When Fear of Flying first came out in the early ’70s, it articulated a growing sense among women that the popular conception of female sexuality — demure, delicate, deferential — didn’t cover all the bases. Women were recognizing and embracing their own sexual power as never before, and Jong’s bestseller gave a voice to the transformation.
A generation later, Fear of Flying would continue to inspire women at certain stages of their sexual development; it also, from my own experience, helped them communicate to the boys around them just what was going on. I was given a copy in the early weeks of a relationship my sophomore year of college; little did I know at the time that she intended it to be a textbook, and I was a remedial student. Its famous concept — the zipless fuck — is a metaphor for sex without context, without complication, between preferably unacquainted individuals who share no language but touch, get to the business and then get out of each other’s lives. No fuss, no muss. But my girlfriend of the time wasn’t trying to get me to bonk her and get lost; she saw the greater implication in the book that, at times, sex should be able to be a purely in-body experience (with all the psychology that implies), devoid of any intellectualizing or problematizing. She didn’t want to separate the emotions out of our coupling, she just wanted me to shut up and get to it.
The reason the zipless fuck is so appealing, of course, is that most fucks are pretty damn zip-full. Very few women I know — or men even — would want anonymous sex all the time. The foibles and bumbling around zippers and socks and condoms and all their metaphorical equivalents in the psyche are what make sex more than just a release of fluids. Sex can make us weak, and weakness can make us beautiful. But of all good things we can sometimes get enough — even care and compassion. The zipless fuck was a call for un-p.c. sex — but un-p.c. sex dictated on a woman’s terms, not in the conventional way men had been having it for millennia.
So what I learned most from my girlfriend of sophomore year was how sexy an assertive woman could be. From that point on I realized that assertiveness and sexual self-awareness normally went hand in hand. I will never forget the first time we ever went to my dorm room. I had “decorated” it with a chaos of “found art” oddities of every shape and form; upon opening the door, her first and only words were, “I could never, ever, have an orgasm here.” Fear of Flying had left its mark: Do-me feminism, 1; Jack décor, 0.