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A bang-up job
Online sex columnists Emma Taylor and Lorelei Sharkey bring their advice to the page

EMMA TAYLOR AND Lorelei Sharkey (a former Boston Phoenix staffer) didnít pen the tune "Letís Talk About Sex," but they may as well have. On a weekly basis, the authors of the popular column "The Em & Lo Down" answer such questions for their readers as "How do I groom my pubic hair?", "Can you help me find the G-spot on my girlfriendís body?", and "How do I talk dirty without sounding stupid?"

But, as the pair is quick to point out, bringing the computer into bed isnít the most convenient (or comfortable) option. Which is one of the reasons they wrote the just-published The Big Bang: Nerveís Guide to the New Sexual Universe (Plume). With chapters like "Sex Toys Wonít Break Your Heart: Plugging in Your Sex Life," "Heading South: The Art of Oral Sex," and "The Choice Is Yours: Birth Control and Emergency Contraception," the book is filled with sexual information, advice, and humor ó all presented in Em and Loís trademark cheeky voices.

To spice up a recent Tuesday afternoon, we got the Nerve girls on the line for a little phone sex.

Q: When you first started writing your sex column, did you feel like you knew more about sex than the average person?

Emma Taylor: Not at the beginning, no.

Lorelei Sharkey: No. Thatís why itís called "Advice from Near Experts."

ET: We definitely focused more on relationship questions in the very beginning stages, rather than sex questions.

LS: And I think weíre just extremely opinionated, and the one thing we were confident about was the way we thought people should treat each other and think of each other, especially during sex.

ET: Yeah, because so much of it is about communication. I mean, thereís obviously physical things about lube and stuff like that, but we taught ourselves that as we went along.

LS: I think itís more about the attitude, our particular attitude, about it all, and the presentation of it. There are so many sex books out there, and itís about the way they deliver the information. Thereís nothing that incredibly new in terms of technical information, but so many people that we know would never be caught dead buying a sex manual, because theyíre so earnest and cheesy and New AgeĖy, and everything takes itself so seriously ó

ET: And pages about tantric sex and extending your orgasm, and stuff that just sounds completely unattainable.

LS: And also, nobody can relate to it and nobody can take it seriously. I read those and think, Thatís not the sex I have, or, Thatís not what my friends are like. Sex can be really hot, but it can also be really funny, and you need to be able to laugh about it. Thatís why we wrote this book the way we did: to make it really informative. Having worked at Nerve for so long and doing this column, we didnít think there was that much more to learn, but having researched the book, we actually did learn a lot. So everyone can always learn something new.

ET: One of the other things that we try to incorporate in the way we write is to maintain an ability to blush about some things, and to still find some things a little embarrassing, or some things a little too dirty. I think there are a lot of sex writers out there who sort of affect a "been there, done it all" attitude, and you sort of get the impression that theyíre these crazy, out-there, experimental freaks, and weíve never really been like that. I think that sometimes makes our advice more approachable, the fact that we can be a little coy, and we seem more like people that you might be friends with, so when we tell you, you know, "Fistingís actually not that crazy," youíre more likely to believe us, because we sound like people who wouldíve once thought that fisting was totally crazy. Which we did.

LS: I think a part of us would still say that fisting is kind of crazy!

Q: Well, you just answered one of my questions, which was, does anything make you blush?

LS: Oh, yeah.

ET: All the time.

LS: We both blush. Like, literally, blush. I think Emmaís blushing right now.

Q: So you already had the column; why did you think people needed the book?

ET: A lot of itís about it being a reference guide, everything in the same place together, something you can flip through. Something that looks beautiful; I think the photographs turned out really well. I think part of it, being in paper, makes it almost less intimidating. I mean, thereís definitely something nice and anonymous about looking up information online, but thereís something a little more trustworthy about something thatís in print. Itís been incredibly well-vetted by doctors, a whole team of doctors, which, you know, we donít always have at our disposal every week in our advice column. Thereís just more space; our advice column is just little snippets here and there. And this, too ó you can take it into bed, hopefully, and read it together.

Q: Which is harder to do with a laptop.

ET: Right. The cord gets in the way.

Q: Tell me about the process of writing the book, the research ...

