True Stories: They Had Sex So I Didn't Have To

A writer comes to terms with the sexual adventures of her parents.

By Molly Jong-Fast

My mother fought for free love and the right to sexual expression. I fight the traffic as I squire my kids up and down Madison Avenue. Both sets of my grandparents had open marriages. I have a closed marriage (that's where you only sleep with the person you are married to). My mother's mother tells stories of sleeping with my grandfather in the woods and smoking "grass." There are not a lot of woods where I live in Manhattan. If it is every generation's job to swing the pendulum back, then I have done mine. 

If it is every generation’s job to swing the pendulum back, then I have done mine.

My father's father (Howard Fast) was famous for his communism, Spartacus, and his various exploits with members of the opposite sex around Hollywood. One of my aunts is known at her prep school for being straight then gay and then straight again. A deceased grandaunt of mine was notorious for being one of the most sexually active octogenarians at The Hebrew Home for the Aged. And what of my parents? When I was but a young girl I wandered into my eighty-year-old grandfather's bedroom to find on the bedside table the book Beyond Viagra staring back at me. Yes, the Jongs, and the Fasts may have little in common but their love of freedom, fear of oppression, and their need for lubrication. 

Growing up I knew we were weird. It's hard not to suspect you are weird when you have a Chinese last name but are a redheaded Jew. It's hard not to suspect you are weird when you live in a town house with a hot pink door and a dog called Poochini. And then there was the fact that my mother was always wandering around the house totally nude; this could have been a clue, perhaps. 

All this railing against familial nakedness begs the question: am I a prude? Well, I dress like the Orthodox (long skirts, no wig), have been held up by Wendy Shalit as a role model, and have been married (to one man) since I was twenty-four. The short answer would be yes. Yes in the eyes of Erica Jong, I am a prude. (Of course Erica Jong did have a threesome with a certain hideous feminist author who could be described as MC Hammer if MC Hammer were a white lesbian. Portia de Rossi she is not. Hell, Andrea Dworkin she is not.) 

My nymphomaniacal grandparents were perhaps not typical of their generation.

The truth is my mother and I grew up in different worlds. My mom was born in 1942, in the middle of World War II. My mother grew up in a world where no one talked about sex. Where sex was secretive and sex was racy. She grew up in a world where sex meant marriage. Where women waited to kiss a boy until they were going steady. My mother grew up in a world where a woman couldn't eat dinner alone in a restaurant, lest she look like a prostitute. She came of age in a universe without easily available birth control, without abortion, without options. My mother wore poodle skirts and twins sets, and had a black-and-white TV. She never witnessed a young Britney Spears pulsating in a bikini musing on her virginity (or lack of). 

My nymphomaniacal grandparents were perhaps not typical of their generation, and we cannot discount the effect that my nymphomaniacal grandparents must have had on her. 

I grew up in a world that was just the opposite. I grew up in a culture obsessed with sex. My childhood was punctuated by salacious New York Post headlines. As a girl I remember watching the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings on CNN. I was sitting in my mom's bedroom, playing with stickers and asking her what a "pube" was. 

The 1980s in New York City were a time of contradictions — a time of limousines riding by homeless people, a time of the richest and the poorest as neighbors, living side by side, stealing from the other. The city was boiling with rage, with fear, with crime, and with sex. Sex was everywhere — from sex crimes like the Central Park Jogger case to Donald Trump's divorce from Ivana, to sex clubs like the Vault. Back then pornography was on basic cable (it was on channel J). Sex was everywhere. 

Sex was piped into our lives through the media. The library was popular because it housed Tiger Eyes, which was the dirtiest of the Judy Blume oeuvre. From books to TV, my teenagehood was hugely influenced by the musings of Aaron Spelling with his Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. I watched reruns of Three's Company — which was filled with innuendo and sexual hijinks that would have been considered pornographic when my mother was a girl. No matter how unsexy a show was, it seemed they always dedicated at least one or two episodes to teen pregnancy or STDs or date rape or some other "sex"-related theme. There was the usual media schizophrenia about sex, but whether it was promoted or profane the topic was still very much in the forefront. 

