Posts Tagged ‘sex’


Okay, I’ll Say It: Cougar. Now can we get serious?

December 18, 2009

by Anne Alexander

This “cougar” word is not my favorite contemporary expression, but we seem to be stuck with it. New word, old concept. There have always been older women-younger men pairings. At least one society has specialized in age-mixing, and I can’t even remember what part of the world these folks inhabit, but all the young girls go to old men, and the old women make it with the young boys, teaching them a thing or two. Later, when a youth has earned some status and fortune, he can get a wife closer to his own age. Candidates are abundant, because eventually the old men die off and free up the younger women – who have by then grown to the approximate age of the upcoming men who have acquired enough of what it takes to be entitled to wives.

As if “cougaring” weren’t bad enough, a young man who fools around with an older woman is said to be “tadpoling.” A tadpole is, of course, a developing amphibian, not even a frog yet. My thoughts return to a place they don’t often visit, a certain night in the late 1960s. Tadpoling. Who knew?

Magazine surveys are notoriously unreliable, good for starting conversations and not much else. But in 2003, an article stated that 34% of women between ages 40 and 69, were dating younger men. Of course there are a lot of questions you want to ask. Like, how much younger, on average? Are we talking about Americans only? Or Americans and Canadians? Europeans? What?

In 2004, reported on attitudes toward a large age gap between partners. Apparently they used a 15-year difference as the definition of “large.” Anyway, they supposedly found more men who were willing to date a woman 15 years older, than women willing to date a man 15 years younger.

Naturally, someone arbitrarily made up a formula to determine the acceptable societal norm – the “half-your-age-plus-seven rule.” In other words, for a 30-year-old woman, 15 plus 7 is 22 – so your male friend should not be any younger. For a 50-year-old woman, the lowest acceptable male age would be 25 plus 7, or 32.  Of course, if two age-disparate people stay together for a long time, that would mess up the math. It’s all nonsense anyway. The person who invented this standard – who died and made him God?

When Ben Franklin was 39, he wrote a letter to a friend, offering advice about choosing a mistress: find an older woman. Franklin listed 8 reasons, which are briefly paraphrased here:
Intelligence and better conversation.
They treat you good, because they don’t have beauty to offer.
They don’t get pregnant.
They keep their mouth shut about your liaison.
Since they age from the top down, there’s no difference below the waist.
It’s less sinful than deflowering a virgin.
A young girl can be made miserable by your attentions, but an older woman will be made happy.
He winds up with “8th and lastly. They are so grateful!!!”

More recently, Franklin’s advice has been streamlined into the smart-ass slogan, “They don’t yell, they don’t tell, they don’t swell, and they’re grateful as hell.” Accompanied by a snigger.

Actually, it’s nothing to snigger about. Gratitude is always appropriate, on both sides, and at any age, whenever two people meet to express affection and/or exchange bodily fluids. I’m quoting a man on this – Orson Bean, who wrote about his own journey of liberation. He says a healthy man “is filled with tenderness and caring and concern for his partner at the height of the sex act… and afterwards the feeling is one of love and tenderness and deep gratitude.”

Making love with a compatible partner is something to be grateful for, always, each and every time. It’s a wonderful, positive, perfectly gorgeous thing to do. Or should be. And why on earth would a person ever want to share such an experience with a partner who is anything less than grateful – and gratified?

Just like any other kind of pairing, the main thing to consider is this. To find someone you really vibe with is so rare, it’s stupid to create artificial barriers of any kind.


Love Scene from Steps to Beach #3

April 11, 2009

by Felice Jordan

Still nervous and with a jacket wrapped around her like a cape, Norah paced as freely as Jesse’s small room would allow. He lit a joint and offered it.

“Not now. I’m too paranoid. At the least provocation, I’ll be ready to check into Camarillo. It’s not that I don’t like weaving pot holders, but…”

“Remember,” Jesse interrupted, “crisis equals danger plus opportunity.”

“Opportunity to what? Get my ass shot off? What happened to that woman at the pier, it was meant to happen to me. That innocent bystander who is laid out on a gurney in the emergency room with a slug in her, was supposed to be me. I know I didn’t want a normal nine to five job, but this has gone way beyond the limits of sanity.”

