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:

INTERVIEWER

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

HOUELLEBECQ

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.

INTERVIEWER

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

HOUELLEBECQ

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.

INTERVIEWER

You mean prostitutes?

HOUELLEBECQ

Yes. I’m all for prostitution.

INTERVIEWER

Why?

HOUELLEBECQ

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.

INTERVIEWER

How do you know that the girls are happy?

HOUELLEBECQ

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

INTERVIEWER

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

HOUELLEBECQ

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