Michel Houellebecq: “I Still Haven’t Made Up My Mind Whether Sex Is Good or Not”

Michel Houellebecq talks sex, frustration, and prostitution in his 2010 Paris Review interview:


Of course, it was the numerous sex scenes that got you a lot of attention in the media.


I’m not sure that there are such an unusual number of sex scenes in my novel.
I don’t think that’s what was shocking. What shocked people was that I
depicted sexual failure. I wrote about sexuality in a nonglorifying way. Most of all I described a basic reality: a person filled with sexual desire who can’t satisfy it. That’s what people don’t like to hear about. Sex is supposed to be positive. Showing frustrated sexual desire is obscene. But it’s also the truth. The real question is, Who is allowed to have sex? I don’t understand, for example, how teachers survive with all these alarming young girls. When women become sexual tourists, that is even more hidden, shameful, and taboo than when men do it. Just as, when a woman professor puts her hand on a student’s thigh, it’s even worse, even more unspeakable.


A constant refrain in your novels is that sex and money are the dominant values of this world.


It’s strange, I’m fifty years old and I still haven’t made up my mind whether sex is good or not. I have my doubts about money too. So it’s odd that I’m considered an ideological writer. It seems to me that I am mostly exposing my doubts. I do have certain convictions. For example, the fact that you can pay a girl, that I think is a good thing. Undeniably. An immense sign of progress.


You mean prostitutes?


Yes. I’m all for prostitution.




Because everybody wins. It doesn’t interest me personally, but I think it’s a good thing. A lot of British and Americans pay for it. They’re happy. The girls are happy. They make a lot of money.


How do you know that the girls are happy?


I talk to them. It’s very difficult because they don’t really speak English, but I talk to them.


What about the more commonly held idea that these women are victims who are forced into these circumstances?


It’s not true. Not in Thailand. It’s just stupid to have objections about it.


  1. ccllyyddee · March 6, 2012

    Take a deep breath of fresh air.


  2. Jessica · March 6, 2012

    shakes head and walks away……….


  3. akingatnight · March 6, 2012

    wow, I held one of his books in my hand at the store the other night. I seriously was planning to buy it and for some reason I didn’t. was it god telling me not to?

    I mean seriously, even my old buddy Bill Vollmann would laugh at this, and he loves prostitutes more than anyone! “Not in Thailand” he says? no sir, no sex trafficking in southeast asia, don’t be ridiculous.

    Was the part where he quoted his age meant as a opportunity for us to disregard his opinion on everything? I’ve never read one of his books, but do I really want to start now?


    • Biblioklept · March 6, 2012

      I’m about half way through his latest, The Map & The Territory and it’s okay. I really liked The Elementary Particles. Both novels have all kinds of internal failures, but he’s doing something very different—it’s in line perhaps with J.G. Ballard or Cronenberg, perhaps, but also, like, I dunno—like it’s almost that he’s writing an essay.

      Anyway, I think he’s hard to puzzle out statements like these (his interview above), which seem to show a profound lack of self-awareness, as well as just basic awareness as well. In Map & Terr, he creates a fictional version of himself as one of the main characters—it’s kind of a parody, I guess, of how the media represents him, but it’s also very, very negative. His characters are generally creeps, borderline autistic, or borderline nihilists.


  4. Thom · March 6, 2012

    Having lived in Southeast Asia for several years, I must say that he is correct about prostitution in Thailand. It’s quite a liberated profession there. If you were to take hide the titles of their positions and compare the working conditions and a Thai prostitute with, say, a PVC pipe sales manager, who left college with $50,000 in debt and owes money on his house and car while working in an air conditioned office in a Chicago suburb, you’d probably find the former is much better off.


  5. atoasttodragons · March 6, 2012

    I find it difficult to believe his portrayal of prostitution is as rosy as he is making it out to be.


  6. Pingback: Michel Houellebecq: ‘I’d have been safer taking LSD’ | What's On Scotland
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