In America, when conversation stalls, your host will usually fall back on Current Talking Points. There are, you soon learn, two types of CTP. The first is to do with what he thinks is on your mind; the second with what is actually on his. Last week, the obvious ‘topic’ for a visiting Britisher was the Palace break-in – an event I had read about, though briefly, on the flight over. ‘What really happened?’ was the question put to me at least six times during the four days I was there. I was made to feel quite bad about not knowing. Taxi-drivers in particular would get rather shirty when it turned out that I had gleaned less from my Times than they had from their Daily News. One or two even seemed to think that I ought to know the guy who did it. They would say: ‘What’s he like, this Fagan?’ Or: ‘Is he nuts, or what?’ One particularly thoughtful fellow was convinced that the security collapse was the fault of those ‘big furry hats’ that guardsmen wear: ‘I mean, those things have gotta soften up the brain some, am I right?’
For literary persons, all the smart talk in New York was about a book called Edie, a ‘biography’ of the Warhol-created superstar Edie Sedgwick. Sedgwick appeared in a number of Warhol’s films in the Sixties, was taken up by Vogue, got into drugs and died – or ‘astro-projected’ – in 1971, aged 28. As with the Jean Harris and Claus von Bulow dramas which were the CTPs of my last two visits to New York, the tale of Edie offers rich lashings of upper-crust unpleasantness. The Sedgwicks are one of the New England families and much of the book’s appeal is in watching all that class (and, though less important, all that money) getting dirtied up by low types like Warhol and his spooky entourage, by drugs, madness, sex etc.
Not only did Edie herself die at a thrillingly young age, but there were also two Sedgwick brothers who went mad and killed themselves when she was a young girl. And the Warhol clan itself, of course, was regularly thinned out as one rich kid after another failed to last the pace. The book’s pages are strewn with glittering young corpses: an ‘OD’ is reported as if it were a kind of war casualty – sad, but to be expected.
The ‘biography’ of Edie has no single author: it is simply a collection of tape-recorded statements from the doomed heroine’s family and ‘friends’. Jean Stein (who did a similar job some years ago on Bobby Kennedy) has spent years and several thousand dollars tracking down every minor freak from Warhol’s Factory and is reputed to have gathered an apartment-ful of tapes. For the book, George Plimpton has skilfully juggled all this testimony so that there are smooth narrative links between each slab of talk. Reading it is like eavesdropping: you may not enjoy it, but it’s hard to stop.
Rumour has it that Edie has been snubbed by British publishers as ‘too American’. Well, it’s certainly that, but I would have thought its voyeur enticements were truly international:
So they said, ‘Just carry on and give yourself up to total abandon.’ I decided I didn’t really care, because my reputation was beyond repair and reproach. All I had to lose was twenty-five dollars allowance a week, and I’d already lost that. I didn’t figure on running Harper’s Bazaar, which my father published. So I did it. I can tell you, I’m nearly the last person in the world who would ever consider doing a sex scene for a movie in a rubber raft in the middle of an indoor swimming-pool at the health club. But that’s the way we wound up with it.
The girl (Richie Berlin) goes on to describe the shooting in some detail. There is a tale like this on almost every page, and very often the true frisson comes more from knowing what Daddy does than from the materials of the debauch. Without the scandalised, high-placed Papas, and without interruption now and then from sceptical oldies like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal, the tale of Edie might easily have drooled off into a dreary catalogue of hippy-scene excess. As it is, the book shrewdly keeps the straight world in its sights: a nicely judged mix of the titillating and the admonitory.
