Fantasies of the female kind

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I HAVE recently been pondering the question of pornography and women. I mean pornography by women, for women; which is a very different matter indeed from the pornography that men write for women, let alone that which men create for one another.

The trigger - no, I'm going to have to be careful with my metaphors this week - the reason for my preoccupation is that I have just finished writing a novel about a clever, independent woman's sexual odyssey from the post-Pill mid-Sixties to the post-Aids late Eighties. This book would be incomplete, indeed pointless, if it did not detail its heroine's sex life. This meant I had to decide whether and if so, how, to describe what she does in bed.

I have always found it difficult to write about the mechanics of sex, for all sorts of reasons. It might upset my mother/children/friends/partner/colleagues or, indeed, my readers. I am the usual more-or-less inhibited product of middle-class parents and an English boarding school, and nice girls didn't . . . didn't talk about sex in detail, that is, let alone in anatomical detail. But above all I found sex difficult to insert anatomically, specifically and lubriciously into my fiction.

I rang my editor in a panic one day. 'Andrew] Help] I'm going to have to use the word 'penis' in this book.'

'It's just a word,' he said, 'like any other. Elbow, thumb, shoulder, penis, ankle - no difference.'

Quite right: and very liberating advice. Even so, the sex scenes in my book do not read like a car-engine assembly line, with thrusting, gleaming pistons sliding into sweetly lubricated whatsits, and they never will.

Every author, from Jane Austen to Jackie Collins, sometimes needs to convey the effects of sexual passion upon fictional characters, for such effects change the course of human lives and reverberate upon everyone around them. Sexual passion is crucial to the plot of many novels. But it seems both more challenging to me as a writer and more rewarding for the reader if such descriptions present the sex act, as it were, indistinctly, through a plate of opaque glass rather than exaggerated under a magnifying glass. To create scenes of passion obliquely, indirectly; to make the heart race and the skin flush simply by the power of suggestion and memory - now that really taxes a writer's imagination, vocabulary and technique]

Just as I was getting to the end of my new novel I read an article which contended that a new form of pornography written by women is the latest publishing phenomenon. My former colleague Maureen Freely's latest novel, Under the Vulcania, is already published. It apparently centres on a brothel for women. Another former colleague, Yvonne Roberts, has a book published in August entitled Every Woman Deserves an Adventure, rumoured to be the steamiest and most explicit yet written by a woman for women. Those who had read Erica Jong or Anas Nin and thought they'd read it all are evidently in for a surprise.

There is even a new imprint called Black Lace, devoted to publishing works of female pornography, though they prefer its more tasteful name, erotica. Selling like Wonderbras, I gather.

I wish them and their books high sales, but they are likely to be a long way behind those of women's real pornography, namely, the output of Mills & Boon and other purveyors of 'romantic fiction'. For women's fantasies are more likely to centre on the satisfaction of their emotional needs rather than that carnal undertow.

A desperately sad survey last week revealed that the majority of women deplore their husbands' physical habits - the squalid behaviour with which, apparently, most men humiliate and disgust their female partners; from the excavating and disposing of small personal waste products to the whole gamut of digestive sound effects. I sympathise with any woman who, after putting up with this, is disinclined to surrender to rampant male desire.

Just as male pornography is infantile and unrealistic (mindless, pouting child-women offering their breasts like lactating mothers, above serpentine waists widening into peachy hips) so, too, women's emotional pornography is retarded. It is about impossibly handsome, gloriously strong, protective males promising a lifetime of carefree, envy-making devotion, with never a belch or a fart to ripple the soft-focus surface of life.

On Saturday evening I was discussing all this with a clutch of male academics. One, from California, told me that an American film-maker called Candida Royale is making a fortune selling female pornographic movies, although they apparently differ from the old male variety chiefly because the man occasionally smiles at the woman or even says, 'I love you]' rather than hurling her horizontal and enforcing painful sexual acts for his pleasure and mastery.

Another don from Newcastle recalled the woman who told him that her idea of a pornographic fantasy would be herself, lightly negligeed after breakfast, hubby and children well clear. A handsome young plumber with rippling muscles enters; sits down opposite her; and listens sympathetically while she talks. Just listens. Nothing else.

The assumption that female pornography is simply male pornography from the other side is as deluded as the claim that both sexes are the same except for certain biological functions. It is because sex leads to babies, because orgasm is fast for men and slow for women, because tenderness is essential for women and an irrelevance for men, that true female pornography is sited not in the genitals but in the imagination. Or so I believe. It remains to be seen whether the novel will sell.