Commentarium (57 Comments)

Jun 14 11 - 1:00am
Marc

Honestly, this is one of the worst sentences I have ever read: "The 1980s in New York City were a time of contradictions — a time of limousines riding by homeless people, a time of the richest and the poorest as neighbors, living side by side, stealing from the other."

I don't mean to be the "anonymous jerk on the internet", but I usually really like Nerve, and this article really disappointed me. It had a wonderful subject, and completely squandered it.

Jun 17 11 - 4:43am
sir alfred

I think I came on your mother a few years ago every night for a month.

Jun 14 11 - 1:22am
E

Also, although I agree that we have a lot more freedom than past generations, we are far from complete sexual liberation and empowerment. The right to choose still faces plenty of opposition to the point that some people don't truly have access. It seems like that closing was written because it sounded good, not because it's truthful.

Nov 26 11 - 6:08pm
josefa

yes indeed, it is not "her generation" that "was the power", unless we are defining "her generation" not just by birth-date, but also by geographic location, class, cultural access, race, and citizenship.

Jun 14 11 - 2:32am
LM

Agree with the post above, and most of the one above it. It seems like the main point was "yippee, women are all free to be and do whatever they want now so I get to feel smug about my marriage and judge my mother for her multiple marriages, and tell my daughter to call her vagina her 'front'" This essay is just ignorant judgmental prattle.

Jun 15 11 - 5:25pm
Rj

I think your comment was more ignorant judgmental prattle than the essay. Her tone is not smug and she's just observing the differences between generations and parenting.

Jun 15 11 - 8:23pm
GTO

@RJ

Agreed.

Jun 14 11 - 4:01am
AJ

Jesus christ. Well I liked it, and I couldn't care less if one sentence was a bit sloppy. It's good to have someone tell a different kind of story on here for once, and I can relate to the author. I didn't feel she was smug either, or judging her mother. Even if was so what? Someone who got married 4 times clearly had a few issues, maybe she deserves to be judged a little. .

Jun 14 11 - 7:58am
Val

My thoughts exactly.

Jun 14 11 - 12:35pm
KateN

I feel I can relate to the author too. I'm happy to be married to the same guy and that I haven't been too scalded by the promiscuous culture of NYC.

Jun 14 11 - 7:44am
SG

Yes bad grammar and not thinking through your sentences or your ideas. But an unabashedly honest (for her) view which I'm saddened by. Being one of the previous generation, it's a shame that our work in the direction of sexual freedom may be contributing to a lack of appreciation of one of the greatest joys of being alive. She did bring to light some good points though. If you have nothing to fight for, you may be left with little desire. The real problem with her life summary is that there is still PLENTY to fight for. She just chooses to ignore it.

Jun 18 11 - 4:10pm
phil

Great points.

Jun 14 11 - 7:51am
Wait!

I liked this article . I agree with AJ, nerve does lots of stories of people who have multiple marriages and live like the mother in this article but not everyone lives like that.It gives perspective,just because you don't like that perspective doesn't give you the right to slander it.That makes you ignorant and judgmental. I can relate to what she said about not having something to rebel against.Teenagers and young adults are often breeding grounds for new (or recycled) ideas so what I got from this article was "what do you get when there's nothing left to fight for?what do you do when you have it all?"

Jun 18 11 - 4:10pm
phil

"what do you get when there's nothing left to fight for?what do you do when you have it all?" -- you become a conservative prick, that's what!

Jun 14 11 - 7:57am
Val

Great and refreshingly different article! Don't concern yourself with labels - bourgeoisie, yuppie, prude....whatever, you sound like a truly free person who've made a decision to live the type of life that she wants, don't let small minded people convince you that you are somehow "oppressed" by your current lifestyle, they're the ones who are oppressed by conformity of their own creation. After all, conformity comes in different shades and colors.... as illustrated by LM's response in calling your article a "judgmental prattle".

