Yes, Erica Jong coined the phrase "the zipless fuck" when describing sexual adventures in her 1973 novel Fear of Flying. But now she's talking about a whole body sexual sensation that's more like lightning.
She's outspoken, thought-provoking, and still has a lot to talk about — like when you're a legendary sex writer, what sex advice do you give your teenaged daughter? Why is the media so obsessed with Anna Nicole Smith? But I even asked Erica how her sex life changed as she's gotten older — and for once, I got a straight answer!
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SUSIE BRIGHT: There's been a certain type of book that's come out recently by a woman over 60 who says "Yes, I'm old, but my sexuality and my vitality are at their height." How you can continue to be Pamela Anderson at 80? (Laughs) I'm not buying it!
ERICA JONG: Are you anywhere near 50?
SB: I'm 49!
EJ: Oh, god.
SB: It's the last 40-something. So...
EJ: In many ways it's wonderful to get older. Apart from the fact that you're on the ledge, and after your parents die, you're the next to fall in. You do think about mortality a lot.
If you're not a total mess, you think about generativity, and giving back, and — you know, teaching, and things like that. Which is the healthy part. But sex is not the same!
Because the men are dying. The men are becoming impotent. They're having heart attacks, and they're being put on blood pressure medication. Nobody's writing about that. (But I am in my new novel!)
SB: You make it sound like men are the only ones who are having a small health setback. What about the women?
EJ: The women, for the most part, seem healthier than the men. At least anecdotally...
There are lots of ways out of this. Yes, you can find younger people. Yes, you can find — you know, your 30-year-old male lover with a constant erection. Apart from the fact that mostly they don't want women who are 60. (Laughs) Some do. You know. For whatever Oedipal reasons...
But one is too wise, by then, to think of it as anything but a zipless fuck. Or a zipless fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck — and done, because you don't want to be their nurse, and you don't want to be their purse. I did that when I was in my 40s. And you don't want to blurb their book — their bad book.
SB: I'm sure that's a real turn-off sexually.
EJ: "I will fuck you, and you can blurb my book!"
EJ: If you've achieved a little bit of self knowledge, maybe that works once, maybe it works twice. Maybe it works three times — but then it doesn't work so well.
I'm not talking about a real, wonderful affair with a younger man — you know, possibly you walk off into the sunset together, or you always have this wonderful place in your head that you can go back to. Affairs with women seem to proliferate after 50.
SB: After-50 bisexuality or lesbianism that wouldn't have happened before?
EJ: Yes. I think it's mostly because the men are dead. (Laughs)
SB: You are so cruel! Your husband isn't dead!
EJ: No, my husband isn't dead. But I'm talking about what I see around me. And then with the one that one loves, one has to re-invent sexuality. It can't be the same.
SB: Everybody says "re-invent," but what would that really look like?
EJ: Suppose he doesn't have an erection? You have to be whole-body — tantric sex. You have to change the way you look at sex, and him too, because men have a real problem with that. They're so focussed on their penis, you may have noticed, that making the change from focus-on-the-penis to focus-on-the-whole-body...
SB: It's almost like the symbol of the erection as desire is more important than fucking for 10 hours without stopping. Because hardly anyone wants to do that. It's like the erection is the symbol of "You want me." It's what I'm accustomed to seeing.
EJ: But even if you think it doesn't mean something to you...
SB: Even if you pooh-poohed it, and said it wasn't a big deal....
EJ: Even if you pooh-poohed it, and said it wasn't a big deal, as a woman, the infrequency requires a leap. But men have to also make that leap.
SB: I just talked to a friend in his 60s who's just fallen in love over the phone with a woman. He says he gets hard the moment he hears her voice, and yet now that they're planning an in-person meeting, he's frantic to get a Viagra prescription. He was asking me if I had any undercover connections.
EJ: Go to your doctor! They gave them out like M&Ms!
SB: I said, "I don't think you should fret so much. You're throbbing just talking to her on the phone. Don't worry so much that you have to have this perfect insurance plan!"
I don't know whether guys would find that a relief to hear, or...
EJ: No, because they have to get over their identification with themselves and the hard dick. And once they do, the sex can be truly wonderful.
I've really gone through this with Ken. He had an aneurysm of the aorta, and had to take blood pressure-lowering medication. It was counteracted by Viagra, but Viagra gave him blue spots in front of his eyes. And it made him feel so exhausted after sex that the day was ruined for him.
EJ: He wasn't allowed to take Cialis, because it was contraindicated with his medication. It took a while for both of us to accept that it was going to be different. I think it took him longer than me.
I've always thought of sex as being a whole body experience. Yes, I liked intercourse very much, and I liked oral sex very much. With certain men, I could have wonderful orgasms with intercourse. With other men, I could have better orgasms with oral sex.
With women, you have better orgasms with oral sex, I think. Although I decided that I'm not really gay.
SB: I'd never heard you announce that you were gay. I missed that...
EJ: Well, for a while I thought it would be wonderful to be really gay, and I had some experimental flings with women that I really loved. But then I decided that I was kidding myself — that I wasn't really gay — although I loved these women very much.
I really believe that Gore Vidal is right, that there are sexual acts, and that we make too much of a big deal about whether they're gay or straight. That if you love someone, you can find a way to express it physically. Or not! I've always been tremendously attracted to you...
SB: (Laughs) Oh, goodie! What a compliment! (Laughs) Why?
EJ: Because you have such an alive spirit. And because you're so life-loving. I honestly think that's why people are attracted to me.