ET: I guess we started with the table of contents, which was based on our mail bag from the last four years. You get a pretty good idea of what people want to know and what they donít know and what theyíre clueless about and what they really need to be taught a thing or two about, just by seeing the questions people have. And then we read every sex manual out there, we interviewed a ton of people, we made all of our friends tell us everything they knew. Did a lot of ó

LS: Experiments on our boyfriends.

ET: There was lots of hands-on research. In the intercourse chapter, we were trying to decide what positions we should include, and so we had this whole list and split them in half and would go home and try them out and report back, like, "This one almost broke my boyfriendís penis off; itís totally not going to work in the book!"

LS: One thing thatís actually kind of funny is that when we wrote the book, we were under this crazy deadline; we pretty much wrote it in four months, full-time, and we both had boyfriends at the time, so we were using them as guinea pigs. And then about a month before we were finished, we both made the mistake of breaking up with them ó

ET: Within about 24 hours of each other. And we were both out of town, so we had no idea what the other one was doing. And we got back to our computers on Monday morning and were both single, and we were like, oh God, not only do we have to write a book while weíre dealing with heartbreak, but we have no one to test anything out on!

LS: We were still finishing up that positions [section], so we actually at one point had to just suck it up and in our sweatpants and jeans, just got in the position on the living-room floor.

ET: Because we knew what the position was, and we just couldnít figure out how to describe to a reader how to get into that position, so we were lying there, tangled up together with the laptop, typing, Okay, this leg goes here ...

Q: Do you have a favorite chapter?

LS: My favorite is the BDSM [bondage and discipline, domination and submission, and sadomasochism] chapter.

ET: I think mine is the anal-sex chapter, just because I learned so much.

LS: Those I think are the two best ones.

ET: We just had so much fun doing the research. For the anal sex, it was just, I think, something that we both had been curious about for a long time, and we know that we get so many questions about it, and there are so many myths surrounding it that it was really fascinating to learn all about them. Plus itís such a ripe area for humor, too.

LS: So many puns!

ET: A million possibilities for bad, dirty jokes.

LS: And we love the potty humor, so it was just really fun to write.

ET: We actually have this skit that weíve done in New York that hopefully weíre going to be doing on our book tour as well; we kind of rewrote the anal-sex chapter a little bit and turned it into, like, a flight-safety lecture. So we have these retro flight-attendant outfits, and we actually performed it at the Bleeker Theatre in Manhattan, and we got up in front of an audience and gave this very stern lecture on the proper way to have anal sex.

LS: Using the similar terminology, like, "Always exit in a calm and orderly fashion," and "You may experience slight turbulence in your cabin."

Q: Are you as comfortable getting up and talking about sex in front of an audience as you are writing about it?

LS and ET: No!

LS: Maybe after a couple cocktails ó then weíre fine.

ET: Weíre getting better at it. I shake like a leaf when Iím up on stage, but I feel more uncomfortable at the end of the show, when people come up to you and they want to talk to you one-on-one. Like, itís one thing to sort of give general advice, but to actually meet someone who in your face wants advice ... I donít know, when you actually have to picture the person youíre giving advice to, itís a little more disturbing.

LS: We also did a workshop right when we were finishing up writing the book, for the Learning Annex. Basically itís an adult-education workshop. We did a three-hour workshop on "How To Drive Your Woman Wild in Bed," which was not our title, but they asked us if we wanted to do it. So we did it, but we just forgot that the Learning Annex does not attract the same kind of crowd as the Nerve audience that weíre used to. We really insisted that it be held at a bar instead of just a stuffy, fluorescent-lit room. And all these guys over 40 showed up in suits, with pens and notepads, and nobody was buying drinks except for the two of us, and it was really funny and scary. But it turned out okay.

ET: We only had one walk out; this one guy walked out when we started talking about anal play. He was like, "This is gross! Back to the boobies!"

Q: Whatís the most outrageous question youíve been asked?

LS: We get some good ones. I have two favorites.

ET: A husband and wife wrote to us, saying, we really want the wife in this couple to have sex with our golden retriever while the husband watches, and we were wondering how we should go about that, and if itís safe.

LS: And then another one was from this guy who sounded really normal, he sounded young and educated and down-to-earth, but he said that he was working at the morgue, and heíd started getting it on with the cadavers, and this is his question: not, is that totally fucked up and sick, but the question was, "What STDs should be I worried about? Can cadavers still transfer STDs after theyíre dead?" I wrote back to him, saying, "Can you just tell me, are you for real? If itís for real, would you be interested in being interviewed, and if itís not for real and you just thought this would be a funny question, do you want to do any fiction-writing for Nerve?" He wrote back and he was like, "No, itís real, and if you could help me out, I would really appreciate it."

