An extraordinary examination of what three women want - to be desired, admired and understood

"He wants to have sex with her every day. And here's the even crazier part: She likes it. She doesn’t just tolerate it. I was confused, because I was like, that seems like a good problem to have"

12 July 2019 - 12:53
Lisa Taddeo's 'Three Women' is an extraordinary examination of female desire.
Lisa Taddeo's 'Three Women' is an extraordinary examination of female desire.
Image: Jonathan Ball Publishers

One of the most highly anticipated non-fiction debuts of 2019, Three Women is a groundbreaking examination of the sex lives and desires of three ordinary women. 

All Lina wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with two children and a husband who wouldn't touch her?

All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, a hated pariah in her small town?

All Sloane wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband, who liked to watch her have sex with other men and women?

Consequences are handed out to some, but not to others. Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions that tests the boundaries of non-fiction.

Author Lisa Taddeo was recently interviewed by GQ. Her conversation with journalist Stephanie Talmadge gets down to some of the key conversations around female desire that the book deals with:

GQ: How did you get the idea for the book?

Taddeo: My editor had seen a piece that I wrote for New York magazine about the halfway hooker economy, about bottle girls in New York and Vegas and LA. At the time, I was writing fiction mainly, so he sent me a bunch of non-fiction books. One of the books he sent me was Gay Talese's Thy Neighbor's Wife, which is about sex in the '70s and '80s. I was really interested in it, but I was also taken by how very narrow the perspective was. He’d immersed himself in the material by having sex with women outside of his marriage. He moved to a swinger's community — I actually ended up living there for one of the people I was researching, interesting confluence. Anyway, the thing I admired most about the book was how immersive it was, and I knew I wanted to do that.

How did you meet the main three women - Lina, Sloane, and Maggie?

I drove across the country six times, posting signs in bathrooms, talking to people. The signs were very low-budget. Like, I made them in a Staples in Santa Barbara. Of people I spoke to from the signs, there were maybe five that ended up in the first draft of the book, but none of them were the final three. After driving across the country, I realised that New York City, although compelling in itself, was the antithesis of what I was looking for. I was also too immersed in my own life here, you know, to immerse myself in something else. So I moved to Indiana to be near the Kinsey Institute, but also because this doctor whom I'd started talking to was doing hormone treatments for women who were losing weight and newly feeling [sexy]. That's how I met Lina - by moving to Indiana, starting a discussion group, and finding her.

What kind of attendance did you have at the discussion group?

It was all women, even though it was open to men. They were all various ages. Various everything - married, not married; gay, not gay. But Lina, right away, she was in the middle of thinking about leaving her husband, in the middle of starting an affair. The immediacy of her story was compelling, and she wanted to talk to somebody. She wasn't looking to have her ego stroked, like a lot of men and other people just wanting to hear their stories bounce off someone else. But Lina had no one to talk to and grew up in a very traditional Catholic community. And I was this person, listening, who wasn't charging her money (granted I was writing a book, but that was far away at the time). It just felt like I was hanging out with somebody.

Lina's story was really interesting to me because for her, community played a really big part in how she felt about everything and what she allowed herself to want and feel. Do you think that's true, and do you think it was as much of a factor for the other women?

I think for Lina it was probably the most impactful, but I think for all of them, to an extent, that was what attracted me to those women in particular. Sloane came from this very New York, very open-minded background. The first time someone told me about her was not even the swinging rumour. It was just: you have to meet Sloane. She's absolutely gorgeous. She and her husband own this restaurant and here's the crazy part, he wants to have sex with her every day. And here's the even crazier part, she likes it. She doesn’t just tolerate it. I was confused, because I was like, that seems like a good problem to have. It was weird to me. So it wasn't even so much the idea of Sloane the person, but the way this community of women were awed by her. The other two women, part of the issue was that they had to go against their community.

Click here to continue reading their conversation.