Original Sexperts: Anais Nin

Female sex writers often get labelled; people think they’re promiscuous, flighty, frivolous, that they’re porn stars or prostitutes or worse. They’re often assumed to be living the impossible life of Carrie Bradshaw, a fictional character who has been the bane of my writing career since its beginning. Sorry to disappoint, but I have never in my life worn a giant vagina, er, flower pin in public. Nor do I intend to.

A Scrabble pin with the letter V, on the other hand… well, that’s just nerdy-hot.

Anaïs Nin (via SLGA)

Anaïs Nin (via SLGA)

Historically, female sex writers like the infamous Anaïs Nin have been viewed by many as nothing more than filthy strumpets who conduct themselves inappropriately. In Nin’s case, these accusations may have held a grain of truth: She did engage in a number of extramarital affairs, most famously with fellow writer Henry Miller while both were married to other people. She was also known to have visited an abortion doctor on several occasions, which was absolutely scandalous at the time and still raises a few eyebrows today.

Altogether, Nin’s seeming lack of discretion in her love life was considered a flagrant fuck-you to the sanctity of marriage and the insistence that women be nothing more than decorative arm candy. Even today she is condemned as little more than a writer of dirty little stories, despite the vast volumes of her diary, which she kept for more than 60 years.

Nin’s commitment to her diary is impressive. While some accuse memoir writers and diarists of navel-gazing and self-absorption, there is much more to a good diary than self-love. Introspective qualities are necessary for writers of all genres, and Nin’s endless catalogue of her days provides unique insights into her mind, her daily life as a woman in an era that devalued women, and as a writer committed to her work. With no eye toward publication, she was free to write as she pleased, to record whatever came to her mind without an editorial devil perched on her shoulder. Isn’t this the essence of a true artist?

Libidinous leader

Nin wrote about her own life in her diary, but is perhaps best known for the erotica she penned in order to raise money for herself and her circle of artist friends. She was a pioneer in this genre, as one of the very first female writers to describe the feminine sexual experience at all, let alone with any semblance of accuracy. She did it for the money, which some people believe makes her an artistic (and possibly straight-up) whore, but this is really no different than writers of any era or gender. Those who cry sell-out are clearly just jealous that she was able to pay her bills writing dirty little stories.

And what of those dirty little stories? Today they are still some of the finest erotica ever written, and despite her benefactor’s pleas for “more sex, less art,” Nin remained true to herself. She refused to remove all the artistry from her pieces for the sake of one man’s pleasure, and continued to write tales of bohemians like herself and her friends. Nin was able to build real stories that contained elements of raw sex, while the story was always the focus, the raison d’être. The sex was just the icing on a delicious cake.

Mentioning the unmentionable

House of Incest cover

House of Incest cover

Does this make Nin a frivolous writer? Absolutely not. Her writing is of the utmost importance, if one wishes to learn about women as well as men, in addition to the age-old question of what women want. Whether readers engage with her diaries or her erotica, the material all rings true. She fearlessly explores even taboo subjects such as incest, in her novel House of Incest, based on her own relationship with her father.

While lesser writers might focus on pain, angst, victimhood and the horrors of incest, Nin describes deeper feelings such as love, confusion and even sexual pleasure from a relationship and form of sexual expression that society condemns. For anyone who has ever questioned her own sexual desires, fretted over taboos or fetishes, or struggled with ideas of “right” versus “wrong” love, Nin is a unique guide. Having plumbed the depths of these situations in her own life, she shares her feelings without apology, offering another perspective from the stern moralization that is so prevalent in most literature that dares mention its name.

From another writer, these explorations might be seen as mere sensationalism, the desire to provoke, but Nin provides insight and sincerity on issues that are both privately and publicly troubling. We may not agree with her views, but we know they are genuine. An original who refused to be pigeonholed, we must salute her courage as well as her ingenuity as one of the original sexperts.

For more on Anaïs Nin’s influence in the modern world, be sure to check out my Buttontapper blog post Don Draper vs Anaïs Nin on blogging, transparency and trust.

(Originally published at Hour.ca)