Sex Rules: Real Talk with Jami Attenberg and Judy Blume

Judy Blume and Jami Attenberg talk sex. Photo by Nick Doll.

By Kristie Camp

So many of us were taught that a lady would certainly never discuss sex openly in public. In no way would a woman confess to her sexual interests, or even admit to having sexual desires. That is why the serious yet lighthearted, humorous approach that Judy Blume and Jami Attenberg took today in discussing sex—and sex in writing—is so profoundly important. 

Both authors began the discussion by reflecting on what they learned from their parents about sex, and how growing up with a healthy understanding of human sexuality empowered them to write about women as beings with sexual appetites and fantasies. While maybe not blunt about sex as an act, Blume’s parents showed her that a sexual relationship within marriage was something to be celebrated, and Attenberg described a similar experience in her childhood home. 

Paired with an open acceptance of women as sexual beings was a freedom to read whatever they wanted. Both authors, celebrating their access to a wide range of texts in childhood, voiced adamant calls for action against censorship, especially limits on what teens can read.

About the craft and skill necessary needed to write an effective sex scene, Blume and Attenberg discussed important variables: the purpose of the scene in the story, and the ages of the participating characters. Ideally, a sex scene drives the narrative forward, they agreed, helping to develop a character’s persona, or revealing something about the character’s psyche. We learn about the characters by how they behave and react during a sexual encounter. Blume’s teenage characters tend to have more steamy sex than her adults, whose sex is often funny or awkward. Attenberg recalled one of her sexually self-conscious characters: a man more concerned with his own appearance during the act than his partner’s responsiveness.

On the subject of sex in literature over time, Blume recalled acquiring a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover surreptitiously and bringing it on her honeymoon, where she read a particularly moving scene while under the hair dryer at the hotel salon—an experience from which her young husband benefited.

Both women celebrated women’s desire as they age, rejecting the notion that a woman’s sexuality is limited to her child-bearing years, and claimed sex as a safe place to explore notions of who we are. Their frank and generous conversation served as just the right mentor text for celebrating our sexual natures in life and in literature.

You can listen to the Jami Attenberg and Judy Blume’s conversation here.

Kristie Camp is a National Board Certified instructor in her twenty-fifth year of teaching English language arts at Gaffney High School in South Carolina. Her professional mission centers on helping students craft their unique voices for self-expression and social advocacy.

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