I was recently asked to be on a panel at a Brisbane Writers' Festival that was called 'Women Love Sex.' I got quite a shock. Women love sex?! Can't be true, I said to myself.
I know that personally, when I have to have sex, I just lie back and think of England, which in turn makes me think of, oh, those spunky boys in Oasis, and of Mick Jagger's lips, and of Fergie's toe-sucking, and of Prince Charles wanting to be Camilla's tampon and, I dunno, corgies with their tongues out, and dollops and dollops of fresh cream, and Buckingham Palace guards in their cute red uniforms, of Cabinet ministers with pantyhose on their heads and of Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley's Lover and the size of Billy Bragg's nose....
Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, the title of the panel. Women. Love. Sex. A holy trinity. The ultimate love triangle. The most natural ménage à trois in the world. Or is it? Why is there still, in the nineties, enough of a frisson about the whole enterprise that the very words 'Women Love Sex' are still titillating enough to draw a crowd? I mean, the place was packed.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I know why I was there. I was there because I've got a reputation. Just because I've written a novel, Eat Me, in which a woman manages to insert into herself nearly everything she finds in a supermarket fruit and veg section, including the store detective's face, and another likes being tied and teased by her lesbian lover and another dials up an escort agency to order a black American sailor boy, and another has a fantasy involving twenty-four samurai and an awful lot of raw fish, people assume I'm one of those women who love sex.
I'd like to set the record straight. I am one of those women who love sex. This is something that women are still not supposed to admit in polite society, but I don't see much of that at literary festivals, or, for that matter, in my normal life either.
One thing that puzzles those of us in impolite society is how sex ever came to be mixed up with issues of morality and virtue. Whatever happened to Me Tarzan, You Jane? Looking back at some of the lustier poems from China's ancient Book of Odes, a number of which take a woman's voice, and the erotic verses of Greece and Rome, it would seem that there was a time when the admission that women love sex would merely prompt a shrug. 'Of course they do, mate,' you can hear the pre-Confucian Chinese gentleman saying. 'What d'ya reckon?'
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Australian Women's Forum. Someone ate a lemon, pursed their lips and declared a new world order.
The American stage actress Cornelia Otis Skinner put it rather succinctly when she said, 'Women's virtue is man's greatest invention.' Thinking about that line, it occurred to me that woman's lack of virtue is another of man's greatest inventions--the guy who first came up with the story of Adam and Eve has a lot to answer for. The original sin, in my view, was the invention of original sin itself.
The two concepts, the alleged virtue of women and their lack thereof are intimately related. Ever since Eve copped the rap for getting her and Addie thrown out of Paradise, women have been forced to protest 'I'm not Eve! I'm not Eve! I'm a good girl.' The ladies doth protest too much, methinks. Give me Mae West any day. She's no lady, and I much prefer her attitude: 'A hard man is good to find.' 'I was Snow White...but I drifted.'
Personally, I reject the notion that sex--having it, offering it, enjoying it--has any more to do with virtue or sin than any other human activity. To my mind, sexual morality is no different from morality generally. It's wrong, for instance, to hurt another person--unless, of course, they've leapt onto a rack, slipped on some manacles and are begging for a touch of the lash. Similarly, you don't take what's not given to you, and never ever involve children, small animals, terrorist organisations or extremely sharp objects. Other than those sort of basic rules, as far as I'm concerned, you can stick your tongue (or anything else) pretty much anywhere you want.
Even if the great mainstream, or silent majority or whoever it is the self-appointed guardians of family values claim to speak for, hold otherwise, there have always been people who've questioned the shotgun marriage of sex to morality. Voltaire wrote in his Notebooks that 'it is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue.'
The social difficulty attached to women taking a similar stance--and by social difficulties I include such quaint traditional customs as burning at the stake in Western countries and being stoned to death in Islamic ones as well as just having to endure a degree of lemon-lipped opprobrium--has led to the awkward situation in which women traditionally have had to bear the burden of romantic love. It is, quite frankly, the only way that we've been able to get sex without being labelled a slut.
I'm not putting down romantic love. I love love as much as the next girl, especially when I'm getting heaps. But the fact of the matter is, some women love sex more than they love love, some love love more than they love sex, some love them both at once, some keep 'em separated, some love one on Monday and the other on Tuesday, and then there are women who would rather stay at home any day and read a book instead--which is the sort of woman we writers love best, of course.
As a writer wanting to write about women and love and sex, there are a number of traditions to which one can look for inspiration, or, conversely, to borrow a Chinese phrase, a 'negative teaching example'. On one end of the literary spectrum is the classic romance. Love ostensibly drives the car of romance, which I imagine to be one of those Joan Collins-y stretch limos or possibly just a comfortably family station wagon to accommodate all the usual baggage of happily ever after. I say 'ostensibly,' because while Love may be in the driver's seat, the car of romance will always be equipped like one of those driver-training vehicles with a second steering wheel and brakes, equipped with override. Bourgeois Morality is always sitting there keeping a stern eye on the speed and direction. The ride is bound to be a bit bumpy. There will be unexpected detours. The odd pedestrian may get bumped off along the way. But Morality will ensure that in the end, Love pulls up safely at the family home.
Then there's erotica. In erotic writing, Sex is always at the wheel. The vehicle's a Harley or Lamborghini or mad old Valiant or convertible Triumph--something fast and dangerous, or quirky and wild, the sort of wheels where Sex can feel the wind in her hair. If Bourgeois Morality manages to climb on board, Sex may press the ejector seat button. She may pretend to listen to his instructions while doing the opposite, or she might just tie him up, gag him and tickle him with feathers for the rest of the ride. She doesn't mind the company of Love, and usually welcomes it when it's there, but she's not too fussed when Love's not around, either. Sex rarely knows or cares about her final destination, she's an absolute terror in traffic and the idea of a head-on collision and twelve-car pileup doesn't worry her at all, in fact she rather gets off on the idea. Sex is a bad girl. And so far as erotica is concerned, bad can be very good indeed.
When I say Sex is bad, I don't mean bad sex. I mean bad sex. Naughty sex. Not evil sex, though I acknowledge that there is a fine line that runs between those. I am fascinated by such stories as 'The Hungarian Adventurer' by Anais Nin, in which acts that would be absolutely reprehensible in real life, not to mention fully criminal, are almost unbearably erotic on the page. In Nin's tale, a Hungarian nobleman meets a family with two little girls, ten and twelve. They all stay in the same hotel. The girls jump playfully on his bed one morning and he gets them to play a little game in which they tumble over the bed chasing and rubbing against what they think is his finger under the blanket. It is a joyful if unspeakable little romp, disturbing and exciting all at once. It is not, despite its subject matter, at all a brutal tale, which is another reason I like it.
Personally, I am repelled by erotica that relies for its kicks on depictions of cruelty and violence. I realise it's terribly unfashionable to say so, but I don't find the Marquis de Sade or George Bataille to be the slightest bit erotic.
The sexuality that I try to depict in my work is lusty and positive. It's also a bit quirky and usually funny as well. It doesn't work for everyone. An English reviewer said of Eat Me, 'Jaivin's main problem is that successful porn is inherently nasty....' So, I have trouble getting in touch with my dark side. I can't do nasty. Playful, yes. Kinky, occasionally. Naughty, often. Nasty, no. Now maybe if I were brought up in England....
Copyright © 1997 Linda Jaivin.
Photo of Linda Jaivin copyright © Ellen Dahl.