Jesse was on the cot, hoping things might mellow out. He said, “Everything is gonna be all right. We’ll find the kid, you’ll get your twenty grand or whatever. You can retire and start a gourd farm.”

“Or I could join a cult.”

“Funny you should mention that. Did you know I’m starting a cult? One of the requirements is, every day you have to eat a lot of hot fudge sundaes.”

There was no reaction from Norah, who continued to pace. Finally she said, “I suppose it could be worse.”

“Yeah. It could be me.” This didn’t get a laugh either. In search of some distraction, he took up an art book and opened it at random. “Hey, look what I got at the library. How do you like this? She’s a princess of the Este family, by Pisanello. ‘Thought to be Sigismondo’s first wife, Ginevra d’Este, who died in 1440 at the age of twenty-two, quite possibly murdered by Sigismondo.’ I don’t wonder.”

Norah started to cry, and Jesse was sorry he brought it up. Best not to dwell on the subject of murder, he supposed. Quickly, he moved on. “Here’s a nugget of art history for you. When Michelangelo was taking too long on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Pope climbed up there and whacked him with a cane.”

Norah stopped pacing. Jesse got up and went over to her. “Maybe that would help you feel better, a little aggression. You want to hit me? Go ahead. Sorry I don’t have a cane.”

“Oh Jess, don’t be ridiculous. I don’t want to hurt anybody. And I don’t want to get hurt, either. I feel like such a coward.”

“Nothing wrong with that. Seeking pain is stupid. It’s counter-evolutionary. Even an amoeba knows to avoid pain.”

“It’s just all getting to be too much. Next I’ll be finding plutonium in my cold cuts.”

Jesse leered and waggled his crotch at her obscenely. “I got your cold cuts, baby, right here.”

Norah giggled through her tears. He pressed his advantage and put his arms around her.

She balked. “I’m too nervous.”

He persisted in kissing and hugging her, incrementally replacing foolishness with carnal intent, and she began to calm down. Starting at the waist, he ran a finger down the back seam of her jeans. He undid her zipper and slipped his fingers inside the waistband and ran them around to the small of her back where he traced small circles, barely ruffling the little hairs that grew there. Inside Norah, an outrageous amount of heat flared. Jesse moved her to the cot and stripped the jeans and panties from her. He all but ripped his own clothes off and made as if to drastically impale her.

She resisted. “Wait a minute, Speedy. First you got to pre-heat, then you can cook.”

Jesse obligingly changed his pace. Much more gently, he helped her out of her shirt and bra. He coaxed her knees apart and went down on her. It wasn’t something he did often, and Norah figured it was in honor of a special occasion, namely, her having been shot at. She soon realized that what she really wanted was to be totally filled up with Jesse.

“Get inside me. Please.”

Jesse adored being said “please” to in that tone of voice. He brought his cock and set it in place. It moved into her by stages, consideringly, almost reflectively. It reminded her of a cat exploring a new apartment for the first time. Interested yet cautious, eager go on to the next new vista but content to absorb all the details of the present surroundings first. For Norah, the intense full-body firestorm went back into action. Jesse picked up some momentum and got a rhythm going, then another. He experimented around in there, fine-tuning the responses, getting exactly the right color onto the palette. After a while, he slowed into a holding pattern, a kind of intermission.

Norah said, “Do you think you could get off to it, if I moved, and you held still for a while?”

“Could I! All my life I been waiting for a girl who moves.” Jesse stayed where he was, stabilized his limbs, and let Norah grind against him. He could tell when she really got caught up in it, because that was when she slowed down. Her movements against him grew not only slower but lighter, almost insubstantial touches. Then all at once there was an explosion of frenzy. Norah’s head arched way back and she ground her crotch against him with pulverizing force and made a sound half way between a groan and “Ahhhhhh.” He plunged immediately into the abyss. When eventually he stopped moving, they stayed linked. Norah squeezed with her cunt muscles and sent a roaring aftershock through him. Each time she did it, the sensation diminished, and he fell asleep to the continuing rhythm. When he started to snore, Norah rolled him off her and held on with one arm and went to sleep too.