Jun 15 11 - 2:34am
Dee

I fail to see how disagreeing with her writing is conforming. To what standards, precisely?

You're right about one thing, Val, the author is TOTALLY free-- which is why she carries her privilege like a banner. For the rest of us, for those who are still struggling and worrying about what seem like they should be basic rights as human beings, it rings a bit hollow. The author is 100% free from oppression and that's why it may come off as "prattle". Not necessarily judgmental, just shallow and lacking in empathy.

Jun 15 11 - 4:29pm
Val

Dee, as I said before conformity comes in different shades and colors, I don't know you(I apologize in advance if my impression is incorrect), but judging by your comment you seem to be a conformist of the sort that believes that women like her are somehow detrimental to freedom of choice, this is just another type of conformity. I assume you live in a first world country, please tell me which basic rights you've been deprived of, people who are born in free countries seem to loose sight of what's truly a deprivation of basic human rights means. I myself was born and grew up in a third world, therefore it always amuses me when people hyperventilate about lack of rights when in fact they live in a free society and already enjoy them.

Jun 15 11 - 11:32pm
Dee

I truly don't give a fuck how someone lives their life so your impression that I think the way she lives her life is somehow harmful to MY freedom is untrue. I think that spouting hyperbole about having nothing to fight for is incorrect and myopic, however. The author has no sway but that people are saying this, that this a worldview that someone could have is concerning.

And yes, I live in a first world country. The kind of country cut 18 million dollars in funds to international planned parenthood; to decrease education and women's rights in third world countries for bullshit moral reasons because some judgmental pricks don't believe that people in other countries deserve to have the right to make their choice, or to prevent it or to practice self care.. this is the kind of funding that saves lives with basic reproductive education and makes the world a kinder place to live in.

So basically you're saying; just because it's worse somewhere else means that we can't POSSIBLY be deprived of rights in a first world country and everyone should just shut up and except it because the third world is worse?

I assume you think I'm talking of myself; no, I am lucky to NOT be deprived of anything currently but I fight viciously and advocate for those who are. And there are many. From marriage to abortion to labour to trans rights to homelessness to drug abuse, there are many. Open up your newspaper sometime and get back to me on that.

What manner of conformity is it to ask that people look at their privilege, not sweep it under the rug and question social roles, class roles, gender roles even? To question that which is deemed socially acceptable is the exact opposite of conformity and I suggest you revisit your definition sometime.

Jun 16 11 - 3:59pm
Val

Dee, you are very angry and frustrated, your problem seems to be that you fail to realize that the world is not coming to an end, in fact our generation has it better than anyone else in the past. You say "open up a newspaper" you've already suggested it to someone else in the comment section, you assume that no one else reads or is aware of what's going on in the world, that's very condescending and frankly stupid. You give an impression of a very young person, college student or someone in his/her 20's, who haven't experienced some real life yet. You think of yourself as an open minded freedom fighter, but the fact that this article rallied you up so much just underlines your inability to accept other people's perspectives and ideas, you are a conformist to your world view.

Jun 16 11 - 11:56pm
Dee

Ah yes. The old "You're too young and dumb, you wouldn't understand" line. And you call ME condescending. That anyone who had "experienced real life" wouldn't care about social issues is a bizarre and spurious line of reasoning. I'd expect people who have experienced real life and real trouble would certainly care.

If there was no social unrest at any point in history, nothing would be accomplished. That kind of indifferent attitude to life serves only you, the same as Ms J-F. So you agree, then that you are informed of what's going on it the world but comparatively, to third world countries and the past we should just give it up and sit back and enjoy the ride?

You give the impression of a person who doesn't give a shit about others.

I think I'd rather come off young than uncaring, Val.

Jun 18 11 - 4:17pm
phil

I'm also from a developing country and I thank you, Dee, for being critical and self-aware, in a way that Val could (obviously) never comprehend being.

