“What is an orgasm, anyway?” Barbara Carrellas writes in the forward, entitled Foreplay: Figments of Erotic Imagination. “Is it a sexual climax achieved through the stimulation of genitals and other erogenous zones? Is it a release of accumulated tension and energy? Perhaps it is a release of tense and an expansion of energy flowing through the body/mind and connecting us to spirit.

This last definition certainly allows for many more possibilities of orgasms. However, I have come to think that all definitions of orgasm fall short in one way or another.” The crux of the project is in these sentences—how indeed can you begin to take on the astronomical task of describing a physical and mental set of sensations that are so highly personal, intimate, and extremely variable? I wasn’t sure, but I was absolutely willing to travel that path.

If the intriguing challenge of defining orgasms wasn’t enough to hook you into reading the book, the first story will: “The Beginning,” by B. D. Swain, is easily one of the hottest short pieces I’ve read all year, a considerable compliment when taking into consideration how much smut I consume on the regular. The story, which is nary three pages, is a moving snapshot of a butch tied to a chair while her femme lover teases and instructs her on how she likes to get off. Splayed in front of her bound, lesbian girlfriend, the femme enjoys the slow, tantalizing performativity of fucking herself, knowing that this lesson is one of sensuality, voyeurism, and mercy. The butch thinks, “She is so simply and lovingly unashamed in this bright light. She stands there and lets me take it in, watching my eyes look at her. I am grateful for her. I am so grateful that I fear I might cry and be misunderstood.” At the end of the lesson, the femme pulls her lover to the bed. “Show me what you’ve learned.” And the story ends, leaving us to imagine how the personal act of fucking oneself translates to two bodies.

Though the stories are varied and nicely diversified, the collection continues in that vein: instructive lessons on how pleasure translates from one body to another, or from the self. What makes this book easily one of the most exciting Cleis Press titles I’ve read all year is the level of reality and humanness presented in the stories. In Riley Shanes “Feast for the Senses”, a scene is depicted between a Mistress and a Sub that is so hot that the realization at the end of the story that the two are husband and wife comes as a shock. Dispelling entirely the idea that with marriage comes the death of all things passionate and hot, the realization only serves to add an additional layer to the situation, prompting the reader to re-read the story with a new lens. “Suddenly, the blindfold is off and I’m staring into the dark green eyes of my Mistress. Her eyes are wide, her face is flushed, and she is smiling. ‘What do you see?’ she asks. I smile in return. ‘My mistress. My lover. My wife.’”

Which returns us, full circle, to the call-to-contemplation about the motley nature of the orgasm. If we truly embrace the concept of the orgasm as an entity with extreme multiplicity, then we can take into consideration the effect of context, interpersonal relationships, diversity of bodies and abilities, states of mental health, weather, menstruation, or any of the other innumerable factors to how we get off, then the collection achieves it’s goal of multifarious representation. The authors in this book are gifted in the art of nuance, and the most stimulating aspect of their stories is how thoroughly and artfully they demonstrate the quixotic relationships between people. In the examples above, the butch shows an incredible display of gratitude at the feet of her femme, showing the readers that this is a relationship in which both parties are having hot, respectful sex that validates and honors the parties involved. In “Feast for the Senses”, the husband-wife/dom-sub relationship between the two adds a layer of irresistible dynamic, and also gives us hope that there is kinky sex after marriage.

Rachel Kramer Bussel has edited a wonderful and stimulating book. Kudos to Cleis Press for this latest title, which can be found here, and features work by some of the most respected sex writers in the industry, including Sinclair Sexsmith, Virgie Tovar (who also writes out-of-this-world articles and essays about fat femme identity), and Giselle Renard.