Authors: Michelle Slung
This one is Trin’s, with love
And therewithal Criseyde a noon be kistè;
Of which, certeyn, she feltè no dis-easè
And thus seyde he: ’Nov woldè God I wistè
Mine hertè sweetè, how I yow might pleasè
t seems worthwhile to me to establish from the start that prior to beginning this project I had not previously considered myself an expert on sex or sexy stories, any more than is any average, curious reader holding what is now the finished book. However, as with art, I do know, unequivocally, what
work for me and so, trusting my experience and judgment as a skilled editor, I set about fashioning a collection of erotic imaginings that
More than anything else, I have wanted, in choosing the very varied selections you will encounter here, to elicit the same kind of recognition that
women I know felt when a decade ago they first heard the Pointer Sisters song—female anthem, really—that inspired this book’s tide. The idea, in case you missed it back then and aren’t still humming along, was to find a lover willing to “spend some time,” one with “an easy touch” who’d put a higher value on teasing anticipation and gradual sensation than on mechanically grinding body parts. Frankly, even hearing a few bars of “Slow Hand” on the car radio, while stalled in traffic, was enough to induce a pleasant shiver or two, and I don’t for a single moment think I’m alone in this reaction.
Naturally, then, I confess it was a surprise and a fairly severe disappointment when recently I learned that a pair of male songwriters had actually written this brilliant answer to Freud’s famous question, “What does a woman want?” But, taking stock of what’s positive (as is my frequent habit), I’ll just point out that it was the Pointer Sisters, bless their hearts, who did, after all, sing those amazing lyrics with such fabulously convincing oomph. And, thankfully, it is
identification with it that stays with us—even if they’re not collecting
At any rate, “Foreplay, and lots of it” was the musical message the father of analysis didn’t live to hear, and it came at the start of a decade when quick, easy self-gratification seemed, for just a while there, to be every person’s right. Mind you, we’re not talking about the sixties, which was the (actually, only partly) permissive era of my own youth and sexual coming-of-age, but about the eighties, when, at the same time, the unyielding and ghastly nature of the AIDS virus began to make itself known. In many ways, then, this was a hostile climate for romance—or perhaps not, it’s hard to say. On the one hand, there was the need to consider more carefully one’s sexual partners and what one chose to do with them, perhaps, indeed, to spend more time in sensual play and touch. And on the other, there was the specter of sexually associated disease and death, along with grim predictions of the widening spread of AIDS, to act as an anaphrodisiac for generations of men and women well into the twenty-first century.
Still, it seems to me that at the moment when the Pointer Sisters sang this song and put it into the ears of women young and old—then and now, now as then—a line was drawn and many of us crossed it. To make sex sexy is surely one fine goal; to make it sensual is, I believe, an even finer one. And to be erotically
is to understand that there is knowable human reality behind that fateful moment in Greek mythology when the sage Tiresias, truthfully replying and blinded for his pains, told the disputatious gods that women are capable of receiving nine times more pleasure than men from the act of love.
Thus, I think it’s no coincidence that erotic writing by women writers for woman readers seemed to come into its own in the 1980s, following that seductive affirmation of our own perceptions about our
for seduction delivered in “Slow Hand.” (Male readers, to be sure, are welcome in these precincts, although one man of my acquaintance, given an early glimpse of a story I’d accepted, commented carefully, “Well, it doesn’t turn me on, but it’s certainly instructive.” In fact, what more can I hope for?) Building upon the success of earlier books by Nancy Friday and Erica Jong and the phenomenon of Anaï’s Nin’s posthumously published
Delta of Venus,
Lonnie Barbach, herself author of the influential self-pleasuring manual
and other works in the field of sexuality, led the way with her collections,
But she was not alone: there was also the Kensington Ladies Erotica Society of San Francisco, as well as the writers/editors Susie Bright, Tee Corinne, Terry Woodrow, Laura Chester, and others still.
