Interview with Jill Eisenstadt about wedding night sex

(Apologies if you tried to come here through a Sugasm link – I deleted and am readding this interview in an effort to fix the layout of this page.)

I found Jill Eisenstadt’s essay “To Have or Have Not: Sex on the Wedding Night” in Colleen Curran’s anthology Altared: Bridezillas, Bewilderment, Big Love, Breakups, and What Women Really Think About Contemporary Weddings. (Read more about Altared on Colleen’s site.) I was almost done with the Best Sex Writing 2008, but this essay wowed me with its originality and made me think about a topic, wedding night sex, that I never really had before. Eisenstadt’s premise is that plenty of couples aren’t getting laid on their wedding nights, for a variety of reasons.

Jill Eisenstadt is the author of the novels From Rockaway and Kiss Out and is cowriter and producer on the 2006 feature film The Limbo Room. Her shorter work has appeared extensively in The New York Times and other places, including Vogue, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Bomb magazines. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the writer Michael Drinkard, and their three daughters.

Jill, your essay really blew me away in part because I wasn’t looking for it. I stumbled upon it in Colleen Curran’s anthology Altared. But for as many women’s magazines as I’ve read in my life, I’d never seen anyone tackle the sacred cow of sex on the wedding night, and whether people are still actually doing it. What was the inspiration for your essay?

The fact that I didn’t have sex on my wedding night and as it turned out, neither did almost anyone else I knew under the age of 50.

When you expressed your concerns about whether you’d “never have sex again,” your husband responds with “Don’t be ridiculous.” Do you think men are less bothered by whether to abide with or ignore wedding customs generally, and this one in particular? This would also seem to go against the conventional wisdom of men wanting sex all the time.

Men seem to be less bothered by everything. Given the choice, I think most would skip the wedding entirely and go straight to the consummation. But they’d want sex for its own sake not out of any desire to follow tradition.

How long did it take you to get over the idea that your marriage was off to a bad start without sex on the wedding night?

3 minutes into my honeymoon in Fiji.

You position wedding night sex as part of a set of outdated customs: “It’s a performance–flirting for an audience. It’s pretense and foreplay. It’s one outdated formality after another, leading to the ultimate climax–sex.” Then you ask: “But if we no longer measure a bride’s worth by her chastity then, why do we continue to behave as if we do?” Why do you think we cling to these vestiges of tradition when it comes to marriage? Is it simply because it’s easier to make jokes about them than confront the reality that most brides aren’t virgins, and probably haven’t been for a long time?

Rituals are comforting, even the outmoded ones. Perhaps because of the way they connect generations, it seems vaguely sacrilegious to examine, let alone reinvent them.

Did anyone actually ask you whether you’d had sex on your wedding night? How did people act when you asked them? Was it a matter of simply breaking the ice, and then people were eager to share?

I confessed I hadn’t had sex on my wedding night as a way of getting others to confide in me. This worked most of them time. It’s a relief to hear you aren’t the only ones who fell asleep or stayed up partying or sat in an airport all night instead. Even those who had managed to have sex let it be known it was only because they felt they “had to.” And most of these accounts describe the act as being far from extraordinary.

What kinds of reactions did you get to the essay?

The essay has definitely had one of the biggest reactions of anything I’ve written. It first appeared in The New York Times Magazine Lives column, then in an expanded form in Altared, a book of essays about modern weddings and now in Best Sex Writing 2008. So other than asking to reprint it somewhere else, the most common reaction has been, “We didn’t do it either!”

What’s the most interesting reason you’ve heard for a couple not having sex on their wedding night?

Because they’d read my essay, which assured them they wouldn’t be jinxed if they didn’t.

What are you working on now?

A short story I wrote for the anthology Queens Noir (Akashic Books), out this winter, has inspired me to write some more stories.

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