What Happens When Your Husband Refuses to Kiss You? 3 Women Get Very Real About Their Desires in New Book
"These three women let me into their bedrooms and hearts and brains in a way that nobody else did," author Lisa Taddeo tells PEOPLE
What happens when your husband refuses to kiss you for 10 years?
Where is the line between sex and intimacy? Shame and liberation?
Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women, which was published Tuesday, is an intimate and unflinching portrait of the landscape of female desire addressing these and other essential — and essentially complicated — questions.
Taddeo had at first planned “a sort of” update to Gay Talese’s 1981 nonfiction book, Thy Neighbor’s Wife, which shocked readers with its own blunt account of American sexuality. She interviewed hundreds of people from a range of backgrounds over eight years of reporting. She learned about their sex lives and the needs driving them.
“I wanted to talk about desire, and I wanted to do it in a way that would move people to empathize with each other,” Taddeo tells PEOPLE in a wide-ranging interview.
Eventually, however, she narrowed in on her titular subjects: Lina, Maggie and Sloane.
Lina’s husband refuses to kiss her on the mouth, so she has an affair with her high-school crush.
Maggie’s life is derailed after what she described as an affair with a married teacher when she was 17. (The teacher was later criminally charged but acquitted.) Taddeo chose to tell the story “as seen through her eyes,” even though the jury “saw it very differently.”
The third woman in Taddeo’s book, Sloane, is a beautiful restaurateur who tries to understand her own needs while having sex with the people whom her husband has picked out for her.
Taddeo, who maintains regular contact with the women, hopes that their stories will prevent readers from shaming others — and teach them the danger of indifference.
Though the women were all “judged by their communities … they didn’t really judge others,” Taddeo says. “They knew what being judged felt like.” (Maggie is the only woman who is named in the book; the other two are given pseudonyms.)
“I was so intrigued by how we think about sex and love,” Taddeo says. “We think about it so much, but we also hide it.”
Read her PEOPLE interview, which has been edited and condensed, below.
How does women’s desire differ from that of men?
I don’t want to generalize about all men, but generally men have a goal in mind. There’s a path to an orgasm. Not to put that crudely — but there’s a definable goal. Whereas for women, in the beginning, with a new man or a new partner, I think it starts out as very performative. I think that it’s more about, not necessarily pleasing the other partner, but about making sure that they are comfortable with the way that they look and feel during the intimate act.
Which woman did you connect with the most?
All three of them to be honest. But Lina, in terms of her story, was the one that I related to the most. Lina so wanted to talk that she told me everything. I went to so many places with her. Lina was so wildly open. She wasn’t embarrassed at all. She knew it was going to be in a book, so that to me is bravery. Also, the relatability of the way she felt: It wasn’t just seeing this man, it was doing something for herself, fulfilling this part of herself that had died following a group rape, following over a decade of a husband who didn’t really want to kiss her and make love to her in a certain way.
What situation was the most painful to write about?
I lost my parents, so when Maggie [lost her dad], that was really hard for me. I cried when Lina said that part about ‘he took so much time with me.’ She was so grateful. I said, ‘Oh, how much time was it?’ And she said it was about half an hour. I’m all still crying about it. It’s so sad. Not pathetic, just sad. Sad that she was so wanting this that she was going to take whatever she could get.
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What do you say to people who might criticize the way you captured these women’s perspectives — in the third-person but with the novelistic touch almost of fiction?
I wrote it in their voices as much as possible. I also had so many emails and Facebook messages and text messages. I had their words on paper and diaries and such that their words were there. So to deviate from their words and their tone would have been a disservice to their story. I think it was the best thing to do. I would do it all over again.
Do you think women will ever have their desires satisfied completely?
It’s getting there. There’s a lot of people who talk about how women should have sex with whoever they want — that’s totally true. However, [some] women still don’t feel that they can do that. There’s still shame in doing that. I was looking for someone who would sort of lift the other two stories. Sloane has a super happy marriage. A lot of people thought that she was serving her husband’s needs. That’s not true. She was confused about where her desires stood in the world, but I think that’s largely because of society and not because of her husband.
Your subjects are white, straight women. How do you hope the book will resonate with LBGTQ readers and people of color?
I’ve had queer women tell me that it didn’t matter. They’ve said that they related to one, two or all three. I spoke to hundreds of people. Of those people, there was a big percentage that was African-American. It was across the board. I handed in the first draft to my editor with 15 people and a number of those people were of different sexual orientations. Ultimately, these three women let me into their bedrooms and hearts and brains in a way that nobody else did. It was hard to find people to do that and let a stranger into their lives every day. I hope it opens doors for more people to tell their story.
You started reporting eight years ago, before the #MeToo movement. How does Three Women fit into the larger conversation?
#MeToo is so, so important. We’re talking about what we don’t want, what we won’t allow done to us, and that is so important. But I don’t think we’re talking so much what we do want. I think there’s still a lot of shame and fear in that. That’s what I saw with the hundreds of people, most of them women, that I spoke to. I started this way before #MeToo and then #MeToo happened toward the end of the reporting. Some of the women’s stories changed in certain ways and some of them did not. So I think it was impactful. With Maggie’s case specifically, [post-#MeToo] I think it would have been a much different outcome.
Three Women is out now.