Sex in literature today
Reviewer Katie French of Underground Book Reviews sent me a smart list of questions for a blog interview that will run in the new year.
One of her questions was what I thought about sex in literature. Here’s part of my answer.
Well, that’s complicated. I like sex in literature. I like sex in general, you know, with my husband (or myself). Sex is good.
In fiction, I prefer intelligent sex, that is, well-written and truthful to the human experience. Kinky, sure, bring it; silly and implausible, no.
If you are asking my take on Fifty Shades of Grey, I admit that I think it’s a stupid piece of crap that does nothing to help women’s sexuality be understood or embraced. The protagonist is a male fantasy: an inane virgin who climaxes effortlessly, no matter what he does to her. Why have women accepted this ridiculous character as some version of themselves? I do not understand, nor do I approve.
I’m not saying that sex has to be politically correct. The best sex I’ve ever had was extremely politically incorrect. It’s an unfortunate part of the human experience that sex that transgresses can be so darn good.
I also think that, for most women, to fall off the cliff into bliss requires surrender. Surrender is difficult, especially in the current climate, in which women are supposed to be star neurosurgeons as well as perfect mothers raising perfect kids and, at the same time, loving wives with the bodies of 23 year olds, because of all the time spent at the gym. That’s a pretty butch expectation of women. It sucks. So here we are supposed to be superwomen, yet one of the deep truths about our sexuality is that it requires surrender.
I’m not talking about climbing on top, throwing a leg over, and riding real hard. I’m talking about something else: an internal state of surrender. The payoff is huge, but the stakes are high, and this is difficult.
For one, our culture often confuses surrender with submission, and the two couldn’t be further apart. For two, a man has to be strong enough to be a top, and gentle enough for a woman to trust him to be a top; that seems to be a big request to make of men.
For three, our culture still has issues with female orgasm. It’s partly the residue of Victorian puritanism. It’s partly about control, because men seem to find the female orgasm mysterious and uncontrollable. They fear it; they fear not bringing it about; they fear what it says about their own manhood. And, my god, what if another man gave the woman they own an orgasm???
I think Wilhelm Reich was on to something: a healthy organism has a healthy orgasm. Is it any wonder he was imprisoned, when he was saying something so revolutionary as that women too should have orgasms? How could the male establishment let him run around freely spreading ideas like that?
But the plain truth is that women like to have orgasms. So Fifty Shades, which is very much, despite its stupidity, pro female orgasm, struck a chord with women. The gorgeous sexy kinky wounded billionaire spanks the heroine into orgasm: yay! It’s not her fault she had an orgasm, he spanked her into it. Or tweaked her nipple, or whatever. She can have her orgasm and enjoy it too.
Isn’t that something every woman wants?
Re-reading my response, I think I have an answer to my final question.
What women want is to own their own sexuality, and to be able to surrender freely, as they choose.
That’s one of the problems I have with Fifty Shades. It appears, superficially, to empower women by allowing them to imagine non-vanilla sex. But what it actually does is deprive them of the power to surrender themselves into orgasm from inside themselves.