1. Introduction to Talk Dirty to Me
2. Excerpts from an interview with Sallie Tisdale
3. Questions for Discussion
4. Recommended Reading Selected by Sallie Tisdale
Talk Dirty To Me Reader's Companion: Copyright ©1995 Anchor
Books. ISBN: 0-385-48091-1
Introduction to Talk Dirty to Me
This book is not about pornography. No writer likes that question--"What's
your book about?" It's almost impossible to sum up a book in a few words. In
Talk Dirty to Me, I discuss pornography, prostitution, orgasms,
fantasies, and other things sexual, but the book is about why these things are
significant. The result is a "philosophy"--an intimate, entirely personal
philosophy about the role of sex in human life. I don't expect readers to
agree or disagree with my ideas. (In fact, I hope I make most readers blush
and complain at least once; that eternal elusiveness of explanation is part of
what fascinates me about the subject.) My sexual philosophy is that of a
bisexual woman of a certain generation and culture, and it can't encompass or
explain much more than that. I consider myself "sex-positive," willing to
celebrate the life-affirming nature of sex and to tolerate with cheer the
enormous variations sex takes in human lives. Human beings will endlessly try
to understand and explain sex to one another--and to themselves. That's what
I've tried to do here.
We live in a world in which almost every public image--every
interaction--carries an element of sexual desire. And yet it is nearly
impossible for us to talk openly and honestly about sex. Talk Dirty to
Me is author Sallie Tisdale's frank, funny, and provocative invitation to
the conversation we've been waiting for--but have been too afraid to start.
Sallie Tisdale shuns the dry style of academics and takes us on a journey
through gender and desire, romance and pornography, prostitution and morality,
fantasies and orgasm. She guides us through her field research of peep shows,
XXX stores, and even the pornography collection of the British Library.
Interweaving her own personal feelings, experiences, and revelations, she
presents a brilliant, fascinating, and wholly original portrait of sex and
sexuality in America, while encouraging us to explore and create our own
Excerpts from an interview with Sallie Tisdale
How did you come to write this book?
When I first started researching this and telling people I was going to write a
book about sex, I expected long silences. I expected nobody to want to talk to
me. But what I had was people calling me and saying, "Why haven't you
interviewed me yet? I want to talk about sex. Nobody ever lets me talk about
sex." Men and women don't talk about sex. And that excited me. It gave me
the feeling that there really is this hunger out there for dialogue with each
other about why sex matters in our lives.
Women have spoken very little about sex in terms of desire rather than in terms
of romance or love or security. We're in a fairly new cultural state. In the
last couple of hundred years it's become imperative for women to cope with
their sexuality only in terms of relationships. There have been times and
places in history in which that wasn't the case. And there have been a lot of
other cultures in which that wasn't the case. But for Western women, our
inheritance has been that we don't talk about sex in terms of desire.
What's unique about this book, I think, is an attempt to use both the personal
and the universal to find the ground of experience. That's what I try to do
with all my work. If you're just personal, it becomes a kind of confession
that nobody can relate to. If you're just universal, especially with something
like sex, nobody completely buys it. I felt like I had to talk about my own
experience to some degree; I also had to put it into a social and cultural
context. This has rarely been done with sex, and I think that has to do with
the fact that we don't know how to talk about it. I do see the book as being
the start of a conversation. And with more than anything else I've written, I
feel that this is not a finished subject. It's not something we can make go
away from our lives. It will always be there, whether we're celibate or
promiscuous or somewhere in between, there's always going to be sex.
Did any of your own views of sexuality change from writing the book?
Oh, sure. I became much more accepting of my own particular individual sexual
quirks or sexuality or whatever you want to call it. I became much more
tolerant--I already felt tolerant toward other people's sexuality--and I feel
like I am a hundred times more tolerant toward whatever quirks, fetishes,
kinks, needs, desires that anybody else might have. As long as there is no
victimization going on, I no longer consider there to be moral ground for
sexuality. It's obvious from reading history and anthropology, mythology, and
folktales from around the world, as well as people's individual stories, that
sexuality takes an infinite number of forms. There are five billion
sexualities in the world, one for each of us. So how can we say what is
normal? And that is the question people always have about their sexuality--am
I normal? Do I fall in the normal range? What are the parameters here?
