by Elizabeth Hayt; New York, Warner Books, 2005, 293 pages, $24.95
by Toni Bentley; New York, Regan Books, 2004, 208 pages, $24.95
by Karrine Steffans; New York, Harper Collins, 2005, 224 pages, $24.95
by Jenna Jameson; New York, Regan Books, 2004, 592 pages, $27.95
Dr. Geller is professor of psychiatry and director of public-sector psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
Dorothy Parker, with her usual acerbic wit, once said, "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." The four books reviewed here may in fact refute that argument, although I have no idea what the message is in each of these books, nor am I sure that each of the authors has an idea. Each of the four women who wrote these books comes across as bright, and at least three are quite articulate (Jameson is the only one who cites a coauthor), but it is not clear why each of these authors published her account.
Elizabeth Hayt's I'm No Saint portrays the life of a woman born into privilege in 1961 to a physician-led Jewish family in Great Neck, Long Island. Hayt comes from a family with a maternal grandmother with mental illness, a maternal uncle with Down's syndrome, and a mother who was psychiatrically hospitalized at Payne Whitney Clinic after having a second-trimester abortion while pregnant with what would have been her fourth child. Hayt grows up in a household that subscribes to "Bloomingdale's therapy"—fix any hurt with a shopping trip to Bloomingdales. Her sexually promiscuous adolescence begins at age 13; cocaine use begins as a college freshman. Her history includes alcohol abuse and an eating disorder. Her mother, unfulfilled by a relationship with her husband, relies upon Hayt, "as a confidant, advisor, and admirer."
Hayt's marriage is an unfulfilling relationship. Her husband has considerably less sexual experience than she, and when she is crude her husband tells her that she "lacked a discretion gene." He "appeared to retreat inward, averting his eyes, unfolding his body in an imaginary vacuum of compressed space." Hayt becomes the overwhelmed mother of a colicky son, and at the age of 34 the marriage is over.
Hayt's response is to have breast augmentation surgery, upper and lower eyelifts, laser resurfacing of her crow's feet, and dermabrasion to sand off the wrinkles around her mouth. She becomes a regular for Botox injections. Multiple casual sexual encounters ensue and generally leave Hayt unfulfilled. She notes, "Having expectations and hopes was the great faux pas of casual encounters." Nothing she searches for seems to lead her to where she wants to go, and she looks for love through sex. Following eight years of self-absorbed efforts at self-actualization, Hayt decides she'd like to return to her husband. He wisely turns her down. Hayt plays with faux autonomy, and after playing enough she wants to go home. What Hayt learns is that you can't go home again.
Toni Bentley, in The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir, writes an ode to anal intercourse. In fact, Bentley takes the reader through 298 episodes of sodomitic intercourse over a three-year period. Being an expert in this endeavor, Bentley provides us all sorts of insights, such as sodomy "involves the hard edge of truth, not the soft folds of sentimentality inherent in romantic love."
Bentley takes us through her entire life, one in which she begins dancing at age four and ultimately dances with George Balanchine's New York City Ballet for a decade. Insightful remarks that are peppered throughout this account of her life explain, at least in part, her journey. She notes, "I could not lose myself with a peer only with a man who was impossible." And, sodomy "is the most extreme form of rebellion against one's parents in which one could possibly indulge—returning not to adolescence transgressions, but rather to the original injury." Although Bentley tells the reader she is an "anal zealot" spreading the word, she is probably more accurate when she tells the reader that her life is a quest to fill the gap left by a "daddy who didn't love me enough way back when." Perhaps in Bentley's case it all comes down to the fact that after being sexually assaulted as a child, she much prefers sexual relationships in which the tumescent penis is invisible to her.
Karrine Steffans' Confessions of a Video Vixen is the story of a woman born in 1978 in St. Thomas to an 18-year-old mother who physically abuses her and a 26-year-old father who is absent. Raised by a grandmother to whom she is very attached until age ten, Steffans moves to Florida, is raped at 13, and quickly becomes a runaway living in the streets. She subsequently moves to Scottsdale, Arizona, at age 16 to live with her father. She then takes off and begins her career as an exotic dancer. At 17 she attempts suicide, goes in and out of abusive relationships, and has multiple abortions and miscarriages. She gives birth to a son at 19, has breast augmentation surgery at 20, and abandons her son to his negligent father to be a "single woman in L.A." at 21. For the first five years of her son's life, her treatment of him would warrant any social service agency to take custody from her.
Steffans informs the reader that "My mother always made me feel I was less than a person," that she grew up a bedwetter and thumbsucker until high school, that she had weight problems (toward the anorexic end of the scale), and that she lived in the hip-hop world most often as a kept woman who either implicitly or explicitly traded sex for money. Steffans' story takes her from rags to riches to rags, until she almost magically has a revelation that turns her life to the straight and narrow.
Jenna Jameson's How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale is by far the longest and most heavily illustrated of these four books. Jameson's history includes the death of her mother when she was four years old, being gang-raped and beaten when she was a sophomore in high school, being raped a second time when she is 16 years old, beginning her life as a stripper at 17 while still going to high school, getting her first breast augmentation surgery at age 20, succumbing to an eating disorder such that her weight was 76 pounds by 21, recovering, and becoming a porn star that same year. Imbedded in this book—besides Jameson's life story—are pages from her diary, scores upon scores of pictures taken throughout her lifetime, and didactics on how to become a stripper, a porn star, a heterosexual lover, a lesbian lover, and a tattoo recipient.
Jameson's story is one of a woman who has slept with between "60 and 80 people, some men, some women, sometimes on screen and sometimes off the screen." It's not clear what this gets her, nor is it clear why this is a cautionary tale.
These four "herstories" about women who are either not seen or noticed, are abused as young girls, and suffer the consequences at least through their thirties have much in common. Bigger breasts don't get you intimacy, but they do get you attention, further abuse, free alcohol, free street drugs, and trash. Whatever each of these women wanted, their sad stories make clear once you get by all the hype is that none of them look for it in the right places. Taken together, the message in these books is given the choice among submitting to the plastic surgeon's knife, engaging in sexual intercourse with the ease and frequency of drinking bottled water, or spending time on the psychiatrist's couch, it's the last that is most likely to get you want you want if you're a woman who is injured early in life. What these books make remarkably clear is that if you want to be touched in the heart, being touched on the genitals is no substitute.