When Pierre Louÿs published his famous literary hoax Les chansons de Bilitis (Songs of Bilitis) in 1895, he dedicated the pseudogrec volume of prose poems to “Girls of the Future Society.” Although they were original poems, or what he called “prose sonnets,” Louÿs presented his work as a scholarly translation of erotic songs composed by a contemporary of Sappho’s whose tomb was recently unearthed by a German archaeologist. Written in the voice of Bilitis, and prefaced by a “Life of Bilitis,” this collection of 158 poems is organized around the three main periods of her life: Bilitis’s childhood as a shepherdess in a little mountain village in Pamphylia (Southern Turkey), which she leaves after losing her innocence and having a child at age fifteen; a ten-year lesbian period spent on Sappho’s island in the company of her beloved Mnasidika; and lastly, a successful career as a courtesan on Cyprus where she retires before reaching her fortieth birthday. Despite the first-person feminine voice and the lesbian content of these titillating songs, the dedication Louÿs placed on his Chansons de Bilitis seems highly ironic since its intended audience was probably not women at all, but a select literary circle of men including Stéphane Mallarmé, André Gide, Jean de Tinan, Remy de Gourmont, and Henri de Régnier who told Louÿs that “Reading Bilitis threw me into erotic transports that I am going to satisfy at the expense of my lawful spouse.” Louÿs wrote to his brother Georges that as much as he would like to have a feminine audience for his work, it seemed unlikely given that “women have only the modesty of words,” and are overly concerned with appearing respectable.

Tama Lea Engelking
Pierre Louÿs, Natalie Barney, and “Girls of the Future Society”

Eroticism is, above all else, exclusively human: it is sexuality socialized and transfigured by the imagination and the will of human beings. The first thing that distinguishes eroticism from sexuality is the infinite variety of forms in which it manifests itself. eroticism is invention, constant variation, sex is always the same.

Octavio Paz
The Double Flame: Love and Eroticism
trans. Helen Lane

caught masturbating

March 22, 2020

I had my hair permed for the first and last time when I was 10 years old.

An hour or two after we returned home from the hairdressers, my mother caught me masturbating in the lounge room. In 1986, it was acceptable for 10-year-olds to get perms, but not to masturbate in the lounge room, so when she caught sight of me, my mother let out a kind of shocked wail.

“Oh, Shelly,” she said. “And you looked so pretty with your new hair.”

I realised in that instant that I could either be pretty or I could be sexual, but I couldn’t be both. And I should never, ever masturbate in the lounge room.

Michelle Dicinoski
By our own hands

sexual phenomenon

June 14, 2019

Versification is as sexual a phenomenon as birdsong; it is typically male display, elaborated more to dishearten and drive off competition by other males than to seduce the oblivious female, whether she be an illiterate human or a foraging hen bird. The male display is sexual but it is not about having or doing sex; it seeks to elaborate a fundamentally banal and momentary interaction by artifice and invention. Once penetration has been achieved, silence falls – for bird and poet.

Germaine Greer
Phalluses and Fallacies
New Statesman 20th February 2014

perverse tendencies

January 16, 2018

On the sexual level she had perverse tendencies, as is often the case with the English who feel refined…