SB: Mmm hmm.
EJ: You know, it's not about one's tits — although you have very nice tits, and I'm told I have very nice tits. It's about lifeforce and energy.
I've always felt like I was a kundalini person. I've always sort of believed, "raise the kundalini, let's get with it" — you know? "It's going up my spine, my solar plexus is glowing..." So we found a new form of kundalini sex after he got over his feeling that he was failing in some way.
SB: Do you think there was a turning point for him?
EJ: Yes — when he started to have these electric orgasms down his spine!
SB: Oh my god. You hear about people who have spinal cord injuries talking about this, or people who suffered an injury that supposedly was going to change their sexuality forever. Then they started feeling sexual orgasmic sensations in an area that they had never even felt before. Or the initiative, the catalyst, was coming from a different spot.
You can hear and hear and hear about how there's a different sexual way, but until you actually experience it, you're feeling "Okay, fine. Everyone else can have the party, but I'm not invited."
EJ: I think that Ken had more of a block about finding different ways of sex than I did, because I always thought that was there for me. You know, somebody could touch my neck and I could get juicy. Touch my cheek.
I knew that the whole body is an erogenous zone, but most men don't know that, and he didn't know that. You know, he was always into oral sex. That was not a problem. He loves oral sex. He enjoys it, he's good at it. He's not uptight about smells or tastes.
One time I got a bikini wax, and he was horrified. I said, "But what about the hairs between your teeth?" He said, "I like the hairs between my teeth!" So he's totally into, you know, smells, tastes...
SB: The whole woman.
EJ: He's really alive to that stuff.
But what happened finally was doing oral sex, touching, tasting, playing... It's very hard to even describe. Playing, listening to music, laughing, telling jokes — we've always been enormously close. The Sunday mornings in the country, we take a hot tub, we listen to music. We hang out, we read the paper, we laugh, we get in bed... If it's warm enough, we swim.
And then he started having these orgasms where his whole back would become lightning. You've heard that from people...
SB: Yes, of course. And often people who say "Look, I'm an atheist, I'm not the sort of person who sees UFOs or has out-of-body experiences, but I'm having sexual sensations that aren't on the first or second page of The Joy of Sex. They're just not your standard penis-vagina or tongue-clit... Something new is happening to me."
I'm such a great believer in sexual creativity, and how — as much as everyone says "The mind is our most important sexual organ," they don't understand that it is. That you could lose everything else, but as long as you didn't have a lobotomy, you'd be sexual. It's the key to everything.
On the other hand, folks who've had brain injuries and brain tumors — when you lose sexual desire and creativity from your mind, it doesn't matter if all the other parts work. It's gone. And that's quite bracing.
EJ:I could get a headline any day of the week by calling up the New York Times or the Washington Post and saying "I have given up sex."
SB: Oh, that would be so good...
EJ: I could get on the front page. "And now I am entering a nunnery. It's going to be an orthodox Jewish nunnery, and I will never — I'm shaving my head. I'm wearing a sheitel..." And... You know, that's what they want you to say. "Author of 'Zipless Fuck'..." — which is what people think it's really called.
SB: "...finds her zippers!"
EJ: Right! I mean, it's so preposterous. People want the complete turnabout. It's like Christopher Hitchens and his atheist book.
That's how low our press has fallen. Everybody's infected. Noam Chomsky predicted this thirty years ago. He said, "When the news is owned by five conglomerates — we won't have news." And guess what? We don't. We have Anna Nicole Smith.
You know, I actually saw the headline during that whole circus — "What's next for Anna Nicole?"
SB: "In the afterlife!" Exactly.
EJ: Well, she's rotting...
SB: The worms are talking all the time...
EJ: "What's next for Anna Nicole?" Can you believe it? I mean, that's our media!
SB: I want to ask you about something on the other end of the generational syndrome. You have a daughter that's older than mine. I think your daughter is in her twenties.
SB: And I have a teenager. I wasn't trying to keep sexual knowledge secret from my daughter. I wasn't going to be like "You're going to be a virgin, and I'm locking you in a convent."
EJ: "I have the key to your chastity belt."
EJ: "You're gonna feel something you never have felt." We used to sing that in high school. (Laughs)
SB: I find myself biting my lip in certain circles talking about how they're managing their teenaged daughters when I realize that's not the approach I've taken. Sometimes I feel defensive, like I'm as protective and as mama tiger-ish as anyone would be. It's just that I'm not going to be spurred on by some sexist notion of "virtue" any more than I wanted somebody hectoring me about that when I was a teenager.
So I wanted to ask you — did you ever feel tempted to become a conservative nag, that would lock her in the cellar...
SB: How did you deal with it?
SB: As if a bell's gonna ring!
EJ: Yeah, because I'm the expert — right? I'm the maven.
And I would say, "Well make sure it's with somebody who you really like, if not feel affection for. And make sure that he's kind. Make sure that he will not push you around, that he will use birth control unless you have birth control — that you should have birth control." That he is somebody, you know, who will be a friend, and...blah blah blah.
Well, they both agreed that that was ideal. And they both went off and did the opposite! (Laughs)
SB: Someone really mean, who didn't give a crap!
EJ: Right! So what people say about sex, and what they do are two different things. To watch that, as you're getting older, and to watch them go through — you know, the druggie sex, and the debasing sex, and all the things they said as good little feminists they didn't want...
You've got to realize that there is this tremendous gap between the beau idéal and the reality!
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