The Sex Worker Putting Herself Through Law School

“It’s a lot more than a transaction of sex or a lap dance. People are also paying to feel a certain way, they’re paying to feel powerful, they’re paying to feel like their boss.”

By Monica Torres

 

In 2016, Rachel*, 23, was a broke English major applying to law schools. Now, she is a first-year law student paying for school with sex work. She was working as a hair salon receptionist when she heard of a way to make fast cash. “One of my co-workers was telling me that she knew somebody that…had gotten a $1,000 from this website called Seeking Arrangements.” This service describes itself not as prostitution, but as a way for a woman, known as a sugar baby, to “date financially secure men who can provide her with the lifestyle she desires.”

Rachel immediately made a Seeking Arrangements profile. Although she was a little weirded out by “messages from seedy guys,” she was determined to meet them and no longer be broke.

Rachel is a white “5”8 unnatural blonde with an ample chest,” as she described herself to me. Her first sugar daddy was a 44-year-old “chill” man who sent an Uber from the next town to pick her up after she finished a late-night tutoring job. “I was all high on adrenaline because I hadn’t exchanged demands on what kind of money I wanted or anything. He was buying me all this fancy food, which seemed so glamorous.” Then he asked if he could kiss her. “He leaned across the table and we kissed right there in the restaurant and it felt like daring and cool, because obviously I’m a lot younger than this guy and we just don’t give a fuck.” 

Later that night, he asked her to have sex with him in his hotel room. “We had some unsafe sex, which was a terrible decision but I feel like that’s the reality of sugar daddies and sex work,” she said. “Sometimes you make terrible decisions and people want to take advantage of your body and don’t care.” He gave her $400 when they were done. 

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Rachel with her “sugar d spoils” and at home with her cat

Rachel didn’t name a price that first time, and she doesn’t recommend doing so for a number of reasons. “The first is you don’t wanna get caught for prostitution,” she said. Rachel lives in a state where sex work is classified as a felony. Second: “You kinda want them to think that you like them and you’re not in it for the money.” Instead of bringing up a price when clients proposition her, she would agree, but with a caveat“if I get a gift.” When clients ask “how much?” she evades answering. 

Although there is often a glamorous narrative that accompanies stories about sugar babies, Rachel does not recommend sugar babying. “I think a lot of people think you can hang out with older men and get money and stuff, but really it’s a lot of crazy sex and weirdness. But there are exceptions.” Rachel’s exception is her “natural sugar daddy” who she’s known for two years and once tutored in English. They meet once a month but don’t have sex. In fact, they don’t touch each other than the occasional hug. He gives her expensive presents including airline tickets to Japan and $1,000 in cash.

When I asked Rachel if she felt weird having the lines between friend and client blurred, she said, “I feel like women get so much shit just for being a woman. If a guy wants to throw some cash at me and it’s unclear what he wants, I’ll just take it.”

Sex work can be dangerous. Almost two-thirds of all sex workers will experience sexual violence during their careers. A 2004 study found that 1 in 5 people who went to a U.S. emergency room for sexual assault were sex workers. When I asked Rachel how she avoids being taken advantage of, she laughed. She doesn’t believe there’s a way for sex workers to fully protect themselves. “People joke about sugar daddies all the time, but it’s really sketchy.” She told me about a time when a client refused to pay her. “I ended up yelling at him and he was drunk. It was a bad situation.” He did not hurt her though, she added, or she “would’ve killed him.”

Rachel is currently out of her “sugar daddy phase.” She tried escorting once, which she likes more than sugar babying. “I thought that was almost more empowering because then they know it’s a transaction, it’s a service, it’s no bullshit,” she said. “But it’s still really nice. It’s like getting your hair done, you know, you have an nice experience with your hair stylist. It’s a great exchange or whatever, but you know you’re not actually best friends.”

Escorting at a high-end level is also safer. “People want to use condoms,” she said.

Rachel has transitioned from sugar babying to web camming and stripping. Both give her more control over her body and schedule. That’s the upside of sex work, she said: you are your own boss. “I hate people telling me what to do. I can’t imagine being a waitress.” Since last June she has made $11,898 through web camming and averages up to $100 in four hours and, because it’s a legal activity, she files taxes for it.

“I’m an independent contractor for many, many people,” she said. Her work as a stripper is also considered independent contracted work. “You can choose whatever hours you want. You pay to rent the space,” she said. “I expected it to be more like a restaurant where you have a manager, but really, as long as you wear a garter and a nice g-string…you can do whatever you want. It’s kind of awesome.” When I noted that she is still being bossed around by others in the bedroom, she responded that we’re all working in an attention economy: “Aren’t we all ruled by the attention of something?”

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Rachel’s web camming set-up. She notes that “the lighting is key.”

Of all her sex work experiences, Rachel ranks stripping as the most empowering. She has met “cool” people through web camming, but she has also dealt with specific and complex requests like five-bulleted instructions on shipping her used underwear with “very light skidmark(s) so I can see where your butthole has been?” Oh, and could she please “double bag” it and “provide a tracking number”? (She completed that request for $70.)

Above all, she is very aware of the permanent digital evidence web camming leaves behind: “There’s like tons and tons of images of my face out there and me like putting random things in my butt.”

With stripping, it’s easier: “People literally throw money at you for just being there.” She strips 30 minutes away from her school in an area where there aren’t many strip clubs. Even with the strip club’s close proximity to her school, she does not worry about being identified by classmates there. “It’s not illegal, I don’t give a fuck who knows, I’ll tell everybody, I’ll tell my professor,” she said.

“I have this anger at how the sex industry is supposed to be so secret, it makes me so mad sometimes.”

***

Being a sex worker has changed Rachel’s relationship to her body, making her want to be healthier and safer. She also acknowledges that staring at her body through a web cam has made her more obsessive about her appearance. To be successful in her line of work, she has to look pristine. “I have to have everything, manicure, pedicure, laser hair removal, eyelash extensions, perfect everything,” she said. “If I weren’t staring at myself all the time, or being looked at all the time, would I be so obsessed with what I look like? I don’t know…”

I shared with Rachel what Zadie Smith once said about the irresistible allure of pretty girls:

I’ve risked everything for a certain look, for tapered fingers or a particular mole. So I hear you when you say it’s not what she says, not what she does, that it’s on her…Pretty girls lie at the centre of straight culture, dyke culture, fag culture. They sell everything, they buy everything, they ruin great men and women, and finally they ruin themselves, accidentally, simply by getting old.”

