Fear of Talking About Sex

No sex is a trend?” asks Erica Jong, whose 1973 novel Fear of Flying famously coined the term “zipless fuck,” upon learning that the Observer and the Times have published articles­ ­heralding the end of ­coitus. “How untrendy I must be!” Stealing a glance at her daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, sitting beside her, she continues, “Let me say that I still have sex with my husband of 22 years, and I had no idea I was completely out of fashion.”

Jong-Fast rolls her eyes. “Enough with the sex,” she groans. Like many women, the 32-year-old novelist has styled herself in direct opposition to her mother, as evidenced by the essay she contributed to the new anthology Jong has edited, Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex. “They Had Sex So I Don’t Have To” describes how, after growing up among “sexual deviants,” Jong-Fast became a proud prude. “If it’s every generation’s job to swing the pendulum back,” she writes, “then I have done my job.” Over lunch at the Carlyle, mother and daughter traded volleys about their generation’s contrasting mores.

E.J.: What I find interesting [after editing the anthology] is that the younger women writers are very reticent about sex, while the older women are very raunchy.

M.J.F.: Basically, the people who you would never want to have sex with, want to write about sex.

E.J.: Julie Klam, who is fortyish, wrote about how her daughter doesn’t say her vagina, she says, “My front,” as an example of her repression. If you read one piece in this book, read that.

M.J.F.: Thanks, Mom.

E.J.: It surprised me that daughters of the second-wave mothers seem much more interested in stability, serenity, monogamy.

M.J.F.: Your generation wants to write about having sex and not wearing bras; my generation wants to pick their kids up at school.

E.J.: I wear a bra!

M.J.F.: Now.

E.J.: I always wore a bra.

M.J.F.: My mother’s generation was like, you get married, you have a kid, you get married again, you have a relationship, you think you might be a lesbian. My generation—I mean, I got married at 25.

E.J.: I married my first lover.

M.J.F.:Ugghhh. Lover? Lover is a disgusting word. It makes me want to throw up. It’s a Plato’s Retreatword. This idea of commitment, that was something I had to learn. It was not something my mother’s generation was aware of.

E.J.: Molly’s father and I had a difficult divorce.

M.J.F.: They were married for eighteen months, and they spent like ten years getting divorced.

E.J.: We were not. We were married for eight years.

M.J.F.: Seven years.

E.J.: You weren’t even there! I’m so proud of Molly. Not just that she looks at this marriage as a permanent thing …

M.J.F.: Only in my family would being married and having all your children with the same person be a huge accomplishment.

E.J.: … But the idea that she would be a writer makes me very proud. Even though you’ve never read any of my books.

M.J.F.: I read 250 pages of Fear of Flying.

E.J.: You read 50 pages.

M.J.F.: I read it until I thought, My mom is writing about having sex with people who are not my dad. And then, who are my dad …

E.J.: You read 50 pages, and then slapped the book shut.

M.J.F.: Oh my God, I want to murder you right now.

E.J.: I raised Molly to believe that censorship is evil, and all she wants to do is censor me.

M.J.F.: [Wrapping her arms around her mother] I just want to hug her. So she can’t talk.

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Fear of Talking About Sex