The benefit of the internet it has made it easy for anyone and everyone to publish their work and get their voices out there, but that doesn’t mean that everybody should and unfortunately this is the case with The Act Itself, a new erotic quarterly magazine from Bear Manor Media. Despite being a professionally published magazine, The Act Itself feels more like a personal blog, and while I obviously have no qualms about blogs, but I feel that something published in this way should have an air of professionalism that this does not. The text is cluttered with typos and awkward grammar and the illustrations are haphazardly placed. Nothing flows the way it should and to be perfectly honest I feel like I could do a better job designing things in Microsoft Word.
The magazine is made up of fiction, poetry, essays, and pictorials, all carefully curated by someone who dubs themselves “The Mrs.” and seems to favor fiction over everything else. In fact, nearly half of the magazine is made up of stories (with over 25% of the stories being written by The Mrs. herself) while the other half is divided pretty evenly among the Essays and Pictorials. Despite there being only 6 Pictorials, many of the other written works are peppered with illustrations and photographs so there is no shortage of images throughout the work.
Most of the included visual art is either photographs or line drawings, much of it has a historical or dated feel and unfortunately, isn’t always congruent with the written text it accompanies. One of the most glaring examples of this is the story My Night With the Prince (a story set in Ancient China) which is accompanied by a set of line drawings from Sophie Crow, excerpts from her latest work Wank, a series of illustrations based on the many ways women masturbate; the story includes no scenes of masturbation. The next work on the other hand, Sex Positive: Accepting is Freeing, an essay about sex positivity, is illustrated by ancient Chinese depictions of sex. It’s almost as if someone accidentally attributed the art to the wrong piece and no one bothered to notice or fix it.
The art, as taken on it’s own is interesting though much of the modern work it is clearly not professional. I think part of that impression though is due to the simplistic design of the magazine and awkward placement of the art and maybe not a reflection on the quality of the work. You’ll absolutely enjoy the art included if you enjoy historic erotica with many of the photos looking like they’ve come straight out of the 1890s. Whether these are actually historic pieces of art or modern day recreations is unclear but either way they are fun and compliment many of the stories well. Many of the essays also include photographs from the golden age of porn in the 70’s and 80’s, to complement the themes included.
As for the essays themselves? Well they’re not exactly expertly curated, two of the four are excerpts from existing biographies, one is a piece from a biography being published next year, and the fourth is a story about what it was like to write a biography. All of the biographies mentioned are of pornstars and all of which are, conveniently, being published by Bear Manor Media. There’s nothing inherently wrong with many of these excerpts, although more than once it did feel like they weren’t going much of anywhere, but the biggest problem is each one just feels like an unnecessarily long advertisement to buy more from them. I’m hoping that this was only the result of a lack of submissions and will change in the future but I make no promises.
As I said earlier, the bulk of the content is erotic short stories, and if they were impressive they might be able to carry the publication, but unfortunately they’re not. The stories are full of cheesy metaphors and awkward similes that had me spending more time wondering things like “What exactly does a ‘darkly bisexual’ voice sound like?” instead of getting into the sexy times.
The Mrs. makes a point to specifically describe the writing in The Act Itself to be “softcore” making a hard line in the sand between her erotica and porn, the call for submissions even states clearly “we will consider some fetish oriented themes but keep them light”1 enforcing the idea of a softcore publication. With this kind of introduction you might imagine flowery language and stories full of love, romance, and cuddles, but these are not the kind of stories you will find in The Act Itself. Although it may not include a ton of impact play or other staples of what some might consider fetish play, it does include what many would consider psychological fetish play. Themes include voyeurism, cuckolding, bondage, coercion, and even incest so I wouldn’t exactly describe this as tame or palatable to everyone the way they seem to want it to be.
One story in particular, “Like Brother and Sister” even managed to push my own boundaries, not something I consider particularly easy to do. The story revolves around an older woman who, after some sort of procedure, is suddenly much thinner, looks half her age, and is incredibly hot.2 In response to this change nearly everyone in her life becomes uncontrollably attracted to her, including her brother and boss. After her boss calls her into her office and masturbates to/at her she turns to her brother for comfort who promptly explains that she should just be happy to get the attention, she’s old you know, and by the way can he have a blow job? What follows are a number of sexual encounters during which even the protagonist isn’t turned on. At best she experiences a feeling of power and indifference but at worst her feelings can only be described as disgust and confusion.
In line with much of the art, there are also a number historic bits of erotica included as well, as mentioned there is the story set in ancient China but there are also two other stories that are listed as actually written in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s by anonymous authors. Obviously this type of story will appeal only to a very specific audience but I found it easy to become accustomed to the dated dialect and enjoyed the departure from the more modern erotica. Despite the age of these pieces, the premises of the stories aren’t so far off from what you might find in erotica written today, multiple partners, exhibitionism, and even anal sex, all things that wouldn’t be all that shocking today seem that much more impressive in this historical backdrop.
On the other hand some of the modern erotica handled completely unexpected themes, two of which included little to no actual sex. “One Day Naked” describes exactly that, the day a man wakes up and decides he wants to spend that day naked. Antics ensue. Interesting maybe but not particularly sexy. Then there’s the long story “The Pumping of Little Janie’s Cunny” about a brothel that caters to parents who want to pay so their “ugly” child can loose their virginity. While the entire premise itself is confusing, the story never even has any sex, just awkward moments in which, once again, the protagonist is made uncomfortable by people being sexually forward around her.
I liked the idea of The Act Itself, I would love a magazine about sex and sexuality that didn’t suck, and they even had the option for me to get it digitally rather than have it mailed to me. Unfortunately, this is not the magazine I was looking for, it needs to be polished at the very least before it could be decent but even then the stories are likely to not be in line with my tastes. I want to say that what this publication needs most is an editor to sit down and go through each story, purging the awkward writing and coy metaphors but even that I don’t think would be able to save it. The Act Itself needs an complete overhaul from the bottom up, and if they are able to make it into the sophisticated erotic collection they advertised they might have something worth looking into, but right now it’s just an amateur mess.
***Many thanks to Bear Manor Media for providing me The Act Itself in exchange for a fair and honest review in compliance with the FTC guidelines.***