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Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex

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Public Sex collects the best of Pat Califia's work published over the past 20 years. Providing both a chronicle of the radical sex movement in the United States, as well as the definitive opinions of America's most consistent and trenchant sexual critic, Public Sex is must-read material for anyone interested in sexual practices, feminism, censorship, or simply the art of the political essay.

250 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1994

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About the author

Patrick Califia-Rice

53 books118 followers
Patrick Califia-Rice, who formerly wrote under the names Pat Califia and Patrick Califia, is a writer of nonfiction (on men, gender, transgender identity, and sexuality) and fiction (erotica, poetry, and short stories).

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5 stars
332 (36%)
4 stars
328 (36%)
3 stars
184 (20%)
2 stars
40 (4%)
1 star
20 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 39 reviews
Profile Image for Mk.
181 reviews
April 14, 2008
I really enjoyed this book, largely for the ways it traces the effects AIDS had on queer culture's relationship to sex.

An anecdote: I got this book out of the public library. I had it sent over to my local branch, and when I went to pick it up the librarian returned from the storage room slowly, staring at the front cover. When he got back to the desk, he held the book up to another employee and asked "Why do we have this?" The person shrugged and the librarian switched to reading the back cover, still not looking at me. Finally he held the book up to me and asked why I wanted it. I hesitated. "Is it a how-to?" he asked. "Are you doing research? Is it for school? Why are you interested in this?" "I just am," I stammered. "That's one reason I guess," he sneered, and then set the book before me. Couldn't have illustrated Califia's points more perfectly...

Honestly I'm shocked the public library had it. We'll see how long that lasts.
Profile Image for Erin.
24 reviews
July 7, 2008
This book is not only good, but important.

Which is different than saying that I agree with every single thing the author says in the entire book. But I love the unfettered intelligent argumentation in here, and I will fight like hell to have the chance to read it. Califia's opinions themselves evolved as time progresses. I most admired his candor, ability to cut through the baloney in discussion of sexual politics, and writing that neither panders to right or left but aims to create definition and clarity in a fraught field.

Truly radical.
Profile Image for Ocean.
Author 4 books50 followers
July 11, 2010
whip-smart, fearless and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, this book is a collection of essays mostly published in the 80's and early 90's, which still ring true today. the essay, "unmonogamy: loving tricks and tricking lovers" changed my life, i think. pretty much everything in here is a gem. i also thought it was hilarious when califia mentioned making their own dildo harness and then said, "velcro makes it adjustable--i love technology!" oh, the 80's.
Profile Image for Liza.
258 reviews27 followers
July 25, 2018
When we read this book for book club I googled Pat Califia and like the first thing that came up was a gofundme or something about how he needed money for medical care because he was old and sick and basically living in poverty, and it felt shocking because he was someone so influential and canonical to me in youth, and I think also in a weird way bc of his like power-projecting sexual bravado, but also somehow makes sense that ppl who are kind of out there pushing the margins with their work, which I think he definitely did at the time this was first published, and in some ways even more so now in our times that are in some ways even more sexually conservative, end up in these kind of marginal positions. Like why doesn't he have tenure at like Berkeley or somewhere but also of course he doesn't. It's so weird how things have changed now where the s&m stuff seems kind of sweet and definitely innocuous but the age/consent stuff is like way farther over line. And honestly I'm still kind of shook by the way he breaks down how part of the pedophilia societal panic was about the idea that children's parents should be able to own/control them which is an attitude that probably does more to enable sexual abuse than any. I can't really come around to thinking it's ok for children to be in consenting relationships with adults, but it is important to keep in mind also how much traditional family structure acts as a cover for abuse. As someone with a deep fear of being caught out having a wrong thought or opinion, I found it inspiring how willing he was to be wrong and make mistakes in public and learn and change over time. Actually I just remembered I initially really wanted to read this because Morgan Page tweeted something about how it would be a controversial convo-starter for queers of today, and she was really right!
Profile Image for Megan.
Author 16 books454 followers
September 9, 2017
Five stars in recognition of its immense contributions to queer and feminist sexual politics; though I'd go for four on the basis of reading experience -- it's pretty one-note in terms of voice/form/tone. Califia is an incisive writer whose critiques of institutional hypocrisy are forceful and persuasive; this reads as an important historical document of the sex wars and a reminder of how (almost) totally cultural mores have changed within feminism in the past two decades--and, too, how attitudes towards BDSM/kink have shifted within queer sex cultures. I especially appreciated how fervently Califia defends all those in Gayle Rubin's "outer circle" of sexual deviance -- as well as other marginalized communities such as drug users -- and how transparently he addresses having changed his own positions over time (particularly around child-adult relationships and age of consent; and his former stance as a terf-y lesbian separatist).
Profile Image for Sheryl.
201 reviews3 followers
August 29, 2007
Pat/rick is one of my favorite writers on any subject, let alone difficult issues of sexuality. This book will challenge everyone on some level, I would imagine (perhaps you are already all right with leathersex, but can you get down with a defense of NAMBLA?) but Pat/rick's wit and wisdom made me examine my prejudices in a way that few other writers have.
Profile Image for Ching-In.
Author 19 books227 followers
January 3, 2008
Even if I didn't always agree with his analysis (for instance, I wish he would have gone further around with the race analysis -- he does pay lip service, but I wanted more specifics, but maybe that's for another author & another book), I'm glad I read this book. Interesting, thought-provoking essays on sex (especially focusing on the subcultures of S/M, sex work, queer culture).
Profile Image for Jeanette.
553 reviews4 followers
January 2, 2008
This is an amazing book. I had to read it for a Gender Studies Class in college and I got addicted to Pat Califia. (Who i was in love with until she becamse he) Its thought provoking, educational, contreversial, and it times it pissed me off. At times I hated the author and thought he was crazy. But I came out of it wanting to experience a new world, and now I have all of his books.
Profile Image for Rita Brinkerhoff.
66 reviews18 followers
February 11, 2008
Patrick Califia totally rules. Read it, yo. I love feminists talking about sexual freedom. It always gets hilarious when you're reading about Andrea Dworkin plus the MEESE COMMISSION! Mayhem ensues!!!
Profile Image for Javier.
83 reviews
March 28, 2011
A good, if slightly outdated read on harm reduction, sex, and the state. I really hope Pat has it in him to write a revised edition sometime soon, I'd love to read a more current edition. Or just sit down with my hero over a coffee/beer :)
Profile Image for anne.
7 reviews2 followers
December 12, 2008
incredible essays on leatherdaddys and sadomasochistic feminism
169 reviews4 followers
April 1, 2009
These essays were incredibly well-written and thought-provoking.
198 reviews1 follower
February 6, 2019
I encountered this quote a few months ago and couldn't get it out of my head: "If I had a choice between being shipwrecked on a desert island with a vanilla lesbian and a hot male masochist, I'd pick the boy" (159). So I figured I should read the essay it came from and a book of the author's writing.