After Edie, I am told, the ‘now’ book in the States will be something called The G Spot, and you can ignore it at your peril. From next month, it seems, we are to be afflicted by a new source of sexual anxiety, a new way to feel we’ve somehow failed. Three American sexologists have discovered a totally new female ‘zone’ and their discovery threatens to shift the whole emphasis of sexual assiduity away from the old-fashioned ‘clitoral approach’ to ‘a new stress on the vaginal’. The whole dreadful phenomenon is to be explained in America’s ‘hot new sex book for the Fall’: The G Spot and Recent Discoveries about Human Sexuality. Reports of the book (it will be published in September) define the elusive spot as follows: ‘inside the vagina there’s a remarkable, pinpointable dime-sized area of sensitivity that when stimulated will swell to the size of a half-dollar and trigger an intense, unique orgasm ... stimulation of the magical site (called the G Spot after its first explorer, 1940s gynaecologist Ernst Grafenberg) can cause some women to release through their urethra a fluid similar to semen – in other words, to ejaculate.’ Oh dear. The G-Spot researchers claim that these ‘ejaculations’ have been going on for years (indeed for ever) but that women who experienced them believed that they were urinating in mid-act and were rather nervous about owning up. From now on, they can boast about it. After all, the book tells us, G-Spot orgasms are so strong that some women have found their ‘bullet-shaped vibrators’ expelled ‘like missiles’.
Not surprisingly, rival sexologists are already up in arms. They are accusing the G-spotters of everything from hoaxing to merely fudging their ‘research’. The G-Spot theory has been known about for decades, they say, but has been roundly dismissed by Kinsey, Masters and Johnson and sundry other eminent sex-sleuths. But there is no shaking Mr John D. Perry and his two assistants Beverly Whipple and Alice Kahn Landis. In photographs, they seem a cheery, well-adjusted trio, but there is, it must be said, something a bit dubious in Perry’s self-profile: he is ‘a psychologist (licensed in Vermont), a sexologist (certified by the American College of Sexologists) and a biofeed-back practioner (certified by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America)’. He is also an ordained, if not certified, Minister of Religion. And there is something dubious about his laboratory methods. Although he and his colleagues claim that they have discovered bona fide G Spots in each of the 400 women they have examined, and that they have also analysed bottlesful of the ejaculated ‘prostate fluid’ and been able to determine that it really isn’t humble pee, it seems that they are more than a little secretive about the means by which these secrets were revealed.
Little in the book is said about the methods of arousal used on the spot-endowed 400, nor about exactly how the precious fluid was collected. On the other hand, there is plenty of detail about the precise location of the spot: ‘It is usually located about half-way between the back of the pubic bone and the front of the cervix, along the course of the urethra ... and near the neck of the bladder.’ And it is here, say the critics, that Perry is being particularly smart. There is, indeed, they admit, a spot of sorts somewhere round this region, and there is, indeed, sound scientific evidence to suggest that ‘the tissue in this area might fill with blood to protect the urethra from the penis.’ Perry, they say, quite clearly knows this, and has built his theory on it. If something is ‘erectile’ it can easily be promoted as ‘erogenous’. Those who don’t find it so can consider themselves well and truly unfulfilled. It is this gratuitous fishing for anxieties that has angered critics like Linda Wolfe:
But how do they know? Did any of their 400 women have orgasms as a result of G-spot stimulation? If so, how many? Why are there no figures here? Indeed, why are there no descriptions of the technique the researchers used to produce that ‘physiologically and psychologically distinct’ orgasm? How did they do it? And how did they measure the distinctiveness?
Since The G Spot evidently isn’t science, it must finally be considered under the heading of ‘What Can Be Got Away With’. Already, in spite of all the protests, it has got away with quite a lot. Holt Rinehart are printing 150, 000 hardback copies and they have sold the book to six book clubs, including the Cooking and Crafts Club and the Better Homes and Gardens Club. On these sales, Linda Wolfe remarks: ‘The interest of this hearth and home crowd was apparently stirred by Holt’s presentation of The G Spot as being somehow on the side of the angels – that is, coitus and vagina as opposed to the devilish devotion to the clitoris displayed by the sex books of the Seventies.’ The paperback rights of the book have been sold for half a million dollars.
It is this last triumph that has clinched The G Spot’s authority in the eyes of rival publishers. We can now shortly expect The Love Muscle from the New American Library and For Each other from Doubleday. Each of these offers ‘new material on locating the G Spot, the most discussed topic in women’s sexuality today’. No doubt others will follow. There may not be a G Spot, but over the next few months there is clearly going to be a lot of rummaging in the already none-too-relaxed boudoirs of America.