Rachel thought Smith was right on the money. “I feel like I would honestly be nothing if I wasn’t attractive. It’s a scary thought. I don’t wanna be older and in the sex industry.” Since her job is often to “manipulate the male gaze,” Rachel knows that it’s dependent on men finding her desirable.

Along with having an effect on her self-esteem, sex work has also affected Rachel’s personal relationships. She has been romantically seeing a man for several months. She feels as if she “could be convinced very easily not to do [sex work]” anymore, but he’s never asked her to stop. “The guy I’m with now doesn’t give a fuck. I’ll come over with bruises up and down my leg from people hitting me, or even bite marks and stuff. And he’s like ‘ehhh, I don’t care,’ and it kind of drives me crazy. How could you not care?” Rachel acknowledges that her feelings about men are complicated. She works in an industry where success sometimes depends on “gross attention” from men, so in her personal life, she says, she may be “addicted to what doesn’t want me.”

“I’m not this hot girl stomping over all these men and feeling great about it…There’s a lot of vulnerability and self-doubt,” Rachel said. Setting the record straight is why she was open to talking with me in the first place. “The positive thing is that I get a bunch of money,” she said, making it clear that she is in sex work for the money, not to explore kinks. If money weren’t a factor, she wouldn’t be selling videos of herself pooping or roleplaying incest on web cams. In her personal life, she describes herself as more “vanilla-ish.” “I feel like guys sometimes invent fetishes because they’re so alone and isolated in their room and are hating women for never talking to them, like, ‘ugh, I would love to see this bitch pee.’”

Rachel plans to continue with sex work until she finishes law school and gets a job. She hopes to become a criminal defense lawyer. Recently at the strip club, one of her clients, a criminal defense attorney, “tried to hook me up with an internship this summer” that she’s hopeful will come through.

Her advice to others who want to get into the sex industry? “Wear thick underwear and don’t let strangers stick their fingers in your ass,” she said. “Don’t get swept up in the glamour, don’t give in to the rush of recklessness, because in the end, it is all an image. Everything is just an image. It’s a lot more than a transaction of sex or a lap dance. People are also paying to feel a certain way, they’re paying to feel powerful, they’re paying to feel like their boss, picking you up in a private roomthey’re paying so they can feel like they identify to Lil Wayne lyrics. And that’s all bullshit. So just see past the image. Think about it seriously. Have paying off your rent in mind when you’re doing it.”

 

*Name has been changed.

 

How 3 New TV Shows Get F*cking Right

How “Insecure,” “Fleabag” and “Chewing Gum” get messy, dimpled, and quite often un-sexy sex right.

By Frida Oskarsdottir

 

According to everyone writing about it, we are in the Golden Age of Television™. TV has gotten smarter, more diverse, andbest of all for us slutty monogamists who are forced to sleep around through otherssexier. Networks like HBO have always been able to spice it up a little more than cable, but in the last few years there has been a unanimous push to portray sex as it really ismessy, dimpled, and quite often un-sexy. We also see much more of sex and intimacy from women’s points of view, and not just women searching for lovesometimes it’s just women searching for the D.

These forays come as a welcome corrective to the good ol’ “women with completely symmetrical breasts and very few speaking lines orgasming in 45 seconds despite being in extremely uncomfortable positions” trope (“Sopranos,” I love you endlessly but I’m looking at you). There will always be the soft lens, sensual lovemaking followed by both parties’ private bits strategically covered with clean linen sheets. There will always be the overly ecstatic gasps despite what appears to be minimal clitoral stimulation. But there will also be honest-to-god cellulite, repositioning, and sweat that isn’t dewy. Variety is good.

In thinking about my favorite TV shows of the past year, I realized how uniquely and creatively sex was used as a plot device and sometimes even a secondary character. I put some of these recent binges (sorry not sorry that they’re all female-led) through the sex-machine to explore the role f*cking plays in each through a few select moments.

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“Insecure” (HBO): There’s a lot to love about Issa’s world. The men are smoking hot, the women are flawed and complex, and the music is always on point. Issa is so often in her mind that much of the show’s portrayal of sexuality is through her fantasies. This might be why when she does finally hook up with the one-that-got-away-with-his-8-pack it is essentially a real life wet dream, complete with slow thrusts and an almost unbelievably toned butt (CGI?). The scene itself is a more traditional Hollywood-version of sex, but in the context of the show it works just right as a way of portraying her temptation. The penultimate scene of Season 1 parallels this, when Lawrence finally gives into his demons with a flirty bank teller in retaliation against Issa. The sex itself is basically porn — all tennis grunts and “daddy’s” — but the viewer can’t help but feel his pain while watching it.

Another stand-out scene follows Issa’s best friend, Molly, as she decides she just can’t stick with nice-guy Jared despite their obvious chemistry. Her discomfort with his previous sexual experiences with men comes to a head (wink, wink) while he’s going down on her. The camera angle and his bobbing allow Molly to see exactly what a man might see when receiving fellatio, and it’s all a bit too much. It’s also riotously funny and somehow a little melancholy at the same time, better known as great TV.

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“Fleabag” (Amazon Original): In “Fleabag,” the eponymous protagonist has an active sex life, which could skew young and carefree. Fleabag may be young, but her cares pile up as high as someone who has lived through a lot of tragedies, which we learn she has. Suddenly, boning a guy you just met up against the counter in a restaurant isn’t so spontaneous and quirky; the more you watch, the more sadness imbues her actions until you end up ugly-crying into your mug of wine. Like most of her behavior, her sex is impulsive and occasionally fraught with regret even as it’s happening.

Lika Issa in “Insecure,” Fleabag also has a lively inner monologue which the viewer experiences as spoken aloud even in conversations with others, and even mid-coitus. We learn firsthand exactly what she’s thinking before, during, and after sex because she tells us, or sometimes, asks us, “Do I have a massive arsehole?”

