On an unseasonably warm recent night, I gathered five prominent young sex columnists at EN Japanese Brasserie to discuss their careers, love lives, and boyfriends. But what started out as a roundtable quickly turned into The Jessica Cutler Show.
Cutler, 27, the former Capitol Hill aide who detailed her many Beltway conquests on the now-defunct Washingtonienne blog (and in her subsequent Hyperion novel of the same name), regaled us with tales of cocaine use, the antidepressant she’s on, her reasons for posing nude for Playboy, the seven men she’s dating, and the man who’s suing her for invading his privacy. When it came time for a group photo, Cutler opened her flasher-style trench coat and bared her left breast.
Shameless? Absolutely. But who can blame Cutler for wanting attention? It’s a lot tougher to get than when I started out as a sex columnist nine years ago, writing in the New York Press about my attempts to find a sideburned, artistic guy south of 14th Street who’d stay for breakfast.
Six seasons of Sex and the City, one Paris Hilton sex tape, one Jenna Jameson autobiography, and one anal-sex memoir later, the boudoir diarist is now a staple of every publication save the supermarket circular. On college campuses, student newspapers are rife with the musings of (mostly female) authors who’ve only recently lost their virginity yet write about their limited exploits with the explicitness of Howard Stern and the delicacy of Jimmy Kimmel. One of the more intelligent essayists, the Columbia Spectator’s Miriam Datskovsky, isn’t even old enough to drink (although that didn’t stop her from stealing a few sips at our dinner).
Sex columns aren’t always about great sex or great writing, but the single-girl blog can be a brilliant career move for those willing to reveal absolutely everything. “I get diarrhea more than a normal person,” writes insanely popular Greek Tragedy blogger Stephanie Klein, 30, on a page called 100 Things About Me, where readers can also learn she wet her bed until the sixth grade (No. 1), can’t find Montana on a map (No. 12), lets her dog lick her privates (No. 88), climaxes from intercourse (No. 92), and so on. Klein blogged her way into a two-book deal with Judith Regan, a contract to write an NBC pilot, and a spot at our table.
So much has been said about sex that the surest way for a young writer to distinguish herself, it seems, is to divulge things no reasonable reader would want to know. But is the widespread availability of too much information changing sex itself? To help hash it out, we also invited Rachel Kramer Bussel, 30, author of the Village Voice’s “Lusty Lady” column, a regular contributor to Penthouse Variations, and editor of a recent spanking anthology; and Elise Nersesian, 26, whose “Sexier Sex” column for Redbook magazine was an attempt to lure younger gals to the gingerbread-scented glossy. (Since our roundtable, she’s defected to Penthouse magazine as well.) Over Japanese cocktails, we got progressively drunker (and cattier), but like nice girls, everyone exchanged phone numbers at the end.
Amy Sohn: So how did you get started?
Jessica Cutler: I was writing e-mails to my friends from my Senate account when I was working as a staff assistant. I didn’t want to be writing from that address, so I just said, Why don’t I just keep a blog? That was in May of 2004. I only wrote thirteen entries, but someone sent the link to a gossip Website in D.C., Wonkette, and then I came back from lunch and everybody in my office was reading it. It was in the Washington Post and the New York Post, and then I got calls from literary agents.
Rachel Kramer Bussel: After college, I moved here to go to NYU Law School, and that’s when I started writing stories. I got asked to work at Penthouse Variations, which is my main job. I was writing a bit for the Village Voice, and they asked me to write a column there a year ago. I also write a column at Penthouse about what girls talk about when guys aren’t around.
Cutler: We laugh about your wieners all day long.
Stephanie Klein: Like all great things, it started with a breakup. I read through my journals, and I realized I was putting so much energy into guys. I said, You know what? I’m going to stop dating, take myself off Match.com, and write every day, so I started the blog in January 2004. I also decided to invest my energy in photography. One day, I went to a party and Ivana Trump was there along with a bunch of other celebrities. I got a lot of shots and put them up on my site. Some of the other blogs linked to me, and it caught the attention of the Independent in London. They called me and they were like, “We loved your blog. We’re pissing ourselves over here and we want to feature you, yeah?” And I’m like, “Yeah!” So they ran this story and then the CEO of this publishing house from London came over here and offered me a deal. I ended up refusing that deal, getting an agent here, and writing a book proposal for Straight Up & Dirty.
Miriam Datskovsky: I never, ever would have guessed I’d write a sex column. I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household. I haven’t been observant for years, but it was quite the shock to my mom when I started doing it. During the spring of my freshman year, the Spectator had a contest for a sex columnist. My first column was about how all my guy friends were being really girly and all my girlfriends were being very nonchalant about sex and hooking up.
