Fiona Higgins is the author of three novels – Fearless (2016), Wife on the Run (2014), The Mothers’ Group (2012), and a memoir, Love in the Age of Drought (2009). After a saucy summer’s read? Here’s Fiona’s selection of her cheeky favourites, classic and modern:
Hymn to Venus by Homer
Here you were thinking that animal furs and silk sheets were oh-so-seventies, when these penchants actually have their roots (ahem) in the ancient world. In this steamy hymn, the Goddess Venus pretends to be an ‘ordinary’ woman to set a mere mortal, Anchises, at ease in bed:
The goddess smil’d, nor did th’attempt withstand,
But fix’d her eyes upon the hero’s bed,
Where soft and silken coverlets were spread,
And over all a counterpane was placed,
Thick sown with furs of many a savage beast,
Of bears and lions, heretofore his spoil,
And still remain’d the trophies of his toil.
Now, to ascend the bed they both prepare,
Her sparkling necklace first he laid aside,
Her bracelets next, and braided hair unty’d,
And now his busy hand her zone unbrac’d,
Which girt her radiant robe about her waist…
Source: The Literary Companion to Sex by Fiona Pitt-Kethley, Sinclair-Stevenson 1992.
Ars Amotoria (The Art of Love) by Ovid
Ovid liked to watch, it seems. His Ars Amotoria is packed with timeless tips for cultivating and maintaining passion, including:
Sometimes your lover to incite the more,
Pretend your husband’s spies beset the door:
Tho’ free as Thais, still affect a fright;
For seeming danger seems to heighten the delight.
The Kama Sutra
I was first exposed (pardon the pun) to The Kama Sutra during my undergraduate lectures in religious studies. Predictably, the tutorials were outlandishly popular:
When, holding the lingam in his hand, the eunuch kisses it as if he was kissing the lower lip, its is called ‘kissing’.
When, after kissing it, he touches it with his tongue everywhere, and passes his tongue over the end of it, it is called ‘rubbing’.
When, in the same way, he puts the half of it into his mouth, and forcibly kisses and sucks it, this is called ‘sucking a mango fruit’.
This first (complete) draft of Lady Chatterley’s Lover differs from the more commonly-read third draft. In this excerpt, the language of the character of Parkin (Mellors in the final version) is more markedly ‘working class’:
‘I canna believe as yer really want me,’ he said, looking down at her with dark, glowing eyes. He was a mature man, not a boy.
She smiled at him faintly. And the last thing she saw was his face as he bent near the candle and blew out the light with a quick breath. His face, lit up intensely like that, had something – it seemed so ridiculous – of the pure masculine angel about it. She smiled again, in the dark room, as he touched her. She realised how he had recoiled from all women after that common wife of his: and how his desire fought against his recoil and mistrust: his old dislike of the hard, unloving woman he had known in his mother also fighting furiously against his intense desire of a mature, lonely man for a woman to believe in with his body… Because, when he did break away from his cramping mistrust, his was such a clean passion.
He slept with her right breast cupped in his left hand, for she had her back to him… So this was what it was to be a wife! How implicitly he made a wife of her even if he had got her only for this one night! The curious united circle of the man and the woman. It was a kind of prison too.
Source: The First Lady Chatterley, Penguin 1989. First published 1944.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
A book that was banned in the US for some thirty years – for explicit sexual content, but also presumably for its radical subversion of so many ‘niceties’ that society holds dear. Miller’s feverish rantings – about his life in 1930s Paris – aren’t your average erotica:
“O Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed… I am fucking you, Tania, so that you’ll stay fucked. And if you are afraid of being fucked publicly I will fuck you privately. I will tear off a few hairs from your cunt and paste them on Boris’ chin. I will bite into your clitoris and spit out two franc pieces…”
Source: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Grove Press 1994. First published 1934.
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
Amid the innumerable alluring males of 20th century literature, Jong’s description of the sexy-but-mute Bennett Wing, husband of Isadora, is seminal (in all senses of the word):
Bennett Wing appeared as in a dream. On the wing, you might say. Tall, good-looking, inscrutably Oriental. Long thin fingers, hairless balls, a lovely swivel to his hips when he screwed – at which he seemed to be absolutely indefatigable. But he was also mute and at that point his silence was music to my ears… Wing. I loved Bennett’s name. And he was mercurial, too. Not wings on his heels but wings on his prick. He soared and glided when he screwed. He made marvellous dipping and corkscrewing motions. He stayed hard forever, and he was the only man I’d ever met who was never impotent – not even when he was depressed or angry. But why didn’t he ever kiss? And why didn’t he speak? I would come and come and come and each orgasm seemed to be made of ice.