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“Chewing Gum” (Channel 4; Netflix): Tracey, the 24-year-old cashier and enthusiast of basically everything, is one of my favorite TV characters from the last 5 years. She’s so RAW. Given that the media’s portrayal of older virgins is often as pathetic, neutered puritans, Tracey’s horniness for life is as refreshing as it is hysterical. Her manic curiosity about sexuality is unleashed in Episode 1, when she is mercifully dumped by her gay Christian boyfriend. She takes control of her own destiny with the cute guy down the way with the help of a more experienced friend and, of course, Beyoncé. Following her friend’s advice to “sit on his face,” Tracey forgets to first take off her pants and underwear. This could be a metaphor for the rest of the season. Oh, Tracey, never change.

Virginity continues to play a role throughout the series in anything but typical fashion. While Tracey is eager to jump over what she sees as a hurdle to sexual liberation, she plays by her own rules, seeking reciprocal pleasure rather than simply penetration. One of the better — although admittedly hard to watch — scenes includes her, cutie Connor, and a “Unicorn” called Sasha, plucked from a threesome app in an attempt to help Connor see Tracey as a sexual being ready to bloom. What ensues with Sasha isn’t what they had in mind, but it does lead to an important moment between Tracey and Connor that allows Tracey to put herself and her desires at the forefront of their intimacy, traditional sex roles be damned.

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Revisiting the Sex Scenes of Our Pasts

Do these scenes stand the test of time? Are they actually sexy, or just sexy to a 12-year-old who doesn’t know any better?

By the Editors

 

As we get older it’s only natural that we ask ourselves important questions. Am I the person I thought I would be? What can I do to make this world a better place? Do the sex scenes I loved as a teenager hold up if I watch them today? We at High-Strung place great value on our ability to address all vital questions in order of importance, so naturally we started with the sex scenes.

There is no doubt that as any red-blooded human you know the scenes we mean. That one moment of a movie you watched over and over, rewinding the tape with anticipation or viciously tapping the arrows on your DVD player until you got it just right. The scene you watched alone in your basement or every weekend with a best friend because it gave you a glimpse into the wonderful and mysterious world of sex.

Do these scenes stand the test of time? Are they actually sexy, or just sexy to a 12-year-old who doesn’t know any better? We decided to revisit our all-time favorite sex scenes and reevaluate them with our now adult eyes. To double down on our reviews we asked our resident youth correspondent and millennial tastemaker, Monica Torres, to pass her judgment on the scenes as well, since she timidly admitted that she had not actually seen most of them in the first place.

The clips are not included, just a screenshot, but beware what you scroll through at work.  This is x-rated, NSFW content. 

Gabrielle

“Fear” (1996) starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Wahlberg

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Gabrielle: Leave it to a horror film fanatic to focus her teen lust on a moment in a bad movie about a crazed murdering stalker boyfriend who decapitates a dog. At the time I felt like this scene had everything I loved most: a roller coaster, Mark Wahlberg, and a sexual act that seemed really mysterious and confusing and exciting. Watching it now all I can see is how young they both look and how dangerous and potentially painful it would be to perform this act on a freaking roller coaster. Additionally, the adult in me must insist that they are at an amusement park and therefore there must be children around. Children! I do have to give bonus points for the fact that this is clearly a moment of sexual pleasure and discovery for the female, with most of the focus on her face. Minus points for the creepy pairing of a public teen sex act with a sappy rendition of “Wild Horses” by The Sundays.

Monica: I only watched the trailer to prepare, and I have no plans to watch this movie after seeing this scene of unbelievable sexual acrobatics. The tunes of “Wild Horses” are supposed to make this scene feel romantic, but I felt like there should’ve been horror strings playing for Reese’s vagina. I was deeply concerned for Reese’s cervix on that roller coaster. How could a finger bang on a roller coaster not end badly?! I also don’t buy that she would orgasm in a minute-long ride. Puh-lease.

“Secretary” (2002) starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader
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Gabrielle: I was already eighteen when this movie was released, but my level of fascination with it was still on par with the sex scenes that entranced me as a naive pre-teen. Sadomasochism was certainly not something anyone had gone over in sex education, and Cosmopolitan really dropped the ball on giving us a cohesive “Top Ten Ways to Ask Your Boyfriend to Spank You” list. It helped that I was (and still am) in love with James Spader, so even though I felt slightly confused by the eroticism of “Secretary”, I still swooned every time he was on screen. I would watch this movie late at night because that was the only time it would air on TV, but I never really discussed it with people. Nowadays, with the success of crap books like “Fifty Shades of Grey”, it would seem that sadomasochism is a bit more mainstream, so going back and watching “Secretary” feels a bit less scandalous. I still find it incredibly enjoyable, sexy, and intriguing. But to be fair I never really stopped watching it.

Monica: I wanted to watch the rest of the movie! The spanking scene was hawt and intense, and I noticed that unlike every other sex scene the High-Strung ladies and I watched, we did not talk through this one. His hand possessively cupping her butt over her pencil skirt as she’s bent over a desk is an arresting image. Like, arrest me for my impure thoughts! As a literary nerd, I first learned about this movie from a journal’s article that got nominated for an award this year. “Ladies in Waiting” uses the protagonist of “Secretary” as an example of the lover’s fatal identity: “I am the one who waits.” The article’s author Becca Rothfeld argues that waiting, erotic and otherwise, has long been defined as a feminine activity: Maggie Gyllenhaal as “[t]he figure at the desk, with her tattered wedding dress, her throbbing hunger, her clenched hands, could only have been a woman.” Just giving you all some academic thots to chew over as you watch this scene.

As a child of burgeoning social networks, my introduction to BDSM and orgasm denial was not through this 2002 indie film, but through the more nefarious means of creating a fake username, so I could read explicit stories on adultfanfiction.net that were way above my grade level. Ah, the things we do to discreetly learn about sex!

