Bad news, ladies: there’s no such thing as a zipless f**k. Or so recants Erica Jong, who coined the term 20 million copies and 38 years ago in Fear of Flying.
Now 69, the author says she doubts the pure sexual encounter described in the novel really exists.
“I mean we always wish it would happen. We never completely give up the fantasy but I think it’s rarer and rarer and when I look back on my life for the most part the best sex of my life has always been with people that I was with for many years and had a lot in common with.
“When I look back at the one night stands and zipless f**ks, they were terrible.”
Instead, the reality of the pure sexual encounter that heroine Isadora Wing spends the book pining for is “very disappointing”.
“That’s sort of the ironic point, we are so consumed with fantasy and then we meet this dead sexy person who really turns us on, and what do we discover? That he’s got issues and conflicts as well as we do and reality rears its head.”
The truth? “The best sex, generally, is with somebody where you really have a connection.”
Jong became, in her own words, “the world’s sexual guru” when she released Fear of Flying - a frank tale of female sexuality where heroine Isadora Wing longs for both stability in her relationships and the passion that comes from excess champagne and an unfamiliar hotel suite. Now she’s embarking on another cycle; releasing the book digitally.
For her it was a “madly daring book” which led to strangers - male and female - declaring their love for her.
“Some of the people were sane and some of the people were nuts, as always. And I had been a graduate student in Columbia who published slim volumes of poetry. I had never encountered anything like this before. I was at the Butler library studying Pope. Then I was the world’s sexual guru. It was so weird.”
Before publishing in 1973, Jong said she nearly took the book back from the printer “a dozen times”.
“Now, I’ve digested, it’s been 38 years and I’ve digested all the cycles. There have been so many different cycles. And the book is in so many languages and like, yesterday, I had a call from a journalist in Croatia where my work is madly popular – although I never have received a penny in royalties – and this journalist called me up and she felt Fear of Flying was the story of her life and various books of mine were the story of her life and, I mean, I have gone through so much reaction.
“In this latest cycle I’m getting a lot of responses in email from young men who tell me that they now understand women better. That’s new. I think men have gotten interested in the way women feel about sex. And they need to know in order to get laid, and in order to have the girlfriends that they want.”
With zipless f**ks off the table and after nearly half a century, Jong says she is “very surprised” by the double standards surrounding sex today, which she feels are unchanged.
She couldn’t write the same book again now, but she is still writing about Isadora Wing, a character she describes as “an exaggerated version of me”, in a book she hopes to finish this year.
“I am currently writing about the same character circling 70, and that’s a lot of fun because you start to see the circles get completed if you live long enough. You see how the stories come out.
“You see how you feel when your first husband dies. You see how it is to be standing on the edge of the grave while your old enemies and your old friends fall in. All of which is so fascinating and it’s beyond anything that youth gives you.”
The death of her father, who was 93, and birth of her grandson in the same month, the loss of friends - these are the transformative stories Jong feels she has to write about. And she thinks she knows the answer: Loss happens but you have to seize it and learn to take pleasure from what’s left.
Jong says she once saw a quote from French novelist Sidonie Gabrielle Colette, which claimed life became a lot better once you stopped falling in-and-out of love with men. She couldn’t believe it:
“That was my life. I had been a sex addict, a man addict, but what I’ve discovered is that when you get past the addiction to love and sex, life is even better and sex and love is even better, because you approach them in a different way.
“I have a marriage now that I could never have had when I was 25. I just wasn’t wise enough to have it. So there’s a lot to look forward to, and as you discover these things you think ‘well, why the hell was I so afraid? It was just getting better’.
"That doesn’t meant that you don’t have dark nights of the soul when you think ‘I’ll never be able to live, my friend died, I miss her so much.’ Those are all truths, you can’t replace people readily. There are certain people in your life – I mean, I think if my best friend became ill and died the loss would be irretrievable. But the joys are phenomenal and the highs are higher than they ever were.”
Then there’s the lessons that her daughter’s generation can learn from the current “backlash” against feminism.
“When they see that the assumptions they grew up with are not so secure… There is going to be a new feminist movement, the fourth wave. It’s coming because women like Molly [Jong’s daughter] are going to say ‘my God, they’re trying to take it all away.’”
And it’s not just in America (although Jong feels that “there’s a lot more talk about sex in London than in New York”): “It’s absolutely going to be global. It’s already begun in Italy. There are women protesting [against] Berlusconi in Rome and outwardly they are protesting Berlusconi because he’s such a pig.
“There’s a movement in Rome called ‘if not now when’ and these women are protesting Berlusconi and they’re demanding true feminism and they’re demanding that the revolution be completed. It was only begun in the second wave.”
And the new revolution, according to Jong, will encompass all of modern feminism’s different parts, from the performance of slut walks to the politics of female representation in Congress or parliament.
But it doesn’t have to always be about sex. It’s the Judeo-Christian tradition in European and American culture which is a problem for Jong - and which she is unsure how to overcome.
“I don’t know if it’s that important in every culture to talk about your sexual fantasies because there’s many countries – China – where there’s no guilt about pleasure. Or India. I mean there are many cultures… We’re looking at cultures where pleasure is a good thing and they don’t have to rebel by discussing their sexual fantasies. Their sexual fantasies are OK.”
The final verdict? Jong hopes that her work continues to inspire. “And I have some satisfaction on that account because I hear from a lot of young women that reading my books has inspired them to be more forceful in demanding what they need from life. And that makes me happy.”