The Sexual Life of Catherine M.

by Catherine Millet

Paperback, 2003




Grove Press (2003), Edition: First Trade Paper, 224 pages


Since it was first published in France, The Sexual Life of Catherine M. has become a global literary phenomenon, hailed as one of the most important books on sexuality to be published in decades. Catherine Millet, the eminent editor of Art Press, has always led a free and active sexual life-from alfresco encounters in Italy to a gang bang on the edge of the Bois du Boulogne to a high-class orgy at a chichi Parisian restaurant. She has taken pleasure in the indistinct darkness of a peep show booth and under the probing light of a movie camera at an orgy. And in The Sexual Life of Catherine M., she recounts it all, from tender interludes with a lover to situations where her partners were so numerous and simultaneous they became indistinguishable parts of a collective body.… (more)


½ (239 ratings; 2.7)

Media reviews

I suppose there is a sense in which ''The Sexual Life of Catherine M.'' might be perceived as an erotic breakthrough, a daring leap into a place where no woman -- or man, for that matter -- has gone before. But that immediately raises the question: Is this really a place worth getting to?
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''The Sexual Life of Catherine M.'' is as ponderous as it is heavy-breathing, which is saying a lot. As the author pursues ''fornicatory communion'' as frequently and publicly as possible, and as she approaches her mission ''with the application of a musician composing a fugue,'' she totes her
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critical acumen to places where it is not entirely useful. Her book lurches to and fro between the frankly obscene and the absurdly high-minded.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
I only got two-thirds of the way through "The Sexual Life of Catherine M." It's not a good book, but that doesn't mean it's not, in its flawed way, an interesting read. In it, Catherine Millet, the editor of a noted French art magazine, describes her swinging exploits in clear-eyed detail. She
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describes having carnal relations with hundreds, if not thousands, of men in swinger's clubs, parking garages, bachelor apartments, and just about everywhere else in Paris. She doesn't seem to regret her sexual exploits, or, indeed, tell us how she feels about them. Her sexual exploits are presented matter-of-factly: they're just experiences she had. The book has received terrible reviews, both from professional critics and LibraryThing readers, but I think it's this flatness of tone (and perhaps an absence of contrition) that really put readers off. If what I read can be believed, many French folks seem to be able to take sex utterly casually, and this drives a lot of Americans absolutely nuts. Just because orgasms were had doesn't means lessons were necessarily learned: one thing doesn't necessarily follow the other, at least in gay Paree.

There are, in any case, things I genuinely liked about the book. Millet's artistic background shows through in places: she's very cognizant of how she presents her body, and some of the scenes she describes almost are almost reminiscent of artistic tableaux. She also understands what Al Pacino's character in "Glengarry Glen Ross" understood about sex: it's not the orgasms or the mechanical aspect of it that people tend to remember but the fleeting, liminal, ambiguous moments that take place between people in intimate situations: an unexpected caress, a touch, a meaningful glance. "The Sexual Life of Catherine M." contains lots of these little moments, even if the author often follows them up with something like "I had relations with a dozen other men that night as well."

