Now she tells us.
Author Erica Jong, whose sensational 1973 book “Fear of Flying” promoted the liberated joys of the “zipless” sexual union, now admits she doesn’t really believe in such encounters.
“For the most part, when you fall into bed with a total stranger, it’s a great disappointment,” she told National Public Radio’s Susan Stamberg in an interview earlier this month on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. As for the “hook-ups” of today, casual encounters that are the straight-line descendants of the so-called “zipless ‘bleep’,” Jong says she doesn’t think young women are getting much joy out of them. She refers to television shows that depict this kind of sex to make her point.
“If you look at ‘Girls,’ Lena Dunham’s program…in many ways it’s very dark — these girls are not getting any pleasure. They’re watching the men get the pleasure. And so if hook-ups are so wonderful, why are these shows so dark and disappointing?”
Why, indeed? Could it be because this kind of sex, especially for women, is ultimately dark and disappointing?
I have a teenage daughter and I’ve worked hard to prepare her for today’s world of dating and “relationships.” Even setting aside religious convictions that preclude casual sex and the compelling physical reasons to avoid it (pregnancy, disease), there are undeniable emotional prices to pay for young women who do indulge.
Heck, why is it called “intimacy” in the first place? Because you’re engaging in THE most intimate physical act there is. Common sense alone dictates that you reserve this extreme intimacy for an established relationship in which both participants — but especially the woman — will find emotional support and some degree of security.
Am I being politically incorrect by saying “especially the woman?” Well, excuse me. Let’s be real here. A zipless encounter or hook-up or whatever you want to call it is, at some level, the male of the species’ dream come true. As a culture, we used to know this. We attempted to prepare girls to protect themselves from the emotional devastation that can result from giving yourself in that way…then being casually set aside.
But, starting with Jong’s exuberant manifesto and continuing through to the “just do it!” media messages of today, girls have been guided to confuse being liberated with being just as casual and crude about sex as boys often are. This leads to choices that are detrimental to boys and girls alike — and society at large.
Girls are already struggling with unrealistic cultural and societal demands to be flawlessly sexy and beautiful and desirable; what better way to prove that you are so than to be having lots and lots of sex?
That’s been the message — sometimes overt, as in Jong’s book and countless other books, movies, and TV programs of the modern era. And sometimes it’s subliminal, as in lascivious images in television and magazine advertising. As a culture, we’re gradually being acclimated to ever-more-explicit vulgarity and sexual promiscuity. To me, it sometimes seems we’ve got the emperor’s-new-clothes or elephant-in-the-room syndrome: No one wants to be the prude who steps up and says, “Is this really what we want?”
I support free speech and a free society. I am not, truth be told, a prude. But just because we allow pornography to exist in our culture, does it mean that every cutting-edge representation of social interaction must descend to the level of pornography?
Television, in particular, has been ghoulishly successful delivering the anything-goes message, with “Girls” as perhaps the bottom rung on a hideous ladder. Full disclosure: I’ve never seen an episode of this program, but I’ve heard and read enough about it to get the gist, and I offer as proof of its repulsiveness the episode “On All Fours” (aired March 10, 2013 on HBO). In it, the character Adam asks the character Natalia to get on her knees and crawl to the bedroom to have sex, then grabs her and throws her on the bed to perform oral sex, then — oh, never mind. I can’t even say it.
But, you know, it’s cutting-edge stuff. So bad that it’s good. “Defiance at its finest,” according to one “Variety” review. “Rewarding” according to the latest issue of “Vanity Fair.”
In other words, cool, if a tad over the top.
Only — maybe now it’s not so cool after all?
In the NPR interview, Erica Jong actually said of her trend-setting “zipless ‘bleep’” that it doesn’t actually exist.
“I don’t have that illusion, or delusion, anymore,” she said.
Thanks for the clarification, Ms. Jong. But I have a terrible feeling we’re not going to be able to un-ring that bell.
Jennifer Forsberg Meyer is a biweekly columnist with the Mountain Democrat. Leave a comment for her online, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.