This was something pretty new for me: while I love reading about theories and ideas related to sex, I’m a total amateur when it comes to reading about sex itself. 50 Shades of Grey is pretty much the extent of my erotica-reading experience. But Girl on the Net has something I just couldn’t resist: a truly feminist approach.
How A Bad Girl Fell in Love is a combination of hot sex stories I couldn’t read on the tube without blushing, and a frank and honest approach to love, relationships and commitment. It’s the second book by Girl on the Net, but this time, we find the anonymous sex blogger in a fully loved-up relationship—and she’s every bit as surprised as we are at that fact.
Each chapter title is the name of a genuine advice article: from “10 Simple Ways To Get Laid” to “12 Things That Definitely Do Not Count As Cheating So Please Stop Sweating This Stuff”. By contrast, Girl on the Net, or “Sarah” as she calls herself in the book, does not try to dish out any advice; refreshingly, she promises instead only to offer up her own experiences, without pressure or judgement, and leave us to figure out the rest.
This book promised to be non-judgemental, and it succeeded. At one point “Sarah” comments on how hard people tend to advocate for their own lifestyle choices: monogamous couples think any form of an open relationship is a sign of unfulfillment; people in polyamorous relationships suggest that monogamy is unnatural and outdated. Sarah does neither: although her preferences within sex and relationships could hardly be more different to mine, I never once felt alienated. Quite the opposite, in fact: I related so hard to this book—despite barely relating to any of the actual experiences within it.
I think our shared perspective comes from the fact that both “Sarah” and I are bored to death with any statements along the lines of “men like X and women like Y”. People are quick to assign gender differences an inevitability based on some evolutionary trait they’ve half-made up. (Apparently, women like to cuddle after sex because women needed to physically cling to their cavemen counterparts in order to keep them around to support the baby. This is most likely complete tosh.) I started nodding enthusiastically the moment “Sarah” dismissed that fact as “interesting, briefly, until I remember that evolution’s also given us brains”—and I kept right on nodding all the way through to her observation that “claiming that any human behaviour is ‘unnatural’ because we don’t see it in the animal kingdom smacks of evolutionary bullshit. Sure, not all animals are monogamous. But not all animals write poetry or watch Question Time either.”
The book isn’t afraid to get pretty dark, either, in its confrontation of rape culture. As a sex blogger, “Sarah” is constantly bombarded with comments from guys who refused to believe she actually likes sex as much as she claims—and this is something that even the less sexually-open of us can relate to. I may not write about my sex life on the Internet, but if, in the pub with friends, I so much as hint about masturbating, I’m bound to be met with raised eyebrows and choked surprise from the guys: “Women do that?” Subtext: “I didn’t think you lot liked sex as much as us!”
Beyond this falling into dull “men like X and women like Y” territory, it’s also pretty disturbing. Because, as “Sarah” points out, those same guys that don’t believe we enjoy sex still want us to do it with them. “Why on earth would I bother persuading someone if they weren’t already tempted?” asks Girl on the Net, incredulously. (Enthusiastic affirmative consent or nothing!) But the men we know have been raised to believe that sex is something they can “score” from us—whether or not we are going to enjoy it.
At times, the blend of frank feminist discussion with graphic sexual anecdotes became a little confusing. When I’d just been grimacing at the sad truth about rape culture in our society, it was hard to immediately throw that aside and dive into some erotica just a few pages later. This combination works really well on the Girl on the Net blog—but over there, the sex stories and the thought-provoking blog posts are presented as separate articles; in the book, they are all thrown in together. Even giving them separate chapters might have helped me get into the right mindset for each.
Although the erotica wasn’t really for me, I smiled a lot while reading How A Bad Girl Fell In Love. It hit the nail on the head on so many things—from compelling explanations of how differently the world treats men and women (“If… I could have kids without pregnancy, keep my job, and get a pat on the back for doing the odd feed or walk in the park, I’d jump at the chance to have them too”) to hilariously honest confessions (“Open relationships look a bit like nightclubs to me: I’d love to be able to enjoy one but I think I’d rather have a nap”).
There’s also a Rock Paper Scissors story which may be one of my favourite things I’ve ever read.
How A Bad Girl Fell In Love is on sale from today.
*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.