Steps to Beach is an unpublished novel


Love Scene from Steps to Beach #2

March 23, 2009

by Felice Jordan

It was dark outside and they were in Norah’s living room. She was busy with her stash box, removing seeds and filling a pipe, while Jesse paced the floor. He wore a t-shirt he’d found in a dryer at the laundromat. On its front, a bear climbed into a toilet, saying “Flush twice, it’s a long way to Westwood.” Jesse was in the midst of a monolog.

“The cure for admiring Reed’s work is to go and look at it. He could have settled for being only the greatest living artist working in oil – but no, he wants to wipe his ass with rose petals.”

“Settle down. What we need right now is to get Thai’d up.”

“I tried to tell him, but the guy’s an asshole.”

“Well, you know what they say, it takes one to know one. And you know a million of them, so what does that make you?”

“He didn’t believe a word I said.”

“The best way to convince an asshole that he’s an asshole is to let him have his own way. Come on, let’s get wrecked.” Norah held out the pipe.

“Call the wreckers! Get the demolition team in here!”

Later in her bedroom they listened to Bessie Smith on the stereo. Norah sat at the card table writing in her notebook. Jesse, across from her, bent several small pieces of cardboard into L-shapes to make them stand, and set them up in a circle.

“Know what this is?”

Norah looked up and said, “No.”

“Cardboardhenge.” He started to get up rather clumsily and toppled back into his chair. Cardboardhenge fell down.

“You okay?”

“The grabity is kind of strong over here. How is it where you are?”

Norah didn’t answer.

“It takes you in its clutches and pulls you down. But no more. I shall prevail over grabity.” This time Jesse got up successfully and went to the overhead light switch and turned it off, leaving only a small lamp lit. He swayed to the music. “If that ain’t the blues, I don’t know what is.”

“Why’d you turn the light off?”

“So it would be dark.” He hovered over Norah, who was trying to concentrate.

“You’re blocking my alpha waves.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m making some notes, as any fool can see.”

“I’m not a fool, so I didn’t see. I thought we were gonna smoke another bowl.” He bent down and put his arms around her.

“We already did,” Norah reminded him.

“Oh. Sometimes I forget whether I did something or just thought about doing it. What do you say we fill it up again?”

“How come you only hug me when you want some pot?”

“Baby, that’s not fair,” Jesse crooned in her ear. “I hug you when I want other things, too.”

Norah gave him a shove. “You oughtta lay off that stuff. Research shows it can make you grow tits.”

“I know. I already had to go to Sweden last year and get a sex-change operation. Back to male.”

“And it lowers the libido.”

“Does not, and I can prove it six times a night. Come on, what are you, some kind of tea-totaler? Get it? Get it?”

“Another one of those,” Norah said, “and I’ll have to ask you to leave. Get it?”

But of course they did ignite another bowl, and soon found themselves lounging on the bed. Norah had shed her “young professional” disguise of the day and now wore only a slip. Jesse still had his jeans on. He pretty much kept his legs under wraps because he thought they were too thin. They many have been, but Norah couldn’t care less.

“I think I’m worried, Jess. What if I can’t find that little boy? There’s nothing to go on. I’m scared.”

“You know, I used to study Chinese calligraphy.”

“I’m pouring my heart out and he’s not even listening.”

“The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two other words: danger and opportunity.”


“So get with it, kiddo. You’re the one decided to be a detective. You asked for it, you got it. No guts, no glory. Dare to be great. You think you have troubles? I was accused of virulent apathy and fanatical indifference, both on the same day.”

“That’s different. You’re an artist. You’re not suited for life in the material world.”

“I know. I get caught between the fibers.” He poked his finger into Norah’s cleavage. “Say, Doctor, after I buy a waterbed, will I be able to screw?”

“Of course.”

“That’s funny, I never could do it before.”

Norah pounced, vigorously nuzzled his neck, panted and snorted like a lust-crazed beast, and pawed at his zipper. He made a show of trying to fend off her advances.

She persisted. “Can’t take authentic passion, huh? Can’t handle a real woman? Is that it?”

