I’ve considered changing my name, publishing novels under a nom de plume. I have considered changing professions. But the truth is that the curse of being me is also the blessing of being me.
—Erica Jong, Mirabelle (1999)
The Bride Stripped Bare was Australia’s best-selling local book in 2003, and is still floating somewhere in the national top ten. Seems the punters just can’t get enough of this sexcapade of a book, proclaiming itself a revelatory dissertation on what women really want in bed. Everyone’s read it and everyone has an opinion on it. My opinion is that we’ve all been duped. Either by a clever woman with an eye for marketing, or by a naive Pollyanna who refuses to take responsibility for her sexual inadequacies. Author Nikki Gemmell’s goal with the book was to write a “scrupulously honest” tale about sex within marriage, stating that the only way she felt able to do so was anonymously. Apparently, she doesn’t see the contradiction. Or, if she does, doesn’t find it nearly as suspicious or insulting as I do.
First things first: The Bride Stripped Bare, dedicated “to every husband”, is about a sexually unsatisfied woman who finds talking to her husband about sex embarrassing and difficult, which is to say she doesn’t like having her nipples played with during sex, yet is somehow unable to tell her husband so. Deciding she must do something to regain her sexual identity, she engages in a lusty affair with a virginous Latin hunk, and bonks a couple of jokers in a taxicab. Upon tiring of all this self-discovery, she returns to her husband, not exactly thrilled, but somewhat content. Sound familiar, girls? I thought not.
Secondly, just what changed in Nikki Gemmell that she went from timid authoress, to an authority on all things sex, openly confessing the character in the book is based partly upon herself? Suddenly, the woman too afraid to talk to her husband about her nipples is writing sex advice columns in national papers. She’s appearing on television talking about how she hates large penises because they make her feel like she’s being “spilt apart,” and she’s writing thinly-veiled reason pieces about her decision to publish her book anonymously that also discuss the fact that she had her first orgasm at 30. So, which is it? The good wife afraid to undress in the light, or unabashed dominatrix ready to school the world on the ways of the woman?
It just doesn’t add up. Maybe finding herself in the public eye after being outed as the book’s author (prior to its release) allowed her to drop the veil and just reveal all? Perhaps, but I’m unconvinced that a woman who can sit opposite Andrew Denton (on his Australian Broadcasting Commission program, Enough Rope), not to mention a studio and home audience of thousands, and proclaim her distaste for blow-jobs has never been able to do the same thing in front of the man she married.
There’s that anonymity again, though, right? The whole Taxicab Confessions rule that people easily lay themselves bare with those they don’t know. This may very well be true, and if it is in Gemmell’s case, writing her book will surely assist with her sex life from here on in (though not her husband’s, it seems). But, it’s not helping us young women of the new millennium who just don’t see what she’s is on about.
To hear Gemmell tell it, it’s near impossible to be married and sexually fulfilled. She mentions only fleetingly (in interviews, not the book itself) that “not all women” dislike performing oral sex, and even goes so far as to expect her readers to be truly shocked that such women exist. In her Guardian piece, Gemmell writes:
Why are women still so subservient to their partner’s pleasures at the expense of their own? Why aren’t we more in control? Because we don’t want them to turn away from us, perhaps. We don’t want them to find the woman who loves giving blowjobs (yes, they do exist). Because we want our partners to think we are someone else. Because sometimes we are willing to put up with a lot, to keep a relationship steady, to have children.
No, Ms. Gemmell, you don’t want them turning away from you. You want your partner to think you’re someone else. Etcetera.
The author’s major mistake with The Bride Stripped Bare comes with her stupendously egotistical notion that she speaks for all women, but, you know, we’re not all chomping at the bit to please our men, we don’t all kneel in front of our husbands out of a sense of duty. Or maybe the reason I disagree with each and every word said is because I’m one of those apparently super-rare women who enjoys giving blowjobs. Yes, they do exist.
Gemmell’s notions of the realities of sex within marriage are so cliched, so outdated and preposterous that you’d be forgiven for forgetting the book was released in 2003. Witness:
You open your mouth and gulp air, you bunch Cole’s fingers in yours and squeeze them tight. At the end of it you both stare in fascination and horror at the childlike slash. Cole scrabbles his trousers off as if he doesn’t want to lose the moment, as if he too knows how rare it is. He comes quickly—too quickly, he thinks, but for you it’s perfect and you turn from him to the windows, to that lovely lemony light, and smile a Cheshire smile. For you’ve just had your first orgasm with your husband.
Paragraphs like this one lead me to think the author just changed all the Is in her diary to Yous. Who talks like that? Especially about anything sexual? And is anyone else questioning Gemmell’s honesty here? An interlude in which a husband shaves his wife’s nether regions for the first time without a single razor slip? Not likely. Where are the real truisms of sex within marriage? Or sex at all for that matter? If the author really wanted to expose such truisms, we’d all be reading a book about a wife getting caught in romantic moment when she’s forgotten to shave her armpits. We’d be reading about the pubic hairs stuck in her throat, the pornographic video her husband loves but she hates because the women all have really huge country-music-style hairdos. We’d be reading about the wife wiping off her mouth with her husband’s gym socks, and about the 15 second interlude between the wife climbing up on top of her husband, and penetration, because neither of them can seem to correlate correctly so that Part A inserts neatly into Slot B. But, I guess that kind of reality is just not sexy. Or marketable.
The nerve of this woman to assume that all men need refresher courses on how to satisfy women, on how to be loyal and appreciative. And, to publish such manual without her name, and therefore, without fear of repercussions. If Gemmell feels the only way write honestly is to do so anonymously, she should find another profession. Writing is about baring the soul, is it not? As well as the body? There may very well be a great number of sexually frustrated young marrieds about the place, but they surely can do without sex advice from a woman who claims to be embarrassed to so much as talk about it. They’d be better off taking plumbing tips from a skier. Or reading Fear of Flying. Which Nikki Gemmell should have done about 15 years ago.
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