Behind the Bedroom Door: Sex in Today's World

The editor of a new anthology about modern-day sex talks about whether or not women can have sex "like a man," how much sex the average woman is having, and the orgasms of women in their seventies.

Considering I left off yesterday wondering whether women in general (and myself in particular) can have "casual" sex, today seems like a good day to post an interview I recently did with my friend Paula Derrow, the editor of a new anthology, Behind the Bedroom DoorIt's full of essays by some of today's most interesting female writers (like Lauren Slater, Susan Cheever, and Valerie Frankel); and all of them give us a good voyeuristic look at their sex lives. When I asked her why she did the book, Paula told me: "These days, women are supposed to be free of sexual hang-ups and prudishness and worries about whether or not the guy cares about us (or we care about him). But all those concerns still exist, and that's what I'm hoping this book addresses: our secret fears and desires and missteps and adventures."

ME: In the book's intro, you say you wanted to "blast away the assumptions we have about what is going on in other people's bedrooms." What are some of those assumptions? In what ways are those assumptions false or misguided?

PAULA: I think most of us assume that you can make predictions about someone's sex life by looking at her — i.e., a young, single, hot-looking woman is getting a lot of sex; a 40-something mother of two who hasn't had time to get her gray covered in months isn't getting any. But what I've discovered through doing this book and talking to women and gathering stories is that good and bad sex has nothing to do with a woman's age, how she looks, her marital state, or whether she has kids.

ME: That's a relief!

PAULA: I've had gorgeous, incredibly flirtatious-seeming women confess to me that they've never had an orgasm with a man. I had the 71-year-old nurse in the doctor's office tell me — while she was drawing blood — that after being married for 45 years to a man who was mostly impotent (and blamed her), she had an affair with a doctor on another floor of the hospital. "I thought I was finished with sex," is what she told me, "but it was awesome!"

ME: That is awesome.

PAULA: Similarly, one of the essays in my book is written by a woman who finally had her first orgams in three decades during her seventies. And in the essay "Toys in the Bedroom," the writer talks about how sex can actually get BETTER after you have kids. So what I've learned is that as much as we want to fit women and sex into categories, the best sex is sometimes happening where we'd never expect it — and vice versa.

The book also overturns the assumption that being faithful is only tough for men. We all struggle with monogamy. And as much as women are supposed to be able to "have sex like a man" these days, for most of us, it is pretty damn hard to separate desire and emotion, no matter how hard we try.

ME: That's good to hear. B

ecause it seems like everybody in the world but me is cool with having one-night stands, or booty calls, or "friendship with benefits" ... but no matter how hard I try, it's really hard for me NOT to get attached to someone I have sex with. (Like a certain someone I mentioned yesterday in my blog, a.k.a. Mr. Jonas Singer.) Do you think it's fair to say men are more at ease with meaningless sex than women are? And do you think women or men or Sex and the City are responsible for propagating the myth that females are cool with "meaningless sex"?

PAULA: I think much as we try to deny it or escape it, most women I've talked to while doing the book feel the way you do: Sure, maybe we'll try a friends-with-benefits situation or text someone late at night for a booty call, but ultimately, we're looking for some kind of emotional connection. Women feel that sex without that connection tends to be empty or unsatisfying. We have desires, yes, and want them satisfied, but the strongest desire, I'd say, is to feel love. When that isn't there, it's hard to keep going with the sex and feel good about it.

As for who is propogating the myth that women are cool with meaningless sex ... I think the "friends with benefits" setup is the greatest gift to guys since birth control: They can sleep with as many women as they want, with no commitments, and if the woman starts to get emotionally attached, well, she's not playing by the rules.

ME: Great point. When I read women's magazines, I always think: "Wow, every other chick in the universe is having so much more sex than I am." What have you learned about how often people are having sex?

PAULA: I'd say that a lot of women feel like you do, and that our Sex and the City culture perpetuates that feeling. I loved SATC, but no single woman I know is having sex with three different guys in a week (or a month). While I can't give you any hard and fast numbers, what I'd say is that when it comes to the "how many times a week" question, the answer can change radically. A couple can go through a phase where they are having almost no sex, then circumstances can change and then they are having sex all the time. Sex isn't set in stone. I think if a couple has once had a passionate connection, they can get it back. Our sex lives evolve along with our confidence, the state of our relationship, how busy (or not busy) we are...


So that's part one of my interview with Paula. What did you think? Later this week, I'll post the second half — during which we talk about sex with younger men, the benefits of masturbating, and the effects of antidepressants on libido. In other news, I've been a little pathetic about Mr. Singer — calling him, e-mailing, being in too much touch and hoping I get to see him again soon.

All right, finally, before I go: a quick shout-out to everyone who's reading (like Heather A., who wrote in yesterday to say hello). It's nice to know you guys relate to my life — and also that you're looking out for me. Yesterday, a commenter named Edwinna (gently) scolded me about the Singer situation, saying: "

It would be in your best interest to spend your time going places and doing things where you have a chance to meet someone who does want a relationship with you"--and she sounded almost exactly like one of my best friends, Daisy Milliner. Daisy has never met Jonas ... but that hasn't stopped her from not liking him one bit.