Dear Erica Jong

Dear Erica Jong,

I am about to enter my 30s. I cosleep. I babywear. I breastfeed (for years). I am monogamous. And I have fucking fabulous sex.

I’ve had fabulous sex in bed next to my sleeping child.

I’ve had fabulous sex with my child sleeping in his bed three feet away.

I’ve had fabulous sex while breastfeeding my child.

I’ve had fabulous sex while pregnant.

I’ve had fabulous sex while pregnant with my second child.

I’ve had fabulous sex in my kitchen.

I’ve had fabulous sex in my living room.

I’ve had fabulous sex in the shower.

I’ve had fabulous sex in public.

I’ve had fabulous sex in other people’s houses. (When we were spending the night anyway, for those concerned.)

I’ve had fabulous sex on the phone.

I’ve had fabulous sex on the “sterile” internet.

I’ve had fabulous sex that required an hour of washing up afterward — and not just of us.

I’ve had fabulous sex by myself. Lots of it. Lots and lots and lots of it.

I have a drawer full of accessories that I sometimes like to use while having fabulous sex, and a wish list as tall as I am of more that I’ll buy just as soon as we have the spare thousands.

I’ve had fabulous sex with a man — one man! one person! ever! in my life! how puritanical! how old-fashioned! — who wears our baby, who never was so ignorant as to think my breasts were “his” or “for him” to start with, who has seen me (was there for me, helped support me, caught for me) push a baby out of my cunt (in our bedroom, in which we had had, and later proceeded to have more, fabulous sex), who has snuggled next to our child nearly every night for the last almost 4.5 years, who helped me conceive our second child with still more fabulous sex (lots and lots and lots of it, given how long it took us).

I don’t know what issues you have with your daughter, or why you think extrapolating from (your understanding of) her to every other woman in her generation is such a brilliant idea, but when you say things like:

Better to give up men and sleep with one’s children. Better to wear one’s baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him. Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion?

I truly wonder what universe you’re living in, or why you think you understand my life and my motivations so well, when you are so very wrong.

And I wonder what form of feminism you’re practicing when you blame women — mothers, women with children, women who already have placed on us additional burdens and double binds galore — for this “backlash against sex” you hypothesize, and never investigate what societal pressures might exist that create the situation (you think you see), give only the briefest, un-nouned mentions of forces other than (your daughter’s) choices of which you disapprove.

Because us modern-day mothers? The “freedom” you supposedly bequeathed to us hardly exists. We are still called sluts if we say yes. We are still called frigid if we say no. We are still threatened with the removal of our children if we have sex, if we admit we like sex, if we admit we don’t like sex, if we dare to write about sex. (Heavens forbid we be non-white, non-cis, non-middle class, non-straight, non-able and attempt those things, but then, you don’t seem to care much about those of us who fall in those categories anyway.) We are exhorted to be available, always, cautioned still that even if not in the mood (when, say, pregnant and exhausted — because we couldn’t possibly be pregnant and want sex) we should “be creative” and find ways of “meeting our partner’s needs”. We are told — by the generations before us, who really ought to know better — that we’re not doing sex right because we’re not doing it like they did, like they wanted us to.

When our sexualities are still not our own, when (middle class straight white) America is still obsessed with a very particular sort of (matriphobic) sex performance, when the “sexual revolution” still hasn’t allowed us to have children and sex only when and how we want, when the burden for fixing all this is still placed on our (be-slinged) shoulders, is it any wonder that some of us say “enough!”, would wash our hands of the whole messy topic?

I’m not sure I agree with you that there is a backlash against sex (a war against women and a backlash to what little autonomy we’d achieved, no question), but to whatever extent there is, I object to your definition of its parameters (we are only liberated in “open marriages”?), to you building your argument on our backs, to the idea that it is because we “[want] to give it up”.

Monogamous partnering and parenting — even the attachment parenting you so loathe and deride — have not limited my passion for sex, for orgasm, for physical connection with my lover and life partner (which are, please note, three different, though oft related, things). But if I were constantly held up in measurement against your visions of sex, your ideas of passion, your standards for sexuality, I might declare surrender and pretend disinterest as well.

