Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

Join me on a journey of self-discovery, which begins with a spiteful commenter calling me a narcissist and ends with me explaining why personal sex stories are awesome and this commenter can suck on my hugely-inflated ego.

A while ago, in my comment section, a man called me a narcissist. I know, I know, I get the best fan mail. In fact, what he wrote was this:

“I’ve been quietly reading your blog for awhile, never commenting until now. You first came to my attention through an article on pegging featured in GQ to which I subscribe. I found your response in the feature to be witty with a writing style that was comfortable and easy to follow. When I went to this blog, I was delighted to see that the wit and easy style I had discovered in the article continued here. While there are ideas to which I do not agree, as I tend to be more sexually conservative than you, I appreciated your writing and continued to follow. My question to you is to what do attribute your intense narcissism and when do you think it began? Was it during childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood? Do you feel it is a result of people constantly telling you how insightful, intelligent, and talented you are? All of your writing carries with it a strong sense of gigantic self inflicted pats on the back and an excessive need to pontificate. I understand that most writers, who have reached your level of notoriety, have a healthy dose of exaggerated worth. Yours, however, exceeds all I’ve seen.”

My first reaction was one of intense surprise – he says it’s GQ but as I’ve never written for them I can only assume he means this pegging guide in Esquire. Esquire! My narcissism exceeds all he’s seen? Giles fucking Coren writes for Esquire! I’m honoured to have beaten Mr Coren to this prestigious accolade.

Sex blogging and narcissism

My second reaction to this comment (OK, my third one after I’d cried about it, because I am human after all, and these things are genuinely hurtful) was to consider whether it’s possible to publish personal sex stories online without being a bit of a narcissist.

Am I a narcissist? This question is one that goes round and round in my head quite a lot. So much, in fact, that although I didn’t publish his comment I saved it on my phone, in the hope I could address his question later. Narcissism is obsession with the self, after all, and I can be obsessed with something I simultaneously despise, as evidenced by the fact that I still watch The Apprentice. I’m anxious and self-hating most of the time, but I also tell personal sex stories, record audio porn, and spaff out my opinions and thoughts in the belief that they matter to someone. To do what I do I have to believe that my thoughts/opinions/sex life are at least interesting enough that some people on the internet will want to read them, and that the advice I give will be useful.

I think in order to do well in sex blogging you need to be blessed with at least a dash of narcissism. Or perhaps we could call it ‘confidence’ – you know, like we would if I were a man.

Impersonal vs personal sex stories

One of the reasons I worry I’m a narcissist is because of the ‘I’ that pokes its way into pretty much everything I write. ‘I think X’, ‘I love Y’, ‘I get horny about Z on the tube.’ It’s a bit much, isn’t it? I’ve used it nearly 20 times so far in this piece and I’m only just getting started! What a prick ‘I’ am!

Problem is, ‘I’ is valuable, and in some cases it can be much more valuable than a ‘you.’ Consider the following situation, where I want to give people a bit of blow job advice. I could write it in the second person, the way I might if I were compiling a list of Top 10 Ways To Please Your Partner In Bed:

Before you get to sucking dick, spend a little while picking a decent tune or two on your playlist: something with a steady rhythm, that builds over time. Not only does it give you both something banging to listen to, but by synchronising your movements in time with the song, you can give your blow job pace that guides your partner to an awesome climax.

It’s… OK. It’s a bit dry, and it sounds quite clunky. What’s more, it assumes that everyone’s going to want to do blow jobs the same way. Even though I’ve tried hard to remove imperatives like ‘you must’ or dodgy claims like ‘it’s guaranteed!’ the whole thing still reads like a tip cooked up by a harassed magazine sub-editor from the early noughties.

I have, at least, managed to avoid gendered pronouns, though that’s a difficult thing to do when you’re writing second-person copy. ‘The penetrating partner’ or ‘the penis-haver/owner’ are easy enough to switch into copy, so you’re not assuming anyone with a dick is ‘he’ and anyone with a vagina is ‘she’, but they often jar with readers, because they aren’t phrases most mainstream consumers have come across before.

Final criticism: when using the ‘you’ here, there’s more than a hint of suggestion that there’s a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to do blow jobs. As if the author is dictating a set of rules which people must follow in order to be good in bed. I don’t like that, it isn’t very fun.

I could write sex stuff in the second person and avoid accusations of narcissism, but it’d be a bit dry, and clunky, and heavily imply that there’s a ‘right’ way to do things. Is there a better way?

Personal sex stories

Let’s rewrite the paragraph above, but in the way I would usually present it.

There are few things I enjoy more in life than giving suck jobs to decent music. A track that’s inherently filthy, without too many lyrics to distract me, and which allows me to build rhythm and layer in new movements as the song swells. Long gone are the days when my suck jobs would be accompanied only by the sounds of moaning and occasional scratching at the furniture. These days he moans and scratches – and I slurp and gag – to the sultry tones of Portishead’s Glory Box. There’s plenty of Massive Attack that works too. Let me know your own blow job faves and I’ll see if I can make a playlist.

Is that better than the first? I think so. It’s personal, so the advice has a gold seal of approval – the reader knows that the writer has actually done it. What’s more, I don’t need to shoehorn in caveats like ‘this might not work for everyone’ (as I did in this guide to receiving blow jobs) because I’m not claiming it works for everyone, just sharing some of my joy in the hope it might spark some in others.

In the second example, I don’t need to work as hard to avoid imperatives or point out that every body is different and no sex tip is guaranteed, blah blah etcetera. I also neatly sidestep the risk that I might make a casual fuck-up when it comes to gendered pronouns: I’m talking about my own experience, so I can just make sure to use the correct pronouns for all the people involved in the scene.

When it comes to blow job tips, some of these things don’t matter too much – it’s not wildly important that you know I’ve tried this tip before if it’s something you could reasonably feel comfortable suggesting to your partner or admitting you’re intrigued by. But if we swap in a more extreme example – “Would you mind putting your foot on my head while you fuck me from behind? I’ve seen that in porn and it’s hot!” – then the ‘I’ has the added value of showing to the horny reader that if they get turned on by this too, they are not alone.

The value of ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ is, ironically, that it can be much more inclusive and comforting – inviting people inside your club and reassuring them that their kinks are nothing to be ashamed of, as long as they’re done consensually.

‘I’ versus ‘You’

That doesn’t mean every time we write about sex we should use ‘I’ – not everyone’s going to want to share their personal sex stories, and in many scenarios (like a lot of sex education, for instance) including intimate tales would be wildly inappropriate and deeply harmful. But in the context of what I’m doing on this blog? The ‘I’ is valuable. More so, most of the time, than ‘you.’ If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine, but then if you don’t agree you probably shouldn’t be reading a personal sex blog.

What I’m saying, I guess, is that telling personal sex stories is both inherently self-centered and also inherently valuable. And to the original commenter who called me a narcissist: thank you! For giving me the opportunity to mull this question over and explain, in detail, what a world-changing genius I genuinely know myself to be.

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