Sat
Dec 3 2011 11:00am

Orgasms: Meeting Supply & Demand in Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation

Working Girl castI 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.

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer CrusieI 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.

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5 comments
BrooklynShoeBabe
1. BrooklynShoeBabe
Wow. This post started on one path and went a whole different way. Thanks.

Can I share a little orgasm story too from my youth? There was this idea that if a guy really made your toes curl, he could some how laud power over you. And as old teenagers/young adults, this was really prevelant with my peers. If a guy could make a girl orgasm, it gave him carte blanche to treat a girl anyway he wanted because she wouldn't dare leave him for someone who might be an inferior lover. So, we, as the girls, we would never let our guys know how good he was in bed so we could retain some of the control.

Other things we did was not reveal we were virgins; admit the true number of lovers we had (more or less); or be too sexually adventuresome. To do any of those things gave away our power. Of course, we were young and stupid and didn't realize that a relationship was not supposed to be filled with bedroom power plays.
BrooklynShoeBabe
2. Magdalen
I just finished Cherise Sinclair's latest BDSM novel, To Command & Collar. (Which seemed like such a hardcore title until I was looking for it on Amazon before the book was available for download and all I got were books on training dogs. Real dogs.)

In two places in the book, two different woman who have been kidnapped & are thus powerless are rescued by men who are sexual dominants. In each case, to effect the rescue the man has to do a BDSM scene with the woman. In the first instance, the man gives the woman a choice: he can perform an erotic scene and she'll have an orgasm, or he can perform a painful scene and she won't. She declines the orgasm.

In the second case involving a different couple, the man can tell the woman is aroused by the painful scene he had to perform (in the context of the rescue--hey, it's fiction and Sinclair is awesome and makes it work), so he brings her to orgasm.

The first couple end up together and the second couple don't. While there's a lot more going on, the implication is clear: it's easier to endure pain without consent than an orgasm without consent. To experience pleasure when you didn't say yes is to have your body betray you.

That's the flip side of Cruisie's paradigm. If a woman has total control over her orgasms, she can withhold them in situations where she doesn't entirely trust her partner, or she doesn't trust herself when she's intimate with him. If that control is taken away, an orgasm against her will is shameful and the man who shamed her is unforgiveable.
April Cabrera
3. Squeaks1977
Ok I have to admit that when fist reading this I was thinking one way and then did a major u-turn in another. LOL I love Jennifer Cruisie myself. She is the one that got me started on romance novels period!

Now I have to agree with some of these entries. I have heard too that deny yourself an orgasim and the man will not have "control". Funny thing is I always looked at it different. I told myself if he can't get me to the big "O" I sure as heck will get there myself. LOL I never let a man deny me an orgasim. Now I have had instances when it was just bad and I didn't care enough to do anything but look at the time or YEP even get dressed and leave before it was done. LOL But when the sex is not "that" bad, but not "THAT" great I just make sure I get mine and you know men always gets off so basically it's a win-win situation. LOL But yes I have to say don't deny yourself the "O"! AND if they get egotistical just remind them that they didn't bring you to climax all by their little self. LOL :-)

Back to Cruisie, I love her wittt and charm in her work and I will be forever a fan of hers. She's one of my top authors and holds a special place in my heart!
April Cabrera
4. Squeaks1977
@ Magdalen , I'm getting more into the erotica books. Can you recommend some? I read Anna J. Evans "Skin Deep" and it was the perfect type of DOMINENT MAN I've been looking for in books. Not the degrading type or mistreating. I read Ann Rice's Sleeping Beauty series and it was just beyond what I even like. (Oddly I kept reading them because it was kinda like after starting I had to finish to see how crazy it got) But no turning on or me thinking anything was hot hot hot. LOL So if you have any recommends I would love to hear them. Thanks! :-)
BrooklynShoeBabe
5. joyofbean
Squeaks1977 you might try some of Maya Banks books they are not the hard core dominance but still very strong, hot men. "Sweet Persuasion" is a title I'd start with, she has a whole sweet series, but that would be a good starting place.
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