Jack’s Naughty Bits: Margaret Diehl

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Jack's Naughty Bits

You, enlightened readers, help me out. There’s a question I’ve been wanting to ask that’s troubled me for a long time. Are there women who pick up men and women who don’t? In one sense, of course, the question is just a grammatical trick — of course there are, just as there are men with back hair and men without. But I mean to ask something deeper than just that: Is the woman who picks up men a type, different somehow from the type or non-type who doesn’t? And, adjacent to this question but no less important: Is there something different about women who just want to have sex? We normally assume that kind of motivation is a male thing, (though I hope I’ve argued adequately that this stereotype is a distortion), but is there something marked about a woman who wants just to have sex? Something distinctive about a woman who would violate the cultural dictates that would have her abstain, wait for commitment, make sex not an end in itself?

I ask this because I truly am perplexed. Somehow, it seems to be my lot in life to attract both the very shy and the very licentious, and I can’t tell if they are or are not different species. In the broadest strokes (and I fear great analytic vulgarity here), it seems that sexually predatory women are somehow more cutaneous — that everything is less repressed, closer to the skin — not only desire and gratification but opinions, neuroses and responses in general. Shy women confuse me; I’m never sure if they know what they want but aren’t telling me, or if I’m supposed to be the one who knows and they are waiting for me to share my knowledge with them. But of course the categories are not so clear-cut, nor are the individual’s responses within each category. Even as I was writing the above words, the exceptions started coming to mind. Perhaps such generalizations are doomed from the outset, and all I can do is pay close attention to specific instances, and try to understand them as best as I can.

One such is Margaret Diehl’s 1988 novel Men, where the female protagonist leaves an unsatisfying relationship and relative sexual innocence to begin an odyssey of one-night stands. I am not convinced that the novel adequately portrays the etiology and psychology behind the woman’s switch — nor is it clear the author intended it to. But in any case, it does chronicle more than a baker’s dozen of encounters, and how one woman (fictional though she is) responds to night-after-night near-anonymous love-making. I won’t tell you what all transpires; I was both compelled by and suspicious of the woman’s range of responses. Nor am I in the best situation to assess its probability or accuracy. Instead I will share this curious irony: the book was recommended to me by a very attractive, seemingly very sexually aggressive woman, but one with whom I was never able to sustain an erection. Fitting, no? Men frequently wish that women were all sexual aggressors, but if they were, would we be ready?


From Men by Margaret Diehl

We got into a taxi. As he kissed me, I lost the last of my doubts. This was not a thing to think about but to do, to don once and never again. The lake of desire that buoyed me up through my days of happiness and unhappiness, that supported every activity, every hope and trifling friendship, must now be acknowledged; I felt like a civilized mermaid going for visit; diving deep.

I don’t remember Nathan’s apartment except that it was in a basement and smelled like new wood. We were in bed immediately and I closed my eyes. Oh, this could be anyone, I thought, a man’s hoarse breathing, his penis entering me in the dark — but was not anyone, was Nathan, strong, oak-like Nathan. So this was Nathan. What does Nathan have to do with me? I asked the question; I received the answer, but I couldn’t tell you now what it was.

His chest gleamed with sweat. His oval and muscular belly thrust out, he labored, his cock pushed in and out. Then I was held tight, I felt the orgasm kick and tremble down his body; his cold feet curled around my ankles. He lifted his head and looked at me. “Just you wait a minute,” he said. I smiled and he kissed my lips and my eyes. We waited, in silence, looking at each other until his penis got hard again. I didn’t move. I felt like I was pulling the blood back down with my smile, down from his brain and his heart and his gut to engorge in my body.

Then we fucked slowly, Nathan propping himself up with one hand while the other traveled from nipples to clitoris. He was rough, pinching me with an abundance of lust I understood and forgave. I opened my legs wider. I was sweating with pleasure being born, pushing out through my skin: freed, it flowed like mercury, it was too much to hold in awareness, a multitude of sensation, a thousand devils — or angels. When I came I was silent, I was mute, writhing, I paid such deep attention; then I heard, from far off, Nathan coming, with a snort like a train.

It was going to be over. It was over. He got up and brought me a glass of water and a towel. He offered me strawberries. “Let’s go to sleep,” I said.

last week next week

Jack Murnighan‘s stories appeared in the Best American Erotica editions of 1999, 2000 and 2001. His weekly column for Nerve, Jack’s Naughty Bits, was collected and released as two books. He was the editor-in-chief of Nerve from 1999 to 2001, before retiring to write full time and take seriously the quest for love.

Introduction ©2000 Jack Murnighan and, Inc.