“Lust for Control”: Erica Jong Says that Like It’s a Bad Thing

Laurie and Debbie say:

Courtney at Feministing has some pointed things to say about Erica Jong’s recent NY Times Op-Ed column decrying Jong’s impression that young people aren’t excited about sex.

Here’s Jong:

Generalizing about cultural trends is tricky, but everywhere there are signs that sex has lost its frisson of freedom. Is sex less piquant when it is not forbidden? Sex itself may not be dead, but it seems sexual passion is on life support.

The Internet obliges by offering simulated sex without intimacy, without identity and without fear of infection. Risky behavior can be devoid of risk — unless of course you use your real name and are an elected official.

Not only did we fail to corrupt our daughters, but we gave them a sterile way to have sex, electronically. Clearly the lure of Internet sex is the lack of involvement. We want to keep the chaos of sex trapped in a device we think we can control.

Lust for control fuels our current obsession with the deficit, our rejection of passion, our undoing of women’s rights.

And here’s Courtney:

[Jong’s] strange amalgamation of arguments includes a weird riff about “internet sex,” by which, it appears she means Weiner-style tweets (though I suspect Jong isn’t sure what kind of sex folks are having on the interweb these days based on the super vague language of this section), a short political rant about anti-choice activism, and ends with a men-and-women-should-work-together bang. Badum-ching.

Contrary to being a clinical rejection of passion, the internet is often a wild west of sexual exploration and expression, and young feminists are very often at the helm.

Either we’re too focused on sex, and therefore frivolous, female chauvinist pigs, or we’re not focused enough on sex, and therefore frigid, control freaks who are missing out on the best part of life. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t–even by our own feminist foremothers. How frustrating.

(By the way, Tracy Clark-Flores also has an interesting take on all this over at Salon.)

Not surprisingly, we agree strongly with Courtney. Passion is hardly dead, and the young women we know are hardly kicking its corpse. The San Francisco alternative newspaper the Bay Guardian didn’t just bring on our friend Gina DeVries as a brand-new mid-20s sex columnist because they don’t want new readers. As one of Courtney’s links reminds us, the gigantic international phenomenon of SlutWalks doesn’t work as evidence of young women rejecting passion. Courtney has a great set of links and references, including to news articles, blogs, and books.

This is how social change works. The things one generation fights for, the next generation includes as part of their lives, which means the next generation assumes those things, builds on them, and broadens their impact to a wider portion of the population. It may no longer look like activism.

We want to dissect a little bit of Jong’s phrasing: she pinpoints “lust for control” as fueling everything from the deficit talks to the destruction of women’s rights. But whose control are we talking about? She doesn’t seem to be talking about young women (or any women) taking control of their (our) own sexuality, our own bodies. One of the books Courtney references is Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. That’s passion, and that’s power … and it’s control.

“Lust for control” can make for a truly interesting sex life, whether that means having a monogamous D/s relationship, having consensual flings (Jong coined the term “zipless fucks” for quickies with strangers) either in person or on the Internet or both, trying different flavors and finding out what suits you for the longer term, or just about anything else. It can also mean deciding to take control of your sex life by not having one: a choice that is completely right for some people and gets very little respect.

We vote for: 1) fewer op-ed pieces by writers with no data, who haven’t spent much time thinking it out; 2) more lust for control in women’s lives; and 3) hot passionate mutual sex for those who want it, and none for those who don’t. Is that so hard?