Home / Books Review: He’s on Top and She’s on Top edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Books Review: He’s on Top and She’s on Top edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

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"When I conceived of He's on Top and its companion volume, She's on Top, I wanted to pay homage to the power – physical, mental, and emotional – that goes into being a true top," writes the prolific Rachel Kramer Bussel in "Tender Tops and Sensual Sadism," her introduction to the anthology of "male dominance and female submission."

"Dominant men get a bad rap in our society, being lumped in with so many scary, dangerous examples of male lust gone awry" that Bussel felt the need to produce a two-volume set that portrays sexual dominance for what it truly is: one person submitting willfully to the whims and control of another, on the unspoken (and, often, spoken) understanding that the other has their pleasure in mind and knows what they're doing. Even the ones who give themselves up for the pleasure of their partners derive pleasure from doing so.

As Bussel writes in "The Perfect Power Trip," her introduction to She's on Top, "the image of a strong, powerful woman hovering over a cowering man is enough to stop us in our tracks."

That point is better on the attractiveness of the confident woman than on the point of the cowering man. While allowing for the fact that sexual desires and tastes vary wildly from person to person, I don't know if it's so much seeing a weak man that turns anyone on, so much as a woman exercising dominance and complete sexual self-awareness, a rarity in a world where girls are taught to have sex in the dark.

I, for one, happen to fancy the idea of having an attractive, older female boss who demands foot rubs after long nights on the road doing business. When I think on that, it's her self-assuredness that turns me on, not me cowering.

Donna George Storey's "Suit and Tie" from She's on Top reverses those roles well. Storey is a young woman in the middle of her "Year of Suits," as she affectionately refers to her time in the Financial District, working for a successful if boring CPA named Steve Kennedy. After Kennedy walks in on Storey pleasuring herself in the unisex bathroom, Storey wobbles to a bar down the street and takes a three-martini lunch, thinking her career all but over. They quickly strike an "arrangement" that ends with Storey penetrating her boss via dildo and disappearing into the faceless mob in the financial district after Kennedy's wife calls the office looking for him.

Editor Rachel Kramer Bussel has carried the banner proudly – and productively – for the sex-positive cause. Host of the Lusty Lady blog and Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations, Bussel has penned over 100 articles on sexuality, including the famous "Long Live Blowjob Nation" for the Village Voice, and is a regular contributor at the Huffington Post.

Wrote Bussel in her tribute to the blowjob, "The idea that a blowjob is a dirty, unsavory chore persists…"The Atlantic's Caitlin Flanagan lamented living in "Blowjob Nation" as she presented her liplocked biases. '[W]hy would girls voluntarily turn to giving blowjobs? Whatever happened to the hand job? Whither the dry hump? Why do girls prefer the far more debasing, uncomfortable, and messy blowjob?' she wrote.

Responding on behalf of the blowjob queens across this great nation, Bussel continued that "If I'm with a guy who really turns me on, the very thought of sucking his dick makes me wet…To me, there's something even more sensual and connected about swallowing someone's hard cock than fucking."

It is interesting, then, that Bussel portrays the volume on male dominance as the more taboo of the two, considering the very common trope that women, even in 2008, are as a gender undercompensated on the job market and the fact that many corporate boardrooms can still be found that are all male. Male dominance is a fact of life in the job market but seen as dangerous in the bedroom? On college campuses, maybe. But, then, doesn't the very idea that "every kiss begins with Kay" reflect a thinking that women need to be enticed into sex by sleight of hand and material goods – that raw, male sexuality doesn't do the trick?

What's really taboo is the idea of a man getting on his knees for a woman for any other purpose than putting a wedding ring on her finger. In "Boca," in season 1 of The Sopranos, Uncle Junior and Tony Soprano are brought to a state of war when Tony mercilessly and publicly ribs Junior after hearing that his uncle had "developed a taste" for a lady friend. When Tony's wife Carmela asks him why it's such a big deal that a man "tastes" his woman, Tony, in his Old World wisdom, grunts "they think that if you'll suck on pussy you'll suck on anything." Instant death for a mafioso – as Vito Spatafore learned in season 6's "Cold Stones," when he was brutally killed weeks after being found in leather chaps by mafia "friends" making collections at a gay club.

Men are only supposed to submit to requests that we go to Home Depot and only watch football during the weekend – not to listen in on while their wives get "serviced" orally by multiple men as Max does in Kate Dominic's "The Queening Chair." Max, Dominic's husband, claims he isn't shy about going down on his wife, but since he isn't a "bottom" he won't deign to participate but graciously allows her to have three other gentlemen come over every so often while he has "poker night" with his guys.

Max's cognitive dissonance in being unwilling to "queen" his wife, but allowing other guys to do it and even listen on the phone while they do, and even later down the road feed her peeled grapes while they do, is perhaps the best example I can proffer of just how taboo it is for men to submit sexually. You don't hear about Max hosting blowjob contests at his place while his wife and her girlfriend paint each others' toes. Max's willingness to live on the short end of the stick reflects supplication, if not submission, when submitting might be the better option for his and his wife's sex lives together.

That dissonance – not to mention the preference for ego above the pleasure of one's partner – is proof that the sex-positive movement has quite a long way to go. He's and She's on Top will help nudge things in that direction. Whether you delight in taking the reins or ceding power to another, this two-set offers something for everyone – and some pretty good ideas, too.

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