Finding the Doorbell



Talking 'Sustainable Sex'

Upper Valley Authors Say Humor
Helps Make Sex a Renewable Resource

By Kristen Fountain
Valley News Staff Writer

Valley News

Sex is no doubt a regular topic of talk around at least some of the 50-odd tables at the Hopkins Center cafe, where Dartmouth College students gather at all hours during term. But surely no R-rated conversation there has ever been quite as frank or funny as the one that went on for months between two 40-something mothers from rural Hanover.

Starting in November 2006, comedian Cindy Pierce and writer Edie Thys Morgan would say goodbye to their husbands, drop their children off at school or summer camp and meet at the Hop to work on their new book, Finding the Doorbell, which elaborates on ideas about sex and sexuality from Pierce's racy one-woman stand-up routine with the same name.

The women, both 42, had tried working at public libraries and eateries in the area, but kept running into people they know. "Two hausfraus. We're invisible here," said Pierce, gesturing to the buzz of activity around a back table at the Hop cafe last week. "That's why we chose it."

Envisioned initially as "a Clif Notes for sex," the book was fleshed out over long lunches of red pepper bisque and burritos into chapters with titles like "Good in Bed," "Gimme an O! Gimme Another O!" and "The Little Things Can Get You Laid." Fourteen months and 10 parking tickets later, the result, released Feb. 14 by the Norwich-based Nomad Press, is part memoir, part sociological study, part sex-and-relationship advice column.

Doorbell is for heterosexual couples groping their way toward what the authors call "sustainable sex," a concept Pierce found difficult to start to define during her stage performance.

"In one of the earlier iterations of the show, (Cindy) really tried to wrap it up with a message," said Thys Morgan. "It just didn't quite work. You can't quite do the skillet to the head like you can in the book."

Pierce's act, which she has performed in clubs in New York, L.A. and Boston as well as at the Lebanon Opera House over the last three years, has always been about more than just entertainment. It grew out of her missionary zeal for sharing the view that sexual connection is important and possible in all stages of adult lives.

"We are physically made to go the distance," said Pierce, who with Thys Morgan also interviewed physicians and sexologists for the "nitty, gritty technical aspects." "If you have a healthy sex life up until menopause that increases your chances of keeping your libido through and beyond," she said. "And that's worth it. It's good for your health. It's good for your soul."

In the show, Pierce's personal anecdotes (blowing dog hair off her diaphragm) and physical comedy (interpretive dances of the male and female orgasm that begin from a crouch — the first a straightforward up and down; the latter an unpredictable, baroque set of leaps across the stage) are intended to communicate the deeper idea that we would be a lot more satisfied with our sexual relationships if we could all just lighten up and laugh.

Doorbell, the book, is intended to help people get comfortable with the topic by giving men insight into the female perspective and vice versa and by providing a starting place for communication. "Humor will bridge the gap," said Thys Morgan. "So even if you can't speak directly about it, still you'll be on the same wavelength."

Since its publication, Pierce and Thys Morgan have been traveling around the country, regularly appearing in bookstores and homes, on a syndicated Fox News morning show and local public access television to promote the book. Their experiences confirmed something they first realized doing research for the book: People really want to talk about sex.

"We thought we would have pry more," said Thys Morgan. "You have no idea how willing and enthusiastic people were to get it off their chest."

For the stories in the book, they drew on their own experiences, but also mined hundreds of interviews in person and over e-mail with friends, family members, acquaintances and whomever those people would introduce them to. They would try to get details from everyone they met, including those who ended up sitting next to them on the chairlift or the bus. And from Hood Museum of Art volunteers and even college students who began eavesdropping on them in the cafe and then chiming in.

These unnamed sources run the gamut from college students, who are, as the authors say, PBG, or "pre-bitterness and guilt," to senior citizens, from singletons to divorcees and the middle-aged marrieds. They come from every region of the country, and, of course, from the Upper Valley. Although the authors say many people tell them they think they know which friend said what, in every case so far the guess has been wrong.

"It has been suggested we could make more money by selling an annotated version that gave more hints" about their sources' identities, said Thys Morgan. The two women heard the same thing again and again, they said, which has made them believe that many of the biggest barriers to good sex within a long-term relationship are universal. They attack them one by one in the book — the mistaken belief that everyone else knows what they are doing, for example, and women's insecurities about their bodies, which the authors call "the iceberg that can bring down even the Titanic of sexual desire" — giving clear, sometimes blunt, advice.

On the subject of female body image, to men, they say, it's best to keep quiet, no matter what she asks you or how much you want to help. ("The fastest way to keep her from wanting to have sex is by making her self-conscious about her body.")

To women, according to the authors, it's all in your head. The men you're with care more about your attitude than that extra layer of fat ("Your obsessions get tiresome to men, no matter how understanding they are.")

The format works, the two friends said, because of the dynamic they have with each other. When Pierce "wrote herself out to the open sea," Thys Morgan was "the Coast Guard," Pierce said.

Pierce is the poster child for success — "the bottom line is that with the gray hair and the regular body if I can have a healthy communicative sex life after 16 years with the same man, anyone can," she said. And Thys Morgan serves as her foil, an Everywoman with all the hang-ups in the book.

"It couldn't have happened without each other," said Thys Morgan. It also never would have happened "without husbands who allow us to be our wacky selves. And who really believe in the message," she said.

Within the first six weeks of its release, Doorbell sold 5,000 copies and is now going into a second printing.

These days, Pierce and Thys Morgan often receive enthusiastic thank you notes and e-mails, even from women who got the book but haven't had time to read it. Their husbands found it lying around the house and learned a few things.

"People say men don't buy books, and they don't," said Pierce. But "this one they'll read and the wives are like, 'Thanks!'"

Valley News — April 12, 2008

— Read another article