Women, and women with children especially, do not need yet another person (and one who claims the title “feminist”, claims to be on our side, at that) telling us what and how we’re doing “wrong”, especially in regards to sex. But if you ever want to come ask what my life is like, why I chose the life and parenting I do, what constraints I live under, and how you could help me work toward liberation, well, I’ll be over here.

Just be sure to knock first. Because I might be otherwise occupied.

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56 Responses to Dear Erica Jong

  1. …Am I on the wrong blog? Where are the footnotes?!

    (Great post.)

  2. Hear fucking hear!! This is an amazing post. Tho now I have to go investigate Erica Jong, and I have a feeling I might regret that :D

  3. I’ve followed your blog for years.

    You write so much that I absolutely love and identify with.

    This is the first post that I’ve commented on.

    YOU ROCKED THIS.

    (I could get all wordy and eloquent, but really…YOU ROCKED THIS. ‘Nuff said.)

  4. YES. It is highly irritating to me to be told (by people who eally should know better) that I am not the authoritative guide on my own mind and body, and that my desires to use them in whichever way I see fit are incorrect.

    I was thinking of picking up Sugar in My Bowl, but I may just rent it from the library instead and make my decision from there, given that she’s the editor.

  5. I think my only problem with this post is that now I’m going to have to go read what Jong wrote and be upset with her for the day.

  6. You know, I really thought that maybe I was the only one who had had sex while breastfeeding a sleeping child. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

    I wish Erica Jong would go away.

  7. I know this is an incredibly shallow comment, but…

    Erica Jong can suck it.

  8. There are lots of beds in our home. And lots of places that are not beds where we can have sex. So although we co-sleep, we have never had any trouble finding a place to have sex when our child was sleeping in the “marital bed”.

    Other than the “birds and bees” book that my parents gave me and the incredibly inadequate sex ed classes in school, most of what I learned about sex, I learned from a girlfriend who had seen and heard her parents having sex frequently when they thought she was sleeping on her mattress in the same room. While I certainly am more open with my kids about sex than my parents were and hope to remain that way, I do not want them to learn by watching us. So we draw the line by not having sex in the same room as children that we think are sleeping, but that may not be.

    But each family has to make their own choices.

    • Annie — I would bet that most people throughout human history learned about sex the way your friend did. For all that I personally prefer privacy, and for all the importance of boundaries and sensitivity to a child’s needs and feelings, I find myself failing to muster any repugnance or outrage at merely the idea of a kid overhearing (or “seeing” in the dark) hir parents having sex in their own sleeping area, given how many likely do as a matter of course the world over.

      But as you say, each family gets to choose for themselves.

  9. I’m appalled that she threw attachment parenting and monogamy under the bus and I’m glad you shouted back. They aren’t the cause of a lack of sexual desire in our generation, nor is it a knee jerk reflex to our “wanton mothers.” Maybe it’s the crushing amount of responsibility many mothers feel and the lack of support from their partners. Maybe that’s why they don’t have the energy and/or desire to fuck.

    Gah – to blame monogamy and attachment parenting?? Ridiculous, but such a simple solution, right? We’d be all horny again and doing it from the chandeliers if only we weren’t breastfeeding round the clock.

    Ok. ‘Nuff said. You did good on this one.

    (BTW, none of what she said was true for me, either. I rocked it whenever I could, however I could, but I know many women don’t. Makes me sad.)

    • Jessica — To some extent, I fell for Jong’s bait, because the question shouldn’t be “are you having fabulous sex?” (to which she answers for monogamous attachment parenting types “well you can’t possibly be!” which is what I protest here), the question should be “are you having the amount and types of sex you desire, and if not, why?” Because if women aren’t having sex they would want if they weren’t overwhelmed and overworked, that’s sad and calls for one type of help — but if women are having sex they don’t want, because they feel obligated or are coerced or can’t leave their marriage or have no support for coming out as asexual, that’s horrifying, and calls for another. There’s NO one “right way” to incorporate sex (or not) into our lives, as Erica seems to think, only right or wrong ways for us. For me, “right” includes lots and lots of fabulous sex in many different places and ways (and with one person besides myself), but that doesn’t make it so for anyone else.

