Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sexby Erica Jong
When it comes to sex, what do women want? In this eye-opening and courageous collection, Erica Jong reveals that every woman has her own answer.
Susan Cheever talks about the "excruciating hazards of casual sex," while Gail Collins recounts her Catholic upbringing in Cincinnati and the nuns who passionately forbade her from having "carnal relations." In
When it comes to sex, what do women want? In this eye-opening and courageous collection, Erica Jong reveals that every woman has her own answer.
Susan Cheever talks about the "excruciating hazards of casual sex," while Gail Collins recounts her Catholic upbringing in Cincinnati and the nuns who passionately forbade her from having "carnal relations." In "Everything Must Go," Jennifer Weiner explores how, in love, the body can play just as big a role as the heart. The octogenarians in Karen Abbott's sharp-eyed piece possess a passion that could give Betty White a run for her money. Molly Jong-Fast reflects on her unconventional upbringing and why a whole generation of young women have rejected "free love" in favor of Bugaboo strollers and Mommy-and-me yoga.
Sex, it turns out, can be as fleeting, heavy, mundane, and intense as the rest of life. Indeed, Jong states in her powerful introduction "the truth is—sex is life."
Award-winning writer and high-flying sexual truth-teller Jong (Love Comes First, 2009, etc.) partners with 28 collaborators to create this fierce and refreshingly frank collection of personal essays, short fiction and cartoons celebrating female desire.
The approaches to the still-taboo topic of feminine sexuality—at least, for women writers seeking approbation from the literary establishment—are, as Jong notes, "as varied as sexuality itself" and as exuberantly diverse as the contributors themselves. They range from such emerging talents as Elisa Albert and J.A.K. Andres to such luminaries as Rebecca Walker, Eve Ensler, Susan Cheever, Anne Roiphe and Fay Weldon, and represent a multiethnic, multigenerational swath of some of the finest women writers in the United States. Most of the pieces deal with the perennial themes of sexual coming-of-age, social and religious sexual hang-ups and lusty obsessions for male bodies (as well as female ones). Some deal with lesser-discussed—but no less important—subjects like procreative sex and eroticism in old age. Still others fearlessly explore fetishism, childhood masturbation, kink, sexual addiction and the excitement that, in the words of Linda Gray Sexton, comes from "the offering up of one's body like a sacrifice upon the temple of the bed." While sex is the source of life and some of the most powerful joys—and agonies—imaginable, it is also invariably linked to death. And that, writes Jong, "is part of our discomfort with it." But the contributors to this collection never make sex facile. As they work against cultural expectations and literary double standards, they make women's depictions of "doing it" just another aspect of a more fully realized human consciousness.
A smart, scrumptiously sexy romp of a read.
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Read an Excerpt
Sugar in My BowlReal Women Write about Real Sex
By Erica Jong
EccoCopyright © 2011 Erica Jong
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI can't say for certain, but I think it happened in Toledo. Late
April, and the weather was glorious. As per usual in Spain, the
vegetarian lunch offerings left much to be desired.
"I hate this," I said, eating my umpteenth olive, eyeing yet
another piece of Manchego, dipping still more white bread in olive
oil. For weeks I'd been subsisting on little else, and I was homesick
for health food stores, tempeh, vegan bakeries, pleather, like
minded friends. My beloved tried to ignore me and enjoy his fried
squid. Ham hocks lined the windows and hung from the ceiling,
complete with small plastic cups for carcass-juice runoff.
His silence profoundly bugged me: you love a vegetarian, you at
least fake outrage at vegetarian roadblocks, right?
"Do we really have to have this conversation again?" he
wondered aloud, soaking up fish juice with a crust of bread and eyeing
the jamón longingly. To his credit, he had abstained from the pig
and listened to my complaints for weeks.
"Should I just pretend I'm psyched about my third bread and
cheese meal of the day? My pants don't fit, and I'm not even enjoying
I might have learned my lesson with my college boyfriend, a
mid-western defensive lineman. "I can't believe you expect me to
kiss you after you eat that," I once mused, watching him masticate
a juicy cheeseburger. He threw the burger away and didn't speak
to me for the rest of the night. Why am I fated to love carnivores?
Admittedly, I was being a pain in the ass. Pouting my way out
onto the street I went for it, relationship jugular: "You don't care
He stood in silence for a moment before throwing up his hands
and stomping away, turning around only briefly.
"Fuck you." This from a man so generally kind and even-keeled
that the worst I've otherwise heard from him in the way of withering
commentary goes something like "S/he means well, but . . ."
I burst into tears, and we spent the rest of the afternoon locked
in argument, sitting miserably on a stone path by the side of a
church. Clusters of tourists tried not to stare.
Later that night, in our room at the Parador overlooking the city,
we made amends. Andwonder of wondersa baby.