A lot of reviewers here have expressed the opinion that Catherine Millet is an obviously damaged woman, and some have said that they feel sorry for her. I'm undecided on this point. There's a lot that suggests that Catherine did what she did for reasons that weren't altogether healthy: she seems to have used relationships with men to escape her suffocating family life, and she doesn't seem to know how to flirt or seduce her partners. Maybe, like many sex addicts, she got naked and had sex with people because she couldn't figure out how relate to them any other way. But her sexual life also bears an uncanny resemblance to her earliest sexual fantasies and she seldom expresses any regret about what she did or tells the reader that she didn't get what she wanted out of her adventures. It's possible that she's just a highly sexual person and that's all there is to say. And that, really, is the other problem with "The Sexual Life of Catherine M". It lacks any semblance of dramatic structure. It's more of sexual diary than an actual story, so it's not too surprising that it grows tedious after a while, despite all the erotic goings-on. Still, maybe that's the point. The title of this book is "The Sexual Life of Catherine M." However much sex she's had, I suspect that what's described here is just a sliver of her overall experience, and perhaps the only part of herself she intended to show her readers. Reviewers who felt sorry for her might have considered the fact that this lady edits an art magazine, so I'm sure that she's got some other stuff going on in her personality and in her brain. But this book is mostly just about her sex life, and that's both a good thing and a bad thing.
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LibraryThing member jburlinson
Catherine Millet is a french art critic, author of the profoundly academic (read boring) L'art contemporain en France. She is also a swinger, who claims sexual experience with hundreds of men and women, often anonymously in a group setting. Any connection? Absolutely. The 20th century witnessed a
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deep interest in "conceptual art" -- art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. The artist Sol LeWitt put it perfectly: "In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art." Millet has simply applied this practice to the realm of sexual experience. For the word "machine" in the sentence just quoted, please read "woman", for the word "art" read "orgasm". The flat, unemotional prose, the decision to strip the characters of much individuality, aside for occasional penile peculiarities, and the resistance to much of any sense of continuity (either chronological or thematic) reinforce the integrity of the concept. The outcome is a noteworthy, if less than fulfilling, reading experience: much like, I imagine, an encounter with Ms. M. in a somewhat different context.
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LibraryThing member jenny71
so clinical, it's a boring read. although my male friends seem to enjoy the later chapters.
LibraryThing member 9days
First, a very brief synopsis:

This is the story of the author's sex life, from childhood to her open marriage. That's it, really.

I understand that ironically dispassionate accounts of this nature are supposed to be chic and clever, but it's really just pretentious and dull. If her story seems
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familiar, it's because it's the usual bored, priveleged girl attempts to entertain herself routine.

The sex scenes (if they can be called that) read like police statements. Again, this is supposed to showcase that blase' attitude, which in turn is supposed to be a marker of...refinement? It's lost on me.

It becomes increasingly obvious while reading that the author's "free" sex life is propped on boredom and popularity, and certainly not on a love of it.
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
As the title might suggest, this is a very graphic memoir, by turns equally salacious and detached. The critics found it highbrow, claiming it is a feminist statement and a reimagining of feminine sexuality. Personally, I thought it was more likely to be a case of the emperor having no clothes. A
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memoir detailing Millet's sexual life, from her childhood fantasies to her participation in group orgies and swinging to her open marriage, this is open and unashamed. But it is also deadly dull. Yes, a book about sex that makes you want to die a little, and not in the way of la petite mort.

I found it a little (okay, a lot) disturbing that Millet claims that some of her earliest memories are her sexual fantasies about group sex. It certainly makes one wonder what sorts of things a child her age had been exposed to in order to know enough to have these vivid and detailed fantasies at such a young age. The casualness of the sexual encounters surprised me, including the complete lack of worry about mundane things like protection or disease (condoms are mentioned once while male partners' proclivities for seeing others' bodily fluids and contributing to them are mentioned as if unprotected sex is par for the course. Obviously clap was a common occurrence as she mentioned alternative outlets when she was suffering from it. And there was never a thought for the significant others of some of her more frequent partners, only a few of whom (the significant others, I mean) are mentioned as participants in the casual, free sex world that Millet inhabits. Obviously this is not a book for the squeamish or the prudish. The language used in the book, whether as a choice of the translator or true to the original, is fairly slang-y and confrontational but ironically, even the shocking use of casual terms for sexual organs and actions can't save this book from snoozeville.

Millet tries to draw some parallels to the art world in her discussion of space and number and in her description of scene but it all falls flat. This particular edition contains an afterwod where she tackles the criticism that her writing about something so personal is detached and unengaging, suggesting that those who make this criticism are missing the point. But her argument that the only way to write about or observe sex is in a detached manner, even if the author is the person indulging in it herself, rings false. As a matter of fact, it suggests that sexual encounters with Ms. Millet are probably fairly unemotional, unfulfilling experiences all the way around, despite her assertion that she is complimented all the time on her prowess. But technical prowess doesn't always equate to satisfaction. And this book proves it. Technically adept writing-wise, the reading offered no satisfaction, emotionally or intellectually. Oh, and color me a prude because the repeated graphic depictions of entangled bodies indulging in group sex, flashed kaleidoscopically throughout the text, first horrified me, then numbed me, and finally bored me to apathy. And I've just recently read there is a sequel either in the works or recently published. I plan on turning a blind eye to what I suspect is more intellectual masterbation (ironic given that it is over group and free sex, eh?) in book form.
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LibraryThing member BeeQuiet
Modern art critic Catherine M. here details her sexual life, both in acts and in thought, from childhood to marriage in a way which provokes more thought than titillation.

