Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ashley Cardiff strokes the funny bone in Night Terrors

A review of the comedic memoir about the horrors of sex, dating, puberty, and other alarming things.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 6, 2013 at 1:00 PM

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Ashley Cardiff is no sexpert. She's not even good at sex. Honestly. By her own admission she’s “not anywhere near thin enough to be that unremarkable at something and still get away with doing it” — but she is more than qualified to write about her less than impressive sex life. Her insecurities may have stunted her development in the realms of sex and love, but they fueled her sense of humor, which is the real appeal of her first book, Night Terrors.

This collection of essays on “Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things,” follows Cardiff’s growth as a sexual being. Her stories include her first sex dream of Prince chasing her on a tricycle while wearing lace chaps, being kicked out of Catechism class for “drawing pictures of Satan and the angel Gabriel sword fighting with their huge penises,” accidentally viewing her cousin’s sex tape, surviving “the time-honored teenage girl stage of dressing like a midrange escort,” trying to learn something as a 16-year-old at a community college study-session/orgy, fending off sexual advances with a glove-compartment dildo, finding photos of her live-in boyfriend’s penis brandished online, and enduring all the slings and arrows heaped on us because of our sexual desires.

Night Terrors
 stands in opposition to sex memoirs penned by “empowered,” quasi-famous women who network their way into book deals then write about the handful of B-list celebrities they almost slept with. Cardiff is no Manhattan Madame. She rides the subway with former porn performers and steps over homeless men masturbating on the sidewalk. Cardiff is the patron saint of a generation that came of age under the shadow of AIDs — a generation that wasn't saturated with sex, but tormented by it.

Night Terrors rebels against the politically correct crap we’ve come to expect from sex writers. She compares abortion to divorce, in that it's a shitty thing that's usually for the best. In describing a gay guy her college girlfriends befriended because they thought it made them progressive, she writes, “He was everything I disliked about shallow, stupid girls preoccupied with ‘celeb gossip’ and fucking and dieting, only he was a man and therefore I was supposed to overlook all that. Because of his struggle.” For her, children are not blessings, but “small, fleshy symbols of destruction.” She also makes the most taboo of admissions for a sex writer: she doesn't masturbate. She "can’t shake the suspicion the act itself looks so pathetic.”
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Cardiff is at her best when reviving her awkward coming-of-age years. While most sex memoirists dwell in the windfall of sex that occurs in the post-college era, this is when Cardiff’s memoir loses steam. Her humor comes through when she is forced into situations that exploit her insecurities. As an adult, she has become better at avoiding such situations. I hope for her next book that her editor forces her to endure experiences beyond her comfort zone for the benefit of her writing, like working as a pro dominatrix or exploring the world of online dating.

This book is a welcomed relief from the endless self-help books from sex and relationship gurus who claim they have the secrets to mind-blowing sex or how to rekindle a fading relationship. The closest Cardiff gets to giving advice on sex is to just not “be dark about it. Don’t cheat; don’t lie; don’t shame people.” While she doesn't glorify sex, she also doesn't vilify it. As such, she's an important voice for those who view casual sex as neither a mortal sin nor a spiritual event. True to form, the book doesn't have a particularly happy ending, or even a climax, which mirrors the reality of sex and relationships for many, many people.

Buy Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things and read more by Ashley Cardiff on her website AshleyCardiff.com. Follow her on Twitter, @AshleyCardiff, and Facebook, @AshleyCardiffOfficial.

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