Jesse wrestled her onto her back and sucked on her nipple, knowing from their long experience together how thoroughly it would set her off. Then he sucked on the other one. He was a firm believer in bilateral symmetry in bed, if not in his paintings. Somehow at the same time he got out of his jeans. He pushed the hem of the slip up around Norah’s waist. “I love sluts who don’t wear panties,” he said. He entered her and it seemed like they were on the way to some serious lovemaking when there was a pause and both of them broke out laughing.

He said, “I don’t know about this here new-fangled waterbag of yours, lady.”

“It zigs when it oughtta zag. What shall we do?”

“Why do you think God made floors?” Jesse pulled the quilt and Norah off the bed, and for good measure, pulled the slip off of her.

She loved the way the hair grew on his arms and legs, and especially on his chest. When she stroked it, the springiness made her palm tingle. The insides of his thighs were cool, smooth and hairless. There were things about Jesse she truly appreciated: his unfailing erections, for one. And his follow-through. Sometimes he wasn’t sure, at first, whether he wanted to mess around, but once he committed himself to the project as far as taking his clothes off, there was always a cheerfully cooperative hard-on. She didn’t care about short or long, but thick was definitely a preference. Jesse’s cock was solid and hefty.

She squeezed it now, and in return it surged toward her. Grasping it, she led Jesse to where she wanted him to be, kneeling over her with his legs apart. On her back, she slid downward and took the gorgeous thing in her mouth, and used her hands all over his butt and teased at his asshole with one fingertip. Jesse pulled away, moved downward himself, and pushed her legs apart. Taking his dick in hand he introduced it into her with a purposeful attitude that brought Norah to a new level of anticipation.

He settled on his elbows, and his cock explored around inside her for some time, and found a very agreeable angle of approach. He simply fucked for a while, then segued into a two-stage motion. He would push partway in with a moderate amount of force, pause, and finish the drive inward with a much more energetic shove. Sounds escaped from low in Norah’s throat. In a voice equally hoarse, Jesse said, “Get it…. Get it.”

He put his lips to her neck and took a morsel of flesh between his teeth and bit into it. Norah started to go over the edge, clung frantically, and took him over with her.

When he got his breath back Jesse, always the romantic, asked, “Did you ever come so hard, you thought you broke something?”

From the novel Steps to Beach

Love Scene from Steps to Beach #1


The Sensualists

March 11, 2009

by Miriam

Husbands can’t stand being loved. It bores them. The more you love a man, the more he goes looking for somebody who has no use for him…. Men like to be mistreated.

As a novel, The Sensualists has many sins for which to apologize, such as stiff dialogue. A whole lot of it consists of the characters’ thought processes. Since Ben Hecht was a screenwriter of stellar rank, it is surprising that he would resort to such a lame device, even in a novel. The tale has the usual accouterments of a mystery – a missing gun, people who use people, a big portion of cynical attitude, large servings of dope and violence.

After eight years of the “perfect” marriage, Henry is discovered having an affair with a cheap, tawdry cabaret singer. Even worse, he gets involved in her life to the point of becoming a murder suspect. His wife is put in the position of having to aid and defend this rat who has been cheating on her. She meets the other woman and becomes even angrier, upon learning that Henry has told the bimbo that the marriage is stale and sexually dead.

The wife helps her rat bastard husband regardless, even taking the dangerous step of destroying evidence. But it looks like he’s going to take the rap anyway, and throw himself away to protect the singer, who is the next suspect in line.

Henry gets out of jail, and fesses up to his wife that he’s had six affairs in the time they’ve been married. But no more! He’s over it and will never stray again! Meanwhile, his wife and his mistress get intimate. There’s a really intense encounter between the two women. Hecht did air some very strange theories about lesbians, but what the hell, it was 1959, and pretty daring to mention that topic at all.

Hecht’s take on female reaction to sexual betrayal is so right-on, you know he burned some woman real bad and she acquainted him in exquisite detail with her pain.

Stand by for a lot of inane pseudo-sophisticated claptrap – “A wife who doesn’t betray her husband at least once makes a happy marriage impossible,” says Henry. Then he nearly seduces the neighbor, but the corrupt police sergeant shows up. Must we go on? Mr. Hecht, how low you have sunk.

