Bad Sex: Truth, Pleasure, and an Unfinished Revolution
By Nona Willis Aronowitz
Plume, 334 pages, $28

The opening chapter of Nona Willis Aronowitz’s semi-scholarly, hyper-confessional new book is titled “Bad Sex,” and the closing one, “Good Sex.” This slick repackaging of the author’s writing on sex promises readers a how-to guide on getting from the former to the latter. In the process, the author also attempts to answer a question that plagues her intended readership of highly educated and successful but sexually frustrated feminists: Why, if we are so liberated, are we still having bad sex?

Willis Aronowitz’s answer, as her subtitle tells us, is that the sexual revolution remains “unfinished.” But after doing a dissertation’s worth of research, she informs her readers, she has found the path to true liberation in the practice of “responsible non-monogamy.” This lifestyle choice, she argues, represents the most advanced form of sexual partnership ever experienced by human beings. Embracing its ethical parameters would guarantee “good sex”—at least to a sufficiently enlightened, and ideally nonreproductive, subset of people.

The author frames her book as a continuation of the agenda pursued by her late mother, Ellen Willis, the celebrated rock critic and icon of sex-positive feminism. Ellen Willis railed against the expectations of monogamy and called for “alternatives to the family” —but as her daughter later discovered while reading her old journals, she also struggled with jealousy when her husband, the left-wing academic Stanley Aronowitz, had an affair.

At its more compelling moments, Bad Sex is about a daughter reflecting on her mother’s life and work and her illustrious parents’ complex relationship. But for the most part, it is a breezily oblivious memoir of the sex life of an attractive young woman with a good job and New York City real estate, who can swipe her way to the next orgasm and celebrate her orgasms as world-historical achievements.

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