Frida

“Y Tu Mamá También” (2001) starring Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, and Ana López Mercado 

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Frida: Rewatching these scenes again (five altogether – Gael and girlfriend, Diego and girlfriend, Gael and Ana, Diego and Ana, Gael, Diego, and Ana – WHEW) makes me wonder how this movie had time to develop any plot at all considering they take up so much time having sex. I love this movie for so many reasons, not least because it was my first introduction to the work of art that is Gael Garcia Bernal. The sex itself is so integral to the story – you can practically see the hormones oozing out of these two young men and their sexual interactions with women showcase how little control over themselves they have. When they fuck their girlfriends early in the movie – pardon my language but there really isn’t another word for what they’re doing – they can barely get their pants off before they finish, it’s so frenetic and animalistic. Ana tries to get them to slow down a little bit on their own but ultimately it’s the final scene where all three of them come together that actually feels like sex. For me it still completely holds up as a powerful cinematic feat, but as a teenager I just remember feeling VERY HOT AND BOTHERED whenever I put it on (which I did many times).

Monica: Um, I LOVE how Diego and Gael kiss at the end. Only seeing this film through explicit gifsets on Tumblr, I didn’t know the relationships of the film and I am happily surprised that their queerness was not just subtext. Watching Diego Luna in the cinematic masterpiece on sweaty teen dancing, “Dirty Dancing: Habana Nights,” was my introduction to his beauty as a lusty preteen. I’m going to go immediately correct the fact that I haven’t watched this film. Also, unsurprisingly, I’m noticing that all of the clips Gabi, Frida and Saira have chosen focus on female pleasure and I love that.

“Jerry Maguire” (1996) starring Tom Cruise and Kelly Preston 

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Frida: Watching this as an adult I can see the scene actually has an underlying meaning and even humor – it’s supposed to be outrageous and a way to show how unhappy Jerry Maguire was in his fast-paced 90’s power agent life, giving weight to why he ended up with sweet, purse-lipped, cute-kid-having Renee Zellweger. But BOY OH BOY let me tell you when this baby first came out I was SCANDALIZED – they are seriously humping. I’m pretty sure I saw “Jerry Maguire” in theaters and then ended up watching it again at a friend’s house when her progressive parents rented it and invited us to watch it with them (what the fuck, guys?) As I already knew what was coming I calculated my trip to the bathroom at just the right time to ensure that I missed having to sit next to Mr. and Mrs. Whoever while watching the titillation unfold. Still pretty hot though.

Monica: I’m the dog with my head cocked, watching two humans make loud noises. I have seen “Jerry Maguire” multiple times and I have NO recollection of this sex scene. Maybe I only watched the parent-approved censored version? Maybe if I watched this back when it came out, I would’ve thought of Tom Cruise as hot, but now all I see is a fervent scientologist jumping on Oprah’s couch. His soon-to-be-ex in this sex scene is supposed to be a villain, because she’s not always stroking Jerry’s ego: “Jerry, there is a ‘sensitivity’ thing that some people have. I don’t have it. I don’t cry at movies. I don’t gush over babies. I don’t start celebrating Christmas five months early, and I don’t tell a man who just screwed up both of our lives‘oh, poor baby.’” What a hero. Boy bye.

Saira

“Blown Away” (1993) starring Corey Haim and Nicole Eggert

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Saira: My best friend and I obsessively watched the sex scenes in this horrible movie, starring both the Coreys, which she had on VHS, when we were teens. It took us four years to actually get through the entire film–normally we’d just forward to the “good parts.” Rewatching this for the first time in over 10 years I’m realizing that this is straight up softcore porn, and is probably why we were so obsessed with it. In fact, the only place where I was able to find a clip was on PornHub. From the music to the clothes, the cheap lingerie to the slow-motion thrusting, these sex scenes absolutely do not stand the rest of time. No one has sex like this. No one wants to have sex like this. Also what’s with the dangerous music? And how the hell did my friend have this on VHS?   

Monica: I can’t get over the slo-mo thrusting. It feels like the directors just discovered PowerPoint transitions. I do like how he starts out by focusing on her and giving her oral, but he literally licks her vagina for seconds before moving on.

“Cruel Intentions” (1999) starring Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe

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Saira: In stark contrast to the sex scenes in “Blown Away,” Annette and Sebastian (Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillipe)’s scene always got to me because it’s so sweet and, in my head, felt real. Also the build up to this “lovemaking” was intense. Would they? Wouldn’t they? By the time they finally do it, I felt just as frustrated as Sebastian! Revisiting this with Monica and the team, I have to admit, it still holds up. Sure, no one’s first time is as perfect as this film makes it seem, but hey, it’s Hollywood and decades later Annette and Sebastian’s romantic love-making still makes my heart flutter (just a little). Too bad Ryan turned out to be kind of a jerk in real life though.  

Monica: This is another popular movie I haven’t gotten around to fully watching. But for the record: I was eight when it came out. Later, as a teen who had never been kissed, I definitely remember doing a deep analysis of the kissing scene between Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair, slightly perturbed at how much spit was being exchanged. It didn’t look fun! This scene of sepia-toned lovemaking between Annette and Sebastian does seem like a relatively realistic depiction of how first times usually go: a little pain, a lot of nerves and anticipation into the leadup, and then you’re done with the act itself, but not with how long you’ll be obsessing over it. 

High-Pitch: F*cking

A sexy playlist for you.

By Laura Gardiner

 

Songs about sex are rife with innuendo and imagination. These anthems muse about lust and longing, conquest and cuming. The tracks in this playlist feel good…really good, but sometimes they’re kind of uncomfortable too—not unlike the act itself. We don’t necessarily recommend listening while you get “it” on, but we wouldn’t be surprised if you feel inclined to pluck a tune or two for a special playlist of your own. 

Let’s Have a Realistic Sex Talk

A fictional “birds and bees” talk from an extremely honest parent.

By Gabrielle Sierra

Hello daughter,

Yep, it is me, your parent. Here I am, perched on the side of your bed. You look angry and mildly uncomfortable and I totally understand. It is because you know what is coming.

Don’t be disappointed in yourself, you put up a valiant effort to avoid me all week, knowing this conversation was bound to happen. But I got you good. Because I when I knocked I said I had your laundry and you still refuse to do your own laundry so you had no choice. A lesson learned for the future, perhaps?

Anyway, here we are, me holding your laundry hostage, and you staring out of your window wondering how easily you could toss yourself through it. (Not easily, your sister tried the whole defenestration thing years ago and I am lightning quick, so don’t bother.)

