What I like best about the book is that at no point does it ever suggest that sex is fun. Sex is far, far more serious and important than that.
As an erotica writer, I can attest to how much work it can be to make sex fun, especially when I'm going for just fun. Some of the best-paying erotica publishers talk about wanting work that tells a story and has something at stake for the main character, while at the same time emphasizing pleasure.
This is indeed a tricky proposition. Leaving aside the issue of poor writing, which just makes sex feel fake, sex can often become heavy, sad, angry, regretful, uncertain, or poignant. I'm interested in sex in all its forms, so I like writing about it of all types. I like reading a fun sex story, but I also like reading a dark exploration.
Nicholson's assertion becomes particularly interesting to me when I think about what sex is like for me personally. I know how much art it takes to make sex sound fun when I write about it. How often is it fun in practice?
I would say that the times that are really fun are special, but there's also usually a lot of other emotion swirling around on the side. I remember once getting on top of my partner and riding him for a long time in a wild, sweaty way, using my full strength and stamina. It was incredibly fun. I came a lot, and I think he was really into the idea of my being so unstoppably turned on by him. It's a fun memory, but when I think back to it, I also think about the role of shame. I was really worried he would think I was weird, because of the faces or noises I was making, or because of what I was doing. He didn't, and so along with the idea of fun, the memory feels liberating and poignant to me.
I think this is the sort of thing Nicholson is talking about. Feeling liberated from deep personal shame is serious and important, not just fun. Erotica often has this subtext, and I love it for that. Holding out the promise of pleasurable fun is also really important, because to make it work and feel real, you have to be able to write characters who are truly capable of enjoyment, which often means characters who have moved beyond deep personal shame.
(Incidentally, I had already planned to read The Sexual Life of Catherine M. after I finish Sex Collectors. I will likely post a few things about it, too).