Erica Jong on her new paperback, pornography, and princesses

Sugar In My Bowl, an anthology of women writing about sex, edited by Erica Jong, will be released in paperback on June 26.

Critics have called the collection a “fierce and refreshingly frank collection of personal essays, short fiction and cartoons celebrating female desire…A smart, scrumptiously sexy romp of a read.” (Read more reviews here.) My short story, “Light Me Up,” is included in the anthology along with essays and fiction by 28 other writers.

Erica Jong talks to Reel Girl about Sugar In My Bowl:

Why did you create this anthology?

I think women have more diverse responses to sexuality than is usually known. And I wanted the opportunity to show a full range of response.

How did you choose the writers?

Notice that the anthology is almost equally divided between well-known writers and writers who are published for the first time. It was wonderful to find writers, like you, who had not been published before and to pair them with well-known writers like Eve Ensler and Fay Weldon.

When the hardcover came out last summer, in a controversial essay for the New York Times, you wrote that after putting Sugar In My Bowl together, you wondered if younger women wanted to give up sex. You worried that the younger writers in the anthology seemed obsessed with marriage and monogamy. I admit I am obsessed with monogamy! In part because in so much fiction, the woman’s story just stops when she marries.

For women of my generation– I’m 43, Gen X– because of a lot of taboo busting by yours, being single and sleeping around was pretty safe and normal. At least if you lived in New York or San Francisco and carried condoms. It wasn’t radical to be promiscuous, it was expected. But picking just one guy to love and lust for, committing to him, having a baby with him– that is fucking terrifying. And not because it’s a novelty. I think that our generation, and those after us, see marriage more clearly for what it is: high-risk behavior.

We don’t need men to be our breadwinners or to provide social acceptance for us, so why do we still marry? Why do we, literally, put all our eggs in one basket? I think because we’re brave romantics.

Do you think that women can be obsessed with monogamy and sex? Does it have to be an either/ or situation?

I have also been concerned that the women’s story stops with marriage. In our time, the women’s story sometimes stops with divorce. People live much longer today and have many different adventures in their lives. Many of them marry several times. We don’t have women’s books that reflect this yet.

I think we get married to make a statement that this is my person, and we are determined to make things work. That sort of coupling seems essential for both straight and gay people. It’s a way of saying, here I stand. And this is my partner.

Certainly monogamy and sex can go together. For many people, monogamy is far more satisfying than zipless fuck. You have to know another person’s body to really have great sex. That kind of knowing may come with monogamy.

In your NYT Op-Ed you also wrote:

“The Internet obliges by offering simulated sex without intimacy, without identity and without fear of infection. Risky behavior can be devoid of risk — unless of course you use your real name and are an elected official. Not only did we fail to corrupt our daughters, but we gave them a sterile way to have sex, electronically. Clearly the lure of Internet sex is the lack of involvement. We want to keep the chaos of sex trapped in a device we think we can control.”

I totally agree with this, and it is something I wrote my story about, too. Porn and internet sex are actually the “safest” sex around.

What do you think about the future of sex as far as the promulgation of pornography? How do you talk about its negative effects without being labeled and misunderstood as an anti-sex prude?

Electronic sex is sterilized sex. It offers no risk. It is sanitized. Real sex with a partner is the opposite. Pornography has a very utilitarian function. It is specifically for getting you off, hence its predictability. Sexual literature, on the contrary, is surprising. It doesn’t just show sexual acts, but the feelings behind them. I’m all for sexual literature and kind of bored by strict pornography. What interests me in writing is the human brain revealed. Pornography does not reveal feelings. It is rather a utilitarian form for masturbation.

Author Peggy Orenstein also addresses this flip, when pro-sex is framed as anti-sex and vice versa, in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Here’s what she wrote about the sexualization of girls:

“Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.”

She goes on label this difference sexualizing versus sexuality. What do you think of that distinction?

I agree with Peggy Orenstein’s wishes for her daughter. I am appalled at the idea that young women give blowjobs without experiencing pleasure themselves. They are servicing men rather than experiencing eroticism themselves. I also agree that women should write their own sexual stories. We are so much more imaginative than men have supposed. We can make our sexuality even more various through our imaginations. My anthology is a first attempt to show how imaginative women can be.

I view the pop princesses as sanitized rather than erotic. Why are we attempting to claim that all women must be princesses? Isn’t that another attempt to sanitize sex?

It seems to me that the best way to combat the dominance of limited expressions of sexuality is for more women to write their own stories.

For thousands of years women have existed in a world dominated by narratives created by men.

I love that you put together an anthology about sex by women writers and mixed fiction with non-fiction. Why did you choose to include both genres?

The line between fiction and non-fiction has blurred in our age. Memoir bleeds into fiction, and fiction bleeds into memoir. What is important about a story is that it moves you. Not what genre you label it.

Do you have plans for more anthologies?

I would love to do another anthology of women’s writing. I was disappointed that I didn’t get more sexual diversity and ethnic diversity. It was not for lack of trying. I would like to do an anthology with more lesbian women’s experiences, and a wider range of ethnicities.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a novel about Isadora Wing as a grandmother.

Order Sugar In My Bowl here.

3 thoughts on “Erica Jong on her new paperback, pornography, and princesses

    • Hi Ted,

      SFGate stopped doing City Brights! I hope you will keep visiting Reel Girl here and also click like on the Facebook page to stay part of the Reel Girl community.

      MM

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