Penthouse Variations on Oral is mainstream porn in written form. It’s heteronormative and formulaic, it’s full of pretty people in pretty places having pretty sex. Frankly, it’s boring. I should have expected this when I saw it was from Penthouse, but “It’s an anthology full of oral sex!” I told myself “How bad could it be?”
Apparently pretty bad, it’s bad straight down to the characters. They’re all the sort of people the media tells me I’m supposed to want: tall, lean, cisgender, and white. They’re the kind of people who say “I’m so hungry” when they’re not talking about wanting food in their mouth and “That is so fucking dirty. Don’t stop.” when someone gets near their ass. Which, by the way, is the most risque thing they’ll ever do.
They wonder if the hot naked woman on the other side of the fish tank might in fact be a mermaid, and they use the worst innuendos, including: eating something special for breakfast/lunch/dinner (wink-wink), oral fixations, (Wink-Wink) and “going straight to desert” (WINK-WINK). They have little to no back story or personality and exist only to lick, suck, and fuck their way to orgasm.
Then on top of that, for something called “Variations on Oral” there is very little variation on the actual oral. They all play (with their cisgender partner of the opposite sex) in different places, but they all do it in the same way. They fuck in restaurants, at home, in hotels, in an airport bathroom, or outdoors (but always with a blanket laid down to protect them) and yet none of it looks any different. It starts with oral on partner A, then oral on partner B, then ends up at 69 and/or PIV intercourse.
Oh and did I mention that there is an exorbitant amount of 69 in this book? It’s in (nearly?) every story, and it always works out perfectly, right up until the partners simultaneously orgasm. Seriously? That’s not actually reality for many people, bodies don’t always line up, people struggle to get into position, people get crushed or fall off the top, arms fall asleep, and people get distracted. Sixty-nine can be awkward, and it was completely unrealistic and distracting to see it replicated so flawlessly in every story. It became a game for me to see how far I made it into each story before the sixty-nine started and see if I could find a story without it. Spoilers: I didn’t.
Impractical sixty nine-ing (on a table? Really?) isn’t the only thing that had me wincing near constantly while reading. Obviously sexual slang is a tricky area for many writers and obviously everyone has their own preferences, but I’ve gotta say that most of the word choices in Variations on Oral were more than a little cringe worthy. A penis isn’t a “knob”, a vulva isn’t made of “petals”, and if one more person called their ejaculate “cream” I just might have thrown my tablet across the room. I can not even explain you how gross I found that last one, and I have no objection to ejaculate itself, but it’s so not creamy.
This whole book felt to me like it was written by a space alien who watched a ton of mainstream porn and believed that’s what sex looks like for humans everywhere, and as we all know that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure, erotica is often designed to be fantasy, because that’s what gets many people off, but relate-ability is also very important, and I couldn’t see myself in any of these characters, or their stories, which is probably my biggest problem with the whole anthology.
Is there an audience for Penthouse Variations on Oral? Absolutely, but it wasn’t me and it probably isn’t the readers of this blog. I think the same people who watch mainstream porn will be totally content with the stories included here, people who want the fantasy and people who find the simply reading about sex to be titillating. If, on the other hand, you want diversity in your stories, if you want queer representation, and if you want real life people having real life sex then Variations on Oral isn’t the book for you.