ET: Wouldnít that be making you an accomplice to some kind of crime?

LS: I kind of just put that away, didnít look at it again.

ET: The most common question we get is from men wanting to know how to enlarge their penis. They refuse to believe that all of those e-mails they get as spam are fake. Thereís this tiny sliver of hope in them that one of those pills out there might work, or one of the weights, or the massage method. They refuse to give up hope. Itís funny.

Q: Do you ever get tired of talking and writing and thinking about sex? Is that possible?

ET: Not yet!

LS: I know, I keep thinking itís going to happen.

ET: I mean, itís amazing: we hang out together all the time as well, and we can write about the stuff all day long, and then weíll go sit in a bar, and we can still talk about our own sex lives for like another three hours afterwards.

LS: Emma and I, weíre not only colleagues and partners, weíre great friends. So as soon as work is done, weíll go out on a Friday night, and then somehow, after a weekís worth of other peopleís sex lives, weíll still end up talking to each other about our own problems. And they seem completely separate, they seem like two different worlds.

ET: And they have to be, too, because, I mean, no advice columnist ever takes their own advice nearly as much as they should. Weíre absolutely terrible about following our own advice. Itís definitely a "do as we say, not as we do" kind of thing. We sometimes laugh about how horrified our readers would be if they could see some of the relationship faux pas weíve made, or some of the awkward moments weíve had in the bedroom.

Q: Care to share any of them?

ET: I generally find myself making disclaimers when I meet guys, right before the big moment, and just be like, "Just because I write about it doesnít mean Iím, like, super-good in bed, or any kind of expert or anything." I had an ongoing point of contention with my last boyfriend; he was like, "How can you be such a bad communicator in the bedroom when all you do is communicate all day long about sex?" Hopefully Iím getting better.

Q: What do you think most often stands in the way of having good sex?

LS: Communication.

ET: And being afraid of making a fool of yourself, too. Being afraid of being laughed at or being judged. Just taking everything too seriously. Thinking that if you try something new, it has to go perfectly the first time. If you fall off the bed while youíre trying to do a new position, itís okay to laugh it off and try again. Being able to maintain a sexy mood while still finding your own foibles funny.

Q: True or false: "Sex is like pizza ó even when itís bad, itís good"?

ET: I guess physically itís always good. If itís bad, itís because of some kind of emotional trauma thatís involved.

LS: I think there is such a thing as bad sex; if there wasnít, then there would be no use for us.

ET: Weíre just improving it; weíre just making good sex better.

Q: Whatís your favorite sexual slang?

LS: We hate the term, and we never use it: "making love." Ohhh ó it just gives me the tingles!

ET: Yeah, thatís definitely our least favorite. And also "lover." So we wonít use "making love" or "lover." We refuse.

LS: If we have to say "lover," weíll spell it l-u-v-a. I always like calling a sexual session a "sesh," and masturbation "rubbing one out." Also, weíre not big fans of the term "pussy," and when weíre vocal about it, people donít like it. They just think we should be a little more open.

ET: Itís also because weíve never come up with a great alternative. There really isnít a great alternative to the word, unfortunately. We shorten it to "puss" sometimes.

LS: I think, yeah, "puss" is definitely preferable. We did put a call out for suggestions from readers, and I think one of the best was "the Congo," because itís hot and steamy and exotic.

Q: When I was in high school and I would get home late at night, I would go stomping up the stairs so that in case my parents were having sex, I wouldnít hear them. I have a friend who confesses that when she would get home late at night, she would tiptoe up the stairs, because she wanted to hear her parents having sex. Which would you have done?

ET: When I would hear them, I would put my pillow over my head. And if I had my Walkman near me, I would put it on. Oh my God, there is nothing more horrifying to me than that sound.

LS: I think I wanted to hear. I probably wished they had done it more; they ended up getting divorced, so I probably would have wanted to hear.

ET: I like the fact that they still do, but I donít need any evidence. I was like, "Itís very cute when you hold hands and all, but ..."

Tamara Wieder can be reached at

A complete archive of our weekly Q&As
Issue Date: July 4 - July 10, 2003
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