I have a degree (technically a certificate) from London Business School in corporate finance. I had always been a liberal-artsy English-and-art-history type, and I wanted to dispel my own myths about myself. I didn’t want to rely on a man to translate a financial statement. I didn’t want to get rooked. Or maybe it was a Working Girl motivation: I hoped one day to turn to Harrison Ford and say, “I have a head for business and a bod for sin. Is there anything wrong with that?”
But financial fluency is just like any other foreign language: if you don’t use it, you lose it. After 13 years out of the financial world, I can still read a P&L (sort of), but the main thing that has stuck with me? The Bottom Line. It has to balance out. All the crafty accounting in the world isn’t going to get around the basic facts of what goes in, what goes out, and what is left.
And, as usual, money and sex have lots in common.
I recently read Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie and was so happy to be back in Crusie’s arms again. I gorged on Crusie last year, reading six of her books in a row, and became hyper-analytical, almost to the point of antagonism. I loved her books so much that I was a bit...rabid. In any case, I had started to see too many similarities (recurring themes, character quirks, etc.) to appreciate what it took to weave together her stories. I still find the quirks (what I like to call The Crusie Antics) a bit tiring, but I am certainly not criticizing her or anything about her.
There are many elements of Crusie’s novels that have become canonical in the romance genre (whether or not she is a “real” romance novelist is another topic for another time—I have a love/hate relationship with that debate; I believe in self identification, the self in this case being the reader.) Anyway, one of the universally acknowledged great things about Crusie is the snappy dialogue. I love the things her characters think about saying, and then how they actually end up saying them. I think it’s called l’esprit de l’escalier, or the stairway wit. That something-clever you wish you had said but couldn’t think of it until you were on your way up to bed, long after the guests had left.
The main character in Welcome to Temptation is skeptical. I like that about her. She quotes movie one-liners when she’s nervous, to deflect attention from herself. Especially when the preppy hero to end all preppy heroes is trying to get in her pants. But then La Crusie does this wonderful thing and turns a moonlight kissing scene into this fantastic philosophical discussion about orgasms and who is responsible for them. Sophie resorts to a movie line:
Liberated women take care of themselves. I’ve read the Second Sex. I’ve read The Cinderella Complex. I’m responsible for my own orgasm.
This supposedly deflective rejoinder backfires on Sophie, when the hero, Phin, actually takes her to task on her philosophical foundation.
"...why would your orgasm be your responsibility during oral sex?”
Sophie sat up a little. His tone was matter-of-fact, but his subject matter wasn’t. “I don’t think I want to talk about this.”
“Okay,” Phin said.
Sophie splashed her feet in the river and tried to think of something else. Talking about oral sex with Phineas T. Tucker was not something a smart woman would do. If you talked about sex with men, they often took it as a sign you wanted to have some. And then where would she be? She let her mind slide off that one fast, and it ended up back on his question.
Of course she wanted to be responsible for her own orgasm. She was an independent woman in control of her own life. She wasn’t about to throw herself at some man and selfishly demand that he satisfy her while she just lay back and enjoyed herself—
No, that wasn’t right, either.
“It’s because I’d have to depend on somebody else to give me what I want,” she said, and Phin rolled his head to look at her. “I’d be one of those clingy women like Virginia Garvey or Georgia Lutz who just wait for men to take care of them and then are disappointed when they don’t. If I take responsibility, then I can’t be disappointed with anybody but me. I have control.”
“And you see that as an improvement.”
Aha! There you have it! Woven into this wonderful seduction (of course he just wants the sex, but he’s also totally falling for her and maybe he doesn’t know it at this point and they are both trying to cling to that foolish notion that it’s ’just sex’) is this enormous philosophical conundrum. Who is responsible for The Orgasm? When is it dependence? When is it release? When is it surrender (in a good way or a bad way)? When is it just sex? And that clever, clever Phin knows just how to play it.
“You’ve got nothing to lose,” he told her. “Day after tomorrow you’re gone, and we’ll never see each other again. This is your one shot at being selfish. Let somebody take care of you for a change.” She swallowed as she tried to get her breath, and he said, “Come here and let me give you an orgasm you don’t have to work for.”
That was at the bottom of page 95 and you can imagine the mach speed at which I turned to page 96.
She opened her mouth to say no, but what came out was, “Why would you want to do that?”
“So I can touch you, ” he said. “I’ve wanted to since the first time I saw you on the porch.”
And then they kissed et cetera et cetera (hot hot hot). But I stayed with that one passage for a long time. I went back to it. I re-read it. I tried to figure out where it began and where it ended. I tried to figure out The Bottom Line. (It went on to become a whole other philosophical can of worms because after Phin provided said promised sit-back-and-relax orgasm, he informed Sophie that they had not had sex. What constitutes sex is something for the Supreme Court, I mean your mother, I mean YOU to decide. Bill Clinton colored that discussion for all eternity and I won’t be revisiting it just now.)
Anyway, this whole Orgasm Accounting got me thinking (cue rusty wheel sound). Without getting too personal...okay, why the hell not, I’m writing about orgasms for goodness sake, so you can assume I’ve had my share. And the thing is, those few pages of Welcome to Temptation so perfectly summed up my own conflicted feelings about “giving” and “taking” and who is left with what at the end of the power exchange. There were definitely boyfriends, men in my life, what have you, to whom I was not going to “give away” an orgasm. Sounds self-defeating and terribly anti-liberated, I know. But I had this weird feeling that I would owe him something. That he would have something to lord over me. That I would have really “gone all the way.” It was my little thing to withhold. Of course, it was completely self-defeating (psychotic?) to think that by denying my own pleasure I was somehow retaining control, but there you have it.
After reading that Crusie passage (over and over) I remembered those sad little feelings of parsimonious orgasm-hoarding of my youth. Why? Was I somehow misled at some point in my sexual education to believe orgasms were finite? I felt all of that so poignantly when I read Sophie’s words that I wondered if it was universal or if it was just me.
I am not inclined to abandon my career as a writer just now, but maybe one day I will return to graduate school and really delve into this. I love every implication: control, power, domination, resistance, self-reliance, depravity, feminism, independence. And all the euphemisms around having one (coming, going, dying, flying, little death, climax) and not having one (frigid, dried up, cold). I’m speaking only for myself and I happen to be a woman, so that’s my perspective. The Female Orgasm. I think Erica Jong and Naomi Wolf have dealt with this in an academic way, but I love how Crusie dealt with it in this sweet little scene.
I want to hug her for that. It just rang true. Once again, the humble romance novel pulled back the curtain and showed me something thought-provoking and real.
Megan Mulry recently signed a three book deal with Sourcebooks.