The author possessed great depth, compassion, and perception. This attempt at a potboiler comes off as silly and embarrassing. Why do it? Money, of course. And, as one character notes, “Our country is obviously specializing in masturbation.” It wasn’t even the Sixties yet! Kids today who think they invented vice have a lot to learn.

Growing a conscience at my age is a bit uncomfortable,” Henry said. “I’ve used yours for so long. Much easier to outwit.

A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago
Fantazius Mallare


Courtship: Quotations

February 21, 2009

Men who supplement early dating with a lot of swell gifts are generally distracting you from the stuff they are never going to give you.
Merrill Markoe

Courtship consists in a number of quiet attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, nor so vague as not to be understood.
Laurence Sterne

But nowadays men cannot love but seven night but they must have all their desires… right so fareth love nowadays; soon hot, soon cold. This is no stability, but the old love was not so. Man and woman could live together seven years, and no wanton lusts were between them, and then was true love and faithfulness.
Thomas Malory (in the 16th Century)

Those Marriages generally abound most with Love and Constancy, that are preceded by a long Courtship.
Joseph Addison

There is an unspeakable luxury, charged with a powerful undercurrent of eroticism, in choreographing a seduction to unfold not in hours or in days, but in months.
Ginger Lyon

Is anyone entirely innocent of the way they exist in another’s heart? Every interaction is part conspiracy. Afterward each person is both more and less than they were, and none of this has happened without some intent, however unconscious that intent may be.
Michael Ventura

Anything you feed will grow.

Consider the Bower-bird


Consider the Bower-bird

February 21, 2009

by Anne Alexander


With twigs, leaves, and grass stalks, he builds a symmetrical sculpture around an elegantly formed space. To adorn it, he flies for miles, seeking just the right items, small miracles of nature and manufactured artifacts of humanity. He brings back hundreds of stones, shells, leaves, flowers, glass shards and plastic shreds. Each bower-bird has a favorite color, usually blue.

When the bower-bird is away, perhaps stealing a bright shiny treasure collected by a rival, you can sneak and move some of the objects he has already placed. When he returns, he’ll know. He’ll move each component back to its spot, add the newest acquisition, and spend hours rearranging everything all over again, until reality and his vision are aligned.

The partly enclosed, partly open thatched space is just the right size for an interested lady bower-bird to relax in. From this vantage point, she reviews the three-dimensional work of art created by the male, and gives due consideration to his other forms of persuasion. Will she hook up with him? Or move on, in search of a partner with more compatible aesthetics? It’s her call.

Both of them are seriously playing their assigned parts, saying “come hither” in their different ways. It’s a courtship ritual. The building of the bower and the appreciating of it are both essential.

Scholars tell us “courtship” derives from the ancient word gher, which seems more like an escapee from Talk Like a Pirate Day, or possibly related to Robert Heinlein’s grok, a word that for Sixties people meant sex and drugs and rock’n’roll; peace, love & understanding. In old Indo-European, gher meant to grasp or enclose. How appropriate, to the embracing walls of the bower-bird’s creation.

What is courtship all about? In the animal kingdom and the human realm, it’s pretty much the same basic theme with variations. With animals, it’s usually but not always about reproduction. With humans, it might be about reproduction but usually it’s about one, or several, of a hundred other things. For humans or animals, the intended duration can vary from a brief encounter to a lifetime.

Courtship is always about hooking up, at one or many points along the emotional – intellectual – spiritual – physical spectrum. It’s specialized behavior, the experts say, designed to entice another into believing you’re the ideal mate, whether for a night or for decades. A demonstration of good faith; a spelling-out of exactly why the other should wish to get next to you, just as much as you want to get next to her or him.

The parallels aren’t all exact. The male bird constructs a bower, and the female decides if the structure is worthy. Humans are different. Both women and men build mythic edifices to attract a like-minded someone. With humans, it could be either of them, contributing most or all of the energy. Or both might refrain, and sit back waiting for the other to do the work.