      All of which is really a tangent to and not really a response to your comment, but was something I’d been meaning to say and you gave me the opportunity. So thank you.

  10. *Wild Applause*

    I’m really tired of the lazy journalism that is one person making an observation about hir friends/family and extrapolating that out to an entire population.

    • Haha, so true! Especially when that person is their own daughter — I mean, if that daughter is anything like me, she probably totally does not want to talk to her mother about her (awesome) sex life, because OMG, mother!

  11. I love this! I’ve never been incredibly judgmental of my own sexuality, but I must say I breathed a big sigh of relief and wanted to shout acceptance from the top of the tallest building downtown when I first heard of someone else having sex while breastfeeding a half-asleep tot. We’ve reached the point when *Daddy and Mommy are cuddling* so the kids, of their own volition, stop at the door before entering to ask for food or whatever. I think it’s adorable!

  12. I may be a little-bit-conservative Catholic girl in the deep south, but this post is why I LOVE you and always come back. You are awesome. And hilarious.

  13. We definitely do not have as much sex now that we’ve got a third baby in our bed as we did when we had our first baby neatly tucked away in a crib. The last five years have been kind of blur of exhaustion, diapers, bliss, breastfeeding, and discovering more room for love in my heart then I ever could have imagined possible.

    But we’ve been doing something very important. I don’t think of choosing children over sexuality I think that sexual reproduction is a tremendously important part of our sexual lives as sexual people in a sexual partnership.

    I don’t buy into Jong’s definition of human sexuality — it sounds like a chore for a woman to fulfil, something akin to a kitchen sink that is sparkling clean.

  14. Jenny Islander

    I haven’t read much Erica Jong because I kept bouncing hard off this strangely adolescent attitude towards sex. Like, all grown-ups drive big fast flashy cars, and the ones who don’t, don’t because they won’t, so Dad went and replaced the old minivan with a new minivan in a deliberate conspiracy to embarrass and belittle you, the teenager under the thumb of The Authorities, or possibly because he’s just stupid. If he really understood what it means to be an adult, you’d have a muscle car in the driveway.

    Nnno. Not really.

    With three kids and one of us out of the house working most of the time, experimentation is a very low priority. Orgasms are the priority, preferably before the toddler wakes up in his crib needing midnight comforting or the cat starts to yowl that it’s about to puke. Everything else is a frill. The thing about minivan sex is, it gets you where you want to go. Muscle cars take too much fiddling around to get them to even start.

  15. I agree with much of what you’ve said, but I have to say that I side with Annie in that I don’t think it’s appropriate to have sex in the same room as a child (not counting infants). I also don’t think that, “most people learn about sex from watching their parents have sex”. I didn’t and I don’t know of anyone who has, personally. Not only that, but it can be psychologically damaging to a child to be exposed to something like that, especially over and over. Many, many adults and even childeren and teens even have to have councelling because of the scarring memories. Catching your parents having sex on accident is very, very different from knowingly having sex in front of your children regularly.

    • Maybe if we didn’t create this allusion that sex is a dirty secret, it wouldn’t be so scarring? When even the very thought of our parents having a sexual relationship churns our stomachs, maybe we should question if it is actually a traumatic event that needs counseling, but the effects of a puritanical view of a human relationship. I am pretty aware of when my children are asleep or not, and choose alternative locations when they aren’t sleeping very deeply, but that isn’t for fear of them seeing anything but to allow more time for the deed before they do wake and require my attention. But that is rare, and our sexual activity generally happens in the same room and bed space as our sleeping children. It is just the easiest thing, and keeping it simple keeps it available.

