This Book Made Lena Dunham “Keel Over With Laughter”

Monica Heisey’s I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: A Woman’s Guide to Coping With Life—which Lena Dunham has called ”the only humour book I ever want to own”—hits shelves May 12. Does it live up to the hype? Short answer: yes. But don’t take our word for it; read on for an essay entitled ”What People Say to Me Because I Write About Sex”

Heisey book

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: A Woman’s Guide to Coping With Life by Monica Heisey (Red Deer Press, $20, May 12)

I’m a human woman who thinks about, writes about, and sometimes even has sex. We’re talking intercourse, people. I hope you can handle it. It’s a topic dear to my heart and loins, and also one that merits discussion and analysis.

Few things are policed as intensely as our sexual desires and actions. For a topic that occupies so much of our time, thoughts, and energy, it’s still generally not considered appropriate to discuss in public. And, as a young female writer starting her career, I found sex to be one of the few things people would listen to me talk about. I also found, conveniently, that I had a lot to say.

In my first year as a full-time freelance writer, I penned four different guides to sexting. I went to a hotel in a sketchy bit of London and had a pie fight with a custard fetishist. I turned down assignments to “go gonzo” at sex parties and was offered futuristic computer-controlled sex toys to sample and review. I wrote about my sex life and, less frequently, my love life. Occasionally I would sneak in a piece about comedy, or the future of food, or a photographer whose work I enjoyed, but when the end of the month came and rent was due, I knew what pitches would get accepted, and off they went: “Awkward Music I’ve Had Sex To” joined “It’s Time to Shut Up About Your Pubes,” “We Talked to a Dick Pic Expert About Vag Pics,” and the investigative classic, “Ke$ha Thinks She Had Sex With a Ghost.”

Some of it was not what I would choose to cover, but I was finding my own voice and writing, for the most part, about what interested me. And I was making a living doing so. Sure, my fledgling oeuvre was sex-heavy, but so was my inner monologue. While I was less interested in writing about myself as a sexual person, the cultural conversation around sex interested me endlessly, and still does. Eventually, I carved out a weird little area of the Internet for my musings on sex and feelings about sex and technology for sex and sexy sex sex sex. While I’d stumbled into writing about sex and sexuality for a reliable pay cheque, it turned quickly into something I loved doing and wanted to do well.

Throughout this process of discovery, I’ve been lucky enough to have the Internet cheering me on. “Get AIDS, whore!” they shout encouragingly at me in the comments, troll after troll popping their heads out of the shuttered windows of the web like friendly villagers in the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast. “This writer should have been an abortion, 4rl, would not fuck,” offered another champion of my work. “Just Googled this chick and she is pale as hell, HATE THIS ARTICLE.” I am truly blessed.

It’s exhilarating as a creator to know so many people are reading your work, thinking about it, then searching your name online to see whether they would like to jerk off to a thumbnail from the time my student newspaper named me Contributor of the Month, age eighteen. Opening my email to a new missive, subject line, “Have small penis, like 2 c?” confirms for me that I’m doing something worthwhile. Good writing should spark debate and discussion: How can we can put women’s healthcare choices in the hands of women? What’s the best way to come out to one’s conservative family? Would you hit it, Y/N?

These thoughtful communiqués are not distributed exclusively to women who write about sex—the generous neckbeard community extends its concerns about our opinions, weight, and sexual hygiene to any woman deemed slutty, stupid, or desperate enough to have any online presence whatsoever—but it is a helpful reminder that speaking loudly as a woman is enough to rankle the confused masses. A tap on the shoulder to say, should you ever forget it, that publicly pursuing your interests—whether they’re sex, video games, filmmaking, whatever—is cause for the intrusion of strangers’ opinions delivered directly to your phone. “@monicaheisey, you’re a cow #shitwriter #pretentiouscunt #gingerbitch;” “i don’t kno if i respect u or really really hate u @monicaheisey;” “shut up + die @monicaheisey no one cares;” etc., etc., etc.

That women are harassed online is not news. But this kind of commentary is not contained to the digital world. “I read your sexy article,” a friend jokes at a holiday party. “Wild stuff!” The joke is that I’m being naughty by talking about these things. I certainly couldn’t be a writer doing my job. I’m just a li’l pervert with a laptop writing something silly. “Saw your piece about polyamory,” says an acquaintance at a bar. “If you’re so progressive, why aren’t we in the bathroom right now?” Never mind that the piece was not about my own relationship status, or that this person and I don’t know each other very well, or that I’d never expressed any interest in him, that night or otherwise. What kind of woman writes about an alternative relationship model practiced by an estimated 4 or 5% of the population? A bathroom slut kind, obviously. In this man’s head I was some kind of sex Oprah: YOU get a blowjob! And YOU get a blowjob! You’re all getting BLOOOW JOBBBSSS!

So what to do with these nards? What to say to the guy gesturing towards the bathroom, the Twitter account that seemingly exists exclusively to tweet obscenities at female writers, the guy who Facebook messaged, “Fuck off bag to Canada you slag”? Sometimes I fantasize about my options: shouting back, ratting them out to their moms, firing squad. I fantasize about these options and then I return to doing nothing, because there is nothing to be done about them. They are like an STI I do not have—an unpleasant but mundane reality, with nasty flareups arriving at inconvenient moments—the herpes of humanity. The frequency with which Internet trolls, IRL jerks, and even well-meaning doofs like the aforementioned friend appear and reappear, bringing new humiliations or diminutions (or, sometimes, straight up rape and murder threats) means, truthfully, that it all blends together, forming a sort of shitty white noise in the background of my day-to-day work, like tinnitus but judge-y. There’s not much to be done except try and drown it out with more articles about orgasmic meditation, how to respectfully proposition your friends for threesomes, and whether or not it’s chill to say “thank you” after sex (it’s not).

Writing about sex for the Internet is exhilarating on a good day, exhausting on a bad one, but overall it could be a lot worse. I guess what I’m saying is: if you happen to be the CEO of a company that manufactures futuristic sex paraphernalia, please continue to send me free samples at your leisure.

Copyright © 2015 by Monica Heisey; reprinted by permission from Red Deer Press.

Related: Monica Heisey on carbs, future plans, and how it feels to count Lena Dunham as a fan

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