When I was a kid, I used to sneak into my parents’ room and steal whatever book was on the nightstand on my mom’s side of the bed. I tried Anaïs Nin, I tried The Bell Jar, I even tried The Happy Hooker and, alas, none of them could hold my attention. And then one day I found Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. And I couldn’t stop reading. The book felt magical in its ability to transport me into the mind of a grown woman. It was the ideal reading experience, one that launched me into a lifetime of reading and, eventually, writing. Since that time, Erica Jong has written volumes of poetry, a memoir, two nonfiction books, and seven other novels, includingFanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones; Shylock’s Daughter (formerly titled Serenissima); and Inventing Memory. Recently she edited a very spirited and diverse collection of essays titled, Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex.
Here are Six Sex Questions for Erica Jong:
I love your short story, “Kiss,” in Sugar In My Bowl. The use of the word cunt in the story shocked me in the same way that fuck might have a few years ago. Do you think we should all start using cunt more? Do you use it in conversation?
Alas, poor cunt. I dreamed that we could rehabilitate the word and make it beautiful again. I would love to clean it up. It’s got that Anglo-Saxon brevity, but people are still shocked by the word, and find it has pejorative overtones. I only use it in conversation with people who are unshockable.
And one of my favorite essays in Sugar In My Bowl was “They Had Sex So I Didn’t Have to,” which happens to have been written by your daughter, Molly Jong-Fast. She describes herself as conservative compared to you, and as a reaction to you, in a way. What is your response to her more buttoned-up lifestyle?
I don’t find Molly’s lifestyle impossibly conservative. She wanted to have children early and she did. Her lifestyle is appropriate to having young children. However, she never mentions that she’s also written a third book, a very good novel called The Social Climbers Guide. She is doing it all.
Also, in Molly Jong-Fast’s essay, she mentions a three-way you had with a famous lesbian she calls MC Hammer. There were two things that struck me about this: 1. That she knows about the three-way. Did you tell her, did she witness it, or did she read about it somewhere? 2. That she clearly dislikes lesbian MC Hammer. Was this threesome a regular gig or a one-time-deal?
I must plead that my daughter is a satirist and I am her material. I don’t know how she knows about the three-way. She claims never to have read my books, but maybe she is secretly reading them? I am proud that my daughter is not exactly like me, and that she doesn’t feel that she has to be a copy of me. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.
You’ve been married four times, and according to Molly Jong Fast, your parents had an open marriage. Clearly you’re an optimist and, I would guess, a proponent of marriage. Can you explain the value of marriage to me?
I don’t know if my parents would say they had an open marriage. My daughter is a satirist and she loves to exaggerate the outrageousness of her family history. My parents were bohemians of the 1930s, and they were interested in all kinds of freedom, but I don’t know how much they acted out. Regardless, marriage seems to be our way of hoping that love is permanent. Even if we are sometimes proven wrong, that hope is very precious to us.
Is it true that at your last wedding you called your husband “a horny boyscout”? No wonder you got married a fourth time!
That’s just one line from a poem that I read at my wedding to Ken. It was said partly as a joke, and partly with admiration. Molly was 11 at the time, and I think she would find it amusing now. As I have noted, my daughter is a satirist …and I am an ironist.
After Fear of Flying came out you became a rock-star-level celebrity writer. The book (and all the books that followed) is so openly sexual and sexy that I imagine everyone you meet wants to have sex with you. How do you deal with this? Do you feel any pressure to be sexy all the time? Can you leave your house without mascara, or do you feel like you always have to look good?
I do go out of the house without make-up. It’s terrible pressure to be expected to be sexy all the time. I actually find my reputation as a Sexual Icon hilarious. Aren’t all reputations hilarious? The truth is that we know very little about most public people, and certain stereotypes stick. I am not a one-trick pony – I have many strings to my bow, but it is convenient for journalists to pigeon-hole. It’s really laziness. That’s the effect of our 24-hour news cycle.