Before there was 50 Shades of Grey, there were, you know, good books about sex. Books where women lusted, and learned, and made mistakes, and had sex. And these books were written realistically, and intelligently, and the writing was good for its own sake. Those books stood the test of time, and tested boundaries, and were provocative.
And yeah, they were pretty dirty.
One example is Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973), a book made controversial because of the subject matter: unapologetic female sexuality. The narrator is a 29-year-old poet on a trip to Vienna with her second husband, whose general frustration with her life (both sexually and otherwise) results in a series of encounters with a new man.
There are a couple broad similarities between this book and the more recent “popular erotica” that’s out today: a young woman, trying to sort through her life and her relationships with men, not sure what she wants from her sex life and having some interesting experiences along the way. The protagonist in this novel, similar to 50 Shades, is a frustrating character, but in entirely different ways. And while I can’t imagine any man (or woman, really) wanting to read today’s most widely read version of lit porn, I think both men and women can get a lot of enjoyment from Fear of Flying. If you’ve ever been frustrated in your life or your relationships, you can find something to relate to in this novel.
Please, if you’re gonna read a sexy book, read one that challenges you as well as titillates you. Read one where the central female character doesn’t doesn’t say “oh my” everytime she’s aroused, one that discusses women’s sexuality unabashedly. I promise, Jong doesn’t refer to “down there” even once.