It is time we had THE TALK. You know the one, the talk about sex. S-E-X.

“Now, when two people love one another very much they have probably already had a lot of sex.”

I know you like to whine and complain that you already know all about this stuff, that your friends talk about it or you read it in a magazine or had a class at school. But I just wanted to make sure you had the truth down pat from an expert. A sexpert if you will. Get it?! Why are you covering your face with your hands?

Now, when two people love one another very much they have probably already had a lot of sex. With each other and with other people. Sometimes in groups or in a public bathroom or in a car while waiting for their kid’s indoor soccer game to end. This also goes for most people getting married, unless it is against their beliefs or religion. Personally, I had a ton of sex before I met the love of my life, Mitch. Yes, I know your father’s name is Bill. I meant to say Bill.

Anyway, you can wait until you are in college to have sex if you want to, but I would get it over with on the earlier side. Mid-way through high school is a good time, but, of course, you do what makes you comfortable.

Pick someone you trust or like or even love for your first time just so you can be open and honest about how awkward it is. Avoid cars or couches or waterbeds; the first time is hard enough without worrying about space issues or making waves or deflating cushions. Spoiler alert: men will orgasm, women won’t.

“Sex is great, but it isn’t always pretty.”

There is really no way to know if there will be any blood, but it won’t be a river, so don’t really worry about that. Why do you look grossed out? Sex is great, but it isn’t always pretty, my child.

Once you get through your first time you will feel better. The pressure will be off, and hopefully you will have a funny story to tell. Don’t worry, you will most likely have a lot more sex with a lot of people and have a lot more stories. And anyway, funny sex stories are the best ones to tell at parties.

College is a good time to experiment, and, as a woman, you will learn how to use sex as a weapon. This will be fun.

Sometimes someone may seem like a great person before sex and then be a jerk after. This does not reflect poorly on you, in fact it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.

Anyone who ever calls you a slut or a tease isn’t a human you should care about. Also if you give me their name and address I can go egg their house.

No always means no. And never, ever, even for one second, be afraid to be honest about this.

“Foreplay is important.”

Casual sex is great and you should have it as often as you want. Be honest about your level of interest and commitment. Use protection and don’t be shy about discussing your sexual past. This isn’t something to be ashamed of, so if anyone ever gives you a hard time about it just tell them to fuck off. Or just give me their address and… well you know.

Foreplay is important. Why are you rolling your eyes? Also you should get some sort of vibrator, you can order one on Amazon. You could also just go to a sex shop in the city but why pay up when we have Prime?

If someone tells you you are “really good” at something sexual, it means they just want you to do it again. Avoid sex when you are really full or have to pee. Sometimes quickies are not that quick and someone will be late for work. Oral stimulation doesn’t always work for everyone, but sometimes it is the only thing that works for someone. Learn what works for you and be honest about it. Pets will watch you have sex, they just do. Don’t worry about it.

Well, I guess that is it. I hope you learned from this and that you will someday crawl out from under your desk and thank me for sharing my wisdom. Don’t forget we love you no matter who you choose to love, and anyone who doesn’t isn’t worth a moment of your anger or sadness.

And remember that the most important thing in the whole world is to love yourself for who you are.

Here are your clean clothes. Alright, I’m going I’m going.

Oh! I forgot to mention it, but most people you meet already have HPV.

See you at dinner.

How People Are Using Gifs to Get Off

On swapping sex gifs as party favors in participatory online porn culture.

By Monica Torres

 

Welcome to the new frontier of anonymized intimacy. Older generations had anonymous AOL chatrooms and Yahoo! Group Mailing lists to explore kinks; younger generations are using gifs, or looping animated images. With the rise of gifs being used on social networks, fans on Tumblr are engaging in a participatory porn culture, swapping erotic gifs with each other in a 21st century gif(t) exchange. The pleasurable goal on- and off-screen is to arouse but rather than the proof of a physical cum shot, online fans see release with an endorsing reblog tagged: #hot or #Icametothis. Media theorists call these fans who mediate their own desires “prosumers”: people who inhabit the “simultaneous role of being a producer of what one consumes.”

These porn gifs are usually ripped from porn sites, so they are de-contextualized from their original meaning. But for porn gif makers, that’s the whole point. They are less concerned with plot and more concerned with zeroing in on fucking. Compressing scenes of desire into the seconds that were most personally affecting allows these “prosumers” to re-center frames of desire towards moments that aroused them, not whatever an ass-man director wanted from a film.

“Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.”

The porn scholars behind “Giffing a fuck: Non-narrative pleasures in participatory porn cultures and female fandom” argue that gifs are uniquely suited for this affective engagement: “microporn facilitates a tighter focus on those gestures or movements most sexually affecting. This affective experience is furthered by the loop aesthetic of GIFs in which a single privileged moment is replayed repeatedly (and perhaps obsessively).” Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.

These sex gif loops create feedback loops. There’s no better example of fandom-facilitated engagement than orgasmictipsforgirls, a Tumblr for “horny girls everywhere” that has over 154,000 followers. The blog orgasmictipsforgirls is run by Holly, a self-described “twenty-something not-entirely-straight girl who loves to gossip about sex stuff.” It’s my favorite sex blog on Tumblr, because it represents my favorite part of fandoms: community.

Holly doesn’t want to call her blog’s goals #sexspo (sex inspiration), but she does see links between fitness blogs and her sex Tumblr. Both promote narratives of self-improvement for readers. One is just doing it through explicit step-by-step gifs on how to give blow jobs: “It’s like when you read about someone who went from not fit at all to running a marathon and you’re like ‘I could totally do that! I COULD TOTALLY DO THAT!’” she wrote in an email to me. “But with the advantage that training for a marathon is hugely exhausting whereas being a bit more sexually confident can be enjoyable all along! (Oh, and that reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.)”

Holly has created highly-detailed guides on how to help women masturbate filled with supplemental gifs that act as useful, nonjudgmental visual aids. If I had known about all these ways I could hump myself to completion when I was a sexually frustrated teenager, I would’ve had my sexual awakening a lot sooner. And many other fans have been in that same boat based on the frequency readers ask Holly, “what’s an orgasm?”

