The Help Desk: Opening your mind (and your whatever) to erotic literature

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

My friend says there's no such thing as a good dirty book. She hates all sex writing, and thinks the curtain should fall to "protect the privacy of the characters."

I'm a total narrative voyeur, though, and I want to know everything about them. That kind of intimacy is largely why I read fiction!

She says I'm creepy. I think she's prudish. What do you think?

Sexit, Phinney Ridge

Dear Sexit,

It’s really all in how you are able to read and comprehend a book. For instance, Hemingway believed in the Iceberg Theory of writing – that the deeper meaning of a story shouldn’t be evident, it should be implicitly revealed through the writer’s careful crafting. His story "Hills like White Elephants" about a young woman struggling with her boyfriend’s pressure to abort their baby is a classic example of this, as is "Fuck Me Faster," wherein another young woman struggles with her best friend’s father’s thrusting speed – a metaphor for aging and, ultimately, his mortality. When he comes, they both cry, as will you.

Perhaps your friend just has intimacy issues. It's perfectly ok; most people do. But the way to address them isn't avoidance; it is acceptance.

As a good friend, I encourage you to track down the classic A Time to Bone by Lug Gruntwood, and gift it to your friend. It is both a celebrated history book and an erotic classic. You'll know it by it's detailed cover art – a somewhat shy-looking penis pointing at the mysterious opening of a shaved anus.

The protagonist, an archaeologist, takes readers deeper into that proverbial cave, one filled with meaning and a certain sweet sadness, when he hires a new assistant, a young man of questionable scientific background who fails to follow protocol in handling both artifacts and anuses. Your friend will laugh, she will cry. She will learn something about archeology and just how wide an anus can be stretched when handled with delicacy and care.