Conspiracy Theory

by Beate Sigriddaughter

"It's not that I don't like sex. I just don't like it in literature," she declared, working her ostrich feather fan. A few heads turned. A few jaws dropped and one wine glass.

That night she dreamed.

Men in pale blue and white shirts sat around a mahogany board room table. Some had their sleeves rolled up. Dark suit jackets lay on the table or rested slung across the backs of cushioned chairs. Not a woman in sight. The only women in evidence were the subject matter of their stimulating discussion. These women were all literate now. Almost all of them liked romances, with the exception of a few who had been meticulously shamed out of that partiality at the same time and with the same tools as they had been shamed out of  everything else labeled sentimental in the course of a preemptive intellectual education. Another very few were simply not romantically inclined.

How to proceed? The publishing world still needed these women's lucrative devotion, but it wouldn't do to surrender the world to women's sentiments.

One man in a blue and white striped shirt came up with a brilliant idea:

"While we like girls in their summer dresses," he said, "as well as ladies barefoot on swings, or barefoot anywhere else for that matter, let's face it: we like sex even better. So let's insert mandatory sex scenes into their romances. Furthermore, let's tell them they're the ones asking for it. No, never mind asking. We'll tell them they are clamoring for it. Let them have their swaggering devoted heroes, but the price will be sex. Just as it is and should be in real life. "

"Great idea, Tom," said another. "Let's run a market study pronto to back up our claims."

"No market study, Dick," said a third dismissively. "We're not running this by the women. We'll tell them what they like. We've always done that. We're good at it."

"Sounds more like a punishment than a fair price, Harry," said Dick. "Especially without asking the ladies first."

"Ask, shmask," Harry said.

"That's right," Tom said, colluding in hushing Dick's thoughtful concern. "It's our world. We make the rules. If somebody, especially a man, writes an intellectual or literary tome, then sex can still be optional. But if someone wants to write something that is strictly for a woman's fantasy market, we have a perfect right to add a little indoctrination. Sex is good. All women worth their salt should be capable of earth-quaking pleasure. With the right shaft, the right core, and the right seed everything falls into place. Amen."

"Do you really think it will fly?" Dick was still skeptical. "For five thousand years we've been able to manage with sexless literature, and we've managed pretty well. Give or take a few hush-hush pornographic items, we've gotten by sexless pretty much until D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller and their ilk. And now you want to have not just optional but obligatory sex when women write for women?"

"It'll fly," Harry said. "Trust me. It'll fly. That's what the sexual revolution was for. Why not take advantage of it?"

"Let me play devil's advocate. Or angel's advocate, if you will. What if they really don't like it? "

"No worries. They will. Remember, we will have told them they like it. We will have told them what they want. Besides, it is only right. If we allow them their impossibly gentle and generous and chivalrous heroes, who are making all the rest of us look bad, they will have to give us something."

Tom tittered. "I can just picture Grandma Tildy steepling her hands in astonishment, reading half a paragraph of swords and sheaths and seeds and shafts dancing around tremulous cores, then skipping over the rest of that chapter until things start looking reasonably safe again. I can imagine, too, one fine day she'll return to one of the fairy tale romances of her less explicit youth. It will comfort her. She'll read and read with stars in her eyes. But suddenly it will occur to her. 'There's something missing here. ' He-he."

"Do stop tittering, Tom. It doesn't become you."

"I'm still not sure that we can just shove it down their deep throat," Dick said, with a gleam in his eyes as his ears turned pink.

"Oh, stop it, Dick," said Harry. "Do you want to set off Tom again?"

It was too late. Tom was quaking with amusement, as were the dozen or so interns in attendance who had not spoken up but had followed the debate with blushing interest.

"Seriously," Harry said. "It's not betrayal. It's simply win win in our favor. Like friends with benefits. Now romances with sex. It's good to be alive."

"Hear, hear," he heard.

"That's settled then," Harry said, expanding his chest to where his shirt buttons could barely contain it. He glanced around the table, collecting roguish and unanimous nods.

And this is how it came about that all romances now have obligatory sex in them, while for the remainder of the literary world, sex is optional.

She rubbed her eyes, delighted to wake up. Just a dream, she tried to comfort herself. Just a dream.