It’s somewhat disarming to hear Dorothy Black talk about sex and relationships, openly sharing her views on topics which many consider too taboo to talk about.
“In South Africa, people only really want to talk about sex if it is traumatic – if it is about rape, disease, gender violence or pregnancy. But it seems anything about pleasure or empowerment is not okay,” says Dorothy, an author, journalist and blogger who published her first book The Dot Spot – Adventures of Love and Sex, with Jacana in February.
Of her magazine work, Dorothy explains: “I write about sex and relationships primarily. I write about a whole bunch of things, but that is my focus certainly as Dorothy Black.”
She started her career in writing about sex and relationships when she was offered a sex column at a major online news site.
“I really enjoyed it because relationships and people interest me, and so the more I wrote the column, the more people started speaking to me, and the more people spoke to me, the more I had to write about.”
She said writing a sex column is not what many people think it is. “People associate it with Carrie Bradshaw (from Sex and the City). I suppose it’s a good kick-off, but it’s far from that.
“My writing basically unpacks situations around sex and relationships. So you have people who write about politics and entertainment. I write about sex and relationships. So it could be anything, from threesomes to why people cheat…”
And it was her research and the stories people have told her over the years, that inspired Dorothy to write a book. “The book is written in a textbook style. I think some were disappointed because they were expecting a 50 Shades (of Grey) expose; a titillating flirt… It’s not about that because it wasn’t about that from the start. As I have been educating myself about sex and relationships, I have been writing about it, so the book was very much that.”
Dorothy has also started a series of talks, which she will host at The Bedroom in Buitengracht Street every second Thursday during September, October and November.
She said her first talk, which she hosted on Thursday September 15, was well-attended. “The venue is private and we keep it really private, so cellphones are off and there’s no tweeting, because I am very aware that these conversations are still new for a lot of people and they want to feel safe.”
And because the topic is still new for many, Dorothy has faced many battles over the years, mainly with people who still see sex and pleasure as a taboo. “When I started writing my online column, the comment section was wide open, and so people were incredibly abusive, mean and trollish.”
When they were required to log in via Facebook, however, these comments stopped. “People didn’t want to acknowledge that they were reading about sex or caring enough to comment on it. Interestingly, I get far fewer re-tweets and comments on things that I do, but I can see how many people go through to my site. So, everything is done quiet, on the sly.”
She said hosting the talks is even trickier, because people actually have to come out and engage in the conversation. “The people who go are people who are open, who want to learn and who wants to step into their power and broaden their awareness of self and sexuality, thereby working towards healthier relationships.” Dorothy says she knows how brave many people need to be to have these sorts of conversations: “I salute the women, and men who have come out to these talks and took time out to listen.
”We still have very close-minded views on sex and sexuality and gender in general. If we focus on the sex positive education for adults and children, it doesn’t mean that we have to ignore all the terrible things that really happen.”
She has, however, come to accept that some people will never break free from stereotypes around sexual conservatism. “Every generation has people like me writing the same stuff over and over. Marie Stopes wrote a hit in 1918 saying a lot of the same stuff. One hundred thousand copies sold and yet now we sit a 100 years later still having the same conversations about how women shouldn’t be judged by their hymen or their moral standards. We fear we’ll still be talking about this in 100 years time.”
She says writing her own book and watching it progress through the publishing and marketing made her re-evaluate what she considers as success and who she is writing for. “But that’s a personal journey of writing a book for any first time author. Unless, of course, the industry welcomes you with open arms.”
And regardless of learning curves facing her as a writer, Dorothy says she will keep writing her features and columns, and has even started writing her first novel. “A week ago, I was ready to pack up. But then someone comes to buy a book and someone comes to the talks and the feedback I get is ‘this is amazing, just keep doing it’.”
A series of five talks will be held at The Bedroom in Buitengracht Street, Cape Town, every second Thursday until November 10. The next talk will be on Thursday September 29 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost R180. Book at Quicket.