Satyricon USA: A Journey Across the New Sexual Frontier
;256 pages; Scribner; $22
Love may be a many-splendored thing, but sex is a many-faceted thing, as Eurydice, sex columnist for Gear magazine, has discovered. Her book, "Satyricon USA" -- billed as "A Journey Across the New Sexual Frontier" -- documents her cross-country travels as she examines sexual-subculture topics such as cross-dressing, S/M, bloodletting, cybersex, sex addicts, people who believe they have alien lovers and necrophiliacs. "I love to ingest her blood," says one of the book's subjects of her lover. "It's true possession of my lover, marking territory." Clearly, Eurydice has found, love has many faces.
Unlike her counterpart in Greek myth, who cannot escape the underworld, this Eurydice is able to return with tales of what she's seen. A former assistant professor in Brown University's English department, Eurydice was born on the island of Lesbos. ("I'm a born Lesbian," she jokes.) She moved to California when she was 14 and attended high school in L.A., where her libidinous literary leanings first blossomed.
"Sex has been my subject from the beginning," she says in a heavily accented voice from her home in Miami. "When I was 17 and published my first book of poems, that was all I ever wrote about. I write about God and death and nature, but sex is my metaphor of choice."
While Petronius' "Satyricon" -- a licentious romp through the ancient world written during the reign of Nero -- was fictional and satirical, Eurydice's update is based on years of reporting and is rife with serious analyses of modern sexual predilections. The book began as a suggestion from Bob Guccione Jr., who asked Eurydice to do a series of articles on sex in America for his music magazine, Spin. Ready to escape from academia, she jumped at the chance. Last April, when Guccione wanted to add a column about erotica to his male-oriented Gear, she was the logical choice.
The research for her book required her to undergo many transformations. "It was a very emptying, draining, cathartic experience," she says. "I would just kind of go with the energy of the people I wrote about, and of course sex is the most important thing in most of these people's lives. It's almost like selling your soul each time."
Among her subjects are two young San Francisco vampires who perform blood-drinking for a crowd, a Miami chef who claims to sleep with aliens, an L.A. husband and father who likes diddling corpses, and a Cincinnati surgeon who beds an average of 10 women a month.
Did she really achieve a visceral understanding of these disparate desires? "I didn't reach orgasm," she says. "[But] I made that leap. It's just for me a matter of self-abandon -- to abandon the self in the vortex of the moment."
She admits that she understood some of these practices better than others. "Orgasm is a moment of such egoless transcendence," she says. "I can understand why one would want to shed blood to make it more extreme, or add pain or scream. Some things like necrophilia I did not quite reach. I did not go near coprophagy because I knew I would not be able to make the leap. But necrophilia I did include because I understood the thought process. There's a fear of the dead which they assuage by embracing the dead. ... It's odd but human."
Eurydice says she remained nonjudgmental while researching her subjects. When it came time to write she needed to find her own voice again, and did so by analysis and sometimes criticism. In the section on cross-dressers, she writes: "They keep the [female] stereotypes alive. Their sleight-of-hand is the vain scaffolding on which they build themselves so they can be sexually self-sufficient."
Paradoxically, she came to the conclusion that in our sex-obsessed culture, we should "do it more and enjoy it more and think about it less." Sex, she believes, should leave the public arena.
But doesn't that conflict with the purpose of "Satyricon USA"?
"Absolutely," she says. "I don't believe fundamentally that sex and words can go together. I don't like what people are doing in academia or sleaze venues." Yet she explains why she devoted several years of her life to a book about America's sexual netherworld by citing Monicagate: "Do I want to have an opinion about the Clinton scandal? No, I think it should never be discussed. But if everyone is talking about it, I have to talk about it if only to say, ‘Let's not discuss it anymore.'"