Sex magazines that aren't strictly porno tend to be pretentious and disappointing (Future Sex makes me long for a copy of Jugs), but Carnal Knowledge is actually a meaty and rewarding read. Brainy to a tee (it shuns erotica altogether), the premiere issue breaks up its requisite stream of practical advice with tasteful dips into fringe culture: non-tittery sex-toy reviews ("The Fun Tongue will run on battery power but I found it to be sluggish and it had a tendency to overheat") dignified by interviews with the likes of indie-film superheroine (and former Minneapolitan) Sarah Jacobson (Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore).
The mag is edited out of San Francisco by another ex-Twin Citian, U Film Society alum Nick Tangborn, and it has cinephile stamped all over it. There's a story on Bliss, Hollywood's first shot at a tantric sex drama, plus a full-blown profile of Czech surrealist filmmaker Jan Svankmajer--that's the cover story, believe it or not. If you haven't heard of Bliss or Svankmajer, don't worry: Carnal Knowledge has an admirable way of engaging the reader without celebrities or clichés. (My favorite piece is a history of the utopian Oneida Community of the 1800s, in which monogamy was deemed a crime against God.)
It takes balls (and a lack of marketing savvy, perhaps) to put out a sex rag this cerebral: The editors apparently sought to ram home the point by running a cover photo of the back of some guy's head. I don't lament the loss of Q&As with pop sex gurus like Annie Sprinkle or Susie Bright. But what's absent here is an editorial voice--an opinionated, bringing-it-all-together perspective like Bright's. Carnal Knowledge has the atmosphere of a curious free-for-all, but if nobody's gonna get naked in print, I'd prefer to see some more (intellectual) grappling--a way to reward the reader for getting all hot and bothered. 573 Mission St., Third Floor, San Francisco, CA, 94105; e-mail: email@example.com