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.

Great review of Sugar In My Bowl and “Light Me Up”

This great review from Estella’s Revenge (love that blog title) on the anthology Sugar in My Bowl (Ecco 2011) and my short story “Light Me Up.”  She writes:

I downloaded it, I read it on my new Nook in two days flat (over the holidays!!!), and the rest is history. Good history…

In fact, the first story that comes to mind when I think of this collection is Margot Magowan’s “Light Me Up.” Juliet is a new mother, married to Henry, and struggling with her sexuality in light of being a new mom. She feels ugly, used up, exhausted, confused, hormonal, empowered, embittered, and a host of other swirling emotions. The confusion in this story and the struggle between the two main characters rang so true to life, I was quick to start highlighting. However, I think it was ultimately Juliet’s mental change of attitude about sex that really spoke volumes in this story.

‘There were other differences I noticed in myself. Sex, or even just blatant sexuality, on TV disgusted me–watching reality shows’ horny drunks or all those women shaking their asses in videos. Previously, even when I didn’t like something that was on, I often got sucked in, fascinated, curious, analyzing, trying to figure it all out. Now it was just gross. ‘

I was really pulling for Juliet as she worked through her feelings post-baby and I felt really sorry for her at times, triumphant for her at others. Magowan did a good job injecting a lot of meaning and eliciting an emotional response with the content of this story.

Read the rest of the review here.

My godmother also recently sent me a nice review on SIMB from Columbia’s alumni magazine (Erica Jong is a Barnard graduate) where the writer called my story “luminous” which was nice to see. I’m thrilled to be in the anthology “company” of so many great writers who I admire. I’d probably be terrified to write the story that I did if I were out there all alone.

If you haven’t read Sugar In My Bowl yet, you can order it here.

Critics have sweet tooth for Sugar In My Bowl

Critics love the new book Sugar In My Bowl. The anthology came out this summer, is edited by Erica Jong, and includes my short story “Light Me Up.” If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you can order it here.

Here are some blurbs:

“[A] fierce, fearless collection.”
— More Magazine

“The women of this collection make the case that good sex is never exclusively about the act, but also about how you approach it.”
— NPR

“Abundant with affairs, marriages, motherhood and our sexual sense of mortality it is a thoughtful read, a perfect aperitif on a summer evening. The stories penetrate a secret space in our brains we so often neglect: our sense of sexuality.”
— Forbes

“Jong has crafted candid accounts of love and passion from renowned female writers into a sensual and sensitive read.”
— Interview“[Sugar in My Bowl] runs the gamut from pornographic and hilarious to ironic and poignant. The result is a fun, quick, beach read, requiring as much or as little intellectual energy as the reader chooses to invest.”
— Chicago Sun-Times“You can take these women seriously, laugh, squirm, and put hand over mouth at their weird, exciting, uncomfortable, joyous tales of ardor, while still admiring the agility of their prose.”
— The Daily“Jong partners with 28 collaborators to create this fierce and refreshingly frank collection of personal essays, short fiction and cartoons celebrating female desire…A smart, scrumptiously sexy romp of a read.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In this no-holds-barred collection of essays by ‘real women’ about ‘real sex,’ Jong has assembled an eclectic group of authors. [Sugar in My Bowl] is at its most profound when truth illuminates sex as a force in which these women found empowerment.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Jong cast a broad net to bring together women writing about sex. The resulting anthology attests the wide range of female sexual experience.”
— Booklist

“Sugar in My Bowl is proof positive that women can write seriously about sex and live to tell. It represents a remarkable smorgasbord of experience and perspective, and there’s a dish here for everyone.”
— Shelf Awareness

“These pieces honestly and thoughtfully explore sex and its role in our society from a woman’s perspective, from its place in youth to the golden years….with Sugar in My Bowl Jong has curated a consistently eye-opening and thoroughly readable volume.”
— LargeHearted Boy Blog

“The enticing, thoughtful Sugar in My Bowl proves to be a powerful exploration of women’s relationship to sex.”
— Entertainment Realm

“This book is a Thanksgiving dinner in which each story is a dish more scrumptious, more touchingly homemade than the last. All are so very different, but together they comprise a joyous feast: [an] examination-cum-celebration of female sex and sexuality. A must-read.”
— Gender Across Borders

“The passion, tragedy, and hope—offered by courageous women who express raw feelings that society tends to silence—will resonate.”
— Library Journal

“A refreshing and new contribution to literature about women’s sex lives.”
— HerCircleEzine.com

More reviews here.

