How’s that title for click bait? No, this is not an uber-abridged Kama Sutra. This is discussion of two different views of a tricky topic: Women seeking sexual satisfaction outside of marriage.
Shameless: How I Ditched the Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner, by Pamela Madsen, describes how the author – a married mom and fertility activist – experiences her sexual coming-of-age well into middle age.
Funny, using humor that often verges on slapstick, the author shares her journey to sexual fulfillment, from a sensual massage delivered with all the finesse of a meat tenderizer to eventual satisfaction at the hands of a gay sexual healer.
Fast Girls Finish Last
In Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness, former Olympic runner Suzy Favor Hamilton reveals how a sexual adventure with her husband (with a lot of help from undiagnosed bipolar disorder) leads to her living a double life as a Vegas call girl.
An honest and dramatic memoir, Fast Girl details Suzy’s slide from All American people-pleasing good girl to the woman who all but abandons her husband and young daughter to lead a life of unrestrained hedonism.
Both books cover the same territory – women who transgress the norms of society and, with their husbands’ knowledge if not full approval, explore their sexuality outside of their marriage.
Both Pamela and Suzy – at least at first – are rewarded for their deviance.
Both women find freedom and release in their extra-marital explorations. They describe a feeling of finally being their true selves, of shucking off the shell of the expectations placed on them by others and revelling in pleasure. Sex empowers them.
And, naturally, both women are eventually punished.
Pamela Madsen is asked to leave the infertility foundation she created when her coworkers discover the pseudonymous blog she keeps detailing her adventures. And when a journalist reveals that high-ranking Vegas escort Kelly Lund and squeaky-clean motivational speaker/real estate entrepreneur Suzy Favor are one and the same, her carefully separated worlds collide in scandal and shame.
However the tone and the message of the two books couldn’t be more different.
Shameless is a comedy, both in the modern sense, as in, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and in the Shakespearean sense, in that everyone lives happily ever after.
Shameless is also blatantly sex-positive. Madsen believes that despite her old life and career being shattered, her sexual explorations have led to both personal empowerment and a new purpose in life, that of a sexual activist. She wants to share what she’s learned with other women and encourage them to pursue pleasure without shame.
Fast Girl is a different story. While not a tragedy, it is definitely a drama, and a story of renunciation and redemption.
While Favor makes it clear that she has no problem with prostitution, she also states that the behavior she engaged in as a working girl was not her, but her disease. She, like Madsen, is an activist, but her focus is on the mental health issues that led her to pursue sex work, specifically bipolar disorder. Sex isn’t on the agenda.
Reading these very different, yet somehow similar books has left me with a lot of questions. Here are just a few:
Can consensual sexual exploration outside marriage ever be a good thing?
Why does society judge women’s sexual transgressions so much more harshly than men’s?
Does the sex industry benefit society in any way, and if so, why are women almost exclusively “product” rather than “consumer”?
And finally, which woman is “right”?
Is it Favor, who has rejected her life of sexual excess and become the (slightly tarnished) Good Girl again? Or is it Madsen, who has embraced her awakened sexuality without shame?
I would like the answer to be “both”. If the author of The Sex Myth is to be believed, however, it’s “neither”.
But that’s a story for another post. Watch this space!