Ifirst saw Felice Newman in the flesh two years ago at a lesbian S/M demonstration in San Francisco. It was a caning how-to, and one woman had dropped trou and raised her large tush in front of over 100 horny dykes -- Felice and I among them.
As cofounder of Cleis Press, Felice has published some of the only work of its kind: the work of authors like Carol Queen, Annie Sprinkle, and Susie Bright, as well as books like The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians and The Survivor's Guide to Sex. Felice's relentless energy drenches the first book she's solo authored, The Whole Lesbian Sex Book. A 300-page monster with information on everything from how to stop neck ache during oral sex to 21 new ways to masturbate, the book makes it clear that all Felice's work with lesbian sex goddesses -- and all her sexual energy -- has finally found release.
GETTINGIT: Other lesbian sex guides have long chapters about lesbian bed death, but you only briefly mention it. Why? Don't you believe it exists?
FELICE NEWMAN: I don't believe in lesbian bed death, and I sort of made fun of it in the first chapter. I think familiarity, at times, breeds boredom, and all long-term couples go through phases with their sex lives. But I think what happens even more than desire fading, is desire discrepancies. How could two people be equally matched in desire? That seems unlikely and statistically absurd.
What seems more likely is that human beings have ebbs and flows in their libido: Periods where you feel like having more sex and periods when you feel like having less sex, periods when you're fantasizing about your lover, and periods where you're fantasizing about anyone but!
GI: In your book, you talk about the importance of a fantasy life. Can you talk about yours?
FN: I fantasize about rape and I fantasize as the rapist, not as the victim. I've enacted rape fantasies with friends and lovers. Sometimes I'll replay them and change them, like "Oh, I should have done it this way!" And I'll change the manner of the abduction, or whatever -- but I'll have abduction fantasies as the perp.
GI: One of the most controversial parts in your book is where you talk about lesbians desiring men. You talk about bisexual butches, for instance, and I don't think I've ever even seen that term written down. Why was writing about this important to you? And have you sexually experimented with men after coming out as a lesbian?
FN: I'm interested in helping women to explore all facets of their sexualities -- not just the parts that fit neatly into the little boxes we label "straight," "lesbian," and "bi." Fact is, some lesbians are sexual with men -- yet still call themselves lesbians. As I say in the book, if you want to be sexually exclusive with women who are also sexually exclusive with women, that's great. State your preference without apology. But don't shame some other woman because she has sex with men. She's entitled to her sexuality, too.
Since coming out as a lesbian in 1974, I have had sex with one man on one occasion. He and I, along with a lesbian friend of ours, took a tumble in my bed one afternoon in the spring of 1994. We had a great time. I still have his photo on my fridge.
GI: You encourage lesbians to go to sex parties throughout the book. But aren't sex parties inaccessible for most lesbians?
FN: That's what you would think. A lot of lesbians would say, "We don't have [sex parties] in Indiana," or whatever. But women go to Michigan [Women's Music Festival], and I'm sorry, Michigan is a big ole sex party. Women do have opportunities to go to sex parties. It might not be in your neighborhood, it might not be every second Wednesday of the month. But you might travel to New York on vacation, you might travel to Toronto, you might come here to San Francisco. So I think there are more opportunities than you might think.
I just think sex parties are a wonderful way to stroke your ego. You're from out of town, everybody treats you like you're gorgeous, I mean, what can be wrong with that?
GI: In 1977's Joy of Lesbian Sex the authors thank Simone De Beauvoir. Who do you thank?
FN: First on my list is Susie Bright. Really, my sexual revolution was Susie's fault. I was a stuck, somewhat shut-down lesbian living in middle America when [the lesbian porn magazine] On Our Backs came along and totally flipped me out. Those stories, those pictures -- no one I knew had sex lives like that.
But I also didn't really believe any of it was true, either. What is the definition of pornography? Pornography is hyperbole. You take something and you exaggerate it to a crazy extent, and there you have pornography. So lesbians don't really have multiple partners, and you can't really fit a hand in a vagina, and none of this stuff is real, you just have a little clique of women somewhere, making it all up.
Well, I thought that for a number of years, and then we contracted with Susie Bright to publish Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World. And talking with her long-distance on the phone, working on the book, I realized the stuff I thought was fantastic, completely invented, was part of her ordinary life. And that, in fact, you can fit a hand inside a vagina, it is anatomically possible.
And actually, I dedicated the book to Frédérique [Delacoste], my business partner. Because in 1987, Frédérique did Sex Work, and that blew my mind. That book shocked me. I was pretty much not like I am today. I was kind of fearful, especially around sexuality.
GI: You started Cleis when you were 24, when you and Frédérique published a book called Fight Back! Feminist Resistance to Male Violence. How have you changed since then?
FN: Fight Back was attempting to document the entire feminist anti-violence movement. As such, it included pornography in the section on violence against women. So I have a skeleton in my closet.
I have to say I'm not the only one. Debbi Sundahl, aka Fanny Fatale [a founder of On Our Backs] lived in Minneapolis when we did, and she too was part of the anti-pornography movement. So some of us who went on to become great promoters of lesbian erotica used to be anti-porn feminists.
GI: Does writing this book mean you'll get laid more?
FN: Gee, wouldn't that be fun? Well, I get laid a lot. I love attention, though, so I think that'll be really fun.
GI: So it would be hard to be laid more?
FN: No, I could get laid more. I could get laid more if I had more time.
Athena Douris re-launched and re-designed the lesbian sex magazine On Our Backs in 1997. She now writes a monthly sex column for Great Britain's best-selling men's magazine, For Him (FHM). All her sexual fantasies involve either rap stars or Dolly Parton, or both.