Erica Jong thinks you’re not having enough sex

Erica Jong–originator of “the zipless fuck” and longtime feminist novelist and nonfiction writer–took the time out of her allegedly very busy sexual schedule yesterday to paint a picture of our prude, passionless generation. “Generalizing about cultural trends is tricky,” she writes, and then goes on to extrapolate that the majority of younger Americans are as uninterested in sex as her vast, self-selected sample of the five contributors to her recent anthology, including her very own daughter.

This strange amalgamation of arguments includes a weird riff about “internet sex,” by which, it appears she means Weiner-style tweets (though I suspect Jong isn’t sure what kind of sex folks are having on the interweb these days based on the super vague language of this section), a short political rant about anti-choice activism, and ends with a men-and-women-should-work-together bang. Badum-ching.

For starters, let’s talk about myopia. It’s not okay to make vast generalizations about entire generations based on your own daughter and four of your literary friends. Ever. Jong writes, “Everywhere there are signs that sex has lost its frisson of freedom.” If that were the case, why didn’t she use a few of these abundant examples to make her case?

By my estimation, there are actually counter-examples here, there, and everywhereyoung women taking up space, advocating for a full spectrum of sexual desires and experiences, asking tough questions about monogamy, essentially taking the “free love” movement that Jong seems so nostalgic for and analyzing it with a truly 21st century lens. Contrary to being a clinical rejection of passion, the internet is often a wild west of sexual exploration and expression, and young feminists are very often at the helm. Our own Professor Foxy’s much-missed sex column was a prime example, as is Jaclyn Friedman’s work, like she and Jessica’s co-edited anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, which has influenced many, many young people across the country. Hell, Samhita’s got a book coming out on this very topic.

Either we’re too focused on sex, and therefore frivilous, female chauvanist pigs, or we’re not focused enough on sex, and therefore frigid, control freaks who are missing out on the best part of life. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t–even by our own feminist foremothers. How frustrating.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted July 11, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    So much of this is entirely subjective. I think there is a natural inclination to feel somewhat threatened by new ways and younger people, for a variety of reasons. Part of that response is fear of being antiquated and part of it is a belief in the superiority of age. It is this dichotomy that seems to be at play the most in such discussions.

    Desiring youth, while being intimidated by it versus Desiring experience, while being afraid of aging.

  2. Posted July 11, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Either we’re too focused on sex, and therefore frivilous, female chauvanist pigs, or we’re not focused enough on sex, and therefore frigid, control freaks who are missing out on the best part of life.

    Do you think these two criticisms come from the same people? For example, my politics might be seriously described one the one hand as radically leftist and on the other as hidebound conservatism, but by two very different Americans.

    • Posted July 11, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      I was specifically referring to the kind of criticism that young feminists often get from older generations.

      • Posted July 11, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

        Sure, but we shouldn’t expect older generations are necessarily monolithic in opinion any more than we are, right?

  3. Posted July 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I think she has a valid point, but it depends on personal viewpoints and experiences, as well as one’s interpretation of her point. If she is specifically saying, “Women who identify as liberal/progressive/feminist are a bunch of prudes” then it is fairly easy to establish that Jong isn’t paying attention. However, I would say she’s spot on for many in my generation. My sister and I are very close, but she insists on talking about “down there” and other euphemisms and vague terms that indicate she’s ashamed to even have a “no-no spot” half the time.

    Certainly, there are young women who are open, honest, and curious about their sexuality and that of those around them. Personally, I know far more women who never need to talk about it, don’t particularly care if they have it, and who do seek the 50s model of separate beds and whispered bedroom experiences.

    If Yong is solely seeking about women as a whole, she’s not all far from the truth. If she was specifically attacking feminists and progressive young women, she was more mistaken than correct. Generalizing is rarely a good idea, but she wasn’t completely off-base.

