Author Erica Jong in the Sunday Review section of yesterday’s New York Times:
Generalizing about cultural trends is tricky, but everywhere there are signs that sex has lost its frisson of freedom. Is sex less piquant when it is not forbidden? Sex itself may not be dead, but it seems sexual passion is on life support.
Here’s a notion: If generalizing about cultural trends is so tricky, why not try abstinence? Just don’t do it.
Yet Jong plows ahead, basing her sex-is-done conclusion on a most pretentious seedbed of data. See, Jong last year put together an anthology on sex ( Sugar in My Bowl ), and she was struck by the attitudes of the volume’s younger contributors. Jong:
My daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, who is in her mid-30s, wrote an essay called “They Had Sex So I Didn’t Have To.” Her friend Julie Klam wrote “Let’s Not Talk About Sex.” The novelist Elisa Albert said: “Sex is overexposed. It needs to take a vacation, turn off its phone, get off the grid.” Meg Wolitzer, author of “The Uncoupling,” a fictional retelling of “Lysistrata,” described “a kind of background chatter about women losing interest in sex.” Min Jin Lee, a contributor to the anthology, suggested that “for cosmopolitan singles, sex with intimacy appears to be neither the norm nor the objective.”
So that’s the research sample.
Jong, author of Fear of Flying , is right that generalizing about trends is fraught. But so is intellectualizing sex. While Jong and her anthologists think deeply about sex, the rest of America is having it. A trip to Dewey Beach might help Jong recalibrate.
Amanda Hess, a former colleague of mine and an editor at Los Angeles-based Good Magazine,, adds just a touch of insight:
“[Jong] elevates select cultural cues . . . and essays from a group of acquaintances (most visibly, her own daughter) and twirls them into the suggestion that young women today have bad sex, and not very much of it. More likely, young women today have sex at varying levels of frequency and satisfaction, but the free-love narrative isn’t as compelling anymore on an editorial level.”
Jong, says Hess, has powerful motives for saying what she says. Among them is making “sex writing relevant again (and declaring that it had somehow disappeared, and in the process, imbuing “Fear of Flying” with renewed relevance)” not to mention “creating a narrative around her book that situates older, raunchy ladies against younger, prudish ones (perhaps she could have searched further afield if she wanted a truly representative sample of each generation).”
What she said.