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Toni Bentley in Esquire Magazine

Posted 11/1/2004

Toni Bentley on Nerve.comToni Bentley wasn't planning to write a memoir when she started having anal sex, but then, she says, "words appeared." Before Bentley was an anal aficionado or a writer she was a ballerina in George Balanchine's company. When she hurt her hip and was unable to continue, she penned a memoir about dancing and discovered writing as a second calling. After a divorce and a series of boyfriends, Bentley began a relationship with "A-Man," her name for the guy with whom she fell in love and first had anal sex. Two-hundred-and-ninety-eight anal encounters later, the experience parlayed itself into a second memoir. Nerve talked to Bentley about writing, God, and the anal orgasm. — Sarah Harrison

What do you want people to get out of reading your book?
People bounce off it like a Rorschach test. Men and women have reacted differently.

What do men think?
Well, a lot of men just think it's really hot.

It is pretty hot.
Thank you! And I think a lot of men would probably like to have a lot more anal sex, so they're using the book to encourage their wives and girlfriends to try it. But if I wasn't into it and some guy gave me that book I'd probably say, "Screw you." You can't push too hard for anal sex.

Speaking of "push too hard for anal sex," it's a very punny topic.
Yeah. I love the word play. I wanted to convey in the book how this experience was so profoundly serious for me and so profoundly life changing, but also completely hilarious.

How are women reacting?
A lot of women just love it, you know, head over heels. And some women really get the story — all my disappointments with men, all my trials and tribulations. But I think there are some women, particularly radical feminists, who don't like the idea of submission.

I think a lot of people don't get how submission could be such an empowering thing — can you explain?
For me to submit — being a woman so in control of her body, so in control of her life — was the biggest relief I've ever experienced. But it's not like this is what I do with any guy. I trusted A-Man on some very deep level, physically and emotionally — it was symbiotic. And I didn't know what a powerful woman I was until I gave it up — in releasing it all and kind of giving it over to him as a gift, I realized, "Wow, I have so much power. I can't believe it!"

Can you talk about how your experience with vaginal sex was different?
I think all women have been wounded in their pussies — between abortion and men not knowing what they're doing or not being respectful or going too fast. And statistically, vaginal sex is not going to give most women an orgasm. God gave us such a curious design with the whole thing, because a guy will always get off that way — in three minutes if you're unlucky — whereas we're much more complicated.

What's the difference between vaginal orgasms and anal orgasms?
I have this chapter entitled "Anal Orgasm." They're of a much bigger, broader and more fascinating nature. And believe me, I love clit orgasms. What did Woody Allen say? "I've never had a bad orgasm." It's like, love them, love them, love them, but this was different. This felt more profound; it felt deeper.

Deeper physically?
Deeper physically, and connected to some deeper sort of spirituality.

In fact, you talk in the book about finding God through anal sex.
I was brought up as an atheist, and I'd always wanted to believe, as I say in the book. Most of my dancer girlfriends believed, and I thought that's why they were better dancers than me. All of this is probably an illusion, but what happens in your heart is some form of reality, especially as a competitive, intense, anxious, young dancer. So, I read a lot of philosophy, a lot of books by believers and non-believers: Bertrand Russell, Kierkegaard. But I never really got anywhere with it.

So A-Man showed you what Kierkegaard couldn't?
When I had this experience with A-Man, I could only explain that the place I ultimately went was a spiritual place, an experience of God. Obviously this isn't in any religious context — I certainly don't want to offend anyone and their religion, I feel very open about people believing what they want to believe — but I went to a new place of consciousness. It was beyond my own usual ego — the voice in my head that's like, "You're not pretty enough! Yes you are!" All the voices in my head would stop. It was just like a total purity, transcendence of one's petty little self that's always knocking on one's back door. [Laughter]

What do you need to do to get there?
It begins with an incredible release of control. That's what you have to do, in my experience, if you're going to have good, un-painful anal sex. You have to let go of a lot more control than if you have vaginal sex. Your muscles are completely different there.

Do you feel you were more prepared because of your dance training?
Balanchine never talked about your soul. He said, "Don't act and don't emote and don't put on facial expressions." And people used to say we were automatons or something, but I learned that through something very technical, your real soul could show on stage. I definitely believe between dancing and sex, that's where I've had my most transcendent experiences.

Did you feel the words come to you as you were having sex?
On occasion. I had this compulsion to write it down in order to understand it, to preserve it, to believe it happened; and also experimentally, as a writer, I really wondered, "Can I capture fifteen percent of what this is actually like? I feel it's become part of my destiny. Without being wooey wooey or something.

Do you think you can have a monogamous, long-term relationship and also have a great sex life?
For most of us, it starts out pretty hot, and it's hot for a week, six weeks or six months and if you're really lucky a couple of years. And then it just starts getting… whatever, which is just reality. And we're all taught, our society says — and I'm not knocking it — that it transforms into something else. After my divorce, I decided to make sex the priority because the truth is, I can handle the bills, I can handle the mortgage, I can handle the tires on the car, I can handle real life, but I can't have sex alone.

On the last page of the book, you write: "If you don't fuck with death chasing you, you are mistaken."
I have been very aware and obsessed to some extent with my own mortality since I was about fifteen years old. And great sex is like a near-death experience — I feel more alive and more grateful.

Is it possible for the average person to have this kind of spiritual awakening through sex?
Well, they do in Tantra. I'm only saying it because I've been there. Otherwise I would say, "That's a New Age thing." It had to be proven to me. So I make this joke: "This is how God got my attention." If you're sort of a regular person and then you have a burning bush experience or Jesus appears, chances are it's going to be a pretty remarkable thing in your life. At first you'll think, "I'm nuts, it didn't happen." It's kind of how I felt about this affair I was having, but I counted how many times I had sex to prove to myself that it was actually happening. And then it was, like, "Wow. This isn't just one burning bush, it's many burning bushes!" No pun intended.

Toni Bentley in the New York Times Book Review

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