Across the species, many features are the same. Courtship is part of a logical sequence: after meeting, but before commitment. The object is to get as acquainted as possible, from a distance, and then to incrementally close up that distance. A shrink might say courtship is a series of actions that encourage progressive intimacy. It’s an incitement, an invitation, a sales pitch. Certainly, through varying degrees of communication both verbal and non-verbal, affection is sought. The object is to dissolve both physical and emotional barriers – though we don’t know how many emotional barriers animals might have. The object is to create intimacy of a quality probably not experienced by birds – although you never know. The object is to establish some kind of an alliance.

Among humans, courting used to mean no sex. It still means that to a lot of people, especially the formally religious. Times change, and now courtship often includes sex. The thing about courtship is that it ends with a commitment of some kind: To have sex once or many times. To form an exclusive bond. Or the only commitment might be to the probability that reproduction will take place, or it might be to the ideal of forming a team that sticks together whether there is any reproduction or not. It could lead up to a lot of things, but the point of it is, that it leads up to something. The goal of courtship is the making of a decision.

The building of the bower becomes a very extended metaphor, for what humans do in courtship. It’s a gradual process that involves weaving together many small strands of interest, caring, empathy, rapport, commonality, charm, generosity, and occasional enchantment. With humans, the object isn’t necessarily sex, or exclusive linkage over the long term. Courtship has echoes, too, of courtliness and elegance, of the relationship as an art form.

Often, human courtship is slow, for reasons either of caution or delectation. Sometimes there is time to build a structure of attraction, decorating it and the mental landscape around it with interesting and funny and all kinds of other bits of stuff.

Being courted is the opposite of being swept off your feet. It isn’t an event, it’s a process. An accretion of kind favors and little considerations and small moves and almost unnoticeable steps; the accumulation perhaps of shared references that add up to a private language; the invention of jokes only the two of you get. Courtship isn’t a big flashy deal; it isn’t a showy dramatic gesture. It’s not an explosion of fireworks but a structure built one brick, or bottlecap, at a time.

Dedicated to Senor el Tecolote Loco

Photo by 91RS, courtesy of this Creative Commons license

Courting Status Code Definition (geek humor)
Courtship: Quotations


Le Bonheur (1965) and Belle de Jour (1967)

December 23, 2008

Forty Million Frenchmen Can Be Wrong


Filmmakers are as interested as anyone else in the problem of “frigidity” in women – “frigid” being a man-made term for “non-orgasmic in missionary-position intercourse with a heterosexual male.” A more reasonable way to say it would be, Less Than Optimally Orgasmic Women. We’re talking about a condition shared by more than half of present-day American women. How can a number that constitutes a majority, be considered abnormal?

Leaving that aside, we go on to look at how the subject is treated by two directors – one male, one female – in two works created in France at about the same time.

One is Belle de Jour, directed and co-written by Luis Bunuel, a man who was the product of an almost medieval Spanish upbringing which included Jesuit school. All his work expresses rebellion against this background. Bunuel was one of the original Surrealist group, whose philosophy was founded on Freudian notions. It embraced an attitude of intelligent compassion toward the difficulties caused by the ubiquitous influence of sexuality upon all human activities.

Belle de jour translates as “beautiful woman of the day.” It’s a play on words, since belle de nuit, “beauty of the night,” is another word for hooker. In this film, the character Severine works during the day.

Le bonheur is, of course, happiness. The film titled Le Bonheur was directed by Agnes Varda. The backgrounds and circumstances of Varda’s character Therese, and Bunuel’s character Severine, are significant in their own time and society, though not strikingly different when placed within a larger context. The main difference is economic: In Belle de Jour, which opens on the childless couple’s first anniversary, Severine and her husband are of the bourgeoisie. His income supports them both comfortably in a large and costly house. Severine’s idle lifestyle provides her with large stretches of free time to get into mischief.

In Le Bonheur, Therese’s husband is a carpenter and she must contribute to their income if ends are to meet. This couple occupies a cramped apartment with their two children, and they appear to have been married at least five years. Therese is always busy – besides the children, she has plenty of other tasks and interests.

Indeed the lively and affectionate Therese gives every indication of “normality.” Her life is full not only of duties but of friends, family, warmth, outings to the country. We are aware of Therese’s “problem” primarily through her husband’s dialog with a third party, when he states that Therese is not erotically highly charged enough for him, not sexually aggressive, doesn’t have fun in bed (that old story.)