Sohn: Do people assume you’re easy because you’re a sex columnist?
Elise Nersesian: People are fascinated by you, and they also think you’re automatically sexy because of it. Like I’m sitting there surrounded by vibrators. They think you’re great at sex.
Cutler: That’s what you want, though.
“I get guys who think I’m judging them every second, and believe me, I am.Every woman does that.”
Sohn: Do guys you date expect more of you because of what you do?
Cutler: If a guy wants to date me, he needs to Google me and read a lot of stuff and be cool with it. I get guys who are really intimidated, who think that I’m judging them every second, and believe me, I am. Every woman does that. In New York, I date a lot of attorneys or bankers, and they all want me to sign confidentiality agreements. I tell them, “I’m not going to sign anything!” And then I never hear the end of it, but they never produce a paper. We just keep having sex.
Cutler has been sued by one of her paramours, Robert Steinbuch, a lawyer for the Senate Judiciary Committee, for “disclosure of private facts.” She wrote about him under the pseudonym “RS,” referring to incidents of spanking and hair-pulling. His identity was revealed in the blogosphere after he filed suit a year later.
Sohn: Talk about the guy who’s suing you.
Cutler: I can’t, for many reasons, but you know what I must think … If you want to set a precedent against anytime anyone mentions any sex act that they have with somebody, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Sohn: So basically, if he wins, it could ruin the careers of everyone at this table.
Nersesian: Years ago, if you were caught on a sex tape, it would be the end of your career, and now it actually raises your status. There are these strippers who are coming out with memoirs, and it’s these women saying, “We can take off our clothes because we want to be with men, and we can take control of our sexuality like men,” but I think they’re thwarting feminism completely.
Datskovsky: I think a lot of people would think that we are thwarting feminism.
Sohn: Do you consider yourself feminists?
Cutler: I always do. I grew up reading Ms.
Sohn: Didn’t a lot of guys give you money after you had sex with them?Cutler: They paid my rent, yeah. It’s not unusual. It’s common practice for guys to give you money, pay your rent, and buy you gifts. They just thought, She makes crap money. Twenty-five K? I still have that going on. I will probably be dating dickholes anyway, so I might as well be letting them pay my rent for me. If they offer, why not say yes?
It becomes clear that there is a schism at the table. Nersesian, Klein and I roll our eyes at Cutler because she offends our p.c. instincts, but Datskovsky and Bussel, on the other hand, nod emphatically—as though her brazenness is an act of rebellion itself. Cutler embodies today’s feminism lite: As long as you’re honest about your desires, no matter how morally vacuous, you’re “kick-ass” and “revolutionary.”
Bussel: What I think is really interesting at this table is, where are the guys writing about sex, beyond [gay syndicated columnist] Dan Savage? I think it stems from straight guys not being as comfortable talking about sex in general.
Datskovsky: Men are not accustomed to being open about their emotions or fears and concerns and shames. Men can write and talk about sex and not feel like any less of a man—but really only at the joking level.
Sohn: Why are sex columnists so popular these days? It seems like they’re everywhere, like in college newspapers. Is it just because of Sex and the City?
Datskovsky: On the one hand, the show was great because it opened the dialogue.
Nersesian: It made it normal to talk on your cell phone on the street about a blow job and to be open with your girlfriends.
Bussel: There’s so much more openness now, whether it’s about being gay or looking at porn, going to strip clubs, trying kinky sex, having a threesome.
Datskovsky: One of my high-school teachers reads my columns, and almost every time he tells me the same thing—it was just like this in the sixties, only then they didn’t talk about it.
Klein: Sex has become “no big deal” to a lot of people. That isn’t always a good thing. My father sat me down when I was a teenager and said, “I never want sex to become no big deal to you. Respect yourself enough to do it with someone who’s worthy.” That was a big lesson.
Cutler: To some people, sex is like a handshake.
Nersesian: That’s sad.
Cutler: Not necessarily. It’s different for everybody. I can have good sex with every fourth person. No biggie. But do I get along with them? That’s important.
Sohn: Do you have therapists? Klein: No.
Datskovsky: I used to.
Bussel: I used to.
Cutler: This therapist told me, “You’re in your twenties. You’re promiscuous. Big deal. It’s symptomatic of ADD. You get bored easily. You’re thrill-seeking. The thrill-seeking behavior is what is disturbing to me. You just need to be on medication.”
Sohn: So are you?
