By Kathleen Bradean
Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying opened up a world for me. Not so much the sex, but the other things that she talked about. Being raised in a conservative home, we never talked about our bodies. Maybe Fear of Flying came into my hands at the right time. I was ready to move into a different point of view on myself and there it was, a book that openly talked about everything, as if normal people didn’t desperately cling to secrets that everyone knew about anyway. Burdens came off my soul.
Soon after that I decided to read all the classics of literature. I was eighteen. I read fast. I figured I’d be done by the time I was twenty-one. (Cue rueful laughter) What I learned from “great” literary fiction was that sex was joyless and only lead to misery and long, quiet suffocation in an upper middle class white neighborhood. Since there was no way I could afford the Hamptons, and wouldn’t have lived with those spiritual zombies anyway, I was free from that fate. Whew! Then I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. While it’s also about the crushing weight of moral responsibility people force themselves to endure, the sex, at least, was joyful. It was also slightly kinky. I was born kink, but I never suspected others were the same way. Another secret unlocked, another burden lifted.
While classic literary fiction can teach a writer a lot about exquisitely depicting prolonged longing, it always cheats on the delivery. I guess that’s supposed to be the point, but really, doesn’t anyone ever get to be happy? Tom Robbins’ Sometimes Even Cowgirls Get the Blues set me on the right path. Genre fiction allowed people to enjoy sex. How could I have forgotten what Fear of Flying did for me? That’s when I set out to find books that celebrated sexuality, and how I ended up Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Now there was an eye opener. Not just people enjoying sex, but every page was drenched in it.
You’d have to go back to that time to understand the huge impact of the Sleeping Beauty books. Suddenly, erotica could be published by a major publisher and be shelved beside other literary fiction instead of hidden in the back shelves of the store - if they were ever stocked at all. Women, who supposedly had no interest in sex, were reading it at the beach and squirming a bit against the sand. It was discussed on air by the morning hosts of my radio station. Sure, Story of O and Anis Nin’s collections were around, but nothing brought erotica into the mainstream like Sleeping Beauty. With that new openness, the final restraints were off me, but I've noticed the trend of literary writers such as Paulo Coelho embracing a more positive view of sex and sexuality. What falls away with time, success, and powerful voices, is useless shame, secrecy and fear. That's what I find inspiring.