Many of us can look back upon a youth spent wildly, and marvel at the fact that we survived. I just have one little quibble. It makes me grit my teeth a bit when when someone refers to a vulva as a vagina.

Expand full comment

Dear Hanif,

this Monday morning in Concord, NH began with gray skies and the threat of another big snow storm. I was feeling low until I read your article on sex and drugs. I laughed hard. My youthful days coincided with yours. I married at 18 thinking that I would discover a world of great sex. I married a professor of Economics not the military man my father wanted. Ahhh it was a very sad time. No sex at all, I could not think of transgressing. The Story of O had me thinking about sex and obedience. I was the disobedient daughter. I did not understand. Some aspects reminded me of giving birth. In those days, the nurses and doctors would tie you to the bed while one was twisted in pain. I wasn’t thrilled with the book. I also read the classics my cousins brought from France. I read Nana, the story of a courtesan, I hardly understood. Then there were some Victorian stories about innocent girls coming to London to be exploited by lords and rich men. Some of those were actually funny. The girls would endure (or enjoy) all types of sex,, anal, oral, or some other stuff I couldn’t figure out, but at the end a good man would fall in love, the poor country girl would discover religion, and she would write the book to warn other peasant girls from these dangers. I would laugh. Then there were some Colombian writers who would write porn. But the girls would be asleep (passive) and a ghost would devour them sexually in the night. I know that writer was ex communicated by the Roman Catholic Church, but those books were read avidly by my sisters. I read them but wanted to be awake when this Colombian Dracula would show up.

No drugs for me. I had a fantasy that if I were to takes any, and there were plenty in New York, I would run naked in Central Park, I would make headlines, and my father would send for me. That would be the end of my life. I worked in a poor neighborhood, and saw the ravages of LSD, and heroin. I couldn’t do it.

Thanks for this post. I loved it. Woody Allen (a man people hate now) wrote that masturbation is the best sex: making love with the one one loves most dearly.

Thanks fir today. Continue to write and get better.

Tu lectora,


Expand full comment

I remember the first time I downloaded music. It was 'In Rainbows' by Radiohead. I clicked on a link. A few minutes later 'In Rainbows' was on my computer and I listened to it. I had barely moved an inch.

For many years, I redirected those hunter-gatherer instincts, that had been laid down in the genetic memory of my lineage over the course of millennia, towards the acquisition of music that I thought that I might like; bands I had never heard, but whose names alone struck within me a chord of curiosity. There are CDs in my collection that are the crystallised endpoint of desire lines stretching back years; in the era before Amazon, when you combed through the racks of record shops, while referring to a mental list of titles. The day that I found a copy of 'Pastoral Hide & Seek' by The Gun Club, it was like laying my hands on the Holy Grail.

It was very much the same deal with pornography. Despite present day shortages of previously widely-available items, unless you are nurturing some very niche proclivities, the supply of sexual material far outstrips the demand. The current model is pitched somewhere between all you can eat, and all you can stomach.

I speak as someone who has been unwillingly exposed to pterodactyl porn - grown men, dressed unconvincingly as prehistoric winged reptiles, albeit with mammalian genitalia, flapping their wings up and down as they are pleasured by a blonde woman who has foolishly wandered through darkened woodland flooded with dry ice.

Only by testing our boundaries do we become acquainted with our limits. It turns out that there is something about bird-lizards from the Late Jurassic Period, cavorting with women from the Anthropocene Period that brings out my inner prude. There may also be some suspension of disbelief issues in play, though I did admire the commitment towards practical special effects.

When I was a young man, and frequently deluged by the hormonal tidal waves of adolescence the acquisition of pornography was a hard-won rite of passage. It was not something that could be done indoors at your computer, if you had one. In the same way that explorers once searched for El Dorado, the Elephant's Graveyard, and the Garden of Eden, you had to venture out into those backwaters of the world – the overgrown woodlands and desolate hedgerows, where soiled pornographic material could sometimes by found scattered by the winds of shame and regret.

What you harvested was incomplete, the rags of magazines; mosaic tiles of exposed flesh. If this was the passage towards manhood then it was on an instalment plan. My friends and I once discovered a naked centrefold, spread wide-open like a pagan sacrifice, in the depths of cornfield; a woman with long, dark curly hair. I can still remember her face. There were ants swarming all over the image. The woman's crotch and breasts had already been mostly eaten away by the censorious insects, and presumably been carried piecemeal back to their nest. We left the centrefold to the ants. They seemed to want it more. That cornfield is now a well-established housing estate.

The genitalia of the women in the pornography of my era were mysterious, like the hidden surfaces of planets in our outer solar system, the vulva obscured by chaotic swirls of pubic hair. The first time that I laid eyes on an actual vagina it was a bit of shock.

I am being flippant, and it sounds ridiculous to romanticise an era when horny young boys would literally beat the bushes for pornographic material, but there used to be these calls to action that got you out of the house and into the mad, bad, and dangerous world beyond. That doesn't exist so much any more – you can scratch a lot of itches without getting up off the couch.

Many years ago, I was in Eritrea. The Internet was so poor, that it would sometimes take an hour to access my email inbox. While I was waiting I would away root around in the Internet cafe computers to see what they had on their hard drives. It always impressed me when I found pornography. I knew that each of those images had probably taken several hours to download. Each one was a true labour of lust.

