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Sexy Education

Local erotica purveyors Greenery Press carry on the Bay Area's smart smut tradition

If you were to peek into the bedroom of a local literate pervert, it's quite likely at least one title from Greenery Press would be on the nightstand. Since 1992, the Bay Area-based erotica, kink, and how-to manual publisher has been capturing and promoting "responsible, respectful, safety-oriented nonfiction and fiction." It's easy to imagine this was the vocation of choice for cofounder, president, and frequent author Janet Hardy, who describes herself as a "writer, perv, pain slut and educator who has been fantasizing about S/M since she was too little to wrap her hand around a whip handle."

The company has dabbled in intelligent erotic fiction, but it's not the crux of the catalog. Second-in-command Patrick Hughes (pictured above) jokes, "We experimented with fiction and were punished accordingly."

What sets Greenery apart from most smut peddlers is their dedication to education. With a catalog of 50 titles, Greenery sells 100,000 books a year, but none is as popular as The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities, widely regarded as the flagship title of the alternative sexual lifestyle. Published in 1998, the book is co-authored by Hardy (her pen names include Catherine A. Liszt and Lady Green) and sex radical Dossie Easton. It's by far their best-seller, with 50,000 copies sold so far in eight languages, a veritable bible of polyamory.

Greenery also puts out titles that other publishers might hide under the mattress. For example, Big Big Love: A Sourcebook on Sex for People of Size and Those Who Love Them depicts sexual positions and resources for hooking up with women and men of girth. The Lazy Crossdresser is full of tips on how men can dress as women without a lot of fuss and on the cheap. And Sex Disasters... And How To Survive Them is an it-happened-to-me traveler's tale of mishaps in the bedroom.

Titles like these offer a unique voice to the evolving modality of sexuality beyond the lusty straight man. By catering to what are considered niche fetishes that don't attract large readerships, Greenery validates the importance of such fetishes to their communities. Other alternative, progressive publishers of erotic books can't necessarily make that claim, and taken as a whole, Greenery's catalog starts to represent a relatively broad swath of sexual activity -- at least on the slightly more perverted side of the spectrum.

Interested in Japanese rope bondage, genital torture and play, topping, bottoming, phone sex for queer and hetero? Greenery can help. Just as watching porn has become part of the American mainstream, some niche fetishes might not be so fringe. One of the publisher's other most popular titles, SM 101: A Realistic Introduction, still ranks four-and-a-half stars as Amazon.com's 2,640th best seller (as of this writing).

New releases include dirty photographer Charles Gatewood's practical guide to taking pictures and a series of small gift books of quick sex tips, like how to pack for a play party (out in January).

After their distributor tanked in 2002, Greenery ran into financial difficulties in early 2003. Resellers and authors rushed to their aid, with hefty pre-orders and a collectors' edition anthology of Greenery's best writers, with full proceeds going to the publisher. Try pulling that off at Simon & Schuster. Hughes, of course, offers his deepest gratitude. "People want us to survive, and we wouldn't have survived without them. They believe in us. Our mission is important to them, and they believe it's worth us staying around."