Thursday, February 21, 2013
Most people have crappy sex lives.
All right, I will admit that is an overstatement, intended to get your attention. Furthermore, I suspect it is less true for the readers of the ERWA blog than for the population in general. However, the claim is not too far from the truth. The Durex Sexual Well-being Survey for 2007-2008 found that of nearly 19,000 sexually active adults from 26 countries, only 44% reported that they were fully satisfied with their sex lives. 38% of women surveyed experienced orgasm “only sometimes”, “rarely” or “never”. Although more than 60% of all respondents reported having sex at least weekly, the average time for foreplay plus intercourse was less than 20 minutes. Almost half of the respondents said they would like to engage in some sort of sexual activity other than their current practices (though the reported interest in specific activities such as oral sex, anal sex or BDSM tends to be around 10% per practice – supporting the old adage about different strokes).
The statistics above tend to confirm what I've heard over the years from friends and lovers. Men feel as though they never get the sex they need. They're amazed and delighted when they meet a woman who's sexually relaxed, assertive and experimental (like me). Women report that men are selfish or incompetent lovers who leave them feeling frustrated and used.
Personally I've been extremely fortunate. Through a combination of luck and courage, I've had a wonderful sex life – exciting, diverse and enlightening. I've been blessed with intelligent, sensitive, adventurous partners who weren't hung up on the virgin/whore dichotomy, who respected me even when I shared – or acted on - the filthiest of my desires. I've tried everything on the Durex list of “other” activities, and quite a lot of other items not on their menu.
On the flip side, I've had very few really bad sexual experiences. Of course I've had ho-hum sex, and I've had my heart broken once or twice, but I've never been raped or abused. On the occasions when I've ended up with a bastard in my bed, I've known enough to walk away.
For me, sex has been a path not only to pleasure but also to self-knowledge. Some of my liaisons, of course, were no more than hot and heavy romps with few metaphysical implications. What I remember, though, are the encounters that changed me – experiences of communion, insights into who I was and what I really wanted, glimpses of spirit peeking through the veil of flesh. As C. Sanchez-Garcia wrote a few days ago, sex is more than just instinct or entertainment. The urge to couple and connect is a fundamental aspect of our humanity.
Because of my personal history, I tend write erotica that focuses on good sex – joyful, fulfilling, empowering, and transformative sex. The underlying message in much of my work is simply that sex can be good for you – both for your body and for your soul. I want my readers to know and believe that the sort of experiences I describe are not just some fantasy ideal. They too can enjoy their sexuality, not just vicariously by reading my stories, but by being willing to reach out and grab some of that goodness for themselves.
Earlier this month, Remittance Girl suggested that both porn and romance are in some sense damaging to their consumers because they “ultimately leave people constantly yearning for a reality that cannot exist”. Although I appreciate her point (as well as its elegant expression), sexual and emotional happy endings do in fact exist in the real world – not forever after, of course, but for longer than the brief moment of climax.
My erotica frequently explores this territory of sexual fulfillment. It's a far more complex landscape than one might imagine. Perhaps the critical difference between my work and the more stereotyped instantiations of either porn or romance is that satisfaction is never guaranteed. It is, however, possible. I fervently want to convey that truth.
Remittance Girl notes that refusing to definitively choose either side of the Apollonian/Dionysian dialectic is a revolutionary act. I agree. One should not compromise truth for neatness.
On the other hand, I personally think that writing about good sex that ends well is also a revolutionary act. Many forces in society broadcast the message that if you have sex, you'll suffer later, partly because giving in to lust can in fact undermine the stability that is the “civilized” ideal. A number of past posts on this blog have commented that for a book to be categorized as “literature”, sex must be portrayed in a negative light. Those who indulge in carnality must be punished, by misfortune or ostracism.
Well, guess what? In the real world, it doesn't necessarily work that way. My own life demonstrates that fact. Considering the way I behaved in my twenties and thirties, I should be totally miserable – damned, ruined, ravaged by disease, saddled with feeble illegitimate children, scorned by society. Instead, I'm solvent, healthy, childless by choice, moderately productive, a respected member of my community, and in a loving relationship. Oh, and I'm still close friends with a number of my former lovers. My mother told me I was destined for hell, and perhaps she was right, but in the meantime, I have no complaints.
I do write darker erotica sometimes. Some encounters are destined for tragedy. A number of my stories conclude with the deaths of the protagonists. A woman is burned at the stake as a witch. Star-crossed lovers commit suicide rather than be parted. A jaded sex addict is consumed by an exquisite tentacled monster. I have played in the interstices between Eros and Thanatos. Even in those tales, though, there's some sense of transcendence. On the verge of death, there's a weird joy that comes from surrender and acceptance – a kind of afterglow. I don't think any of my tales are likely to leave you feeling depressed.
I enjoy thinking about sex, writing about sex, dreaming about sex. I suspect this shows in my work.
If the people who read my stories come to believe that sexual happiness is possible, I'm delighted. If they want more for themselves – all the better. Maybe that will stir them to try something new, to move past their fears, to be more honest with their partners.
That would be the sort of revolution I'd be proud to support.