Interviews March 2007

Not Tonight, Dear

Joan Sewell talks about her new book, I'd Rather Eat Chocolate, and the politically incorrect reality that most married women just aren't that into sex

Would there be so many sexual compatibility issues if we were all gay?

No! I don’t think there would be. There are times I wish I were a lesbian. Lesbian women have been noted to have decreasing and decreasing sex drives within their relationships.

And yet the straight, married women keep having sex out of generosity, you say, and that is submissive in the most personal way possible. What do you mean by that?

Compromise is something all counselors and sexperts and most people say is part and parcel of a marriage. But there’s something about compromising your body—it’s a different category. If you have sex when you don’t desire it, physically desire it, you are going to feel used. Now, you can trick yourself for a while into thinking, “Well, I’m giving this to him as a gift from me. This is my loving gift to him.” But it’s like my friend Holly says, do it enough times, just do it enough times, and you’re going to build a resentment that’s slowly going to take over the relationship, no matter how much you smile during it.

Do you think many women are having sex out of guilt, or fear of being abandoned?

Yes, yes I do. Well, of course guilt, because you’re supposed to have sex so many times per week. There’s more guilt now, because we’re supposed to have been liberated sexually. It’s twofold: if you’re not having sex, you’re not taking care of your husband, and at the same time you’re failing yourself as a sexual creature, which you are supposed to be. So there’s that. There’s also keeping the marriage together. There are a lot of sexperts out there who say, “Do all sorts of things, go get a lap dance, do this, do that,” and they sound very progressive. But it’s all to keep the marriage together no matter what. Sex is the glue of marriage, so whatever it takes to keep it together.

And there’s the euphemism “making love,” which you say was invented to make sex more appealing to women.

Oh, it’s directed almost only at women. I’ve researched this. And everything I’ve read and looked at didn't use the term for men. Men don’t have to be enticed into sex by the “making love” thing. But if you look at a lot of the books that are trying to keep marriages together, they use the expression all the time. So the message seems to be, if you don’t want sex itself, if the physical desire isn’t there, think of it as making love.

I also wanted to talk about masturbation.

My favorite subject! See, I do get horny, but I’m not so horny that I’m confident it’s going to take me through all the stages of a sex act. And if I fall out of the horniness in the middle, because I’m distracted, then it’s just a slog. The rest of it is just a slog. I want maybe sexual release or relief from anxiety, but involving another person, my libido isn’t strong enough where I can take all the variances. He starts doing this he starts doing that, and it’s like instantly, Okay, I’m out of it.

I read an article about a guy who said sometimes he just wanted to masturbate, because he didn’t want to turn to his wife, see what mood she was in, get all washed up, and so forth. Because by that time, it’s just like, “Never mind, I’ll do it myself.”

And cunnilingus—you're not into that, either?

I just don’t like to see someone’s head between my legs. Now some people would say that’s because I think it’s dirty down there, or something like that. But it’s the image. I actually think a person’s mouth is a lot germier than my vagina. And they’re lapping around. I think of all the effort my husband is putting into it, and that just kills me.

What about the relationship between body image and female libido?

Well, Naomi Wolf says just because you get skinnier doesn’t mean you get more nerves in your clitoris. And she’s right. But to my dismay it is true that if I gain seven pounds, eight pounds, and I’ve got cellulite, I feel less sexual. It’s not so much a difference in lust as it is in that reflexive sexuality, the desire to be desired, which is really the main sexuality I feel, unless I’m masturbating. And it has a big effect on me. I don’t want to admit that I can be that shallow, but it’s true.

Once women feel like they don’t look good, they don’t feel sexual in any way. For men that’s not the case. They may feel self-conscious, but they’re still going to be aroused. And that just shows that they have a much more resilient sex drive.

Do you worry people will read your book and think, poor Kip?

Oh, I worried that from the beginning. Kip was so freaked out about coming off bad. I said, “If anybody’s going to be coming off bad, it’s me, okay?” And when my editors said, “Oh, he is so sweet” and everything like that, I thought, “Okay, hero time.”

But Kip does okay. He does get oral sex—I’m happy with that. And he gets intercourse, but it is on my terms. Yeah, I guess there’s no better way of saying that. Everybody’s like, “Ew, on her terms?” because they feel that emasculates Kip. But he’s got a brown belt in tae kwan do. He’s not a wimp. He just understands that this is the only way I’m going to be happy sexually. And I don’t apologize that in the book, the bias is more toward women. That’s going against a lot of what’s out there.

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Sara Lipka is a staff reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education. More

Sara Lipka is a journalist with a local food habit. Since 2003 she has written about college students as a staff reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, in Washington, D.C. Last year she was an intern for The Farm at Sunnyside, in Washington, Virginia, and this year she is starting a vegetable garden at the Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland.

Sara formerly interned at The Atlantic and has since interviewed authors about Roe v. Wade, libido, and settling. She graduated from Duke University summa cum laude in 2001, then spent a year in Chile as a Fulbright fellow, researching political theater.

An avid cook, Sara usually travels with a tiny bottle of truffle salt and keeps trying to concoct new combinations of ingredients. She has worked as a papergirl, camp counselor, umpire, and cashier at the Cosmic Cantina, in Durham, North Carolina, where she never got sick of the guacamole.

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