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Was This the ‘Cat Person’ of 1973?

Photo-Illustration: by Stevie Remsberg; Photos Getty

This week’s show takes a look at what fiction can tell us about the way we bone.

In the last year, the words “Cat Person” became shorthand for a particular kind of sexual experience — fumbling, awkward, not quite whole-heartedly wanted. The story helped give readers language for their sex lives. And back in 1973, the novel Fear of Flying did something similar. Except, for Erica Jong’s readers, it wasn’t about squirmy ambivalence. It was about fantasy — pure, unabashed desire. Her addition to our sexual vocabulary was “the zipless fuck.”

MF: Can you define the “zipless fuck,” for the purpose of people who may not have encountered that language before?

EJ: The zipless fuck is a fantasy. Two people come together. They don’t know each other’s names. They make love not knowing each other. They have perfect sex — very rare for a first time. And they never see each other again.

Fear of Flying tells the story of a young and horny poet named Isadora Wing who gets bored with her nice husband, meets a handsome stranger, travels with him through Europe for a while, then goes back to her husband, at least for now. The main force driving the action is: Isadora wants sex. She thinks about sex, a lot. And that was Fear of Flying’s big revelation: that women wanted sex, too. Their desire didn’t have to be shameful or dangerous.

EJ: I have always wanted to write the books about women that didn’t yet exist and I felt that a book about a woman who was brainy and sexual and ended happily had never existed before. Most of the books that I read that were popular were books about mad housewives who broke from their husbands and had one horrible disappointing affair … and I thought that was so boring.

Looking back from 2019, it’s a perspective that feels strikingly optimistic. As one woman told us, “This book is not about sex; it’s about freedom.”

In this episode, we talk about what “Cat Person” meant to readers when it came out a year ago — and what Fear of Flying meant to readers when it came out in 1973. Click above to listen, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

The Cut on Tuesdays

A weekly podcast from the Cut and Gimlet Media, with host Molly Fischer.

Was This the ‘Cat Person’ of 1973?