After many years of having (and mostly enjoying) an active sex-life, Sophie Fontanel—beloved French author, journalist, editor, and fashion blogger—decided she wanted to take a break. Fontanel’s memoir The Art of Sleeping Alone explores the reasoning behind this unconventional choice. It’s not quite celibacy, she explains, and it’s certainly not out of chastity. It isn’t a self-righteous restriction. Instead, Fontanel takes great pleasure in her solitude.
Now in paperback with a cover as charming as its Parisian author, The Art of Sleeping Alone is for anyone looking to curl up in bed with nothing (and no one) but a book. We caught up with Fontanel about her life, loves, and how readers have responded to the book.
Tell us about what you have been doing since you wrote the book. Has anything changed since your memoir was published?
Sophie Fontanel: I live alone. No boyfriend. And I’m still dreaming about love. But you know, dreams are tremendous adventures. I was in L.A for a vacation. Saw a lot of people dealing with reality while I was dreaming of Cary Grant, a dead man. I was super happy.
Another reason to be happy: I saw The Art of Sleeping Alone in a bookshop and was so happy. Partly happy for me and partly happy knowing I might help, a little, to change mentalities. All these dates full of desperate hopes. All this solitude completely taboo but actually full of joy.
Not everyone would feel comfortable writing about their sex life, or why they chose to abandon intimacy. Why did you want to tell this story despite the sensitivity of the subject?
Fontanel: You know, talking about what not happens is not really talking about what happens. I’m writing about an absence of sexual life. It’s not obscene. And if I sometimes go further and give some details, it’s always about the sensuality of being alone. On a bed. In a bath. Into the sea. It would be impossible to tell the details of the way I’m making love. Even if some authors do it very well, I’m too secret to deliver that part of me. But I admit that we, French people, feel very comfortable about the body. It’s easy to talk about it.
To the rest of the world, French women are perceived as perfect, effortlessly so. Did you sense a different reception from American readers, based on their assumptions about French women?
Fontanel: Everything you think about French people is true. The effortlessness, the easy relationship with some trivial and funny aspects of sex, etc. But I know a lot of French people who are unable to master the French attitude!
After spending some time in the US, I noticed that for French women, it’s not so important to be perfect, young, dressed with brands and whatnot. I think that the more asperities you have, the sexier you are. American readers might find it strange that I don’t mind being unmarried, the fact that getting older is not a problem for me. I hate pressure, and there is so much pressure in American society. If I could help to reduce the pressure a little, I would be useful. Sexually, I have stopped all the efforts! I’m very very effortless!
Instead of one heady, didactic argument against sex, you provide episodic, wistful reflections on your friends and their relationships. What was your writing process? Why did you choose to write in this style of musings rather than a more conventional approach?
Fontanel: There’s nothing conventional in me, except certainly my love for good education. Quite the same in a memoir… I wanted my book to be very free, and absolutely not self-centered. So I have tried to tell several stories, to listen to the solitude of everybody around me, the lies we think we have to tell about our sexual lives. The process was simple: show how the simple decision of not having sex could be a kind of revolution.
Working as an editor for ELLE, you have more than some experience with what’s viewed as sexy. What do you find alluring?
Fontanel: Great question. I’m now the Fashion Director at ELLE France. I like when a woman is able to wear large pants, which is not considered as sexy. I also like a black skirt, very “La dolce Vita,” which is very sexy. We have to play with opposite styles. And I like it. Sometimes I hate dressing to be sexy, and sometimes I adore it.
What words of advice would you share with readers who also feel uninterested in sex? What’s the most valuable lesson you took away from that period of your life?
Fontanel: I could say: are you uninterested in sex, or are you uninterested in bad sex? I belong to the second group. Bad sex is not sex. Especially without love. It’s just sex that leaves you unhappy, with a feeling of having wasted time. So try to just dream, dive into yourself, to understand what you really want. Frustration taught me a lot. Sometimes it’s simply impossible to sleep—I’m dreaming too much about physical contact. It’s delicious.