It could, of course, just as well have been a few days later in Madrid,
after an afternoon at the Prado, our feet aching. Or a couple of days
earlier in Sevilla, flamenco in a tiled courtyard with ivy snaked
around the balconies. Or back home in Teruel the following week,
in the now-romantic-seeming basement apartment where we spent
the spring. Those were busy, amorous weeks, so I'll never know for
sure. But I like to think it happened in Toledo. Weary from conflict,
overlooking the famous city wherein Jews and Christians and Muslims
once enjoyed a golden age of peaceful, productive coexistence,
we had ourselves a nice, mature talk and celebrated our mutual love
and understanding by getting naked.
We're not an overly contentious pair, though I have been known,
for no good reason, to stir shit up on occasion. It's the way things
go with us: I am damaged and have issues (see also: "you don't care
about me"), he is well adjusted and forbearing (isolated "fuck yous"
aside). No, that's not quite right. He has his issues too, but maybe
because he's a guy or maybe because his parents aren't divorced or
maybe because he's a few years older than I, he keeps things more
or less together. Whereas I, often, do not keep things more or less
together. Regardless, he is wise and funny and good and humble
and steadfast, with twinkly eyes and the body of a swim team captain.
His hands are strong, he keeps everything in perspective, he
is musical, and he has an enormous vocabulary. Which is to say:
I can hardly believe it most of the timemy luck, this ridiculous
bounty!but he is mine. When my depressive neuroses bump up
against his strong-silent-type stoicism, I am invariably convinced he
is going to leave me. When he declines to leave me, much nude
rejoicing is in order.
Weeks went by before I knew I was with child ("Embarazada!"
read the results from the local hospital after I finally realized my
irregular period was actually a no-show, went to the farmacia for a
pee stick, and set out in search of further confirmation), but hind-
sight is potent, so that night in Toledo has taken on a magical cast.
I know how that sounds. Procreative sex is the height of normative
sexual activity, the glory of professional, amateur, religious
sexists the world over, and the scourge of the radical feminism that
comprised my adolescent imagination. Freedom from it is fundamental
to the possibility that a woman can do as she pleases with
her life, body, self. It's taken eons to liberate us from reproductive
sex, from the notion that sex can only be a means to an end (the end
being a baby, of course; not an orgasm).
I've enjoyed my fair share of unhealthy sexual encounters; there
are several last names I can't recall. Suffice it to say that, like the
all-too imitable Carrie Bradshaw, I've probably slept with more men
than Princess Di but fewer than Madonna. What could be less
transgressive than loving consensual heterosexual sex within a committed
relationship leading to the exalted birth of a beautiful baby boy?
And what fun is sex if it's not at least a little transgressive? But wow:
Getting pregnant at that particular moment in time, with that
particularly beautiful man, after a stupid quarrel in Toledo, was a
fucking miracle. So to speak.
Normally fertile couples have only a 25 percent chance of conceiving
at the peak of the cycle. And wea forty-three-year-old man and
a twenty-nine-year-old woman with polycystic ovarian syndrome
who'd been fairly malnourished in vegetarian hellcan't really
qualify as a normally fertile couple. At fifteen, I was matter of factly
informed by a prick endocrinologist that I'd likely never be able to
have children, and I spent the following fifteen years grief stricken
by imagined barrenness, babies the altarpiece of my longing. I
screwed my way through my twenties with impunity, using condoms
until I knew my partner well enough to eschew them, braced
for who knew what kind of IVF nightmares. It's chilling to think,
now, about all that unprotected sex. I used to joke ruefully about
it. The upside of infertility: no worries! If I couldn't be an effortless
earth mother, I'd be a husky, world-weary, glamorous sex object
instead: forgoing birth control, never staying the night, dragging on
a cigarette, beholden only to myself, unfettered by the concerns of
regular copulaters. Perhaps I'd shed a lone, picturesque tear for my
never-to-be offspring on the subway ride home. Fun was had by all,
make no mistake, but I'm blazingly lucky I never found myself facing
single motherhood or abortion or STD. I was married for a minute
in my early twenties, and the possibility that I might have gotten
knocked up then haunts me still: a near miss, stark skid marks in
the rearview mirror.
General fertility wisdom holds that a woman is more likely to
get pregnant when she's had an orgasm. More blood flow supposedly
makes for happier, healthier spermatozoa and egg. And, more
to the point, why would nature want us reproducing with a partner
who can't make us come? So assuredly we had a good good time
reaffirming our mutual adoration in Toledo.
We had talked about kids, about when we'd like to start "trying"
to have them (code, I imagined, for stressful, routine sex). We
thought we might "think about" starting to "think about it" in the
months to come. I worried about what "thinking" about "trying"
might entail, anticipating a long, hellish road to nowhere. Did we
really want to go down that road? Where would that road end? My
body wouldn't work properly. Crushing disappointment was inevitable.
