Cape Town - Dorothy Black is South Africa’s foremost writer on sex and relationships.
Her first book, The Dot Spot, has just been published by Jacana. KARIN SCHIMKE asks her some questions about what she’s learnt about love and people in her career.
QUESTION: You’ve been writing about sex and relationships for a decade now. Do you ever get sick of writing, talking and thinking about sex? Has all this analysis and consideration made actual sex less fun for you?
ANSWER: There was a short time that it did, yes. I think any writer can attest to how consuming a book can become in those last few weeks or months of writing it. This one started interfering with sex, in that I’d have a 10-minute window of enjoying an experience before my mind would start going “now have I mentioned this in the book?” or “maybe I should include something about this or that”.
In fact, every conversation I was having with my friends would go through a “Have I covered this?” filter. It’s very difficult to be present in the moment with people with that kind of constant mental cross-referencing.
But other than that, no. For me “writing about sex” is writing about everything that makes sex interesting and important: relationships, body awareness, stories, feelings, gender, health, empowerment, social context… sex isn’t an aspect of your life that sits separately from everything else about you.
To me how comfortably a person stands in their bodies, their bliss, their authentic expression is what primarily affects how they respond to the world and people around them.
And then, of course, motive interests me; stories interest me. So it’s an infinitely interesting, educating topic.
Q: As a sex columnist you’ve had to interact with readers a lot. Can you tell us about some of the weirdest ideas about sex and relationships that you’ve come across and why you consider them weird.
A: Honestly, I think some of the weirdest ideas about sex and relationships are also some of the most common. For example, that personal happiness and fulfilment in love and sex rests solely in being committed to the same person in a rigidly monogamous relationship for your whole life. Your whole life!
Or the unexamined assumption that your sexual expression, desires, needs, interests and libido will remain unchanged, for better or worse, until you die. And that none of this needs to be spoken about.
Not expecting, wanting or embracing change is a kind of denialist madness. And then people usually have to go through a process of suffering terrible guilt and trauma when they embrace change or stop denying what they want or need, when they decide to live a life that is good and meaningful for them. The “craziest” sex stuff isn’t the guy who likes to have his legs tied together before he’s lowered into jelly. Or the skat fetishists or the master/slave farms. This is just the same curiosity in “the craziness of others” that keeps the news outlets, HBO and TLC in business. The real weirdness lies in the generational repetition of ideas that don’t work.
Q: What have you personally learnt as a sex writer that has improved your life?
A: Every column, article and blog post I have written has required self-reflection and research to some or another degree. Very often that research has involved speaking to practitioners, therapists, experts, educators, activists, community-based organisation heads or doctors in whatever field I’m looking at.
When you have access like this, and you use it to learn about the world and people around you, it’s impossible to walk away unchanged.
When you use the good information you’re given and practise applying it to your own life, it can’t help but improve your relationship with yourself and others in some way.
If there is one thing I can directly link to my experience of the sex and sensuality “groups” here in South Africa, it’s the realisation that you create your own experience of sex.
If you want an experience of sex or a particular kind of relationship, YOU have to make it happen. You have to do your research and actively create the experience. All the resources are there.
Our local “market” is small but it is active. So whether you want to know about non-monogamy, kink, tantra, conscious relationships – we have all the support systems for that here.
But none of it is going to happen with you sitting on your bum and waiting.
Q: Why write a book? Isn’t everything you say pretty much accessible via the internet? What’s different about having a book?
A: As someone who has written across all platforms, when it comes to meaningful reading experiences I’m a paperback lover.
I love holding a book, I like seeing how I’m working through it from beginning to end. I eat books: they travel with me, come to the bath with me, get squished in the bed when I fall asleep with one;
I dog-ear and make notes, I underline, I stuff things in the pages.
And this is never more true than with the self-help/pop-psych books that I’ve gobbled up over the last few years. So I wanted that for myself. A collection of everything I’d learnt in one easy reference spot.
Secondly, the web is an overwhelming expanse of information that is not always good, true or helpful.
Part of my job as a journalist involves trawling this space and there’s just so much rubbish out there now I don’t really trust it any more. To me, print media in the form of a book (or a magazine or newspaper for that matter) curates information and provides it in a neat “beginning, middle, end” format.
And I can appreciate that now. A book is an intimate, immersive, controllable experience for me.
The web? Noisy, demanding and often dishonest.
KARIN SCHIMKE, Cape Times