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Being monogamous and happy doesn't mean we've lost our mojo

ERICA Jong, that stalwart champion of the female sex drive, fears for the survival of feminine desire in a 21st-Century world. Is she right? Are we all in danger of losing our mojo?

She speaks, after all, on good authority. Jong is a world-renowned expert on sexual politics and has been at the coal-face of the liberation movement in the Sixties and Seventies. Her first novel, Fear of Flying, could be seen as the progenitor of the Sex and the City mentality, in that it celebrated a woman's impulse towards sex for its own sake.

Now, she's concerned that the efforts of her generation have been wasted. Though these days overt sexuality surrounds us from all sides -- from Rhianna singing about S&M on the radio, to Playboy becoming a global brand -- it's very often all neatly bound and packaged. Has sex invaded the marketplace so much that it's leaving our real lives strangely neutered? Jong seems to think so.

"We idealised open marriage," she wrote recently in the New York Times, "our daughters are back to idealising monogamy. We were unable to extinguish the lust for propriety."

"Is sex passe?" Jong asked in the article, which could be seen as a sexual call to arms. To demonstrate the point, Jong recruits her own daughter -- a mother of two, who puts her children first and career second. Who, having observed the taboo-shattering crusading of her mother, has chosen the opposite way of life for herself.

As further evidence, she cites a recent book project of hers. In Sugar In My Bowl, she asked women across the ages to give an account of their sexual lives. "The older writers in my book are raunchier than the younger writers. The younger writers are obsessed with motherhood and monogamy."

There's a possible explanation for this that isn't just epochal, of course. The older writers, having presumably been through their mothering phase, are released from the demands of it. Those atavistic processes by which evolutionary thinking explains the messy emotional terrain of desire for monogamy (for a man, the need to ensure paternity; for a woman, secure partnership by which to share the responsibility of child-rearing) are less relevant to the over-50s.

As much as I hold Jong in high regard, there's something about this argument that smacks of age-old, it-wasn't-like-this-in-my-day thinking. Free sex is no longer a political gesture. It's not a strike out against the rule of oppressive social institutions and mores anymore.

That sort of sex, when you talk to those who had it, was quite often the act of surrendering authentic personal choice for the sake of socio-political duty. Less about acting out of genuine desire than doing it for the movement.

As such, it may well have been all fun and games, so long as nobody got hurt (though sometimes, admittedly, they did). And it prompted a sea change for which, on the most part, the later generation of women are grateful.

But our inheritance has been meaningful, authentic choice. Having sex for its own sake isn't transgressive any more. Actually, it's pretty ordinary behaviour.

So if exercising that choice means opting for monogamy, well, that too can be seen as a liberation of sorts. So too if today's woman chooses to prioritise the pleasures of intimacy over the "zipless f**k", to borrow the phrase that Jong herself coined.

There's every reason to champion every woman's right to the latter, if that's what she wants. But, if it's not, it doesn't represent a retrograde move towards repression.

True, a culture that bombards us with sex every time we turn on the TV, the radio, or go online may have made us a little bit jaded. Perhaps, too, ours is a generation that is a little more blase about the notion of sexual adventurism than the previous one. Especially since sexual experimentation isn't the buccaneering adventure into the great unknown that it was before.

This isn't evidence of a suppressed sexuality, however. On the contrary, it suggests a rather mature frankness about what makes us happy and turns us on.

Even in her own plea for greater permissiveness, Jong seems to be implicitly making the case for intimacy, rather than necessarily free sex for it's own sake.

"Physical pleasure binds two people together and lets them endure the inevitable pains and losses of being human," says the lady herself, who is, according to a recent interview, happily monogamous herself these days.

Sunday Independent