Holly believes gifs can titillate women in ways that porn videos can’t: “[I]deas often fail at being good or believable or non-skeevy the whole way through (especially for women!) but most anything can be sexy for 2.2 seconds.”

Appreciative fans send Holly audio recordings of themselves masturbating, nude selfies, their sex stories, and the gifs and videos that got them off. Holly curates them all into Tumblr packages to be reblogged. She says opening up her blog to submissions made it possible for everyone to “have the opportunity to be a ‘sex blogger’ for a Warhol-sized fifteen minutes.” Her blog is considered so helpful that a sex therapist once directed a patient towards her site because, according to Holly, the therapist said, “there are pictures that will show you EXACTLY what to do.”

Orgasmictipsforgirls is an example of how the power of porn fandom comes not only from the loops of sex themselves, but also from the loops of feedback created between “prosumers.” It’s this intense, intimate community that fandom is actively fostering through curated loops of desire exchanged between Tumblrs. Citing academic Karen Hellekson’s previous work on fan economies, “Giffing a fuck” says that fandom gifs rely on “giving, receiving and reciprocating” works that reinforce bonds between users: “the gift of artwork or text is repetitively exchanged for the gift of reaction, which is itself exchanged, with the goal of creating and maintaining social solidarity.” Seeing hundreds of notes and reblogs to your gifs isolating that one ass slap is a confirmation that you weren’t the only person to find this hot.

“Reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.”

But Holly recognizes the limits to using porn gifs is their source material: “The huge weakness is that it’s still made out of ‘Porn From The Porn Industry’ so visually the blog is way, WAY whiter, skinnier, hairless etc. than I’d ever choose it to be.” The all-inclusive, celebratory messages of “Anyone Can Fuck!” and “’People Don’t Give A Shit What You Look Like, Trust Me” that Holly wants to give followers clashes with the limiting spectrum of bodies she’s curating from. It’s a reminder that even when gifs are purposefully taken out of contexts, they are still subject to them through the kinds of bodies the images use.

Gifs create ephemeral moments of pleasure that impact people far beyond their second-long loops. Scrolling through these explicit dashboards, I will sometimes pause between gifs of explicit body-slapping fucking, arrested by a woman’s captured, open expression of lust. On photography, literary theorist Roland Barthes called these arresting moments the “element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces [you].” What pierced this one gif curator and compelled them to make this gif is now, in turn, piercing me. ‘Do I look like that?’ I’ll wonder. It’s still rare enough for me to see women’s pleasure on screens that gifs like these do feel like gifts. In porn, I’d have to rewind. In sex, there’s no replay button. But here I can linger freely.

The Highs and Lows of Open Relationships

Non-monogamous relationships may feel natural for some, but adding additional partners can often make things more complex.

By Sara Afzal

Whether we’re meeting people in real life, or swiping left and right on our screens, it’s clear that when it comes to modern dating, our options are endless. With so many choices, and so many ways to select them, it’s tempting to reject the confines of monogamy to explore an open relationship, which usually includes one primary partner and other casual partners. Three people involved in open relationships told me about their experiences and how they navigate the often tricky landscape of dating multiple people.

*All names have been changed.

Annabel: The Somewhat Reluctant Newbie Non-Monogamist

Annabel, 32, who is heterosexual, had never considered being in an open relationship until she met Liam, 35, in the spring of 2016. They hit it off on their first Tinder date, but he had some news at the end of it: “I’m in an open relationship.” Annabel said she felt a pang of disappointment.

Liam and his girlfriend, who he had been with for nine years, had transitioned into an open relationship in the fall of 2015. They lived together, which made non-monogamy a little more complicated. Liam told Annabel that he had agreed to certain rules that his girlfriend insisted on. For instance, he and his girlfriend did not discuss the details of their casual dating. Liam also had a curfew of 12 a.m. when he went out on dates and would have to call his girlfriend at 11 p.m. to check in. Annabel felt uncomfortable when these calls took place, but he would step away so she wouldn’t overhear the conversation.

Annabel and Liam continued dating in this manner for five months, at which time he broke up with his live-in girlfriend. Annabel then assumed the role of primary partner, and the two have been together for a year.

Annabel says she prefers monogamy, especially since they are in love with each other. “I feel like we are moving forward. We talk about it and we are moving towards monogamy. One of the reasons we are not monogamous is that he just got out of this big nine year relationship so he is scared to throw it all in and go straight to monogamy. So it’s kind of this final stage,” she said.

While they have a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” it doesn’t always hold up. Recently, Annabel told me she was staying over at Liam’s place when she found a note from a woman that he had hooked up with, thanking him for helping her with some problems she was having. When Annabel asked about it, he described the woman as “neurotic, only 26, and nothing to worry about.”

“I was really hurt afterwards. I had to go run off to work right after that. I had tears in my eyes, and I was all choked up the whole day,” Annabel said. But the terms of their open arrangement doesn’t give her much leeway to expect him not to leave the clues of others behind. “There’s nothing to talk about. I know that it’s better to deal with it on my own rather than hash it out again with him.”

After this happened, Annabel said Liam was extra attentive about seeing her and told her he was worried he was going to lose her. Usually, Annabel says she strives to not discuss others with him, but discovering the note had opened up feelings of anxiety and jealousy for both of them.

“Neither of us like hearing about the person being with someone else.  So to spare feelings, we don’t talk about it.”

Neither of us like hearing about the person being with someone else.  So to spare feelings, we don’t talk about it. Positive consequences of that are mystery and autonomy because we’re not divulging our every action to the other. It keeps things fresh and interesting and keeps away the temptation of using this as a tool to manipulate or make the other person jealous. Ultimately, I still hate the image of him being intimate with someone else. I get jealous and possessive,” Annabel said.

Annabel prefers to be honest when she feels jealousy. “He assures me that no one is a threat to me, that our relationship is ‘untouchable,’” she said. “However, I also have a tendency to pull away when I get hurt by him being with someone. I create space and do my own thing for a bit, maybe go on a date.” Behaving this way also makes Liam want to spend more time with her, she said. “This helps me reset, gain perspective, remember my power and individuality, and then I come back to him when I’m happy again.”