Is sex too messy for moms?

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.”

I agree.

More reviews for Sugar In My Bowl

From  Loquaciously Yours:

For those of us who’ve been left/betrayed or afraid we’re about to be, and that’s probably most of us, a head’s up about Margot McGowan’s intense and beautifully narrated piece Light Me Up—have a box of Kleenex handy and a friend’s phone number close by.

Read the rest here.

Erica Jong on Anthony Weiner

From TIME:

Best-selling author Erica Jong knows a thing or two about sexual politics. Her taboo-breaking 1973 novel, Fear of Flying, has sold 20 million copies in over 40 languages. Jong still has the magic touch when it comes to literature about women and eros: her new anthology of essays and short stories, Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex (Ecco) — featuring contributions from Anne Roiphe, Gail Collins, Jennifer Weiner and many others — is getting terrific early reviews. Jong spoke with TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs from her Manhattan home about Anthony Weiner, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), Arnold Schwarzenegger and other powerful misbehaving men in the news.

Read the full TIME interview here. Read more about Sugar In My Bowl here.

Reviews of ‘Sugar In My Bowl’

From Kirkus:

The approaches to the still-taboo topic of feminine sexuality—at least, for women writers seeking approbation from the literary establishment—are, as Jong notes, “as varied as sexuality itself” and as exuberantly diverse as the contributors themselves. They range from such emerging talents as Elisa Albert and J.A.K. Andres to such luminaries as Rebecca Walker, Eve Ensler, Susan Cheever, Anne Roiphe and Fay Weldon, and represent a multiethnic, multigenerational swath of some of the finest women writers in the United States. Most of the pieces deal with the perennial themes of sexual coming-of-age, social and religious sexual hang-ups and lusty obsessions for male bodies (as well as female ones). Some deal with lesser-discussed—but no less important—subjects like procreative sex and eroticism in old age. Still others fearlessly explore fetishism, childhood masturbation, kink, sexual addiction and the excitement that, in the words of Linda Gray Sexton, comes from “the offering up of one’s body like a sacrifice upon the temple of the bed.” While sex is the source of life and some of the most powerful joys—and agonies—imaginable, it is also invariably linked to death. And that, writes Jong, “is part of our discomfort with it.” But the contributors to this collection never make sex facile. As they work against cultural expectations and literary double standards, they make women’s depictions of “doing it” just another aspect of a more fully realized human consciousness.

A smart, scrumptiously sexy romp of a read.

From Salon:

As soon as I cracked opened Erica Jong’s new anthology, “Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex,” I was overcome with giddiness. The table of contents boasted female writers from august publications sharing the most intimate aspects of their lives. It isn’t common for serious female writers — the sort who write about respectable issues like politics and poverty — to dip their toes into that piranha-infested lake of personal judgment and criticism. Just as good girls don’t talk about sex, good-girl writers don’t write about sex. Not only can it be devastating personally, but it can also earn you a professional reputation as a chick lit author or, worse, a sex writer.

But here was Ariel Levy — author of the treatise against porn culture, “Female Chauvinist Pigs” — taking a break from her highbrow analyses of gender and sexual politics for the New Yorker to write about the first time she had sex. That’s not to mention: Gail Collins of the New York Times remembering the anti-sex education she received at her Catholic girls high school; Slate’s Meghan O’Rourke seeking solace in sex after her mother’s death; and novelist Anne Roiphe recalling playing doctor with a male friend at age 5, and then again as teenagers.