Source: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, NAL 2003. First published 1973.
Thirteen sensual vignettes, evocative and turbulent. In Fay’s Lover, the central character learns that her new husband, Albert, believes that she should be treated as an angel – while exercising his ‘baser’ urges with a mistress:
He came to her room and merely caressed her. They lay enveloped in the white mosquito netting as within a bridal veil, lay back in the hot night fondling and kissing. Fay felt languid and drugged. He was giving birth to a new woman with every kiss, exposing a new sensibility. Afterwards, when he left her, she lay tossing and unable to sleep. It was as if he had started tiny fires under her skin, tiny currents which kept her awake…
She decided to leave her room and walk until she could become calm again. Her entire body was throbbing. She walked slowly down the wide staircase and down into the garden. The perfume of the flowers stunned her. The branches fell languidly over her and the mossy paths made her footsteps absolutely silent. She had the feeling that she was dreaming. She walked aimlessly for a long while. And then a sound startled her. It was a moan, a rhythmic moan like a woman’s complaining. The light from the moon fell there between the branches and exposed a coloured woman lying naked on the moss and Albert over her. Her moans were moans of pleasure. Albert was crouching like a wild animal and pounding against her. He, too, was uttering confused cries; and Fay saw them convulsed under her very eyes by the violent joys.
Source: Little Birds by Anaïs Nin, Mariner Books 2004. First published 1979.
A Month of Sundays by John Updike
A tormented tale about a promiscuous priest exiled by church authorities for his sexual shenanigans with female parishioners. The priest’s faith diminishes with every sexual conquest, including that of Frankie, a god-fearing and faithful woman:
‘There must be nothing. You can’t think there’s a God. You know you can’t. What’s your reason? Give me one reason, Frankie.’
‘You,’ she said, in a voice half-hostile, and this hostility brought her soul so close I moaned and bowed my head to take my gaze from hers; I saw my own phallus erect up to my navel. She spread her legs quickly, but not quickly enough, for though I entered her, repentant tenderness overtook me; her pelvic bone gnashed against mine as I melted inside her; she came, wide to whatever was, while I couldn’t, and it became my time to weep again. She pulled my face down to hers, so roughly I resisted; she thirstily kissed my tears.’
Source: A Month of Sundays by John Updike, Random House 1996. First published 1974.
The Penis Poem by Charles Thomson
The hilarious simplicity of this poem never fails to cheer me up. The first verse reads:
I am a penis,
the masculine totem.
My base is a bag
that is known as a scrotum.
I’m not a muscle or bone
and don’t call me a vein –
though I can in most men
take the place of a brain –
and I can’t say my character’s lacking a stain.
Source: The Literary Companion to Sex by Fiona Pitt-Kethley, Sinclair-Stevenson 1992.
Eat Me by Linda Jaivin
A collection of wildly funny and seductive stories about the sexual exploits of four female friends living in Darlinghurst, Sydney. After reading this book, my relationship with the fruit and vegetable section at my local supermarket changed:
She ran her fingers over the fresh figs. Surprising little sacs they were. Funny, dark and wrinkled, yet so exquisite on the tongue. Mother Nature had surely been thinking of Father Nature when she invented figs.
Source: Eat me by Linda Jaivin, Text Publishing 1995.
I read the first book of the bestselling Emma trilogy – an erotic tale of a bored housewife and the young man who lives next door – after meeting its charming author, John Purcell (of Booktopia fame). Purcell’s prose delivers a wry take on the ‘bored housewives’ theme:
He was not just a nice young man, he was the neighbours’ son. Her lovely, sweet neighbours’ nice, polite, naïve, handsome son. Their little boy. On this nice street, in this nice neighbourhood in Mosman.
That was the key to her disturbed state. She needed a release. She’d been good for so long. She’d never been married before. She’d never been so restricted with her choice of sexual partners…
Source: Natasha Walker, The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings, Random House Australia 2012.
The River Ophelia by Justine Ettler
In this grunge realism classic of the 1990s, Ettler injects the Marquis De Sade and Shakespeare’s Hamlet (and Ophelia) into an Australian urban landscape, exploring familiar themes of sexuality and power. The sex is as raw as the words:
The thing is … the thing about all this pain we go through, all this love that just hurts all the time, the thing about all this pain is that it’s really exquisite. It’s exquisite pain. That’s what makes us keep going back for more.
Source: Justine Ettler, The River Ophelia, Picador 1995.