I can understand the frustrations of people who have read this book and found it tedious in the extreme, however coming from a
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background of studying sociology and focusing especially on the sexual, I found it fascinating. Catherine's level of detachment allows for a more nuanced appraisal of her own sexual experiences, bringing in things from pseudo-psychoanalysis through to postmodern concepts of space. The ability to bring all this into a book centring on her own experiences of group sex and swinging is a feat in itself.

I would urge people to restrain themselves from running their own psychological profiling on Catherine M. in favour of accepting her own perceptions and accounts. I certainly felt I got a lot from this book simply by reading with an open mind.

In short, I wouldn't recommend this to someone simply for a thrill, however I would suggest it to anybody with a deeper interest in human sexuality.
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LibraryThing member TadAD
This is Catherine Millet's overview of her sex life, from being a somewhat precocious child to a quintessential 60s free love proponent.

Extremely explicit. So clinical, it's boring.
LibraryThing member satyridae
It surprised me to find I was bored nearly to death by this book. I expected to at least be interested, but Millet's deadpan blow-by-blow recitation of her sexual life is so flat, so unemotional, so uninvolving as to be clinical and, well, boring. There's no sense of who Millet is as a person,
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merely the robotic recounting of encounter after encounter.

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LibraryThing member name99
Ah, don't we all wish we'd met a divine Miss M somewhere in our youth?
LibraryThing member annais
to date, this is the most daring of all books that i have under this genre. for one, the author didn't even use a pseudonym. previously, i have classified this under erotica. after a careful consideration, i decided to classify this as porn... but i must say, this is pornography at its finest. in
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this book, the author recounts her experience participating in group sex. the details were well-written although not necessarily in a lewd way. this book answers the questions: how low can she go? and how dirty can it get?
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LibraryThing member Ken-Me-Old-Mate
Imagine a person who is a gourmand, obsessed with food. They note every single ingredient in every dish, how they were mixed together and how that felt. Then every detail about how those ingredients were cooked and what it smelt like, what it tasted like, what it felt like to eat it and then what
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it felt like after the meal too. Now imagine that person is also a glutton.

Now substitute food for sex and you have the thread of this book. There is so much descriptive graphic sex in this book that it stood up on its own on the bedside table.

Sounds sleazy I guess but let me assure you that it is anything but. It is really well written and perceptive and engaging. You won't learn any new tricks from this book but you will recognise some honesty and let's face it, honesty about sex is pretty damn rare.

If you are caught up in morality, or even worse sexual politics, you will find much to feed your prejudices here. In fact there is so much to object to here that the church has had to employ eunuchs to read it, not me though!

I once read a very long article by the food critic, A.A. Gill. The article wasn't about food but it was about him going to LA to make a porn film with the industry professionals. Never a man to be afraid to take a wrong step it too was a revelation about the reality and the sheer physical endurance of those he worked with. He described them as athletes. To make a parallel from there to this book is no great step. This woman was gifted at the kind of sex she enjoyed.

Initially there was some much sex that I actually got splashed while reading it. But after a while the sex just fades away and her voice becomes much clearer and a clear voice it is too. I was touched by her bravery and her honesty.

Give how "weirded up" sex is in the media is really surprised me that such a book exists at all. You now what I mean, advertising is full of sex but you wont see and nipples and if anyone actually lets them slip, why, the entire media has a collective ejaculation about it.

This book is a real breath of fresh air and I guess you could say that it is one woman's way of normalising something that has long since ceased being normal and she did that by a most unusual form of sex to boot.
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LibraryThing member ennuiprayer
I read through some pages, but got caught up with school work and never returned to far it was good.


Prix Sade (2001)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

8.2 inches


0802139868 / 9780802139863
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