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The SurrenderReview - The Surrender
An Erotic Memoir
by Toni Bentley
Regan Books, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
May 17th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 20)

Warning: this review discusses anal sex and uses bad language. It also gives away details in the plot of the memoir.

Toni Bentley (author of Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal) has won some high praise from critics for her new memoir The Surrender that documents the former ballet dancer's affair with a man ("the A-man") who takes her anal virginity and meets her only to have sex with her for over two years. They have anal sex every time they meet during their affair, nearly always in her New York City apartment. This man, the A-Man, is a stallion who can keep on going for hours, and he does. The A-Man fucks her in the ass. He only lets himself climax when she has completely surrendered to him.

The first chapters of the book chronicle Bentley's sexual history, including a decade of mostly sexless marriage, before this affair. After her marriage is over, she starts being bolder sexually and she has numerous encounters and short-lived relationships. Some of the man gave her good sex, while others were hopeless. Bentley's idea of good sex sometimes seems to sound like standard pornographic fare -- "big cocks," "erections like steel." It isn't always better to be big, since one man's penis is so wide that is the size of a corncob, and condoms would not stay rolled down. She concluded from this part of her experience that she didn't like intercourse, since it didn't make her come, and it was often painful. But Bentley continued to have sex anyway. Her most satisfying relationship is with a two people who she met at the gym, and they have a threesome one New Year's Eve. She calls him the Young Man, and his cock is "hard, big, and beautiful." She continues to meet him, in the threesome and out of it. The two of them meet only for sex, and have no relationship outside of the bedroom. Their meetings are sporadic Eventually after a string of other men, and one longer relationship, the Young Man phones her himself returning from an extended stay in Europe and he becomes the A-Man, now keen to enter her rectum. They have long sex sessions often twice a week when he is in town. By the end of the relationship, they have had anal sex 298 times. She keeps a record. Their relationship is non-monogamous, and it is because of another woman that they eventually break up. She is devastated by the end of the relationship.

Bentley writes with plenty of style, often in quite metaphysical ways. The first chapter is especially notable.

"Bliss, I learned from being sodomized, is an experience of eternity in a moment of real time. Sodomy is the ultimate sexual act of trust. I mean you could really get hurt -- if you resist. But pushing past that fear, by passing through it, literally, ah the joy that lies on the other side of convention. The peace that is past the pain. Going past the pain is key. Once absorbed, it is neutralized and allows for transformation. Pleasure alone is mere temporary indulgence, a subtle distraction, an aesthetization while on the path to something higher, deeper, lower. Eternity lies far, far beyond pleasure. And beyond pain."

Indeed, Bentley goes on to describe anal sex as bringing her to a mystical state, or as she playfully explains: "Butt-fucking offers spiritual resolution. Who knew?"

There are at least a couple of ways to try to take this memoir seriously. First, one might look at it as a treatise and consider what evidence it provides for the grand claims it makes about anal sex. Of course, this is to mistake the purpose of the book, and thinking about it this way, it doesn't measure up. Bentley says very little about the higher knowledge she gained from her experience of being fucked up the ass (in contrast to the considerable detail she gives to KY jelly and crotchless panties). While she is certainly aware of all sorts of useful distinctions (such as sex with another person as opposed to using a man as a human dildo for personal sexual gratification, and between sex and love) she does not give her reader any sense of knowing the A-Man in any other way apart from in sex. She may have come to want anal sex and trust her partner, and even to go through intense emotional experiences in sex with him, but her remains a mysterious and unknown figure throughout the memoir. We know that he likes anal sex and that he is no good in monogamous relationships, and that's about it. She has a passionate desire for him, and sometimes when they are together they are so close they join as one, but, tellingly, she describes them as becoming "one thing," not "one person." Much of her anal experience sounds like someone taking mind-expanding drugs, where a person has incredible feelings that she never knew possible, but afterwards when she looks at what she wrote, it turns out to be gibberish.

Second, one might look to the psychological roots of the emotional power of Bentley's experience. She brings in some discussion of Freudian ideas, and her relationship with her father who was often cruel and even physically abusive to her when she was very young, and this might be a factor. It is slightly strange that she never discusses bondage or sadomasochism, since the feelings of being in someone else's power and coping with helplessness and vulnerability seem central to her experience during anal sex. It is tempting to speculate that the sex helped her relive some issues related to her father. But she never really gains any new insight about her relationship with her father, and this whole aspect of the discussion is more of a collection of allusions than a thought-out theory.

Third, one might look at this as a case history of psychopathology. Bentley herself sought treatment from sex addiction groups but she found them unhelpful. It is not at all clear from what she writes that she really had a mental disorder, and many people would simply be envious of all the powerful sex she had in her relationship with the A-Man. Nevertheless, the way that their relationship partitioned sex off from every other form of interaction is unusual and even bizarre. She seemed to be something of a sex radical in embracing this lifestyle and rejecting monogamous relationships. It is intriguing to consider whether we have reason to judge her behavior as pathological, but it is hard to arrive at any certain conclusions.

Bentley's memoir is provocative and erotic, and it is unusual enough to be highly memorable. Ultimately it is more style than substance, not just in what it has to say about anal sex, but also in its depiction of relationships. Bentley herself, despite revealing such intimate details about her life, seems an alien personality. We don't learn anything about her friendships or family from the book, or anything about her work, and we learn very little about her, except for her sex life. Even more troubling, she doesn't leave her readers wanting to know more about her. It is as if she has anticipated that, having told her readers so much about her anal predilections, they won't want to know learn more about the rest of her life, and she is shutting herself off.

 

Link: Author website: http://www.tonibentley.com

 

2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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