We are given one clue to Therese’s own view of the matter – after they have made love, when her husband says something to the effect of, “There, wasn’t that relaxing?” she replies, “It was?” Otherwise, Therese seems unaware that anything in their love life is amiss – she does not “own” the problem, and therefore does nothing about it. It is her husband who takes action and copes with Therese’s alleged problem by seeking excitement elsewhere, setting off the chain of events that culminates in Therese’s death. Suicide is a passive way of dealing with upsets, particularly suicide by drowning: one simply goes under and neglects to come up.

Severine is a bird of a different feather: she begins as the Ice Maiden with an unvarying blank, almost vacuous expression, her face the perfect tabula rasa. Her life is empty, her relationships sterile. She does not work and play well with others. We are given hints of her repressive upper middle class upbringing in her fantasies of being thrown out in the rain; of being pelted with mud while wearing a white dress; of being tattled on; of Marcel finding her body inexcusably flawed.

Most of all we become attuned to Severine’s mental state through her numerous masochistic fantasies. She shares with an astonishing number of otherwise sane women, a fondness for visions of bondage, coercion, slavery, rape, and in Severine’s case some exotic twisted scenario that even her exceptionally fertile imagination can’t bring itself to visualize, involving an injunction to “Bring in the cats.” This type of fantasy is unfortunately typical of the female libido when choked by guilt, and is based on the premise, “If he forced me, it wasn’t my fault, so it’s okay to enjoy it.” Strange are the workings of a mind shaped by Judeo-Christian morality.

Be that as it may, Severine’s masochistic tendencies do not render her totally passive. On the contrary, once she has realized that a “problem” does exist, she is quite assertive in seeking relief. She does not look for a lover, perhaps realizing instinctively that she would only end up with another man of the same type as her husband. Instead she goes to work for a madame who is tough enough to help Severine overcome her fear and loathing.

Severine’s sexual relationship with her husband is non-existent. She finds the idea of him repulsive and can’t bring herself to try. In her fantasy life she has another man shoot him; she visualizes him blind and paralyzed. Only when the threat of sex is removed can she feel tender towards him. The husband treats Severine with delicate understanding, not pressing her to assume her marital obligations. But another of Severine’s fantasies features this same husband abducting, binding, and raping her. Their relationship coasts on a downward spiral: the more understanding he is, the more she despises him, and the more she despises him the more understanding he is. Even after being “cured” by her whorehouse experiences, she still finds him repellent.

Therese adores her husband. Their intimate relationship is, on the surface, irreproachable. She is compliant and ungrudging, and willingly accepts his advances. As he himself admits, “She’s always there for me.” Therese seems not to know that she’s missing anything, and is certainly unaware that he finds her lacking. But as he explains to his mistress, “Therese is a plant ” – albeit a “vibrant” plant – while the other woman is an “uncaged animal”, and he is more zoologist than botanist.

Therese’s reaction on learning of the affair is shock: she is taken completely by surprise, off guard and off balance. Of course she wants to know how long it’s been going on. In the face of the husband’s gentle explanations and assurances of love, Therese seems to accept the idea of sharing him. But although she admits that his behavior to her has not changed during the past month, and although he has offered to give the mistress up if necessary, Therese cannot ultimately be reconciled with his infidelity, and finds life so unbearable that she must escape it.

Severine’s reaction to her husband’s affairs is the opposite. One’s marriage is not threatened by prostitutes, and she probably wouldn’t mind anyway if it were threatened. In taking his business elsewhere, he provides her a direct benefit by acceding to her wish to be left alone. In fact, Severine is quite interested in his cathouse wanderings though he responds to her queries with denial, embarrassment, and avoidance.

The Oriental gentleman with the mysterious lacquered box may or may not be another fantasy – in any event, something momentous happens to Severine in the course of her professional career. By the end of the film she has improved so greatly that her face has become capable of registering expression.

There is no pain compared to that of loving a woman who makes her body accessible to one and yet who is incapable of delivering her true self – because she does not know where to find it.……..Lawrence Durrell