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Sexcapades of the Literati

Literary libertines Edmund White and Erica Jong have long used their own amorous histories in the service of fiction. But now both have new (and newly revelatory) memoirs out. Prompting the entirely academic query: Who’s had a more interesting sex life?

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Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, by Erica Jong
A writing how-to that morphed into a steamy memoir.
Sexual History
The novelist-poet owes her success to the 1973 pro-sex feminist novel, Fear of Flying, which coined (and celebrated) the phrase “the zipless fuck.”

Juiciest Encounter
The best lovers are Italian. “Leonello had a grace that all Don Juans might envy. . . . His dancing presaged the grace of his fucking. And he was a slow seducer, slow to bed and slow to finish.” But it didn’t last.

Worst Experience
Definitely an unnamed elderly publisher she calls Wagstaff: “It took him forever to come. . . . What was going on in my addled brain? Surely he would give me a first edition—or two—in exchange for this . . .?”

Encounters Alluded to in Book
Around seventeen (liberally), including once with her husband while she was imagining Ted Hughes, but never with Ted Hughes himself: “Only my terror of Sylvia’s ghost kept me from being seduced.”

Meditations on Sex and Fame
“I have no idea whether [Martha Stewart] still goes around telling everyone I ruined her marriage, but I do wish I had the sexual power she attributes to me . . . I was just a pawn in a power struggle, a spear-carrier in her opera.”

Theory of Sexuality
“Without adultery, is there no novel? Without sex, is there no poetry? Surely sexual energy and creative energy feed each other. Often they feel the same.”


My Lives: An Autobiography, by Edmund White
A gay-lit pioneer’s first foray into racy nonfictional self-exposure.
Sexual History
He wrote the book on gay sex. Really: It’s called The Joy of Gay Sex. And his eloquent trilogy of novels meticulously detailed bathhouse-era hookups.

Juiciest Encounter
The best lovers are sadistic. One threatens to jail him: “His words gave me an instant erection. . . . What would it be like to live here, to watch the daylight come and go through the little window, to be . . . threatened with the working end of a cigar?”

Worst Experience
Dumped by a wonderfully sadistic “master,” but only after thorough humiliation. “I can imagine my friends reading this and muttering, ‘TMI’—Too Much Information. . . . What I am trying to demonstrate is that . . . I did not respect myself.”

Encounters Alluded to in Book
Sixty (very conservatively), including many hustlers and a few girls; also counts 222 times with three steadies.

Meditations on Sex and Fame
One lover, Keith McDermott, was White’s in with gay celebrities. Keith had affairs with Tennessee Williams’s lover and Tab Hunter and Robert Wilson. White “had drunken sex with Wilson, too. Once we even called Keith and had a telephonic three-way.”

Theory of Sexuality
Debunks Freud’s theory of civilization as resulting from repressed homosexuality: “I had never failed to act on my erotic impulses. Repression had played no role in my acquisition of culture or my accomplishment.”


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