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Thoughts on death

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Pornography is boring
Diana Athill Writer
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[Q] Can one generalise at all, about men… men's attitude to sex and women's attitude to sex? I mean, you know, there's this endless, perennially interesting question which is, you know, are… do women feel about sex like men do, or not? And I just wondered…

I don't think they do. I mean, I think one can… I mean, the varieties of how people feel within the sexes, are very great. I'm sure there are some men who feel very much like women do, and some women who feel very much like men do. But on the whole, to my mind, it seems fairly obvious that there is a difference. And I think that the difference is based purely and simply on biology. After all, if every time a woman fucks, she could be going to be pregnant. She could be going to have to change the whole nature of her life, completely. And that's not true of a man. He's much, much freer, and I think that to say that the pill ended that situation is not true, because the pill, in fact, is quite a drastic interference with your physical nature. You're interfering with yourself when you use it, and I think that it's going to be a very, very long time before women can genuinely feel as free about sex as women… as men do. I'm not sure that they ever will be able to.

[Q] And what about simply levels of desire? You know, you read these surveys sometimes that say that, you know, men think… the average man thinks about sex once every seven seconds or something. And, you know, I'm making it up, but just in terms of interest in…

Well, when I was young, I thought about men all the time. And the thing is, one thought about love. One was constantly thinking about love, because one was mixed up between sex and love. One thought one was thinking about love, on the whole. I think I always thought I was thinking about love.

[Q] But really it was sex?

Not necessarily. I didn't. When I was sexually attracted to someone but didn't love them, I never thought I loved them. But I think what I really wanted, always, was love, not sex. I mean, sex with it, but that was really what I was after. I think it is for a good many men too, isn't it, really?

[Q] Yes, I'm sure it is. I'm sure it is. And while we're on this subject, do you have any…? And given you that you're involved in publishing and so on, do you have any views about pornography? I mean, either about… I mean, at all about it, I mean like whether or not it's of interest only to men or to women, too, or any views at all that might be interesting about and what it sort of means, you know, really?

I haven't thought about it much. No, I think it baffles me a bit. I mean, I've read one or two, sort of, classics of pornography, and because they go on… it's the same thing over and over again, they seem to me to get rather boring quite quickly, because what they're doing is trying to make you excited again and again and again, you know, and it comes to the end when you begin to think, well, now it's time to think about something else. And I would… I would say, from my own experience that women aren't all that turned on by pornography. But of course some women may be. I don't know.

[Q] Did you ever read the Story of O, for instance? I mean, when you say classic pornography?

I read the Story of O and I couldn't bear it, because there's an awful lot of sadistic stuff in it, which simply turns me clean off. I mean, I can't find... I've never been able to find that exciting.

[Q] It's quite mysterious, because it's now… I mean, I don't know exactly what the figures are, but it's supposed to be, like, a bigger… in terms of money turnover and all the rest of it, it's like bigger than all Hollywood movies and music put together, or something.

I can't understand it. I mean, it is… it's sort of pathetic to me. And it seems to me that there must be an awful lot of people out there who aren't getting it, you know, and this is the only way that they can. But it can't be quite that.

[Q] It can be another of the mysteries, like evil.

I think that's a mystery like evil, yes. To me, it is.

Born in 1917, Diana Athill is a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She has worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she is now hailed as an author in her own right.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: The Story of O

Duration: 5 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008