    • I agree that accidently catching your parents having sex and seeing your parents have sex because they happen to not be bothered if their children see them doing something that is healthy and natural for people in a relationship to do are two very different things. I would also wager that the perception of secrecy, it being “wrong,” and the inability to talk about it associate with catching your parents is more damaging than what is being seen, especially for a young child.

    • I’m not a parent but I do think there is a world of difference between what she said and what you are saying. That is “having sex in front of” does not equal “having sex with a child asleep in the room.”

      And, frankly, knowing your parents have sex or accident sewing them is, I think, largely scarring because of the prescriptive and Puritanical values our culture still had about sex. Many children need counselling because their parents or guardians abuse them sexually. That is not the same as accidentally seeing your parents having sex.

      Parents are not, in our current culture, allowed to be sexual – their sexual identity must be hidden at all costs. Of course discovering that would be scarring. Allowing parents to own their sexuality means it isn’t a surprise to find out they get it on, too.

    • “people throughout human history” Not people in the past several generations most likely. Some yes, most no.
      I think what’s potentially psychologically damaging about it is that people act like parents having sex is wrong, or they are lying or trying to hide it as shameful behavior.

      • ““people throughout human history” Not people in the past several generations most likely. Some yes, most no.”
        I think that most still applies if you include the entire world an not just “first world” countries.

        • You are probably right, but I am definitely not super knowledgeable in either human history or anthropology. But gosh am I ever curious now!
          We ought to be thinking of all the tribal cultures that do not have large homes with separate bedrooms for everyone – surely they are not psychologically damaged?

          • Check out NISA the Life and Words of a Kung Woman
            http://www.amazon.com/NISA-Life-Words-Kung-Woman/dp/B0017HWODQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1323623452&sr=8-2

            This book is the story of the life of Nisa, a member of the !Kung tribe of hunter-gatherers from southern Africa’s Kalahari desert. Many anthropologists think a look at these people’s lives are the closest we will get to seeing how we humans used to live in a ‘primitive’ hunter gather society.

            She describes learning about sex from seeing her parents having sex in the dark, when she was old enough to feel uncomfortable about it she simply went to sleep with her aunt in her hut 15 ft away. Her mother had sex while breastfeeding and in the same hut as her children!

            This was the NORM (before agriculture changed everything for us humans), what isn’t normal is the puritanical view we now have of sex and how we now feel the need to shield our children from every aspect of parental sexuality.

            An anthropology student had to weight in!

  16. Hell yeah, great post.

  17. Pingback: The Bad Moms Club | Get out of my bedroom, Erica Jong. You’ll wake the baby.

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  19. Scholasticamama

    Yes, yes, yes, YES! YES! I haven’t read Jong, but now when I do, I know that someone has written a wonderful reply and I won’t be so pissed off!

    I mention in my classes (college) about extended breastfeeding and cosleeping being the norm throughout history and last semester even said that I have done both. One of my snarkier students said, “I guess you gave up sex!” and I replied that I had not – I am in my sexual prime after all – I had just given it up in the bedroom ;) and that it was a lot like having sex in your parents house – lots of sneaking about, lots of sh’s, and lots of giggling. 30 faces looked at me in shock. 8 parents laughed hysterically.

    I also agree when you say that we should not all have the same sex, but we should be having the sex we desire. This really should be part of any feminist ideal.

  20. Have you seen Violet Blue’s commentary? http://www.tinynibbles.com/blogarchives/2011/07/erica-jong-in-the-nyt-blame-the-internet.html She refers to it in her next post as Jong “blaming the internet for motherhood”. *snerk* Her response (as appropriate for her focus) is more about the sex than the parenting, but hey, that’s why we have you. ;)

    I’ve nursed while having sex. Not really my cup of tea, but hey (as someone above points out) you do whatcha gotta. We actually end up with the traditional “in bed at night” because taking care of morning wood with a snuggly 3yo doesn’t work so well.. and a sleeping infant isn’t distracting at all.

    As for ‘minivan sex’.. I like to remind people that vanilla is an extremely complex flavor all by itself.

