Soon: Women’s Orgasm Erotica
Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press, 2021
I have nothing against orgasms. Indeed, I’m willing to admit, with tongue firmly in cheek, that coming is one of life’s peak experiences. Nevertheless, sex offers a myriad of joys aside from climaxes. A narrow focus on “getting off”, a single-minded striving for release, can distract you from those other delights. Hence I was a bit concerned that an erotica anthology whose theme was the “big O” might turn out to be limited and shallow.
Fortunately, this is not the case. The stories in Coming Soon provide significant variety and considerable heat, exploring a range of erotic scenarios without (in most cases) becoming obsessed with coming. There are also a few tales in which the orgasm is the main point, but where the circumstances make this emphasis reasonable and interesting.
One of the latter is “After” by Katrina Jackson, in which a woman struggles to adapt to and reclaim her sexuality months after giving birth. She’s happily married to a devoted partner whom she still finds attractive, but her body has changed and her arousal sputters out, leaving her frustrated and insecure. This tale had a genuine quality that enhanced its erotic appeal.
Another interesting take on the theme is Henry Corrigan’s “I’m Her”. A middle-aged mother finds the release she craves with a stranger in an airport rest room. This is not a serendipitous encounter or surrender to a moment of wild lust. Rather, she arranges it all, via a personal ad, stepping outside her normal, safe life in order to claim the pleasure she lacks.
In most of my favorite stories, though, orgasm is just one stop on a delicious sexual journey. In particular, I loved “Exceptional Service” by T.C. Mill, a gender-bending threesome tale with a touch of femdom that really captured (for me) the thrill of erotic surrender. Another high point was Anuja Varghese’s “Multiple Gifts”, a literate, witty and subtly romantic introduction to two professionals (a professor and a doctor) who get a brief opportunity to turn their long-distance, virtual relationship into a connection in the flesh. The South Asian heritage of the author’s protagonists enhanced my reading pleasure; the professor encounters her doctor on a site dedicated to marital match-making, to which her mother has subscribed on her behalf.
Rachel Kramer Bussel has obviously made an effort to include characters with a variety of races, ethnicities, sizes and gender identities. The heroine in the sensual, paranormal-tinged “Kindness”, by Gabrielle Johnson, is big and black with kinky hair, “too old to have any patience with men and the way they looked at her”. Sally Bend’s sweet and delightfully kinky “The Size of Love” focuses on a heavy trans-girl and her dominant female lover. In Sienna Saint-Cyr’s “The House of Fingers”, we meet an entire cast of queer, non-binary and fluid characters; indeed the story is about learning to let go and come when you’re really not sure how your sexuality is related to your body. And in some ways the most daringly different tale is “Love and Porn in a Retirement Home”, by Claire Cupp, in which an elderly widow, possibly in her eighties, finally learns about self-pleasure. One reviewer on Amazon called this story “gross”. Well into my sixth decade myself, I can only shake my head at such narrow-mindedness.
An orgasm is precious – at any age!
Of course there were some stories that I didn’t particularly like. That’s always the case with an anthology. And this collection, like almost all of the Cleis anthologies I’ve read, has the problem (from my perspective) that the stories are all on the short side, and do not vary much in length. There’s a limit to how much depth and character development you can pack into 4000 words or less. Within these constraints, though, some of the authors do an amazing job.
Coming Soon is a solid collection of erotica shorts that transcends its deceptively narrow theme. If you’re looking for a diverse set of quick reads, check it out.