Out of Estep

But despite some almost terrifying sex scenes, Soft Maniacsis an optimistic book. It ends with monogamy, with a patient nurturing a shrink, and with the adoption of dogs and children-a sign that, at 36, Estep is far from the jaded pundit she may have seemed on MTV. "I think it's about having hope in human relationships in the face of adversity," she says.

She now writes full-time, delving into research for a new project on 19th-century female gangsters that will take shape both as a novel and as a spoken-word opera in collaboration with Elliot Sharp. In the context of that work, she doesn't see Soft Maniacsas an investigation of male sexuality so much as a look at the relationship of the sexes at this moment in history. "The way women were treated until very recently was really, profoundly abysmal," says Estep. "Things have changed around a lot, and now it's so interesting to see these powerful women and these men just utterly rendered into jelly by them. I'm fascinated with that."

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