New Book “Action” Is a Candid Reflection on Sexuality

Amy Rose Spiegel’s debut book, Action: A Book About Sex, is a collection of essays that mix Spiegel's personal history with practical insights on sexuality. Through its chapters, she introduces her readers to a variety of concepts (vibrators, celibacy, queerness, the gender spectrum) but also shares personal stories. Action is a perfect mix of informational guide and personal accounts—it’s educational, but never feels sterile or clinical. Spiegel is a former editor at Rookie and Buzzfeed and her singular, imaginative voice makes the book delightful through and through. Opening Action, I can’t help but feel that I'm reading the words of an authoritative camp counselor, whose experience and composure has her campers hanging on every word. While I see this book as especially important to the teen readers who know Speigel’s work from Rookie, the book is useful for readers of all ages as she tackles subjects that don’t get enough attention in mainstream media. I spoke with Amy Rose about pop culture, journalism, and protecting privacy within the personal.

RACHEL DAVIES: What was your attitude, and the attitude of those who surrounded you, toward sex growing up?

AMY ROSE SPIEGEL: My friends didn’t have sex but I did. They were fine with it, but it just wasn’t something we discussed because it wasn’t something that they were doing. My family didn’t really talk about sex too much either, outside of my sisters and I. We always discussed it openly with one another. My sisters and I have always been really great with asking each other questions and giving each other information. I really look up to my sister Laura in that respect, she’s always been really helpful for me. My sisters and I are a funny bunch, we have our own language. We’re each about a year apart, so we’re really close but really different. Laura’s a southern-California type who’s really into camping, Madeline is this total Kardashian-esque princess who works at Equinox gym. The three of us have so much in common, despite our varied interests. I’ve always felt very connected and open to them.

What compelled you to write something more instructional rather than a traditional memoir?

Well, the instructional element of it came from my feeling that there’s not a lot of concrete sex advice out there for people, especially young people, that’s couched in encouragement and free form ideas that you can do whatever you want, but here are some suggestions. I think I might have liked that if I were somebody who was curious about sex but hadn’t really had any concrete experience.

How does your work at Rookie affect the book?

I’m no longer an editor at Rookie, I’m now freelance writing full time. But working there was maybe the most fundamental to my writing this book. For a time, I edited, assigned, and often answered an advice column that’s called Just Wondering. It’s wonderful. I got all these teenager’s advice questions directly to my email. I really got a sense of what people are curious about and what they want information about. That was really huge. Also writing things about consent, open relationships, virginity, abortion, and gender, a lot of that, sometimes directly, made that into the book.

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How do you think that pop culture figures into your understanding of sex?

For a while, I think that pop culture was not great for my understanding of sex. The way that people are often presented in magazines, television, and movies is really disparate from the way that people are, and look, and behave in real life. I think that’s especially a problem in terms of representations of race and queerness. When I was younger, my friends and I would get high and go to the movies and every time there was a sex scene, it made me feel so small. It was so rarely about anything having to do with the woman experiencing pleasure and these bodies always looked one way. Often, the depictions of sex would be so wound up with depictions of violence. That kind of fucked me up for a while. It made me feel like I was doing everything wrong, and that the kind of sex that I wanted to have wasn’t desirable to other people. Now I know that that’s malarkey—it’s not true. I will say that reading certain novels was really great for me in terms of different sexual possibility. There were different depictions of the way that sex went and how it felt and what the motivations behind it were. That made me excited about sex, rather than put off by a common pop cultural understanding of it.

What was the importance of including work by someone other than yourself, like Annie Mok’s comic in the book?

I wanted it to be inclusive of transness as a part of this book without speaking over the trans experience. Because I am a cis woman, I felt like it wasn’t right or fair for me to do that. So Annie, my lovely friend, wrote and drew this awesome comic about her experiences. I thought that that was a great way to have transness represented in Action without my taking part in some erasure or erosion of the experience.

Although the book is intended to destigmatize talking about sex, were you apprehensive while writing certain sections of the book against your better judgement?

I feel like there were parts of it that were really difficult, and that I felt intimidated by. The more pragmatic sections, definitely. I was really wary of the idea that I might be telling someone to do something that was in some way limiting. I didn’t want anyone to feel like they’d read my book and be like, “Oh, I’ve been doing that wrong I guess.” There’s a section of the book called “Mistakes Were Made” where I talk about what to do if something goes awry. It’s hard to square this up with the fact that I’ve written a book about sex, but I’m really prim when it comes to certain bodily matters. There are parts of that section where I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m actually writing this.” But it was fine, and I think it was worthy of inclusion.

Through releasing the book, have you had any former lovers bring it up to you?

Yes! It’s funny when people text me or get in touch saying that they’ve found their section of the book and they’re totally wrong, which is really funny. I feel like I wanted to respect people’s privacy as much as possible so I’m happy they’re getting it wrong because that means I did a great job of that. Like if they can’t recognize themselves, I don’t think other people will be able to either.

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by Rachel Davies
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Rachel Davies is a freelance writer and the arts editor at The Le Sigh. In an alternate universe, Rachel is living in the 1800s making pamphlets on a clamshell press, but in this world she spends her time writing and drawing for Rookie Mag, NYLON, and Broken Pencil Mag, among other places. You can follow her on twitter @rachelcomplains.

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