It's interesting to read a bunch of articles written from the perspective of a lesbian by someone who now identifies as a man.

The first edition of Public Sex came out in 1994, collecting work as far back as 1979. The second edition includes some new material, and it came in 2000. There's a lot of important historical stuff in here about culture around sex in the 80s/90s, and it's interesting to see how someone in '94/2000 looks back on those events, but a few things definitely just felt dated and not particularly helpful towards forming an informed opinion about these topics in 2019.

Anyway, some of the pieces were stronger than others, and some didn't impress me that much, but some were pretty great.

Also I was a little disappointed that the article with that quote doesn't actually say all that much more about that particular topic of BDSM-role being more important than gender for some people. If you're really interested in that subject, I recommend Brandy Simula's article Does Bisexuality ‘Undo’ Gender? Gender, Sexuality, and Bisexual Behavior Among BDSM Participants, which is available for free on ResearchGate
Profile Image for bklyn mike art.
73 reviews2 followers
May 4, 2018
an excellent book for anyone thinking about sexuality, gender and the possibility of living outside or at least expanding those roles and boxes. well thought out work .
Profile Image for Wacky.
21 reviews2 followers
December 9, 2012
there was a time period in my life that I couldn't focus long enough on any one thing to read an actual book. any book. fact or fiction. somehow THIS BOOK cut through all of the heavy brain fog that was weighing my mind down and I was actually able to read it through to completion. Perhaps it was just the realist escape that I needed. Perhaps it was just because it was one of the few radical queer books I could get my hands on at the time. Whatever it may have been.. I will always remember this book more for that fucked up time period in my life, and it breaking my mental block, than anything else.
Profile Image for Sinclair.
Author 45 books207 followers
February 26, 2015
Read for the East Bay Queer Theory bookgroup. I was so engaged! It reads more like a historical text than a current political analysis (at least, the 1st edition from 1994 does—I hear the updated 2nd edition is a little different). I got a little bored with the political details, but I'm just not that into politics. I loved reading about the culture and tone from the 80s and 90s around activism and interconnected issues (pornography, IV drug users, age of consent laws). I respect Califia's work deeply, and even moreso after re-reading this.
Profile Image for Chase.
89 reviews104 followers
July 27, 2015
Pat Califia's journalistic collection is radical, regardless of the title. Califia is emboldened by a queer future that envisions sex positivity; to be sure, Califia is that visionary. Her writing is explicit; don't be shocked upon first reading. Califia is an essential member of the S/M community and advocate for the trans community(ies). A must read for LGBT scholars of all variations.
Profile Image for kot.
23 reviews
April 10, 2007
Totally changed the way I think about sexuality, gender, politics, and the media. I find myself evaluating certain contemporary social issues against some of Califia's well-articulated theories presented in his book.
Profile Image for Heather.
22 reviews1 follower
October 20, 2007
Pat is a serious author addressing seriously taboo subjects. Her insight reveals aspects of our modern culture rarely talked about and typically hidden away. Recommended for anyone interested in sexual politics.
Profile Image for Liz.
346 reviews79 followers
July 26, 2016
patrick califia has a really good analysis of some of the ways sexual expression is repressed, particularly through legal sanction and control of public space, and a really shallow analysis of everything else. It's incredibly frustrating.
May 15, 2007
Some darling essays about the development of s/m/leather sex in the United States. Lovely nightime reading, if you can ignore the not so bad erotica that slips in from time to time.
Profile Image for HeavyReader.
2,247 reviews14 followers
June 20, 2007
Yet another book that Keith turned me on to. His recommendation was that even Pat Califia could make anal sex sound pretty. He was right.
June 23, 2007
This book was very uninviting to read once I got it home. Surprising for a book with the word sex in the title.
84 reviews9 followers
January 13, 2008
Certainly an interesting book, Califia doesn't censor or hold himself back in the least. Sometimes I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement, and sometimes I was deeply disturbed.
53 reviews
March 24, 2008
Probably the best introduction to Califia's non-fiction writing. Thought-provoking, witty, very human, and one of the first sex books I read where I found msyelf nodding along to it quite a bit.
Profile Image for Mel Luna.
317 reviews10 followers
June 2, 2010
Pat Califia covers a lot of ground in this book of essays. Eloquent, down to earth and entertaining, it is also a good blend of racey and political.
Profile Image for M.
87 reviews
January 29, 2016
"The name of the ride is "Rock the Boat," not "Pretend You're Dead Already" (156).
Displaying 1 - 30 of 39 reviews

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