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Delta of Venus, Anaïs Nin

Her cultural identity includes both French and Cuban heritage.
She dropped out of school at 16 to become a model.
She had a lover who wrote surrealist mystical fiction and took two husbands simultaneously.
She called her love life a “bicoastal trapeze.”
She was the original, explicit version of Taylor Swift: her diaries describe, in detail, all of her sexcapades.
She is the most interesting woman in the world Anaïs Nin.

It started when an old pervy Dutch man commissioned Nin’s lover Henry Miller (who Nin featured heavily in her personal journals) to write a series of very graphic short, fictional erotica. Miller declined, so Nin took over, and it launched her career. And it wasn’t just her own sex life Nin drew from: she was, apparently, a voracious reader of the Kama Sutra and a huge fan of dramatizing her friends’ sexual exploits and incorporating them into her fiction.Who said women aren’t sexual creatures?

She draws her female characters as empowered, in-charge sexual tigers: completely comfortable with their beauty and their bodies, so much so that dangling themselves-some feminists say in an objectifying manner-in front of men becomes an exertion of power, not a demeaning act of submission. It’s a world in which the women take a pleasure in watching their male counterparts become undone by their desire:

“When the Baron came in she merely lifted her head and smiled at him. She had one foot on a little table, her elaborate Brazilian dress was lifted, and with her jeweled hands she took up rouging her sex again, laughing at the excitement of the men around her.”

Perhaps the biggest criticism of her work, however, is its dealings with uncouth, uncomfortable subjects–the types of things that society-at-large sees as sick and perverted. In her blunt simplicity, Nin spun tales of taboo fantasies ranging from incest to orgies to BDSM and necrophilia. It’s powerful because she simultaneously manages to not fetishize her characters’ sexual desires while not judging their actions. Delta of Venus is one of those books you should most definitely read if you’re sometimes disturbed by or uncomfortable with your own sexuality. You will take great solace in knowing that there is another person who’s gotten horny from riding a horse. Or, like Betty Draper, from plastering yourself across the side of a washing machine.

Even if, however, you are horrified by what you read and not turned on in the slightest, Nin has done her job: erotica, as a genre, is fundamentally aimed at dissolving the boundaries of “acceptable” discussion and bringing honesty to human sexuality. If nothing else, Nin confronted some of human nature’s darker thoughts and publicized them: because if we don’t, at the very least, accept or normalize *some* of them, we should not ignore their existence as a whole.

Basically, Anaïs Nin is the 21st century feminist’s resident badass and she turned erotica into poetry at a time when the genre all but didn’t exist. Read Delta of Venus, because everybody with sex organs should.

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