Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Sexual Life of Catherine M.

The Sexual Life of Catherine M.

3.3 6
by Catherine Millet

See All Formats & Editions

Called "a fantastic breakthrough into the dark content of female desire" (France-Soir), The Sexual Life of Catherine M. was the literary success of the year in France, selling over 300,000 copies and becoming the most controversial book on sexuality since The Story of O. Catherine Millet, the prominent editor of Art Press, has led an extraordinarily active and free


Called "a fantastic breakthrough into the dark content of female desire" (France-Soir), The Sexual Life of Catherine M. was the literary success of the year in France, selling over 300,000 copies and becoming the most controversial book on sexuality since The Story of O. Catherine Millet, the prominent editor of Art Press, has led an extraordinarily active and free sexual life — from alfresco encounters in Italy to a gang bang on the edge of the Bois du Boulogne to a high-class orgy at a chichi Parisian restaurant. A graphic account of a life of physical gratification, the book is also a relentlessly honest look at the consequences of sex stripped of sentiment — including the joys and sorrows of her open marriage — and a completely fearless unmasking of the fallacies we cling to and the often shocking, sometimes disturbing truths of female sexuality.

Editorial Reviews

Vito F Sinisi
In a revealing book that is being hailed as a "stylistic tour de force," art critic Catherine Millet unashamedly recounts her life of sexual freedom, one that ranges all the way from clandestine one-time-only romps in public places to heavily orchestrated group orgies at high-class Parisian swingers clubs. This is an open marriage more open than most, one that reveals shocking truths about female sexuality.
Publishers Weekly
Millet, art critic and editor of Art Press, has become a literary sensation in France with the publication of this graphic memoir of some 30 years of her sexual adventures. Millet's "gift for observation" and her "solid superego" are as useful in her career as an art critic as they are in her erotic explorations: her ability to concentrate and observe puts her inside "other people's skins." Comparisons have been made to The Story Of O, but Millet is more in the tradition of Jean Genet and Violette Leduc, whose descriptions of their sexual encounters were not meant to titillate so much as to explore the meaning of the erotic. Millet's "quest for the sexual grail" takes her to group orgies, gang bangs in French parks and other serial sex escapades. Before long, the sex begins to seem utterly routine, in spite of the elaborate staging. Millet and her readers are then free to consider more closely some questions she raises: how oral sex compares to vaginal intercourse; why sex in disgusting circumstances is not about "self-abasement," but raising oneself "above all prejudice"; or why solitary sex is more pleasurable for her than sex with a partner. Toward the end of this curiously graceful memoir, Millet comes close to explaining her need for all this sex: only by sloughing off the "mechanical body" she'd been born with could she experience actual sexual pleasure. While women readers will find much of interest, male readers may have to overcome a certain emperor's new clothes-type discomfort, as they realize that Millet may know more about the male body than they do. It probably won't be as popular here, given American vs. French attitudes about sex, but it will attract those with a sexual sensibility and a certain je ne sais quoi. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this steamy work, a best seller throughout Europe, the editor of France's Art Press shatters gender assumptions by detailing her rollicking sex life. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The graceful, thoughtful, oddly charming, and profoundly pornographic account of a French intellectual's life of extreme sexuality. Millet is a highly respected art critic and editor in her native France, where this memoir was a bestseller. The nearly complete absence of sentimentality in both her memoir and the encounters she describes sparked a controversy that made this one of the most discussed books in years. In a translation that preserves the elegance and clarity of Millet's prose, we are launched almost immediately into her life of group sex, anonymous sex, serial and public sex. While casually placed in context-this encounter occurred as Millet emerged from her Catholic upbringing; this man became a long-term companion; sex helped her avoid the social discomfort of small talk-this consists largely of a string of incidents that might have faded into mechanical repetition were it not for Millet's power of description and the insight she brings to bear. Millet entered the world of group sex shortly after she lost her virginity at 18, and joined the moveable feast of Parisian orgies and sex parties almost immediately, receiving dozens of men each night. Working in the art world, the boundary between business and sex was indistinct for her, and she would enter a studio to interview an artist and end up staying for days. Priding herself on having been without shame and always available, observing her partners in a way that has traditionally belonged to men, Millet's ultimately anti-erotic memoir will surely be the most blatantly pornographic read many will encounter this year. Lacking the literary tradition of intellectual discourse about sex that Millet writes from (France has de Sadeand The Story of O; we have Penthouse Forum), reaction here is likely to be less sophisticated than it was at home. A bold, intelligent, pioneering tour de force.

Product Details

Profile Books Limited
Publication date:
Serpent's Tail Classics
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt



1. Numbers

As a child I thought about numbers a great deal. The memories we have of solitary thoughts and actions from the first few years of life are very clear-cut: they provide the first opportunities for self-awareness, whereas events shared with other people can never be isolated from the feelings (of admiration, fear, love or loathing) that those others inspire in us, feelings that, as children, we are far less able to identify or even understand. I, therefore, have particularly vivid memories of the thoughts that steered me into scrupulous counting exercises every evening before I went to sleep. Shortly after my brother was born (when I was three and a half), my family moved into a new apartment. For the first few years we lived there, my bed was in the largest room, facing the door. I would lie staring at the light that came across the corridor from the kitchen where my mother and grandmother were still busying themselves, and I could never get to sleep until I had visualized these numerical problems one after the other. One of the problems related to the question of having several husbands. Not the possibility of the situation, which seems to have been accepted, but the circumstances themselves. Could a woman have several husbands at the same time, or only one after the other? In the latter case, how long did she have to stay married to each one before she could move on? What would be an “acceptable” number of husbands: a few, say five or six, or many more than that—countless husbands? How would I go about it when I grew up?