Read the rest from Salon here.

Read ReelGirl’s post on Sugar In My Bowl here.

The book comes out June 14. You can pre-order it here.

Women kiss and tell in new book

Sugar In My Bowl, edited by Erica Jong, is a collection of essays and short fiction about female sexuality by writers like Julie Klam, Fay Weldon, Jennifer Weiner, and many others including me. The book is coming out June 14, but you can preorder it on Amazon.

Sugar In My Bowl

Gail Collins, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, has a hilarious essay in the book that describes how her Catholic education warped her perceptions of sex.

She writes: “I was possibly one of the least sophisticated teenagers in the United States outside of Amish country, and although I knew the mechanics of how babies were made, I had not yet really come around to imagining that people actually did that kind of thing voluntarily.”

Until Collins was well past puberty, she believed that virginity was the same thing as being unmarried and was completely mystified by whatever was going on between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. She warns that’s what can happen to a girl when she’s “taught about sex by women who didn’t have any.” That would be nuns, who, apparently, had all kinds of special insight into gender differences:

“Boys were not much more than little sex robots, and they could not be held responsible for their actions. Once, we were all called to assembly to hear Charles Keating, the head of the Citizens for Decent Literature (and future star of a huge savings-and-loan scandal), who told us the story of a young mother who went walking down the road with her two small children while she was wearing shorts. The sight of her naked legs so overwhelmed a passing motorist that he swerved off the road and killed both the kids. And it was all their mother’s fault. We were then asked to sign a pledge never to wear any kind of shorts, including the long Bermuda ones.”

In another great essay, novelist Min-Jin Lee writes that it wasn’t until her husband pointed out to her that she’d left sex out of her writing that she realized she had. Re-examining her literary heroines (and their creators) including Emma Bovary, Jane Eyre, and Hetty Sorrel, all scandalous for their day, Lee writes: “Looking backward at my betters made me realize that I was shy at best, cowardly at most. Okay, I was terrified to write about sex. Why?”

Lee, a Korean-American, traced part of her reticence back to a disappointing class she took in college called “Women’s Studies and Asian-American History and Literature” that didn’t inspire her quite as she’d hoped:

“Alas. In print and visual media Asian women were often hookers, mail-order brides, masseuses, porn stars, dragon ladies, submissive sex slaves, and yes, cartoon characters with long black hair, red lips, and racially improbable bosoms. Asian men were sinister gangsters, inscrutable businessmen, angry nerds, and scheming eunuchs. If Asian women were oversexual, then their brothers were asexual.”

Twenty years later, after her conversation with her husband, Lee googled “Asian women” and got 14 million hits, mostly sexual references in the same genre as her college course.

“I may see myself as a forty-two-year-old writer, mother, wife, and former lawyer, but fourteen million hits trumped my subjective reality.” This distortion changed Lee as a writer. From then on, “When relevant, I wrote about sex, even Asian pornography and date rape, because I wanted to be honest about what was significant inside and outside my world. For most of my adult life, I had been uncomfortable with my body- my racial and sexual envelope. This time, in my pages, I thought, maybe I can talk about how it is for me, and I wrote it down. If I had been angry about the lack of self-determination of Asian women’s bodies and lives, I had been staging a feeble and arrogant protest by refusing to write about sex.”

One of my favorite pieces in the anthology is by critic, novelist, and New Yorker contributor Daphne Merkin. Her essay– about how she abandoned a prestigious literary fellowship to pursue the magnetic lust of a summer romance– shows how sexual obsession colonized “all the available mental space in my head.”

My story is called “Light Me Up.” I wrote it because so many love stories, especially those with female protagonists, end with ‘happily ever after,’ when the girl gets the ring. I wanted to introduce a newlywed couple and then throw some scary challenges– involving sex, money, and a new baby– their way.

You can read an excerpt from Sugar In My Bowl here.