Sisterhood Blog

Erotica Writer Rachel Kramer Bussel Talks Sex and Feminism

By Chanel Dubofsky

  • Print
  • Share Share
Anya Garrett
Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel is among the most well-known and prolific contemporary Jewish writers of erotica. Her work has appeared in more 100 anthologies, as well as in numerous online and print publications. She is a senior editor at Penthouse Variations, a contributing editor at Penthouse, and is the series editor for the “Best Sex Writing” anthologies. Her latest editing endeavor is “Obsessed: Erotic Romance for Women,” released earlier this month by Cleis Press. She spoke recently with The Sisterhood about stereotypes of Jewish women in the bedroom, why she doesn’t see feminism and submissiveness as mutually exclusive, and the good advice that she says applies to both writing and sex.

Chanel Dubofsky: Do you think Judaism — religiously, culturally — influences your work?

Rachel Kramer Bussel: I do think some of the best sex and best relationships I’ve had have a spiritual, though not necessarily religious, component, but I don’t know that Judaism directly influences my work. I have my own struggles with religion and faith, and am not the biggest fan of organized religion … but I think what Judaism has taught me is to always question the world around me and to believe in my own answers — just as much as any dogma.

What do you think about the stereotypes about Jewish women and sex that pervade mainstream culture — stereotypes like the JAP and the Jewish mother?

I think there [are] these dual stereotypes out there: On the one hand, the traditional version which is the frigid Jewish wife, and then there’s the oversexed girl who’s good at giving blowjobs. But I hope we are moving away from some of those stereotypes, the “good” and “bad.” I’m aware of them but I try to avoid them as much as I can, because trying to make your behavior conform to the opposite of a stereotype means it also holds power over you.

Do you consider your work to be feminist?

I consider myself a feminist, certainly, and I hope that my anthologies inspire people to fantasize widely and perhaps read aloud to one another. I don’t necessarily think of them as “feminist erotica,” but I do think everything I do, whether nonfiction or fiction, as author or editor, is informed by my politics and my feminism.

I think it especially comes across when writing about BDSM because there are still misconceptions around the idea that you can’t be a feminist and a submissive. I do think that sexual exploration and losing some of our sexual shame as a culture is a feminist project. But I feel like if every time I sat down to write an erotica story I had to grapple with the concept of making it somehow explicitly “feminist,” it would lose its urgency and immediacy and passion, because politics and fantasy are often at odds.

What drew you to this work?

Initially I was reading a lot of erotica, and just wanted to see if I could do it. I wrote my first story, “Monica and Me,” and it was published in two anthologies, and that early encouragement made me want to keep writing.

From there, I started submitting more stories, and later that led to other opportunities, like my full-time job at Penthouse Variations, the column I wrote for a few years for The Village Voice, and editing a bunch of my own anthologies.

What’s kept it interesting for me is that I try to keep challenging myself. I can get inspired by everything from a tabloid story to a running magazine, and am always on the lookout for new themes and subcultures and kinks to explore. The more widely I expand my knowledge about the world and sexuality, the more I see how similar we all are, but also how complicated sexuality is.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given about writing? About sex? About writing about sex?

The most basic and helpful advice about writing I’ve read, boiled down, is to simply go for it, especially during the first draft. I can safely say that fear has been my biggest obstacle and the cause of much of my writing failures — fear and lack of trying. I think being fearless in writing and in sex, and believing in yourself, are very important. It’s all too easy to want to do what everyone else is doing and worry about whether you’re “normal.” I’m of the Kelly Cutrone “Normal Gets You Nowhere” school of thought.

What would be your advice to young women about feminism and sex?

I think they are related but not necessarily the same; they can inform one another, certainly, and feminism can have an impact on relationships, but I don’t think there’s some standard “this is feminist sex,” and this isn’t. That would be antithetical to how I understand feminism.

To me the connection is more about agency and power in terms of embracing whatever it is that we’re into. I see positive signs in things like SlutWalk, — even though not everyone is going to embrace the word “slut.” I think breaking down the idea that there are things “men like” or “women like” in bed, and recognizing how varied we all are is a feminist endeavor that will ultimately benefit all of us.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sex, Erotica, Rachel Kramer Bussel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.