The editors of Nerve, a smart, witty website dedicated to sex, are keen to impress upon passing surfers that they are not purveyors of the back-flipping bonkathons supplied by other smut-purveyors. Rather, their site is dedicated to the misfirings and anti-climaxes of sexual encounters.
Rufus Griscom welcomes us to Nerve with a heartfelt encomium to the quiet joys of impotence. He clearly speaks from years of experience: "With a plaintive half-smile, we are lying side by side. If the relationship is new, there is some explanation now - maybe it's work stress - and then renewed assurances of mutual attraction. If the relationship is more seasoned, there is quiet camaraderie in the decision to give it a rest."
So this is not a suitable site for those of us fuelled by Viagra. Although Griscom and his contributors are forthright and graphic, sex is perceived as being "reliably trauma-inducing", and a rarefied interplay between erotica and culture is the aim of the game.
Griscom encourages his users to share their "shame and desire" in the "Threads and Roles" sections with established writers such as Thom Gunn and Robert Olen Butler and exhibitionists like Lisa Palac ("How Dirty Pictures Saved My Life") and Marion Winik ("The Author Has a Candle in the Window, and A Fire Somewhere Else"), so the quality of the writing inevitably soars and plunges. But then a good website is nothing without its share of dross.
In an essay specially commissioned for the Voice Box (which this week features a "virtual round-table discussion on the zoning of child sexuality in art, advertising and the American household"), Erica Jong wades in on the executive pound of flesh in an essay on Bill "Zeus King of the Gods" Clinton as the alpha male who refuses to be bound by bourgeois constraints. Among those discussing child sexuality are Naomi Wolf and Nancy Friday. The calibre of the contributors this site attracts is evidence of its high-minded, literary ambitions, and on the whole these ambitions are fulfilled.
When it comes to images, though, Nerve o'er reaches itself. While there are nudes for every taste - "Passive-aggressive nudes", "Moody nudes", and "Avant-garde Male nudes" - Leslie Lyons with "Portraits of a Pale, Still Girl" aims to capture more than naked flesh. Inspired by Egon Schiele's stark-eyed, sharp-boned muses, she roamed the streets of New York in search of a Manhattanite reincarnation. Once she'd found her, the hapless girl agreed to recreate the poses depicted in Schiele's 1910 series of explicit drawings. The original are posted alongside Lyons's interpretations but whereas Schiele's tortured gaze never rests on the obvious, Lyons's seems stuck on round-eyed, thumb-sucking soft porn.
Still, if that's your bag, go and see for yourself. But do not forget to drop in on "Jack's Naughty Bits", a column that brings great sexy scenes from the history of literature on to your shimmering (breath-fogged?) screen. This week, James Joyce goes all the way while Lawrence Durrell barely gets to first base. I'm sure Mr Griscom would approve.
'Nerve' can be found at: www.nerve.com
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