Val, be serious: you are a conformist. You come from a "third-world" country and think you made it (you probably have fantasies that you were "chosen" to escape your situation in that country while those poor idiots left behind... their suffering is obviously their own fault-- I know your type. It disgusts me.) And then you come here and embrace conservative gender-role playing and are self-satisfied and smug and call people actually fighting for justice conformists?? THAT's conformist! Go read a couple of history books. Howard Zinn it's where it's at, baby!

Jun 14 11 - 9:36am
Erin

I agree with Marc. This is a fascinating subject and I applaud the author for attacking it, but the writing is simply abysmal; there are countless spelling and grammar mistakes, distracting parenthetical phrases, no development of ideas, and many more issues. I'd rather read a boring or clichéd but well-written story than something like this. I'm disappointed, Nerve.

Nov 29 11 - 2:33pm
josefa

not to mention totally absent of any acknowledgment of her very specific class and race location, and general privilege.

Jun 14 11 - 10:50am
Yet again...

Why is telling "her daughter to call her vagina her front" brilliant? I teach a university course on human sexuality and not once, in hundreds of essays, has a student written that she regrets having received too much accurate information about her body and sexuality from her parents.

Jun 14 11 - 12:36pm
KateN

Very interesting. Any online literature that you would recommend on this?

Jun 14 11 - 10:50am
VoR

Leaving aside issues of grammar and style, I find this essay very upsetting. I certainly agree that not everyone needs to be a bohemian - indeed, I would hardly qualify for that title - but the idea that there is nothing left to fight for in the realm of sexual freedom reveals a frightening level of self-absorption. I can't help but be reminded of the Republican tendency of saying (through their actions if not words), "I have mine, so screw you." The author has freedom of choice, in regards to both her marriage and body, but that's an exception afforded to her by money and the happenstance that she falls within the majority - and I suspect that even her freedom is curtailed by the expectations of the social circles in which she moves even if she hasn't had occasion to test those boundaries.

Jun 14 11 - 10:38pm
Dee

Yes, this.

The whole last paragraph is where I felt it all unraveled and turned into a classist nightmare. Because sure, for a "bourgeoisie nightmare" and "low rent yuppie" there might not be battles that need to be fought. But it isn't an equal playing field, especially in the realm of sex and right to choose and to say that "we had all the rights we needed and possibly more." is very myopic. I don't care how you live your life but please, recognize that others aren't afforded the same privileges before making clunky, sweeping generalizations about "rights". You don't even fucking know, sister.

Jun 14 11 - 11:01pm
LM

absolutely, both of you said it better than i did in my bit of a rant above. I have no problem with the author's lifestyle and I don't think she is necessarily oppressed by it. I used the word "prattle" because it connotes childish self-absorption, which she has in droves. Her mock shock and horror at the life situation she is clearly congratulating herself for, in contrast to her mother's choices (i.e. "all by the same man!") Is also just plain nasty.

Jun 15 11 - 2:37am
Dee

Definitely some weirdness towards her mom, who is an excellent writer IMO.

But basically, take off the blinders and read the news for one damn day before you start writing such garbage.

Jun 14 11 - 9:23pm
eggshell

The writing is terrible, and screw you for your reference to the "short bus riders".

Jun 14 11 - 10:57pm
eh

So, as we watch politicians attempt to strip Planned Parenthood of its funding and circumscribe women's ability to get abortions as much as possible, and as we (still!) hear the suggestion that the women who accuse high-ranking men of rape "asked for it," the daughter of Erica Jong smugly suggests that perhaps we have too many rights and freedoms and acts like her myopia and judgmental attitude is some sort of virtue.

Jun 14 11 - 10:58pm
eh

And by the way, I am closer to her age than to Erica Jong's.

Jun 18 11 - 4:22pm
phil

Yep, reminds me of Alice Walker's awful ungrateful brat of a daughter.

Jun 15 11 - 1:39am
completely

I agree with everyone here. I have no problem with prudes, virgins, closed marriages, whatever -- but even within this article the author has, ironically, the kind of slut-shaming mentality that she's saying no longer exists. She is congratulating herself for her prudishness throughout the essay because she believes it makes her better than someone slutty. That idea didn't fall into her head from the heavens.