Annabel and Liam’s open relationship rules include always using condoms and limiting their interactions with others to certain days. “We try to keep our sleepovers to weekends and leave the weekday nights free for what-have-you…so as to create clear boundaries and eliminate any overlap,” Annabel said.

Annabel doesn’t see her open relationship with Liam as a permanent status. She said she has asked for reassurance from him that at some point they will try to be monogamous. He told her that “no one else compares to what we have,” but that he is not ready for full monogamy. For now, she says she is working on living in the moment as she explores the new terrain of being in an open relationship.

“I love that it allows space for a more exploratory, exciting, fun relationship to grow and develop naturally, and I think more deeply, without the pressure of monogamy,” Annabel said. “It creates a healthy boundary and urges you to take it slow and retain your independence.”

Rory: The Open Relationship Pro Who’s All About Group Sex

Rory, 31, is in an open relationship with Emma, 24. They met on Tinder six months ago. Rory and Emma both identify as bisexual and queer. Rory describes being queer as an alternative to living a straight lifestyle by having sex with no hegemonic gender roles. The couple chooses to openly discuss the details of their sexual encounters with others. They also actively participate in group sex together.

“The experience of talking about sex with others is really hot. I get off knowing that my partner is having enjoyable fun sex,” Rory said. “There are certain instances where not talking about it is really important though,” he said, adding that the timing of the conversation is key and if your partner is receptive to hashing out issues that arise.

What he finds most important for successful open relationships is communicating openly and talking about how communication is working—or not working.

When Rory and Emma go out with other people, they still find a way to include each other, sending updates throughout the night. Rory said he likes giving his partner reassurance and affection in these moments of pursuing others; he will tell her he loves her and misses her. He said generally the vibe is, “I’m horny and thinking of you, but we’re not together and that could mean I’m just masturbating or I’m going out tonight with the possibility of hooking up with someone.”

With an active work and sex life, Rory and Emma share a Google calendar so they can plan ahead and share when they are seeing others. “The more people that you are seeing, the more time you have to spend on scheduling. You just have to be really good at that,” Rory said.

Right now, he and Emma are more interested in swinging together. They recently had a four-way with another couple. “I like playing with lots of people at once, watching and being watched. I can’t do these things when in a monogamous relationship.”

“I like playing with lots of people at once, watching and being watched. I can’t do these things when in a monogamous relationship.”

Rory said he and Emma have unprotected sex, but usually use condoms with other people, especially in group sex scenarios. To find partners they rely on Tinder and also Feeld, which is geared towards couples seeking more partners or singles seeking a couple. Rory calls it the “DTF app.”

According to Rory, “non-monogamy is an easy and safe way to explore sexual fantasies. I have learned a lot through group sex about what I like to do and what kinds of things I like to seek out in terms of my queer sexuality.”

Jodi: The Open Relationship Dabbler

Jodi, 30, was in a heterosexual open relationship with Kyle, 33, for five months. They knew each other from work, but didn’t end up going out until they matched on Feeld. Jodi said she wanted to try the app to expand her sexual horizons, so once her and Kyle matched they talked about being non-monogamous. Kyle had a primary partner, Lisa, with whom he has a son.

When Kyle and Jodi first started dating, Lisa was accepting of the arrangement.  They sexted every night and went on dates about once or twice a week. It didn’t bother Jodi that Kyle had a child, she said, it just meant they had to work harder in scheduling dates. She wasn’t interested in dating other people, mostly due to lack of time, she said.

After two months, Jodi and Lisa met to make sure they were all on the same page about the arrangement. “I never felt threatened by her,” Jodi said. “She supported us being together and I knew he cared a lot about me. So jealousy wasn’t an issue with her.”

Jealousy came into play when Kyle and Lisa began thinking of having a threesome with another woman, who was in an open marriage. “I wasn’t thrilled about this, but he wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Jodi said. “He told me ahead of time. But the feelings of jealousy weren’t getting in the way of our relationship, so I dealt with it on my own and let it go. I would have an internal dialogue where I asked myself “why does this bother you?” I would remind myself that there was no need to feel threatened by this. He wasn’t seeking this experience because he wasn’t satisfied with his relationship with me.”

Kyle didn’t want to hear the specifics about Jodi’s sexual experiences outside of their relationship, but since Jodi asked he shared the details about his relationship with Lisa.

Early in the relationship, Jodi was only interested in dating Kyle. “I was busy and didn’t have much of a desire to see other people until about three months in, when I told him I was planning on going on a few dates with other men. I wasn’t asking permission, but checking in to make sure he was comfortable with this. He was,” Jodi said.

After dating for 5 months, Jodi began to feel emotionally disconnected from Kyle. She broke up with him, and shortly after, ended up moving across the country. Kyle suggested being in a long-distance open relationship. “I wanted to at first, but then our relationship started going downhill so I broke things off right before I left,” Jodi said. “He wasn’t providing enough emotional support, and he wasn’t super accessible. He never wanted to talk on the phone and rarely checked in with me about my feelings. Considering how infrequently we saw each other, this made me feel like we weren’t even in a relationship.”

“If there are any reservations or if one of you wants it more than the other, you’re going to run into problems.”

Jodi said she would be interested in pursuing open relationships in the future. “I could see myself being in an open marriage if my future partner was into it and the circumstances were right. Communication is obviously key. And so is trust. I think you need to both be equally invested. If there are any reservations or if one of you wants it more than the other, you’re going to run into problems,” Jodi said.

 

A Reluctant Lady in Waiting

I’m a 30-year-old woman who isn’t looking for love. This is not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

By Saira Khan

Not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 11.54.39 PM.png

I’m a thirty-year-old heterosexual woman and I am not looking for love. When it comes to dating, my style is now firmly casual. A serial monogamist for most of my adult life, two years ago I decided to stop wasting time in relationships with men I saw no future with. Since then, I’ve met some remarkable and kind men, none of whom I wanted to date long-term.

Because I am a woman, some consider this unconventional. “What do you mean you don’t want to be in a relationship with him? He likes you!” is an exclamation I’ve heard many times, indicating the man’s willingness is all that’s required. The equivalences that follow include “You date like a man!” and the requisite “Sex and the City” reference, “You’re such a Samantha.”

