Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another Revolution

By Lisabet Sarai

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.


  1. I think this is a wonderful post, Lisabet. And I entirely agree with you that a story doesn't have to have terrible sex or a tragic ending in order for erotica to be literature.

    And, in fact, I wholly agree with you that writing about good sex and good outcomes can indeed be a very revolutionary act. But not when that good sex or that good outcome depends on an unrealistic set of tropes.

    It's my perception, Lisabet, that the type of good sex you write about doesn't require characters to have perfect bodies, empty minds, own Prada bags or apartments in NY overlooking central park. Nor do your happy endings require the formation of standardized relationships endorsed as 'normal' by our society at present.

    That is really what I was getting at. I think your stories DO indeed speak of interior transcendences. And leaving a reader with a sense of joy rather than depression is not innately unrevolutionary.

  2. It's not unreasonable to think that two (or mroe) people who meet and have fantastic sex would want to continue the relationship after this story ends. Is that happily ever after? Hopefully it's sexually fulfilled ever after, and I feel happiness can't be far behind if your sex life is satisfying.

    I'm also tired of the convention that sex must be bad or end in misery for the work to be literary. Given the habit of literary writers to hold eachother up to ridicule for even writing sex, it seems there isn't much maturity there. Jess Wells scolded me to "stop wasting your writing talent on crap" when she found out I wrote erotica. Apparently pleased with herself for saying that, she pointed to me (and another erotica writer) in the following class and repeated her comment. From bad sex writing awards to attempts at public humiliation, the literary writers have made it clear that good sex is not welcome in their genre.

    I reject their authority and gatekeeper status, much the same as I reject the demands of the romance genre people that there must be a happily ever after or happy for now ending for a story to be a romance.

  3. Your love of, and more notably respect for, sexuality radiates through every word you write, Lisabet. And the way writers show respect is by writing a good, intelligent story. I found myself grinning throughout this whole post because it is absolutely awesome to have living proof that sexual curiosity and experimentation and challenging social mores that are driven by fear can have a very happy ending indeed!

    I agree with RG that the good sex you portray is very different from the fantastical cliched sex that is fobbed off the populace. It really strikes me that by allowing only unnaturally gorgeous, absurdly rich demi-gods to enjoy themselves is another way of saying "pleasure is not for you, common people."

    It is indeed revolutionary to speak another truth--that it is.

    Write on and thanks for the smiles today!

  4. What a nice piece, Lisabet. Everyone takes such different routes in this genre. I loved all the honesty in this, very much.

    The first erotica I found very early was Erica Jong, and then the erotica classics -- D. H. Lawrence et al.

    I've had happy and sad endings as well in life, what you say resonates very much. The first piece I scribed long ago now for CS -- "Man in the Moon" was because someone had passed?

    I wanted to try and write the beauty.

    I see us as Literary, in the era of post-feminism. Voices that need to be heard as chronicle perhaps?


  5. I love this post, Lisabet. I've had very bad sex and very good sex myself. I've been that frustrated person on the survey, and I've been the person who couldn't wait to try some other wild new thing. Reading erotica was really what taught me to ask for and expect better sex. Authors like yourself who portrayed empowering, transformative sex made me start to believe that I could get what I wanted without being punished by the universe. I think it's very revolutionary, as you say, to portray sex positively.

    Obviously, as I think we've discussed previously, that can become its own sort of prison if done too slavishly. But when it's done authentically, it has great power.

  6. Hi, RG,

    I have to admit, I can't figure out why some people think designer artifacts are the ultimate in desirability. Actually, I was asked by my editor to write a story for an anthology called "Tied to the Billionaire". This publisher has put out a whole series of "Billionaire" anthologies - apparently they are wildly popular.

    Anyway, I'm doing a rather subversive take on the theme. My hero's a wealthy turn of the twentieth century industrialist who has everything he can buy - but not a willing partner with whom he can explore his BDSM fantasies.

  7. Hey, Kathleen,

    "she pointed to me (and another erotica writer) in the following class and repeated her comment."

    How incredibly boorish! (Not to mention childish.) She must feel really threatened by erotica.

    Some of the extreme reactions one gets have a great deal to do with the source of those reactions being uncomfortable with his or her own sexuality, I think. And the flip side must be that most erotica authors are more in tune with their sexual selves than the average individual.

  8. Thank you for your kind words, Donna!

    It's funny - all my life I've thought of myself as the "good girl", the conformist. Only recently have I come to terms with the fact that I'm an outlaw!

    And I relish that fact!

  9. Valentine:

    "I wanted to try and write the beauty."

    That's such a fabulous way to summarize the impulse to write. Even sorrow and ugliness frequently has a core of truth, and hence is worth holding up to the light.

  10. Hello, Annabeth,

    "Reading erotica was really what taught me to ask for and expect better sex."

    That is exactly what I dream of for *my* readers. I'd also like people to understand that it's not "just" sex - that sex has levels and complexities to explore, and that each foray into the sexual unknown can bear amazing fruit.

  11. This was a very inspiring piece. I greatly appreciate your posting of it. I have also enjoyed all of the comments and the replies.

    I believe that in this rushed society, we need to slow down and experience more. The sensations in life are what drive us and we miss so many. Emotions get confused by the animal within us and we get into bad relationships or encounters. Even emotions take time, which this society seems to no longer have for anything except work.

    I rebel against the notion of the mainstream community that sex is bad or only for the elite. If written with slow romance, sensuality and emotion it can be the most uplifting thing to read. This is what I try to write.

    I dream of sex as an ultimate fulfillment of emotion, mental, physical and spiritual being. I know mentally sex had to be more than just the joining of two bodies. As you said, "sex has levels and complexities to explore." I never find this in most books I read, so I began to write my own stories. Maybe I'm wrong, since I know so little on the subject but in my readings and study, I believe sex and love could be the gateway to true happiness and fulfillment for all.

  12. Thank you, Damian!

    I like your notions about "slow romance". Actually, I've been working on my latest WIP today and feeling frustrated that my characters are taking so long to get into a sexual situation. (For one thing I'm pressured by a word limit.) But I guess I have to just let them proceed at their own pace.

  13. Like you, Lisabet, I was told by my parents that I'd end up in a gutter somewhere, and thank God I had a tattoo so they could identify me! Now, many years later, they are both gone (I nursed them both through to their ends), and I have many tattoos, some of which reflect my husband of almost 30 years and our 4 kids. I was a wild thing as a youngster, and sometimes I remember the things I did and chuckle, thinking that person seems so far removed from who I am today. But I know it was me.

    A good sex life is least to me. Even if it is only with yourself, though it is much better if shared! That is what I taught our kids, and I fervently hope they will remember my words. I've jokingly apologized to them that since so many of their friends are from divorced/remarried parents, that I never gave them any step-parents. Their Daddy and I are still crazy about each other, and too bad for them! They laugh.

    I write about sex as a physical act, that can lead a person to realize that there can be more to it than that. Usually I have the man realize first that this is the woman he wants for himself for the rest of his life...because their desires match. That is the most important thing, and the reason I told my kids to NEVER marry as virgins. You need to know yourself, what you like and how often, before you agree to spend the rest of your life with someone who might have different tastes.

    BTW, I'm loving the topics on this site! I'm so glad I found you!

  14. hi Lisabet!

    You know already I've always envied your sex life. Most of us don;t get a chance to live it, youv;e lived it. Your stories have their own darkness or edginess in the difficulties your characters endure, but I think its your affection for them that soon they find fulfillment, something we would all wish for for all people.



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