Also, yes, agreed with everyone above that she has completely ignored her privilege in saying that there's nothing left to fight for. So many states still have sodomy laws on the books. Reproductive rights are under attack across the nation. Rape, assault, and child sexual abuse all happen every day. If you think there's nothing worth fighting over, you're blind as fuck.

Jun 15 11 - 1:41am
completely

Also, normally I like that Nerve keeps the writing quite raw, but it was distracting in this essay. And then to find out that she's a professional novelist -- ugh.

Jun 15 11 - 2:38am
Dee

Side note: (Of course Erica Jong did have a threesome with a certain hideous feminist author who could be described as MC Hammer if MC Hammer were a white lesbian. Portia de Rossi she is not. Hell, Andrea Dworkin she is not.)

That is sad. So to have sex with someone they need to be pretty?

Jun 15 11 - 11:21pm
completely

Of course, Dee. An unattractive person could never be a satisfying lover!

Jun 16 11 - 1:26pm
@completely

Well, yes: most of us don't find sex satisfying with people whom we consider unattractive, and if we think someone's especially unattractive we'd rather not think of them as being anyone's lover. The essay sucks, but no one would be squawking if she mentioned being repulsed by the fact that her mom was having a threesome with an extremely unattractive (to her) guy. Maybe the subtext too is that her mom was having sex with Ms. Hammer because of who she was socially and professionally, rather than because of any real attraction...which in turn suggests that much of the sexual activity in that scene was undertaken with a calculating eye. (Which would hardly be a surprise.)

Jun 15 11 - 9:45am
Marley

The author obviously has some remnants of a disturbing childhood affecting her to this day. With that said, she is not totally crazy and she does have some good points about misguided teachers. It is interesting to hear thoughts about life from children of open relationships.

Jun 15 11 - 4:56pm
Marlone

Very startling and sad to see Erica Jong, author of "Fear of Flying," referred to as "the mother in this article" (by "Wait!").

Jun 15 11 - 5:10pm
Hank

The new prudo-bourgeoisie is becoming tiresome. It's the 50s again, with more quality coffee choices.

Jun 15 11 - 6:32pm
Val

Lol, "prudo-bourgeoisie", somehow I don't think you yourself belong to struggling proletariat. Hipster musings on life and society...... now that's tiresome.

Jun 18 11 - 4:24pm
@Val

You are tiresome. Take your head out of your butt please.

Jun 15 11 - 8:26pm
ASD

Too many sanctimonious New Yorkers commenting today. Lighten up, people! This is but one voice, the daughter of a much stronger voice.

I'm sure growing up the son or daughter of famous people is absolutely perfect!

Jun 15 11 - 11:21pm
Non-hater

Well, after all of the reader outrage and scorn, I still think Jong-Fast has an interesting and unique perspective. And despite what some of the haters have implied, I don't think she ever said that true sexual equality exists in the world, in America, or in NYC. What she was speaking from was her own subjective experience, of living in a world so "liberated" and sex-obsessed that sex lost any sense of daring or playful exploration. That may not be your experience, but it's hers, and it's one that others likely share. Also, I shudder to think that someone (whether male or female) should ever feel embarrassed to say that they think raising their kids is the most important thing they do.

Jun 16 11 - 2:06am
eh

No, I'm with you on all of that, and if that had been what she said in her essay, I would have found it interesting and enjoyable. Unfortunately, that is not what she said.
First, she does suggest in her final paragraph that women do not have to fight anymore and have all the rights they need "and possibly more." Second, she is just so childishly mean and nasty that one can't like her by the end. I read something great recently that actually accomplishes the things you said. It was Anne Roiphe's memoir, "Art and Madness." She talks about her experiences in the extremely sexually liberated 60s and 70s New York literary elite and ultimately rejects much of what they practiced. And she names all the people and is very tough on them. But she is nuanced and doesn't come off as a callow, stupid teenager. And, by the way, she is an actual writer. Molly J-F is only given an audience because of her family, and she is just so cruel and sarcastic and petty about them and all that they accomplished. It throws her lack of skill with the English language into even more stark relief.

