Sunday, July 21, 2013

Her Years of Living Sexlessly

One cringes at the notion. Twelve years without sex. This is far more radical than Hephzibah Anderson’s one year of abstinence.

Sophie Fontanel, a senior editor of French Elle, spent twelve years, from 27 to 39 living sexlessly. She preferred no sex to the bad sex she was having with her sexually sophisticated French lovers.

I am sure you want to know about her pre-abstinent sex life. The Telegraph has offered the juicy bits:

There were brief affairs with men she’d met in fashionable Parisian clubs or at parties; usually older, more often than not personable, who saw a tall, soignée brunette with an engaging smile – and, it seems, didn’t investigate further.

There were longer-lasting liaisons with men who expected her to conform to their desires. “One would wake me up at 4:30am or 5am to make love, night after night, and didn’t care that I couldn’t go back to sleep afterwards. I was always exhausted. You don’t say no because it takes almost as much time as doing it. Yet if I had to get up at night to get a glass of water and disturbed him, there were no end of recriminations.”

Forced to choose between bad sex and a good night’s sleep, Fontanel chose the latter. Can you blame her?

Anyway, Fontanel wrote a book called L’Envie about her experience and it was a major best seller in France. For those who see the French as world-class sexual sophisticates, it was surely a revelation.  (For the record, the French word envie is a lot closer to words like want and desire than it is to its English cousin, envy.)

The book is going to be published next month in English as: The Art of Sleeping Alone.

Naturally, in our enlightened time you cannot swear off sex and keep it to yourself. When Fontanel’s friends eventually caught on to what was going on they were horrified. They did not sympathize. They thought that she was suffering from a mental disease or defect, or that she didn’t really like men.

The Telegraph reported:

You can have the most outlandish sexual experiences, she says today, write them up like contemporary art dealer Catherine Millet – the author of the 2001 best-selling shocker The Sexual Life of Catherine M, which tells of Millet’s endless search for sex with unknowns encountered in rough bars or at public swapping parties – and no one will want to appear so gauche as to even suggest moral criticism. Admitting to abstinence? Drop the word at a dinner party, and see everyone’s scandalised faces. To them, it’s the worst obscenity. No wonder that early on Fontanel invented imaginary lovers rather than face her friends’ sometimes incredibly brutal reactions.

“I’ve been called frigid, abnormal, bitter, neurotic, a lesbian – stupid, really, because as a lesbian I would enjoy sex with women!” Acquaintances who ought to know better accused her of regressing to the most reactionary brand of Catholicism. 

This means that French culture has been thoroughly Freudized. Under the influence of psychoanalysis people have come to believe that they need to be open and honest about their sexuality and that plentiful sexual experience is the royal road to mental health.

Of course, the great Freudian promise is really a ruse. Being completely open about your sexuality will not improve your sex life. On the contrary, it will drain the fun out of it.

Fontanel has asserted that in France, a country that is renowned for its advanced notions of sensuality and sensuousness, life between the sheets is not as good as it appears:

We are liars, poor liars trying to mystify one another. Perhaps French people are especially big liars. At the very least, we are full of contradictions. If you visit Paris, you will notice that we are very thin, even if we are the country of bread and cheese. We are also very sexy, but maybe it’s only a show to save our reputation.

Her point is worth underscoring. People who advertise their sexuality, who display it on the public square, who present themselves as perfectly sexual and therefore perfectly healthy creatures, might just be putting on a show. I suspect that if your sex life is really good you are not be inclined to advertise the fact.

Fontanel also describes a culture where privacy has gone out of style. This is, as they say, the money quote:

As I wrote about my experiences, I thought a lot about privacy. I realized privacy is not about what you are doing so much as about what you are not doing. Privacy is that which you can hide — which, in our modern society, is not much. Sexuality is completely on display. Around me, children know about their parents’ sexuality; parents know about children’s sexuality. Where is the treasure of silence, of things not shown? Where is the mystery? Our openness is a good thing, for many reasons (of course!), but it has made indiscretion the norm. Everywhere, the question of “Who are you?” is answered with an explanation of sex. This is silly. We’re more than that. We’re poetry, we are floating creatures, sometimes happy sexually, and sometimes in a desert, even as we share our lives with someone.

Ah yes, the long forgotten virtue of discretion. If you want to improve your sex life, try it on.


Sam L. said...

I remember reading, back in the '60s, that "a gentleman never talks about the woman/women he sleeps with, or did sleep with." A lady, I expect, would do the same.

Anonymous said...

I went out with a French guy for a while. We never slept together but messed around enough that I think I could tell what he would have been like, and he would have been just fine in bed. Maybe this woman just made the wrong choices in her circle of friends and lovers, and should be thinking about that rather than condemning a whole country's worth of men.

Or maybe she really is the kind of woman who just isn't made to enjoy sex, such types do exist. I think especially for women it requires a kind of letting go, and doesn't really work very well for she who always needs to be in control. And this being in control is encouraged. I hear a lot of girls talking about "I want to f*** him," or "I f***** him," but of course it really doesn't work that way biologically, or I think psychologically for most of us.


Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Laurel. I did not examine the question of how she was choosing or why she would have stayed with men who were clearly not very adept between the sheets. My reasoning was that the book has been so successful in France that it must have struck a nerve of some kind.

Sam L. said...

Failed to mention that there are many people who can't deal with others who actually have that strength of character. And it had nothing to do with protecting her children, as she appears to have none.