To be fair, I’m not complaining.

I don’t like holding hands, I don’t like sharing my bed, I don’t like cuddling. I get my emotional fulfillment from my female friendships. For most of the last two years, I’ve been the one who makes first contact, I haven’t anguished over text messages and surely haven’t waited for someone to ask me out. In her essay “Ladies in Waiting,” Becca Rothfeld examines why women have traditionally been the ones who wait and why they often find themselves in a “state of involuntary idleness.” It is precisely this historical norm that I believed I had broken free from.

I was wrong.

***

One thing I have overlooked, and that you, the reader, may have missed as well, is that I hadn’t met anyone in nearly two years who I truly liked. So naturally I didn’t care if they were in my life or not. On the rare occasion when a text went unanswered, I was unmoved. Then last year I met a man who I will call Kyle, and all of my seemingly unconventional feminist wisdom was lost. It seemed that, when it came to someone I liked, I fell victim to the same “lady in waiting” trope I thought I was immune to, proving Rothfeld’s point that waiting is perpetuated by women who self-police. As someone who is candid about her feelings (or lack thereof), it was jarring to fall into a pit of self-doubt and, yes, constant waiting.

“The lover waits, speaks, entreats, but the beloved is constitutionally silent.” – Becca Rothfeld

The Day After Text

The day after text, as we’ve been told, is of crucial importance. It’s a ritual that serves as an acknowledgement of a potential future—and, in a heterosexual relationship, it is never supposed to come from the woman. This is a dating convention that I have, and gladly will, continue to ignore.

I first met Kyle in October, over drinks at a nearby bar. I knew I liked him when I didn’t give him my standard “I’m not looking for commitment” spiel, used previously to temper any misplaced expectations. A few hours later, after we drunkenly parted ways, we continued our conversation, through texts, into the next morning. Achievement unlocked.

Waiting is the Rule

I saw Kyle again about two weeks later. It was after this second date that I walked away feeling things I hadn’t felt in years. I was nervous. I cared about what he thought of me and, more frighteningly, how he felt about me. Three weeks later, after Thanksgiving, we went on our third date. By then, I found that in his presence I would stumble on my words and the pitch of my voice would falter. The more I liked him the more I retreated into the habits from my pre-enlightenment days; sometimes, I’d wait methodically to answer texts so as to not seem too eager, and allow him to reach out for our next date. I was no longer the pursuer. I waited.

Rothfeld notes that the concept of feminine waiting is ingrained in us by well-meaning female friends whose advice is always the same: wait, wait, wait. Indeed, even the most well-intentioned counsel I have received falls into the same pattern.

When Kyle would go a week without initiating contact, I’d swear he was “ghosting” on me; that it was the last I’d heard from him and the connection had been in my head. Just as I’d get to the point of writing him off, his name would flash across my phone’s screen. A constant battle raged in my head: was he a fuckboi or just really busy? I didn’t know but I sure as hell was happy that he messaged. “Romantic waiting is, like certain shades of pain, delicate enough to hint teasingly at future gratification but never disagreeable enough to preclude it,” Rothfeld writes. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

The funny thing is, neither of Kyle or I text much. When we first matched on Tinder, this was our conversation:

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 8.47.37 PM.pngAlthough I was, and still am, seeing other people, I found myself in despair in the weeks I didn’t hear from him. Had he lost interest? We were dating casually but in person it felt like more. We did all the things I thought I hated doing. I obsessed over the details: We held hands, slept in the same bed, often broke bread together, and talked, and talked, and talked. Surely I wasn’t crazy in thinking he felt something more? Right? RIGHT?

When hesitating to reach out to Kyle, I was, like Rothfeld, trying to prove my affection, my true feelings, through “mute endurance,” that is, wait him out. Or was I trying to prolong the inevitable demise of our relationship under this shroud of constant waiting? “Waiting, which renders everything provisional, which suspends progress or conclusion of any kind, is worse than clarity,” Rothfeld writes. While being in a constant state of will he? or won’t he? is excruciating in its own right, was I buying myself time and hoping he’d like me more through the act of self-policing?

Jolted Out of the Self

Indeed, if love is feminine and waiting is a sign of that femininity, as Rothfeld observes, then I  subconsciously began acting traditionally feminine in order to gain affection. “The alternative to dejected waiting, then, is patience, the art of elective waiting: a capitulation that women author, a passivity over which we assert ownership and which we might come to more comfortably inhabit,” Rothfeld writes. Even I can admit that I quickly went from being compared to Samantha to comparing myself to Carrie, inviting friends over to analyze a voicemail from Big for some hidden meaning that, likely, wasn’t there. In other words: I was losing my damn mind.

What made me feel even crazier was thinking I was crazy: What if this is all in my head? How much of what we agonize over is a narrative that we have constructed? Has our constant need for communication turned into a constant need of validation– in this case a validation of my feelings? Is my new found state of waiting a manifestation of my own insecurities about liking someone after so long? Have we, women, self-policed ourselves into this modern romantic norm? And what would happen if we stopped? I decided to find out.

In working on this story, I went back to the beginning of my communication with Kyle and noticed something: although there are moments when we went days without texting, there were times when I was the one who trailed off, leaving him waiting. These casual exchanges, to me, felt like the natural end of a conversation, but could easily have been perceived by him as me making him wait. Had I done to him what I thought he was doing to me?

With this new lens and impassioned clarity, I did the unthinkable: I texted Kyle the afternoon he was leaving town for a few weeks.

“at the risk of sounding trite, i think i’m gonna miss you while you’re gone. hope your trip is phenomenal. see you when you’re back.”

His response? He thanked me for missing him.

Welp. Han Solo would be proud, and I am a lady in waiting once more.


“I mustn’t. I mustn’t do this. Suppose he’s a little late calling me up—that’s nothing to get hysterical about. Maybe he isn’t going to call—maybe he’s coming straight up here without telephoning. He’ll be cross if he sees I have been crying. They don’t like you to cry. He doesn’t cry. I wish to God I could make him cry. I wish I could make him cry and tread the floor and feel his heart heavy and big and festering in him. I wish I could hurt him like hell.” -Dorothy Parker, “A Telephone Call,” in The Portable Dorothy Parker.