Jennifer Reese
October 29, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

EW reviews three erotic memoirs

In a world where we’re all just a few clicks away from the most graphic pornography ever made, is it still possible to shock a reader with an erotic memoir? Absolutely. But it’s not the nasty stuff that made me blush as I picked through the stack of recent sex books: It’s the palpable eagerness of nonprofessionals to give it up to the public. Hustling a raunchy autobiography was a shrewd career move for porn queen Jenna Jameson; but why would an ordinary woman want to sodomize and tell?

In the case of Melissa Panarello, chalk it up to youth. A precocious Italian teenager, the self-styled ”Melissa P.” has written an autobiographical novel about the sexual escapades of a precocious Italian teenager named Melissa. A blockbuster hit in her home country, 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed has been translated into curiously quaint English; the frequently mentioned male organ routinely appears as ”lance” or ”scepter.” But the language is the only quaint thing about this depressing little book, which chronicles the transformation of its heroine from a sentimental virgin (”I want love, Diary. I want to feel my heart melt, want to see my icy stalactites shatter and plunge into a river of passion and beauty”) to a dildo-wielding virago who violates her older male lover. Melissa drifts passively from one sordid sexual encounter to the next, offering scant analysis of her behavior but plenty of salacious, disturbing detail. The author needed a psychiatrist, not a publisher.

Pretentious former ballerina Toni Bentley may be all grown up, but she seems to be a little nuts, too. Bentley’s comparatively stylish and amusing opus, The Surrender, celebrates ”the joy that lies on the other side of convention. The peace that is past the pain.” In other words, anal sex — a practice she believes ”realigns the balance for a woman with too much power — and a man with too little.” A control freak with a florid but enjoyable prose style, Bentley recounts her romance with a godlike figure she refers to as ”A-man,” who sodomized her precisely 298 times. Bentley counted. She also kept all their used condoms in a red mahogany chest.

What kind of a person admits to that, let alone does it? The same kind of shameless exhibitionist who writes an oddly charming five-page paean to her collection of crotch-less panties. Or offers straight-faced advice like: ”Deep is good. Gagging is good. If you won’t gag for your man, how can you really love him?”

Jennifer Lehr would argue that you show your love by putting up with months of no nooky at all. The central subject of Lehr’s manic, scrapbook-style autobiography, Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex: her fiancé John’s mystifying apathy in the bedroom, and their equally mystifying decision to get married regardless. Lehr holds little back. We’re treated to an explicit précis of her pre-John sexual history, endless accounts of their therapy sessions, a snapshot of Lehr in her favorite masturbating position, and a blurry photo of John in a car with the caption: ”Driving up to Mammoth we got so turned on talking dirty that we pulled over in a field so John could give me head.” There are worse ways to spend an afternoon than flipping idly through this gushy, confiding tome — but few are more embarrassing.

100 Strokes: D+

The Surrender: B

Ill-Equipped: B-

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