Expand full comment

Blimey. It’s sad to know (for me) that in my teens I was sleeping around not for pleasure but as some sort of negative expression a reaction to family life oh well - later on I probably still never really just enjoyed it (I don’t mean it wasn’t good it was ) maybe the whole thing just missed a bit not quite bullseye - a good one night stand I’ve recommended it too - wonder too as the end run is here if I’ll ever stop fancying someone - hope not. We are sexual beings and the string gets pulled - I agree with you totally that sex - that pull especially fuelled by drugs - it will stamp over and out everything/ a force indeed. Finally your directness is so funny. Do hope you feeling ok this week or at least level. ⭐️

Expand full comment

Great article! Yes the book banning fetish is back with the main target in the US being books written for children that discuss people’s bodies and bodily functions like farting and crapping. Such books are being banned in libraries across the American south and librarians are losing their jobs over these ridiculous overreactions. The call of nature, is a central routine for all of us and children tend to find the need to go and going particularly funny because these actions are at a certain level absurd and potentially disgusting. Maybe people need to start talking about Christian snowflakes and conservatives being too woke to let children read books about peeing in parks!

Expand full comment

I’m imagining you Hanif speaking this piece (into your phone) perhaps in bed late at night or wherever you find privacy as you reveal what most are incapable of imagining much less owning up to. I had a ritual as a horny teenager which I called “find the dirty book(s)” hidden in secret places at whatever homes I babysat people’s children. I was always successful and would revisit these pieces of literature as often as chance allowed. Inevitably the owners of such libertine delights would re-hide them somewhere else when I can only surmise they figured out someone had been fiddling with their secret stash of trash. Oh well.

Expand full comment

Life is for living as fully as possible:-)

Expand full comment

A great post -- even though I'm a bit younger, I could relate to everything written here. Thank you, I feel heard and understood!

Expand full comment

I have no experience to comment on your experiences with drugs, but my youthful entrée into the world of sleaze probably started with my parents mistaking Caligula for a historical film. It SO wasn’t, even if actors like Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren starred in it. I like my sleaze in written form best, for the element of imagination. Nicholson Baker remains a favorite.

Expand full comment

"It is difficult to fail at a wank." Difficult, yes; but not impossible. I speak from experience.

Very fine essay, with an important, sobering reminder at the finish. I'm appalled, not by pornography or '60s-style liberalism, but by the new pseudo-puritanism that makes anything less than perfection (according to the diktat of the week or day) grounds for social and personal banishment. This is almost as worrying as the renewed Cold War.

Expand full comment

Interesting article and comments. I've had plenty of both sex and drugs in my lifetime, infact I would go as far as to say that possibly too much of both. I am abstinant from the latter, currently by decades, but ones relationship with mood altering substances varies from person to person as does sex. Sex is about power, desire yes, but fundamentally power, the dominant or the submissive and love and relationship are different things all together. Writing erotic fiction must be challenging but it's got to be a 20 minute wonder still. Definitely an art to it. What I find interesting is that I'd watched a podcast by a writer a few years ago and they'd written some porn for a magazine too in their early career years. Sex sells. 🙏

Expand full comment

The promise of sex, drugs, and rock’s roll, the cure to everything … until it didn’t.

Expand full comment

Dear Hanif, I too have read the Pearl and still have a copy of it. Lady Chatterley's lover annoyed me because of the husband Clifford and I have a story Lady Chatterley's husband in which his sexuality is explored. Its so cock-centeic!

I became obsessed with the reading about sex (and writing!) around the same time I became a wheelchair user at 14. Important to me I because there there was nothing as far as I could find in the pre-internet age that reflected anything of my experience as a disabled teenage girl. It all came down to learning from your peers and those sneaky suggestions in Cosmo and the like. Fear of Flying, The Women's Room An older girl taught me about masturbation which forms the first story in my disability erotica collection - Girls Wank Too - in Desires (2003). Now Desires Reborn as an eBook, floating around out there. It's still shocks people and I'm on a peculiar cyclical journey of roughly 5-10 years, asked about disability sexuality again and again and again... I explored the extremes in and around any of my so-called health issues to the extent that I cannot detail them here! I've been told that to see a disabled person in a dungeon is quite a thing to behold and can shock the unshockable. Which naturally pleases me.

Expand full comment

Unflinching candor as a demonstration of life richly lived. We move from “how is this possible?” to “oh, I am beginning to see; of course”. I guess we just have to find our own way, but it matters when we have access, as here, to this kind of assessment. Art can do that. For me a relief at coming closer to understanding all the possibilities on the road to an authenticity. We are invited to come up with our own versions, alert to what we might wish not to see but now have no choice, must try to say. That is our tribute.

Hard to imagine how this kind of virtuoso work can be done under those circumstances. We are presented with a high bar if we aspire to a like version of our own.

Expand full comment

“The most overtly pornographic novel at that time, and for me the most enjoyable writer - and one I still love to this day - is Henry Miller. The Tropic of Cancer and Miller’s great trilogy Sexus, Plexus and Nexus provided both the great thrill of writing with interludes of pornography which you could masturbate cheerfully to.”

Yep. Loved Miller. Still do. A piece of mine about him is coming out in a couple weeks in The Wonderland Rules on Substack.

Wild alcohol/drugs Story: https://michaelmohr.substack.com/p/mexico-story

Expand full comment