I say in my introduction, "Without crossing the country of sex, there is a lot
of territory we can't begin to traverse."
I mean that we have to look ourselves in the mirror, we have to examine
ourselves fairly ruthlessly and honestly, however privately we do that, and see
ourselves as sexual beings, see how sexual energy moves in our lives, how it
affects us, and then move on. And it doesn't matter when you do that, or how
you do that, or what you're doing sexually, it's the self-analysis that's
Questions for Discussion
1) "We all pretend to be more of a man or a woman than we secretly suspect we
are," Sallie Tisdale quotes a friend as saying. In what ways have you felt
not feminine or masculine enough? How did these feelings influence some of
your choices in life?
2) "Pervert." "Nice girls don't." These are thoughts that often stop Sallie
Tisdale short. Discuss how and where you see evidence of society imposing
these values. How much do these cultural proscriptions affect you?
3) It's a lot easier to talk about tolerance than to be tolerant. Does
learning about transsexuals, cross-dressers, prostitutes, and other people who
may be different from you make you feel more tolerant, or do their differences
still make you uncomfortable?
4) Sallie Tisdale describes several friends who decide to change their sex.
How much does gender inform or influence how we relate to people? How do you
imagine you'd feel if someone you'd been close to decided to change his or her
sex? Could you be accepting of this changed person?
5) Many people oppose pornography on the grounds that it objectifies
women--some even argue that it leads to violence against women. Why do many
people who haven't seen adult films presume that most pornography is violent
rather than erotic?
6) Some Americans defending pornography cite the First Amendment, arguing that
censorship--any censorship--is a violation of our civil rights. Do you agree?
Is protection of the First Amendment invaluable at all costs? Discuss other
arenas in which this controversy comes into play.
7) Of the renters of adult videotapes, 59 percent are men alone, 19 percent are
women with men, and 15 percent are men with men. Only 6 percent are women
alone, and 1 percent are women with women. How much of this difference, do you
think, is due to society's strictures as opposed to women's lack of interest in
8) Sallie Tisdale notes that "the one thing that is consistent in Western
history is that any `loose' woman . . .is dangerous and must be controlled."
Our society, like most through the ages, approves of a woman "marrying money,"
but disapproves of a woman having sex for money. It frowns less on the men who
visit prostitutes than on the prostitutes themselves. Discuss stereotypical
gender roles and how they influence these societal moral judgments.
9) Sallie Tisdale says, "Over the last year, and with considerable surprise,
I've come to realize I can't define woman." How would you define what a woman
is or what a man is? What aspects of your definition are biological and what
aspects are cultural?
10) Talk Dirty to Me is divided into sections--Desire, Arousal, Climax,
and Resolution. What do you think the author was trying to accomplish or
express by organizing her book in this way? What does the organization of this
book say about the development of a conversation, or the process of
11) "We learn virtually every skill by watching others do them . . .
Everything but sex." Do you think children would find it easier to grow up--or
be better equipped to deal with their sexuality than previous generations--if
they were well-informed about sex and eroticism? Would you give this book to a
young adult to read? Why or why not?
12) Do you find the image on the cover of the book erotic? Why or why not?
What recurring themes do you find in the media/art/literature as metaphors for
13) Sallie Tisdale argues that her "intimate philosophy" is not proscriptive,
that "there are five billion sexualities in the world, one for each of us."
How has Talk Dirty to Me influenced your own philosophy? Sallie Tisdale
also points out that sex is something we all do but few of us talk about.
After reading this book, are you more willing to express openly your sexual
thoughts and desires?
Recommended Reading Selected by Sallie Tisdale
Buruma, Ian. Behind the Mask: On Sexual Demons, Sacred Mothers,
Transvestites, Gangsters, and Other Japanese Cultural Heroes.
De Grazia, Edward. Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and
the Assault on Genius. (Random House)
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. (Random House)
Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural
Highwater, Jamake. Myth and Sexuality. (NAL-Dutton)
Koestenbaum, Wayne. The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality and the
Mystery of Desire. (Vintage Books)
Marcuse, Herbert. Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into
Freud. (Beacon Press)
Pagels, Elaine. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. (Random House)
Strossen, Nadine. Defending Pornography. (Anchor Books, Feb. '96)