This narrative became part of my identity, the way I envisioned
the trajectory of my existence. I lived with its vaguely sad hum.
But fine: I wanted to accept it and move on, preserve our dignity
and hormonal imbalances and become one of those fabulous world
traveler couples, resigned to childlessness, nurturing all our nieces
and nephews and friends' offspring with joy. Maybe there was an
upside to parenting only ourselves, remaining relatively well rested
and well ironed. Children were not going to magically appear in my
We went home to Teruel, the spring wore on, my pants continued
not to fit, and I chalked it up to too much bread and cheese, not
enough kale and quinoa. It didn't cross my mind that I might be
pregnant. I, after all, could not get pregnant.
It was early June when I emerged from the bathroom in the basement
apartment with the pee stick in my shaking hand. "I'm pregnant"
I said, grinning like a lunatic. Then I repeated it, elated and
terrified. "I'm pregnant," the word a shimmering new planet: glowing,
marvelous, and whole, a thing to behold, there all the while.
Then he was grinning too, and laughing, and saying "Really?", and
we sat on ugly rattan barstools staring at each other, just looking at
each other like that, grinning, for I don't know how long.
Astonishingly, unbelievably, there was no "trying," no fertility
ordeal, no crushing disappointment. Just a good old-fashioned
romp with my lover after a quarrel, and now I'm typing one handed
while bouncing my sleeping boy in his bouncy chair, singing him a
ridiculous song that goes "this is the way we bouncy-bounce, this is
the way we bouncy-bounce, this is the way we bouncy-bounce, all
the livelong day."
I wanted to give birth at home, under the care of a midwife, away
from hospitals and doctors and synthetic narcotics and all the well
documented havoc the above-mentioned are well known to wreak
on healthy women birthing healthy babies. I wanted to feel it, to be
present, to fulfill the amazing capacity of my amazing body, to
experience what giving birth actually is, or can be. I wanted, to quote the
documentary, an Orgasmic Birth.
It. Was. Not. Like. That. Orgasmic, I mean. It was natural, at
home, under the care of a midwife, etc. And it was also excruciating
and terrifying and lonely and intense and wonderful and awful and
amazing and incredible and harrowing. I can't do this, I said, over
and over again. And: How does anyone do this? And: I understand
why people don't want to do this. This: grow a human being inside
your body for the better part of a year and then suffer your uterus
contracting to push him out through your sex organ.
No orgasm was had. But childbirth is like sex, in a way. Or
maybe like a hallucinogenic experience, which one can imagine and
project and invent endlessly but which, ultimately, can only be
experienced as it actually is. There is no imagining, no pretending, and
no real understanding to be had after the fact. It is a dream, another
world, and then it's over.
With new-mom friends I whisper and giggle about sex, the
possibility of sex, like nervous adolescent virgins: Have you done it
yet? How was it? How did it feel? What's it like? Can I do it? Will it be
okay? For me? For him??
Sex is new, and scary, and different, and interesting, and strange.
My body has been . . . reorganized. As the amazing Ina May Gaskin,
godmother of the modern American midwifery movement,
observes: "Men take it for granted that their sexual organs can
greatly increase in size and then become small again without being
ruined. . . . But obstetricians of earlier generations planted the idea
(which is still widely held) that nature cheated women when it came
to the tissues of the vagina and perineum (give it one good stretch
and it's done for, like a cheap girdle), and a lot of women have
bought into the idea that their crotches are made of shoddy goods."
Still, the cliché about how clichés are clichés for good reason is
true! This beautiful baby boy is bouncing in his bouncy chair and
he fills my mind and heart and arms. Soon he'll be hungry and this
brief window for contemplating his conception and birth will be
over for now. All I can think is: Love. Love, love, love.
We literally made love, a term that until recently I did not like.
We made, from pieces of our bodies, from the love we share, a new
human beinga lovewhose gummy crooked smile and clutching
hands and soft skin and shining intent gaze and drunk old man
chuckle daily redefine for us the very concept.
I'm glad we're connected in this way: flesh and blood, down to
the bone. It's more than married. It's permanent: We were here,
this new person is here. There was, is, and will always be a lot of
love between us.
Excerpted from Sugar in My Bowl by Erica Jong Copyright © 2011 by Erica Jong. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Erica Jong is the author of eight novels including Fear of Flying; Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones; Shylock's Daughter; Inventing Memory, a Novel of Mothers and Daughters; and Sappho's Leap. Several of her novels have been worldwide bestsellers. Her other books include the nonfiction works Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir; The Devil at Large, a study of Henry Miller; Witches; and What Do Women Want; and six volumes of poetry.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I enjoyed reading this collection, but I expected more insight or candor than these stories and essays delivered. That being said, Jennifer Weiner's short story about a woman preparing for a double mastectomy and the saga of Callie's Cho Cho are phenomenal, and in a class by themselves!