  21. Great post. That will probably make some people shit their pants (some from joy, some because it is highly threatening to many firmly entrenched narratives).

    #w00t on u lady

  22. You are made of awesomesauce.

  23. Jong’s piece absolutely *screamed* prescriptivism to me–ie, “Oh no, not everyone is having sex (or not) in the ways that *I* approve of, so that means there is a BACKLASH against sex!”

    Your piece, Arwyn, is RIGHT ON.

  24. I dont know who you are or where you live but you have touched my soul in places I never thought existed! I. LOVE. YOU! I finally found someone else out there like me. I have 5 kids (ages 2 years to 20 years)., breastfed all of them for YEARS. Still BF’ing the 2 year old (shows no sign of wanting to stop) and my husband and I co-sleep. WE. LOVE. SEX! I love being a great mom, a sexual creature, and an educated, intelligent woman. My kids embrace our sex life (they call it woo-hoo) They know when it gets loud come back later. You are a beautiful person! THANK YOU! I have had sex while breastfeeding AND cooking dinner! and I am a BBBW too? My wonderful 5″1′ husband is all his “Caucasian” geeky-ness rocks my 5″4′ world every damn time! Rock on, Jong, and Keep the fatih!..BTW My husband named my favorite toy “Mr. Buzzy” :D

  25. Hi women,
    I wrote a short story in Erica Jong’s anthology ‘Sugar In My Bowl’ about how a baby can affect a couple’s sex life. I am obsessed with monogamy, especially in fiction. I think way too many stories with female protagonists just end with ‘happily after’ when the girls scores the ring. But in reality, I believe marriage is the opposite of ‘settling down.’ My story “Light Me Up” is about a newlywed couple and I wanted to throw some challenges their way, one of which is a new baby.

    Please read the book before you judge Erica Jong’s intentions. Jong put together an anthology about women and sex and she collected stories from 28 other women writers. All these writers have different passions and stories and the book helps to bring all of these stories out in the world.

    Check out my blog for more info on Sugar In My Bowl http://margotmagowan.wordpress.com/.

    Margot

    • Margot, this post is not at all about the anthology (which, from the two stories Jong described, actually sounds quite interesting), nor about Jong’s intentions (about which I do not care to speculate), but about the illogic of what she said in this particular article, wherein she — once again — demonstrated ignorance of and sweeping judgments against (a particular subset of) mothers.

  26. Sara, I’ve removed your latest post because I don’t know where those quotes come from or whether you have permission to repost those persons’ words.

    Also, I’m asking that the conflation between “having sex in front of children” and “having sex in the same room with sleeping children” cease. Personal stories of waking up (or having parents who didn’t apparently care whether you were asleep) and witnessing one’s parents, however that made you feel, are welcome; saying that the two are the same is not, and I will not be hosting any more comments which do so.

    I would also like to point out that in a post about parents being shamed for having sex, we have… parents being shamed for having sex. I’m not seeing anyone deny that sexual abuse and trauma happen and are real and a worthy concern, only protests against sweeping judgments without knowing the details of a given situation.

    Which, rather, was largely what this post was about in the first place…

  27. Well, you have the right to remove whatever you wish, but if you’d like to know, I just googled the topic of whether witnessing your parents having sex can be scarring and I found those posts on a child abuse web site. The fact that people who witnessed their parents having sex as children are seeking out information about whether it is abuse should tell you something.

    Having sex in the same room as a child that is sleeping doesn’t ensure that they won’t wake up, by the way.

    Also, why would you not want to people to see what the consequences of such actions CAN be, not that they always are, but some people DO become scarred, and some of them are people whos parents thought they were sleeping and/or didn’t know their children we’re present.

    I should also mention that I’m a parent with a healthy sex life and feel no shame for that. I don’t however subject my daughter to my healthy sex life and think that doing so is completely inappropriate.

    • Sara — You have the right to your opinion, and you have now shared it here abundantly. What I do not welcome are judgments such as characterizing sex in the same room as a believed-sleeping child as “subjecting [that child] to [one's] healthy sex life”. That is your opinion, and your cultural standard, but is not universal throughout the world or human history. Any further posts which do not acknowledge that will not be published.

