Some mommy blogs are upset that in Erica Jong’s Op-Ed in Sunday’s New York Times, she suggests women may have lost interest in sex, choosing kids and monogamy over lust and romance. Moms who have babies and young kids blog in response– they don’t have to make a choice, they have kids, they have sex, it’s all good.
I’m one of the contributors to Jong’s new anthology Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Write about Real Sex and I’d have to say: it’s complicated.
Sugar In My Bowl features 29 women writers and includes fiction and essays about sex. Keep in mind that Jong is the one who edited this book, amplifying the voices and stories of 28 different writers with many views, experiences, and stories different that her own. Jong has never been one to tell women not to voice their own stories or opinions. Quite the opposite.
My story “Light Me Up” is about motherhood, monogamy, and sex. But I didn’t choose to write about sex in this context because sex is “too messy.” I wrote about it because sex is messy. As is marriage. And kids, too. Instead of concealing that, I wanted to write a story about it.
For too many female protagonists, the story always ends when the girl scores the ring; she disappears into narrative oblivion. But marriage is a great story, precisely because it turns out to be the opposite of ‘settling down.’ Marriage is more like jumping off a cliff. My story in the anthology is about a newlywed couple, deeply in love, and I threw some intense, but pretty universal challenges their way involving sex, money, and a new baby.
For women after Erica’s generation– I’m 42, Gen X– being single and sleeping around was pretty safe and normal, thanks to a lot of taboo busting by her’s. At least if you lived in New York or San Francisco and carried condoms. It wasn’t radical to be promiscuous, it was expected.
Picking just one guy to love and lust for, committing to him, having a baby with him– that is fucking terrifying. But I don’t think that’s because it’s a novelty. I think it’s because our generation, and those after us, see marriage more clearly for what it is: high-risk behavior.
We don’t marry because we need a male breadwinner or social acceptance. So why do we do it? Why do we, literally, put all of our eggs in one basket?
I think, for many of us, it’s because we’re brave romantics.
There’s a non-fiction book on this issue by Stephen Mitchell called Can Love Last? the Fate of Romance Over Time. Mitchell’s basic thesis is: contrary to popular belief, romance doesn’t fade naturally. We kill it. And we kill it because it’s terrifying to lust for and depend on the same person. The more you need your partner, the more courage is required to risk perpetually experiencing the roller coaster highs and lows that come with being desperately attracted to him. Mitchell argues that instead of committing to that dangerous ride, for a lifetime, no less, we flatten our romantic partners into something more stable.
In her book Vindication of Love, Cristina Nehring makes a similar point, taking on the belief that ‘love is blind.’ Nehring argues just the opposite, that it is at those moments when we’re in love, when we see the world through ‘rose-colored glasses’ that we perceive reality. She writes: “Love, far from being blind, is the very emotion that allows us to see.”