SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
For her new book, "Three Women," journalist Lisa Taddeo immersed herself in the sexual and emotional lives of three women over the course of nearly a decade. There's Lina, a Midwestern housewife who begins an affair to escape a sexless marriage; Sloane, a wealthy and beautiful New Englander married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other people; and Maggie, a young woman from North Dakota who suffers through the aftermath of a sexual relationship with her high school teacher, including a trial that did not end with his conviction. Lisa Taddeo joins us now. Good morning.
LISA TADDEO: Good morning, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: This book really dives deeply into the sex lives but also the experience of desire of these women that you profile. What made you want to explore that?
TADDEO: For two reasons, the first being that, I think, desire is one of the things that we think about the most. And it's also our biggest secret - the thing that sort of causes the most reticence to talk about. And I wanted to explore the nuance of that intersection. And the other thing is that, as women, predominantly, we've - we're talking a lot now about what we don't want, which is obviously vital and great. But we're still not talking about what we do want.
MCCAMMON: There's some element of taboo in the sex lives of each of these women - an extramarital affair, nonmonogamy, and in Maggie's story, a young woman who says she had a sexual relationship with her high school teacher. Did you intentionally want to explore taboo relationships?
TADDEO: I spoke to hundreds of men and women, people of all genders and sexual orientations. And, you know, for starters, these were the three people - not even women but people in general - who let me into their hearts and minds and bedrooms in such a, you know, granular level. And, you know, as far as these women and pain and et cetera, I think that, you know, when it comes to desire, there is often pain attached to it. That's where the most passionate parts of our lives come from. And I also think that we are either the heroes or the victims of our own narratives at any point in our years or even at any point in the day.
MCCAMMON: And how did you get these women? I mean, you say these are the women that would open up to you. And they really do in this book. I mean, they tell you granular details of their sexual and emotional lives. How did you get them to share that much with you?
TADDEO: There's an element to people just wanting to be listened to about their lives. And each of them had, you know, communities that weren't listening at all. Maggie, in specific, had an entire community basically, you know, not believe - not even not believe her - just not listen. And Lina's was - she knew that despite all of these parts of her life that were so difficult to live through, you know, her impending affair that she was going to have after her husband not touching her for a long time and not wanting to kiss her on the mouth anymore and saying that the sensation offended him - she knew that people were going to judge her. And they did. And so I think the element of being unseen and unheard is one of the most painful things that human beings can experience.
MCCAMMON: I want to talk about Maggie more. You tell the story of her relationship. She, again, is an underage high school student. She has a relationship with her teacher, who's in his late 30s. In your book, you describe both these feelings she has for him and sort of her confusion about them and the way it affects her as she gets older. How did you think about that sort of tension between the fact that you hear her wanting this or at least describing wanting this and yet she clearly is just too young to really consent to a relationship like this?
TADDEO: For Maggie, I think that, you know, with this - one, it's the attention of a authority figure - not just that, but someone that she really respects. And, you know, she wasn't - he was telling her, you're smart. You know, you are someone in the world. And she came from a place that didn't exactly do that for her. So that was - you know, she was being exalted by this person that she so respected. But at the same time, I think that that would've been enough. She just wanted, like, a bouquet left on her doorstep. So I think that where it went from there - that's not what she wanted, even though she didn't really know that at the time.
MCCAMMON: There's a lot of drama. There's a lot of complexity. There's a lot of pain, as you've noted. What I don't see in this book is sort of a vanilla, monogamous, long-term, happy relationship. Does that say anything about those kinds of relationships?
TADDEO: Sloane's relationship is genuinely a really happy marriage. I mean, of course, there's some confusion there. And because it's aberrance, I think that it's not easy for people to see that it's a happy marriage. But, you know, she had said to me multiple times - and, you know, that her husband comes up behind her when she's looking in the mirror. And he's like, you are the most beautiful woman in the world. You are my fantasy. And I think that there's so much power in that, especially with getting older and all of those things - the idea that this person is just in love with you. And maybe he likes to, you know, do other things in the bed. But ultimately, she says, I know that my husband wants me above all other things. And there's a lot of stuff that happens that is not vanilla, as you said. But at the same time, I know that she is happy. And I think her marriage is truly a happy one.
MCCAMMON: These are all, of course, distinct women, but was there a throughline - was there some big takeaway, some insight you gained about the way women experience sexual desire?
TADDEO: You know, women experience it. I believe, and it's what I've, you know, observed by talking to, you know, hundreds of people that, you know, we experience desire in a very complex way. We don't compartmentalize it. It sort of lives at the top of our brains at every moment. And, you know, along with that, it's - you know, men for centuries have had their desire. You know, it's not - it's just a - it's a fact of life, whereas women's is not considered that. There's the Madonna and the whore aspect. There's still so much judgment. And I hope that by showing these windows into three people that other people will feel more comfortable sharing their own stories and less shame because there's a sort of guidebook the way that Maggie does not have a guidebook for. Like, she's a social worker now. And she is giving other women the guidebook for what she did not have.
MCCAMMON: Lisa Taddeo's new book is "Three Women." Thank you.
TADDEO: Thank you for having me. [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION:Previous audio and Web versions of this story omitted the outcome of Maggie's teacher's criminal trial.]
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