As the years went by, I substituted counting children for husbands. I imagine that, in finding myself under the seductive spell of some identified man (in turn, a film star, a cousin, etc.) and focusing my wandering thoughts on his features, I perhaps felt less uncertainty about the future. I could envisage in more concrete terms my life as a young married woman, and therefore the presence of children. More or less the same questions were raised again: was six the most “acceptable” number, or could you have more? What sort of age gap should there be between them? And then there was the ratio of girls to boys.

I cannot think back to these ideas without connecting them to other obsessions that preoccupied me at the same time. I had established a relationship with God that meant I had to think every evening about what he was going to eat, so the enumeration of the various dishes and glasses of water I offered him mentally—fussing over the size of the helpings, the rate at which they were served, etc.—alternated with the interrogations into the extent to which my future life would be filled with husbands and children. I was very religious, and it could well be that my confused perception of the identities of God and his son favored my inclination to counting. God was the thundering voice that brought men back into line without revealing him to them. But I had been taught that he was simultaneously the naked pink baby made of plaster that I put into the Christmas manger every year, the suffering man nailed to the crucifix before which we prayed—even though both of these were actually his son—as well as a sort of ghost called the Holy Spirit. Of course, I knew perfectly well that Joseph was Mary’s husband, and that Jesus, even though he was both God and the son of God, called him “Father.” The Virgin was in fact the mother of the Christ child, but there were times when she was referred to as his daughter.

When I was old enough to go to Sunday school, I asked to speak to the priest one day. The problem I laid before him was this: I wanted to become a nun, to be a “bride of Christ,” and to become a missionary in an Africa seething with desti­tute peoples, but I also wanted to have husbands and children. The priest was a laconic man, and he cut short the conversation, believing that my concerns were premature.

Until the idea of this book came to me, I had never really thought about my sexuality very much. I did, however, realize that I had had multiple partners early on, which is unusual, especially for girls, or it certainly was among the milieu in which I was brought up. I lost my virginity when I was eighteen—which is not especially early—but I also had group sex a few weeks after my deflowering. On that occasion I was not the initiator, but I was the one who precipitated it—something I still cannot explain to myself. I have always thought that I just happened to meet men who liked to make love in groups or liked to watch their partners making love with other men, and the only reaction I had (being naturally open to new experiences and seeing no moral obstacle) was to adapt willingly to their ways. But I have never drawn any theory from this, and therefore have never been militant about it.



© Copyright 2001 by Éditions du Seuil, Translation copyright © 2002 by Adriana Hunter. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-8021-1716-3



Meet the Author

In addition to editing Art Press, Catherine Millet has written eight books of art criticism.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Sexual Life of Catherine M. 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are many who will be shocked with this book. Ms. Millett provides very explicit details on her sexual soirees. Her thought process is very extensive and graphic. Europeans, particularly the French, have no sexual hang-ups like Americans, who will be very disgusted and turned-off by this book. I myself enjoyed this book thoroughly. I have an open mind; those who don't will not enjoy this book. I commend Ms. Millett for her views.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that this book is wonderful. It shocks you around every corner and pays great attention to detail. I think that she has had an eventful life and sometimes i am in envy......ANAIS NIN is my favorite, she is worth checking out as well!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book challenges cultural norms and maternal expectations! Catherine's book broadens horizons by offering a TOTALLY different view of things- a neat thing in a world so controlled by Puritan expectations and the hypocritical implementation of them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An insightful provocative read that while not only liberating can also be depressing at times. But it does capture the ups and downs and emotional pitfalls attached to such a lifestyle.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Over the last few years, there have been a number of bestselling books written by women about their sex lives. Books like this and Abby Lee's Diary of a Sex Fiend are fun to read, because they take you into the sex life of a smart, sophisticated, and sexy woman. Really hot reading!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book dissapointing. Rather than feeling she was a liberated woman. I felt as if she was a prisoner of her own sexual compulsions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Some have termed this book courageous for its inside look into the free (of responsibility and emotion) sexual life of a woman. I plunked down $16 hoping to gain some unique insight into the emotional consequences of such a lifestyle and perhaps learn something I could apply to my own life. Instead, I felt like a voyeur who was only treated to the mechanical/physical side of a strange wanderlust with no insight into emotion or inner transformation. It provided neither insight nor erotica if one is looking for that. I have read novels such as Shade of the Maple by Kirk Martin that force a more thoughtful examination of one's relationships and self-concept, and which hit home very personally. Save your $16 and invest $10 into a riveting novel that will also leave you challenged, changed and inspired.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It appears that she did not have enough parental guidance. She appeared 'smart enough' at an early age, but misdirected! I can't associate a 'normal little girl - or a normal grown woman to her. Sorry!