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Erica Jong: we need to get over our embarrassment about sex

The celebrated author explains what she would do if she ruled the world
November 12, 2015

As a ruler, the question you need to ask yourself above all is—do you want your society to go backwards or forwards? Do you want to live in the 21st century, or drag it back to the 5th? There are rulers like President Vladimir Putin who clearly want to be the dictator of the world. There are oligarchs who want to rule the world with their own circle of oligarchs. These people are dangerous.

If we want to preserve our democracy, it must be a democracy of all the people. This includes women, people of colour, people of all faiths or no religion. It must be a society in which both genders are eligible for all political positions. It amazes me that the United States hasn’t yet had a female President. Hillary Clinton is the best-qualified candidate for President. She has great knowledge of legislation, law, foreign affairs and people’s needs.

My kingdom would be secular, as religion is the enemy of the future. If people need traditional practices in order to feel safe, let them keep those practices, as long as they don’t kill people who don’t observe the same traditions. If people feel happier wearing a headscarf or kippa, so be it. I despise the idea of asking anyone to believe what you believe.

I would ban violence against women. I have been very moved by the plight of the women from the ancient Yazidi sect that so-called Islamic State is trying to exterminate. At a conference in New Mexico, I met two Yazidi women, one a lawyer, the other a surgeon, who had operated on young girls raped so many times they could not be repaired.

Given the number of children in the world who are in distress, we must stop compelling women to have kids. Our planet cannot sustain the people we already have. China’s one child policy was draconian, but made some sense when the majority of Chinese were starving. Now that policy has been changed because of unintended consequences such as the murder of female infants. I would suggest that in my kingdom people have one child, and adopt a second.

When I became a grandmother, I came to understand that all the children in the world are my children. I recently published a poem called “Child on the Beach” about the three-year-old who was found drowned on the beach in Turkey. You look at these children and you think “this could be my grandchild, and what are we doing about it?” We are not addressing the root causes of the problem. If I ruled the world, we would.

We desperately need to get over our embarrassment about sex education. In my kingdom we will create a structure that allows people to communicate about sex. Simply taking kids into drug stores and buying them condoms isn’t enough. My daughter Molly Jong-Fast wrote a very funny essay about that—“They Had Sex So I Didn’t Have To.” Parents are often as shy of discussing sex as their children. We need courses that include both generations and they need to be led by psychiatrists or social workers who understand shyness and shame.

If I ruled the world, I wouldn’t attempt to dictate people’s sexuality. There are people who are more comfortable with monogamous relationships­—and then there are people who like polyamory. I would never try to legislate around anything to do with sexual choices. As long as people don’t hurt others or compel them. In the past “moral values” have been used to compel others to behave the way they do. Most of us want a partner who supports us emotionally. That person may also be your sexual or romantic partner, or that person may be a friend. I would never try to dictate the nature of that relationship.

I’ve met many people who struggle to define their sexuality and even their gender. How can society make laws about such painful struggles? In the case of gender assignment, the state should step back. Gender is personal, not political.

I am totally opposed to censorship. I would never force anyone to read my books or anyone else’s. I think we should all read as much as we can. The more we know different points of view, the more we are able to understand human beings. Even Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf are enlightening. We may disagree but even disagreement is salutary.

© Erica Mann Jong

Interview by Serena Kutchinsky. Erica Jong's latest book: "fear of dying" is published by Canongate