These books were eagerly bought by women, perhaps first as novelties and later as necessities. What seemed crucial about them, simply stated, was their opening up to women an area of human experience heretofore dominated—like nearly everything else—by male principles. As with the consciousness-raising evenings of an earlier epoch and the myriad support groups now so ubiquitous, this new wave of women’s erotic writing offered the embrace of acceptance: we are like you, you are like us—and self-consciousness at least be
if not wholly dispelled.
When it was initially suggested to me that I attempt to edit such a collection of original erotic writing myself, I wasn’t at all sure what I thought—or what I felt. I was not, you see, in any sense, a student of the literature; my own personal mental library of erotic writing was no more and no less than the stock repository of a person of my generation: mainly the naughty bits in Harold Robbins and Grace Metalious, Jacqueline Susann and J. P. Donleavy. Molly Bloom’s soliloquy worked best when read aloud by that ardent English professor whose mission was to try and make us amateur Joyceans, and a copy of
of course, was generously circulated by its owner around my dormitory. I also discovered
The Story of O on a
bookshelf one late-sixties night while babysitting for some faculty brats, and I will now confess to having utterly forgotten the little tykes’ existence by the time their parents returned home, so engrossed was I.
Yet, upon examining the memories of erotica’s impact on those tender sensibilities that once were mine, I did have a surprising moment when I realized that, in fact, the sexiest reading experience I could recall was one I’d all but forgotten: Chaucer’s
Troilus and Criseyde.
And in Middle English, no less. It was the same spring that everyone, myself included, was devouring
But, to tell you the truth, Philip Roth is no Chaucer, and the melting sensation between my legs as I formed each difficult archaic word aloud, stanza by slow stanza, and awaited the eponymous lovers’ much-delayed consummation, was a splendid antidote to Roth’s haut-contemporary neurotic carnality.
Anyway, back in the present, at my editor’s suggestion, in order to make up my mind about taking on the project, I began to browse in the more recent compilations of women’s erotica. Quite soon, not surprisingly, my own synapses of personal recognition were firing madly: I was hooked. But, intrigued as I was by my own strong skin responses to many of the stories I read, what affected me more was my delight at how these works broke free of the tyranny of physical beauty and the desirability of youth which figured, crushingly, as elements in most of the sexy writing I’d previously known. That is to say, whether these new stories functioned as teasing turn-ons, or as evocations of tenderness, or as explorations of the boundaries of passion, or whether they ventured into the adjoining territories of betrayal, jealousy, loneliness, rejection, insecurity, they always kept clearly in the foreground
women—not nymphets or sex goddesses, not unblemished starlets or virginal misses, but women with both bodies and histories that were not free of imperfections.
Remembering all those times when unwashed hair, or a recalcitrant pimple, or an unwished-for five pounds seemed to stand between me and the enjoyment I might take from a kiss, and always sensing the unfairness of it, but accepting it, nonetheless, as the set of rules from which to operate, I appreciated at once the sea change these stories represented. To see beyond the envelope—the flesh—that contains us, to the message inside (“my sexual self may not be exactly who I
like”) is what, in an ideal world, we’d naturally expect from our lovers, or potential lovers, yet gaining such intuitive sympathy, such tolerance, is still an elusive goal for most of us.
Erotica being written by women today (and including all the stories in this book) distinguishes itself not only by its equal-opportunity treatment of the issues of age or physical attractiveness, of course. But that was the first thing that struck me about it, and I sensed it as one of the more important elements of the greater power being returned to women: not to have our sexuality be about things that are (often) beyond our control and not to have our sexual selves dictated or defined by others. In the male-female sexual relationship, at any rate, the mutuality of acceptance has until now been almost as rarely observed
even, as it has been in practice. (For most of history, for example, women’s bellies were admired as beauteous symbols of fecundity, yet today paunchy guys are given society’s carte blanche to nag voluptuous girlfriends who rarely find it a two-way street. And how many women are allowed, or are willing, to turn their gray hairs into a sexual asset, as so-called distinguished gents may do?)