BELFAST, Maine — Author Arielle Greenberg lives on a quiet residential street lined with stately trees, sidewalks and bee-buzzing rhododendrons. Greenberg’s tidy, clapboard cape shelters her family and an adorable mutt named Cherry.
Inside, the shelves are lined with books and records. An enameled pot for evaporating water in the dry winter months sits atop the woodstove. A bit of Cherry’s brown fur sticks to a green, velvet couch, bathed in light from a picture window.
Everything seems perfectly normal, regular. You’d never guess Greenberg was a pervert.
But she is.
Greenberg writes about her non-normative, completely legal and consensual sexual desires — and why she sometimes calls herself a pervert — in the introduction of her new book “Superfreaks: Kink, Pleasure and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
The book, published by Beacon Press and due out Aug. 1, is the 13th tome Greenberg has written or edited, though not all have been about sex-related topics. The new book is a wide survey of the surprising, amorous things humans get up to behind closed doors.
More a clinical guide than erotica, “Superfreaks” explores and validates every nook and cranny of the kinky world, from bondage to animal costumes to carnal feelings for inanimate objects. It also tries to make sense of why many “normal” people like to have “perverted” sex.
Sitting in an overstuffed chair at her house last week, Greenberg, 51, said she thought it was important to begin the work by talking about herself in the introduction called “She’s a Very Kinky Girl: Why I Wrote This Book”
Off the bat, Greenberg explains what turns her on (watching someone eat a bit too much and roleplaying), as well as what doesn’t work for her (ropes and furry costumes).
“It’s a way to be friendly and welcoming and personal about it, and have it not feel like just an academic research driven book,” she said. “I wanted to also admit what I know, what my experiences are — and what I don’t know. Just be really upfront about that.”
In openly — and unironically — describing herself as kinky and a pervert, Greenberg hopes to rob them of their sting. She wants readers to know they’re still valid humans if their sexual tastes run outside what mainstream media often portrays as normal.
In her mind, pervert means the same as subvert, which describes some of her favorite out-of-the-mainstream people, including the artists she most admires.
“These interconnected terms smack of the less taken, of nonconformity, of political radicals and art-makers and wild-eyed geniuses who defy norms and change history,” Greenberg writes.
After getting her own kinks out of the way, Greenberg starts her 250-page book by defining what normal, or vanilla, sex looks like.
“It’s somewhat of an ‘I know it when I see it’ situation,” she writes, “with societal standards and representation determining what we deem acceptable and common. This is because it’s also culturally specific: what’s normal in one place or era might be completely freaky in another.”
Greenberg also points out that all humans have a desire for pleasure and connection. It’s just how they get there that might make someone seem deviant.
From there, Greeberg lays out the general, kinky categories known as the “Four Ps.” They are power, psychology, putrid and pain.
Power comes into play when a couple subverts their normal power dynamics in a roleplaying game. Think prison guards, police or teachers and bratty students.
Psychology often comes into play, according to Greenberg, when people say things they don’t mean.
“There are boatloads of folks out there who want nothing more than for their otherwise loving and caring partners to call them dirty little pigs,” she writes.
The putrid category includes people who get turned by sweaty armpits and other supposedly gross stuff.
Pain encompasses activities such as spanking where pleasure meets discomfort. Greenberg writes that it’s likely the most popular kink.
“My guess is that this is because most of us have experienced pain and pleasure as a continuum,” she writes. “It feels good — and bad — to press on a bruise or clean our ears with cotton swabs.”
After the Four Ps, Greenberg’s book gets into fetish objects, or inanimate things which excite people. This can range from cars to boots to stereo equipment.
Throughout the book, the author also suggests podcasts, playlists and internet forums to check out for even more information. One sidebar, included in the roleplaying section, lists popular songs through the ages with lyrics referring to “Daddy.”
The book, though playful in nature, is well researched, listing dozens of academic sources, studies and cultural surveys. Greenberg is also careful to draw distinctions between healthful solo and partner-accomplished sex, and its illegal, violent or destructive opposites.
She includes domestic violence hotline and online resources, draws bright lines between fantasy and reality, and she does not shy away from a frank discussion about pedophilia and child abuse — which are not a valid kinks. They are crimes.
One of the biggest reason’s Greenberg wrote the book — which took three years — was to let fellow perverts know they are not alone, that their particular kinks are OK, as long as they’re not hurting someone else.
“I hope people will feel less alone and more connected to resources and have a better understanding of what makes them tick,” she said. “We’ll all be better prepared, more kink aware, of what’s out there and what it all means — and have less judgment about it.”