  4. Posted July 11, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    So there are a whole lot people with a whole lot of sexualities out there, and I’m defining those sexualities as the sexual practices and attitudes that makes those people happiest. Meanwhile there are a whole lot of cultural and political values flowing over all those people and dragging them out of their ideal sexuality. They don’t really know where they’re happiest in the first place either. Some people who were previously out of their comfort zone before some trend are suddenly liberated and overjoyed when open relationships, non-monogamy, or just sex free of relationships comes into fashion. They’re all “Wow, life is so much better now that we’re freed from the way things were before!” Meanwhile, so many others who are swept up in the tide of conformism, who also want to be cool and liberated may very well be miserable, but they’re not really being to loud about it. Then some counter-trend builds up and they jump on that and live it up loudly. Meanwhile the people who were happiest when everyone was trying to be into their thing are all “We fought for your sexual liberation and you’re squandering it by not having a lot of casual sex!” or something like that. Generally things look like trends because people gain the strength to talk about things that they’re into once they see others talking about things that they’re into.
    Right now I see non-monogamy trending because people are going beyond accepting non-monogamous people, and thinking “I’m sure that I can overcome my jealousy to have an enlightened sexuality and live a fantastic polyamorous lifestyle.” That sounds really cool in theory, and you can be convinced that it’s the lifestyle for you up until the point where it becomes real and you love it or realize that you’re just not cut out for it. Then of course, a bunch of people are going to swing enthusiastically the other way towards “It turns out that monogamy is the correct path to happiness, and those non-monogamous people are just fooling themselves.”
    Since cultural and political sexual values are unlikely to line up perfectly with personal sexual values, it’s going to always look like things are shifting from one way to another, but I really don’t think that they’re changing all that much. Things just look different as the cultural and political sexual values slosh back and forth over the real sexual landscape.

  5. Posted July 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Sex between older people is the new unmentionable, the thing that makes our kids yell, “Ewww — gross!”

    Well, I recall from the interviews ran here a while back that that was the opinion of her daughter. But everyone? Are they all even thinking about it that much even? People in their twenties being disinterested in sex is news to me (and I suspect to many of them who live in or have come through the collective!) Still, some of this articles claims just leave me with more questions. She states that older writers are “raunchier” and younger ones “more interested in monogamy and motherhood”. Does she feel that raunchy sex, fetishes, kinks aren’t found in monogamous relationships? Does she feel that motherhood excludes the capacity to be sexual, even kinky, after the kids are put to bed?(This would be odd since she is a mother). Are younger people disinterested in sex, or just disinterested in the kind of sex that SHE likes? How wide was the circle of writers she tapped for her anthology? And is it possible that younger generations are people just like anybody else, and some of them will have greater or lesser sex drives, baggage from past experiences and upbringing, and personal preferences on an individual basis? Just like anybody else?

  6. Posted July 11, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    The section on the internet is weird (the originator of the “zipless fuck” complaining about a lack of intimacy in sex?) and as you said I don’t think Erica Jong really understands what people like about cyber sex. I know that for so many of us, the way in which the internet works allows an outlet for sexual needs that we would otherwise be unable to, or choose not to, fulfill. Whether it’s someone who prefers a traditional relationship but wants to explore certain fantasies in the “sterile” or safe outlet of cybersex, or someone like me who would have had almost no choice but celibacy without the internet (i.e.: not willing to get involved with any old person without knowing they are into certain things beforehand, and not having access to any community outside of the internet that helps with that), the internet is offering a lot more than trad. heterosexual sex without complications and intimacy. It’s offering people with unusual tastes, standards that don’t fit the norm, and membership of an oppressed or minority group that can’t expect someone they meet on the street to cope with their sexual needs and realities a chance to achieve sexual happiness.

  7. Posted July 11, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    I wish Jong would accept that, like there is a spectrum of sexual orientations, there is a spectrum of sexual interest. Some people need it constantly, others can go years and not feel like they’re missing anything. Both kinds of people are ok. Feminists should support EVERYONE on the spectrum, and I think that Jong’s comments are very disrespectful to people on the less interested end.

  8. Posted July 13, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never encountered anybody–feminist or otherwise–more out-of-touch than Erica Jong. She thinks that sex isn’t done properly unless both people experience powerful, mind-blowing orgasms at exactly the same second. With heterosexual sex, that’s very hard to achieve.

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