexity of our experiences ensures a unique experience in each contribution.

DHS: What did you learn as a writer by editing the best sex writing of the year? And what did you learn about sex?

JP: What I learned was one in the same here. The opportunity to read works and speak with writers of this calibre has created a desire to up my game. Since I completed this work, I think I’ve been a better writer. I’ve seen the work of masters and I’ve seen where I needed to improve–and keep working at it. Writing about sex is unique work. It isn’t easy to create, capture and maintain the nuance of these pieces. And sex is the same way. I read work that challenged me to think about my own sex life. I’m a 40+ year old man and have a type of life experience. Now I’ve seen more…now I want more even more.

DHS: What advice do you have for writers? What advice do you have for people who want to have sex?

JP: Start a blog. Have a public space you write in and contribute to it often. Let people know they can read it. Encourage feedback. Fight for your words when people critique you…but at the same time take time to learn and admit as much when you fail. Write without shame, but don’t shame others. Work hard at finding your voice, your technique and your power. You have it, find it. Oh and sex? All of the above, though be careful with the blog part.

Jon Pressick (<a href=”http://sexinwords.ca/” target=”_hplink”>SexinWords.ca</a>) is a Toronto-based writer, editor, blogger, radio personality and gadabout specializing in topics related to sex and sexuality for more than fifteen years. Currently, Jon contributes to <a href=”http://www.kinkly.com/” target=”_hplink”>Kinkly.com</a> and has been published on/in New York Magazine, Xtra, Quill & Quire and in the books Secrets of the Sex Masters and Best Sex Writing 2013. He primarily publishes to his blog, Sex in Words, sharing and contributing analysis of sex-related news stories, feature interviews and erotic fiction.  As one of the hosts and producer of Toronto’s sex radio institution Sex City, Jon has interviewed some of the sex community’s biggest names, including Cindy Gallop, Candida Royalle, Sunny Megatron, Susie Bright, Tristan Taormino, Kate McCombs, Reid Mihalko, Carol Queen, Dr. Charlie Glickman and many others (including many of the contributors to this collection!). When he pulls himself away from the keyboard, Jon occasionally performs burlesque, DJs, speaks at sexuality conferences, acts as a juror for the Feminist Porn Awards, curates an erotica library and offers prostate pleasure and erotica workshops. Throughout the years, Jon’s efforts have earned him TNT’s Sex Journalist of the Year Award and recognition as one of Broken Pencil’s “50 People and Places We Love”.

<em>David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, editor and book doctor.  His anthology was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  His first memoir, <a href=”http://bit.ly/1ancjuE” target=”_hplink”>Chicken</a>, was an international bestseller and has been translated into 10 languages.  He co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his current wife, and co-founded <a href=”http://www.thebookdoctors.com” target=”_hplink”>The Book Doctors</a>, who have toured the country from Cape Cod to Rural Alaska, Hollywood to Brooklyn, Wichita to Washington helping writers.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on National Public Radio, in the London Times, Playboy, the Washington Post and the Wall St. Journal.  He loves any sport with balls, and his girls.  <a href=”https://davidhenrysterry.com/” target=”_hplink”>Davidhenrysterry</a></em>

Best Sex Reading Thurs April 30 Bluetocking NYC 7pm

This Thursday April 30th at 7pm, the sexiest minds of our generation will gather at Bluestockings bookstore for a thought-provoking and passionate evening discussing sex. Reading their essays from the new anthology Best Sex Writing of the Year 2015—edited by sex-journalism-superstar Jon Pressick—are such revolutionary names as Vice Columnist Stoya, Mollena Williams, Cory Silverberg, Lux Alptraum, and David Henry Sterry. Hailed as a conversation-igniting megaforce and a must-read book of the year, Pressick’s collection of expertly curated articles traverses everything from celibacy to the death of a partner to life as a sex worker. “This book is as diverse and the writing as unique as editor, Jon Pressick, is as a person, and will take you though the wonderful and often confusing world that makes up what we call human sexuality. … Just be warned that this is a book that will likely make you throw everything you think you know about sex and chuck it out the window. It’s thought provoking and in some cases an emotional read and I can’t recommend this book highly enough.” —Clitical Jenne “This book highlights not only the diversity of sexual issues prevalent in the public discourse but likewise the importance of all things sexual to human culture.” —Library Journal “A must-read, regardless of which sex you like.”? —The Advocate For all media requests, including author interviews, cover images, review copies and digital ARCs, please contact Sarah Abrams. 510-845-8000 ext. 201 sabrams@cleispress.com

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