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Writing about Sex
Gentleman July 1998


Six years ago my first book, a collection of short stories was published. A very nice but rather prissy young man and I were at lunch. That morning the pink sheets of a financial newspaper which the young man devoured for word, stock and sensex had in its leisure pages been generous in its praise of the book. He stared at me across his shredded lettuce and said, "I am very relieved, you know." And then he paused and added. "I wasn't sure how the media would react to the sex parts."

I stopped twisting pasta around my fork and looked up. "Why, what's wrong with my sex parts?" I asked unable to resist the innuendo

"Nothing's wrong," he said and then stared at me aghast. How could I make such risqué jokes? His eyes said.

He looked at his lettuce and said, "You know what I am talking of, don't you ?" And he shrugged. A gesture that described just about everything he thought was not very appropriate about my writing about sex….

I realized then that writing about what I consider is just another appetite would come up for scrutiny again and again. I had done the literary equivalent of putting my foot in my mouth….

A week later I am at a dinner. The hostess introduces me to a visiting artist who wants to know what kind of a writer I am. I am fazed by the question. I am too new in my literary life to have a well formulated and rehearsed reply. My hostess smiles a coy smile and says, "She's a very subversive writer."

Read subversion as writing about sex. Read subversion as writing about any deviation even as innocuous ones as shrimping [which is sucking on your partner's toes] or sploshing [which is rubbing sloppy foods over naked bodies]. Read subversion as underneath the sheets with nothing on….

Why is it I wonder that I never have to encounter any of those knowing looks about the food I describe in my writing. [Which more or less equals my 'sex parts'.]

Why is it that sex alone comes up for discussion and at one time even for debate. I remember being at a reading of my novel Ladies Coupe where the room was divided into two distinct groups. One who said that the heroine picking up a young man for a one night stand was vulgar and the other group who vociferously praised the importance of that tryst ….and no one there was really interested in what I thought.

In my six year career as a writer and a writer of 'sex parts' I have discovered writing about sex elicits certain definite responses. First there is the flushing reader who mumbles a Ahmmm…..do you write the you know…the sex… you know for effect or do you think it's necessary for the story?

What do you think? I ask back. Don't you think it is fun? That knocks them sideways. If I was expected to be discomfited, defensive even, here I am, happy with my 'sex parts' and grinning silly. Pure enjoyment, ladies and gentlemen….

Then there are the rather censorious types who toss me a What does your mother think about your writing about sex?

Frankly, my mother is more embarrassed by the grey in my hair rather than by the sexual passages in my books. Sex is natural; what isn't are the streaks of grey in her daughter's locks while hers remains defiantly black….

After years of being considered the boring blue stocking, I am suddenly the smutty siren who just might have done it all…. Which is why I now do run into an occasional curious and priapitic being who comes on strong with a So have you experienced all that you write about? The sex, you know….

My first instinct is to giggle but then I deflect the pass with a "Oh no, I just got it out of the pornography I like to read at teatime."

But what really worries me is the moral police which glowers as it mouths: Don't you think you might be corroding our traditional values? Indian women are supposed to be modest after all.

To this day, I haven't been able to fathom how a piece of art or literature is judged to be obscene. I see that what is coy and sentimental is allowed to pass. I can see that furtive suggestions are given rampant freedom. I can see that a hint of a sexual encounter inserted merely to titillate is perfectly acceptable as long as it is couched in respectability. However what is natural and beautiful isn't.
So what is obscene about candour? Or, what is deplorable about sensual joy? Or a lyrical exposition of tenderness between two human beings?

Particularly when if you didn't want to read it, all you had to do was flip the page!

To me, what is obscene is a bunch of human beings dictating to the world what is obscene….

And finally my favourite is the one where the telephone rings and a voice says: We have a special issue on sex coming up….

If I had written about hunger would I have been asked to comment on a famine. I wonder….

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