I Am My Lover (1997)

Summary: Six respected photographers present intimate portraits of twelve women practicing humanity’s first love– and last taboo. Over one hundred though-provoking duotone and black and white photographs capture a powerful range of aspect and emotion. Additionally, the women photographed share with us their thoughts, recollections, fantasies, and feelings about their self-pleasuring. 

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I Am My Lover (1997), by Joanie Blank, Phyllis Christopher, Victoria Heilweil, Craig Morey, Ron Raffaelli, Michael Rosen and Annie Sprinkle 7.5

In my neck of the woods, we have a local shop called Venus Envy. It’s probably the best and most reputable sex shop that we have, and it’s been around for nearly two decades – which is pretty telling.

On my lunch breaks, I frequently pass in front and take a glance at its window display, which frequently consists of books and a few sample props. Sometimes it catches my eye and gives me pause.

Sometimes it’s something that intrigues me.

Sometimes it’s something that titillates me.

Sometimes it’s a book like ‘I Am My Lover’.

There was a subtly sexy quality about its cover that made me want to give it a second look. Being a big fan of photography, I was immediately taken by the lovely sight of the woman with her eyes closed.

It’s only afterwards that I noticed the title, and its subtext, “Women Pleasure Themselves”. And when I realized that it was a book of photographs, I was made even more curious. I had to go and take a look.

Now, it would be easy to dismiss this as the act of a pervert. And, admittedly, the sight of a woman masturbating is enticing to me. But let’s be honest: I can see easily much more explicit stuff online.

The book meant more than that.

Published in 1997 by Down There Press, to me it falls in the same category as ‘Petals‘ or ‘Orgasm‘: it’s media that demystify taboos, that gives us permission to explore our sexuality more fully.

The perfect example of this is Nancy Friday’s ‘My Secret Garden’, which collected women’s sexual fantasies, finally proving that the accepted notion that this was strictly a male realm was a falsehood.

Its release liberated female readers because they no longer felt abnormal and/or it allowed them to shed the shame that they felt. By her 1991 update, ‘Women On Top’, women had embraced their fantasies.

So I feel that a book like ‘I Am My Lover’ is a powerful thing: it normalizes an act that I believe should be widely accepted as natural. We are sexual beings and there’s nothing wrong with being sexual.

I immediately had the book put on hold until payday.

I didn’t know at the time that the book was twenty years old; I barely looked at it. I flipped through it quickly and decided that the asking price was acceptable; it would soon be added to my collection.

Some people will scoff at the notion that masturbation might be frowned upon but, until a generation ago, it was still taboo. And, in some circles, it still is. So this is an important historical document.

What’s interesting is that it’s the second edition under the same title: the first one was originally published in 1978; it was also edited by Joanie Blank, but it featured the work of Honey Lee Cottrell.

1978.

I can only imagine how groundbreaking this must have been. At the time, there was little public acknowledgement of onanism, let alone female masturbation. I’d love to read about its cultural impact then.

I just have to find a copy of it somewhere.

This second edition appears to follow a similar format: it offers sets of black and white photographs of a dozen women masturbating, with each chapter opening with the subject’s views on her self-love.

It’s nothing super elaborate and it’s quite tasteful, but what it does is provide readers with a variety of different perspectives on the value of female masturbation, both conceptually and visually.

My only issue with this book is that, while the age group is broad, it limits its palette to white women. There are so many flavours in this world’s ice cream parlour that this is an unfortunate oversight.

Still, all told, ‘I Am My Lover’ is a noteworthy entry in erotica: it’s a beautiful book and it also serves a higher purpose. Sex and politics don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and this is a great mix.

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