She is un-self-conscious in her descriptions, recounting length of orgasms, positions tried and the precise tools used to achieve them ... It’s a challenge to successfully chart one narrative in a book. Aronowitz attempts to weave together three, which can make the writing feel disjointed ... At the same time, this history is also critical, and fascinating, as a framework to interpret society’s views on love and sex in the present.
Aronowitz is exceedingly well-read, and her book is stuffed with wisdom gleaned from her elders ... she delves into the archives of obscure early advocates for female independence and free love. These historical sections are unfailingly illuminating; it’s Aronowitz’s analysis of her own life and desires that can feel more indeterminate. What I struggled to get past, reading her book, was how much sex seems to embody, for her, a political stance even more than a form of intimate exploration. So much of Aronowitz’s anxiety throughout Bad Sex seems to stem from how she thinks she’s being seen, whether by individual partners or by the world at large or even by herself ... It’s hard not to want more exploration of how an extroverted sex life, as the Washington Post opinion writer Christine Emba argues in her new book, Rethinking Sex, has become 'a sign and symbol of health and—especially for women—a political statement signifying personal power and our liberation as a class, gender, or generation.' But, somehow, we let the thoughtful and charged sex positivity espoused by Ellen Willis and her peers curdle into the practice of sex as conspicuous, often unsatisfying, consumption.
Willis's words and deeds are constant touchstones throughout this light-shedding investigation ... equally inward- and outward-looking effort to reconcile these two aspects of her life. To get there, she dives into the history of various rebukes to traditional sexual norms, including free love, homosexuality and celibacy. After exploring them personally, she shares--some readers will say overshares--her takeaways. By twining the threads of her sexual past (erotic awakening, open relationships and so on) with her mother's thoughts on the same experiences, Aronowitz creates a vivid, tapestry-like intergenerational feminist social history.