Jun 16 11 - 3:31pm
Val

It's interesting how people can read the same article and interpret it so differently, the author wasn't mean, childish or nasty, I found she was frustrated with her family and frankly there might have been a lot of things that happened in her family that we simply don't know about. There is no reason to fume over a life story that offers a different perspective than the world which you inhabit.

Jun 16 11 - 2:21am
eh

Oh, and -- I would say that she and people like her do hurt all of our rights. She is a member of our cultural and economic elite, and she thinks women's rights are a joke. We need people with her wealth and cultural clout to fight, and, instead, she just thinks that women's rights is kind of an abstract topic -- as well as an embarrassing one to be taken up only by ugly, overly promiscuous lesbians.

Jun 17 11 - 12:18am
3six5dates

It sounds like a reflection of generations from an individuals perspective. When you are exposed so much to one thing, do you not want something different? She sums it up. Just a thought. --- Four women in four cities take on 365 dates between them. Visit www.3six5dates.com to find out more!

Jun 17 11 - 11:59am
rem

Nothing good can come of tell your daughter to call her vulva her "front."

Jun 17 11 - 7:50pm
LadyJ

Thanks to rem for using the word "vulva" instead of "vagina." It's a telling mistake that Ms. Jong-Fast makes here, to limit her notation of the female genitalia like so many others do to just the part that's interesting to a male partner. I could get behind this article, at least to the point of feeling the author had a valid and interesting perspective, until the bit about a girl's "front," though the last few sentences were what really did in any respect I had.

Jun 18 11 - 4:29pm
phil

Reading comments like LadyJ's above reminds me why I come to Nerve (it overall has an educated and smart readership).

Jul 22 11 - 12:13am
Donte

Heckuva good job. I sure apperciate it.

Jul 23 11 - 11:10am
Shirley

Keep on writing and chugigng away!

Aug 23 11 - 1:43pm
Susan

Your writing skills pale in comparison to your mother's. Hell, I'm a hydrologist, and I'm a better writer than you'll ever hope to be. I'm guessing that your best bet is to stick with the child-rearing gig. And don't forget to thank your talented mother for making all those millions, because when your kids are grown, and you realize that you have no talent and no marketable skills, and you look at your husband and wonder why you married him? That money might come in real handy for you.

Nov 23 11 - 2:19am
Jerry

Yup, that'll do it. You have my appreicatoin.

Mar 23 12 - 11:45pm
Jez

"Though it is true that my mother's generation needed to rebel, to free themselves. Whereas my generation was already free. There was no need for us to fight the power because we were the power."
- To say your generation is free is a lie. Maybe certain privileged first world women are free, but to suggest that there is no need to fight is an insult to your mother's generation. Spoiled much? I can only hope that outside this excerpt you consider the other power struggles that still exist, including, but not limited to women's rights.

"We were the advertising dollars that the consumer goods industry fought for."
- Please tell me that this isn't how you measure power.

"We had all the rights we needed and possibly more. We didn't need to fight for birth control. We didn't need to fight for the right to choose. We didn't need to fight for the right to vote. There was no reason for us to feel guilty about having sex before marriage. There was nothing to fight against. We didn't need to burn our bras, so we burnt our CDs."
- Hi, still fighting for the right to choose! Oh, and about that whole birth control thing ... yeah, that's under attack again too. These problems, these fights, never really went away. Instead, people like you decided the fight was over and now we're paying the price.

"And perhaps that's why I'm neither a lover nor a fighter."
- Because of the women (and some men) of your mother's generation, you had those aforementioned rights. I don't care if you're happily married or happily in an open relationship. What scares me is to see you so undervalue their efforts and contributions to human rights issues by burying your head in the sand and pretending that all women of all means everywhere have the same rights as you. As others have said, you are treating women's rights like some sort of joke. It is because of this complacency that we as a country (and globally) are sliding backwards on issues of women's/human rights.