Cutler: Of course: Strattera. It’s just an antidepressant medication. It helps me write faster. Actually, when I wrote my book, I got Adderall from my friends, and I was typing like a maniac. And that’s the thing, yeah, that and snorting coke helped me write the book really fast. Sohn: Have you ever dated a fan?
Cutler: Some guy came to my reading and I went with him. I still see him. He’s a great guy . . .
Sohn: Did you sleep with him?Cutler: Oh, yeah, of course. I’ve dated a couple of fans. Why not?
Sohn: Aren’t you afraid that someone is going to be totally psycho?
Cutler: I love the psycho ones! What’s he going to do, kill me?
Cutler: What a relief that would be.
Sohn: What is the most memorable response that you’ve ever gotten from a reader?
Bussel: The weirdest e-mail I got was this guy wanted to take me to Yankee Stadium and wanted to spank each other in the middle of the stands.
Cutler: I don’t get a lot of mail, but I see it on other blogs, and I don’t read other blogs, but friends will send it to me and say, “Oh, so funny, read this! This guy is totally making fun of you.” And it’s always about my Playboy pictorial and how I looked.
Sohn: How much did you show?
Cutler: Everything! I did nude.
Klein: Do you worry about having kids someday and what they will think?
Cutler: I don’t want kids.
Nersesian: Are you sure? You’re only 27.
Klein: I definitely want children, and I hope that I will be honest with them and say, “Look, this is what Mommy does.” Your sexuality is part of who you are.
I, for one, am already dreading the inevitable day when my daughter tells me my work has ruined her life. But by then, my writing will probably seem less revolutionary than quaint.
Sohn: Does a column improve or worsen your sex life? It made mine worse—a lot of guys were afraid of being written about.
Datskovsky: It’s made for some awkward moments. Every guy on campus who doesn’t know me assumes that because I write the column, I want to sleep with them.
Klein: One guy said, “I like you, but I’m very private and I don’t feel comfortable.” And I got upset. A lot of guys would write in and say, “No guy is ever going to want to date you because you write so openly and honestly about this stuff,” and I’d say, “Then he’s not the guy for me.”
Cutler: I’ve only benefited from mine. The quality of guys has actually gone up, just moving to New York. They don’t care what people say.
Sohn: Do you have a boyfriend?
Cutler: I have, like, seven.
Sohn: Do they all know about each other?
Cutler: They will now.
Cutler goes downstairs, and the photographer gathers us for a few pictures. Elise wants to know if she’s the only one alarmed by Jessica’s opinions, and Stephanie assures her that she’s not. Twenty minutes later, a New York staffer is sent down to retrieve Jessica and finds her flirting with the bartender. She’s escorted back upstairs, where we pose, smiling, like the best of friends.
Kiss and Tell
Rachel Kramer Bussel, 30
“Lusty Lady” columnist for the Village Voice
Column excerpt: “Myth: People who have casual sex are selfish sluts.”
Turn-ons: adorable geeks
Turnoffs: bad grammar
Romantic status: very single
Sexual orientation: bisexual
Stephanie Klein, 30
author of the forthcoming memoir Straight Up & Dirty, based on her blog, Greek Tragedy
Column excerpt: “We’re in a cab headed north. He was headed south. My pants are pulled to my ankles. I assume he tipped the driver well.”
Turn-ons: big, long, hard vocabulary words
Turnoffs: “Guys who can’t multitask, because we’ll never achieve simultaneous orgasms.”
Romantic status: head over five-inch heels in love
Sexual orientation: horizontal
Jessica Cutler, 27
author of The Washingtonienne
Column excerpt: “I like this crazy hair-pulling, ass-smacking dude who wants to use handcuffs on me. Shit.”
Turn-ons: expensive gifts
Turnoffs: going Dutch, poor hygiene
Romantic status: “I’m dating around.”
Sexual orientation: “On a scale of one to ten, with one being hetero and ten being homosexual, I’m a three.”
Elise Nersesian, 26
former “Sexier Sex” columnist for Redbook, soon-to-be Penthouse writer
Column excerpt: “Uncut guys have more nerves down there, so when you stimulate him manually or orally, you can do half the work and still send him through the roof.”
Turn-ons: Woody Allen movies
Turnoffs: too much hair gel
Romantic status: has a boy toy
Sexual orientation: straight
Miriam Datskovsky, 20
“Sexplorations” columnist for the Columbia Spectator
Column excerpt: “I always expected sex in college would be easily and readily available. Suffice it to say that my hopes have since evaporated into thin air.”
Turn-ons: scruffy Jew-fros
Turnoffs: oral sex
Romantic status: “Single and enjoying it.”
Sexual orientation: straight