Interview: Why Gay Talese Got Naked for His Book

A novelistic report from the frontlines of the Sexual Revolution, Gay Talese's "Thy Neighbor's Wife" made waves when it was published in 1980 for reasons that had less to do with its content than its creation: namely, Talese's decision to get naked with his subjects. With an updated edition in stores and a new marriage memoir in the works, the author talks to Andrew Romano. Excerpts:

ROMANO: You've been criticized for participating in some of the activities at Sandstone. Was it necessary?
TALESE: I couldn't stay in the press box. It wasn't a Rose Bowl game. I was covering a sexual scene of intimacy, of visual stimulation and sexual satisfaction and sexual misadventures and angst and anger and all kinds of human emotion. I wanted to go there and I wasn't going to be watching from afar. You couldn't be [at Sandstone] with your clothes on. And even if your clothes were off, you couldn't sit with a pencil and pad.

How did your wife react?
Her reaction was not one of horror. She knew how I went about my work. I get involved. What she did not want to be part of was having her personal life exposed because of my willingness to talk about the project in the press, which portrayed me as a middle-aged, married pervert. She even left for a few days.

So few of these "liberated" people wound up happy. Why?
Maybe too much was made of sexual pleasure. Sex doesn't matter that much, isolated from the relationship.

Did we learn anything from Sandstone?
Sandstone was preaching consensual adultery. But they were also preaching that while the sexual act can be pleasurable, it doesn't have to be so weighty or significant that it terminates a relationship based on love or respect. By emphasizing sex they were trying to minimize it. I never did have an excessively good time there, by the way. But I got a good story.