    • I find this turn in the conversation kind of bleakly ironic – Arwyn posts about the impossible scrutiny mothers face about being simultaneously TOO SEXUAL and NOT SEXUAL ENOUGH (in Jong, in the world at large), and here the spectre of *her* (and just her) being quietly sexual in *her own bed* appears as world-scarringly traumatic nevertheless.

      I do love me some Freud, but fucksake.

    • As a student of American history, I’ve learned that it’s only been very recently (within the last 100 years) that children and parents have slept apart. Even when they were in different beds, they were most often in the same room out of necessity (McMansions didn’t exist until very, very recently). It cannot be assumed that for the rest of human history, parental sex did not occur after the the first child was born. I contend that defining “inadvertantly observing one’s parents having sex” as “child abuse,” if it exists, is a 20th century invention.

  28. Pingback: Oh, Baby! Yet Another Young(ish) Mother Responds to Erica Jong « Imperfect Happiness

  29. Pingback: Parents Have HOT SEX Too

  30. You know I knew there was a reason why I love your writing and this is it. Absolutely and totally this is it. Damned if we do and damned if we dont, its seriously nice to hear from someone who is just honest about sex and children and the fact you dont have to give up one to have the other. (and who doesnt make out thier experience to be universal but just says how it is for her)
    Thankyou.

  31. Pingback: Baby-wearing Co-sleeping Breast-feeding Sex | Bloody Show

  32. I’m usually too shy to post comments but I really wanted to say thank you Arwyn for this wonderful piece! I really don’t recognise the world Erica Jong is describing. Attachment parenting certainly hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for sex. And seriously, does Jong honestly believe that we decide to “breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him”? Er, no, I breastfeed at all hours because that’s what my child needs in order to thrive. I read Fear of Flying a few years ago and thought it was completely idiotic, this ridiculous NYT article has done nothing to improve my opinion of its author.

  33. “Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality. ” This quote made me see red! Lately I feel that mothers who fit into the attachment parenting box, weather it be co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, or the like are made out to be these a-sexual and maternity bound women who have absolutely no fun besides caring for their children (which is sad, because I actually think being with my son to be entirely fun, which is another point in itself). I’d like to think that Jong’s generation provided women to be both mothers and sexual, be able to be mothers and have identities beyond mothering, to be committed to children as well as their own identities. So shame on her for not understanding this generation of women as mothers. I can attest to identifying as predominantly a mother, but also an activist, an educator, a gardener, and one hell of a sexy woman (who had amazing sex today while her toddler was napping).
    Ugh, and is anyone going to point out her heteronormitity in the article. Wake up Jong, not all mothers are having sex with men, some mama’s are having sex with the other mama.

  34. I was a child of a co-family bed. We all slept from one end of the room to the other, mattresses lined up on the floor, for years. Three children, two parents…and I turned out just fine. My mother was a La Leche League leader (breastfeeding coach) and part of a food co-op. We were pretty granola. I think it gave me a strong sense of connection and family. And as a mom of two now, I understand that there must have been some hot and heavy moments in that room that I was never aware of. My parents are the most amazing example of love and how intimacy in a monogamous relationship is supposed to look like.

  35. For nearly the whole of human history, parents did not have their own bed in their own bedroom in their own house. And yet they still managed to have more than one child.

    I managed it, too. And I don’t feel deprived at all. In speaking with my monogamous partner he doesn’t, either. Fancy that.

  36. Pingback: Why do you care? Some thoughts on sex, judgment, and being a woman with children | Raising My Boychick

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  38. First time, Long time….

    LOVE this! I have fantastic sex all. the. time. as a co-sleeping, extended nursing, babywearing, kinky momma. Good sex. And lots of it!!
    Right on :)

  39. the very idea of the “asexual mother” has always baffled me anyway—how in the h*** do ppl think they became mothers in the first place??!!

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