Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ecstasy For All or Hell on Earth

by Jean Roberta


In about 450 BCE (Before the Christian Era), give or take a few years, a jolly Greek playwright named Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata, a comedy about a woman leader who ends the war between Athens and Sparta by persuading all the other married women of Athens to refuse sex with their husbands until they stop fighting. (Meanwhile, Lysistrata’s Spartan counterpart Lampito is doing the same thing on her side.) By the end of the play, all the men are so horny that they agree to a peace settlement, to be followed by a feast and an orgy. And the women are as horny as the men.

The logic of the play is unassailable. If you had to choose between killing “enemies” in a war while risking mutilation and death or enjoying every kind of physical pleasure, which choice would appeal to you more? If you, as a non-warrior, had to deprive yourself of sex temporarily in order to pressure the warriors into a lasting peace, wouldn’t it be worthwhile?

Centuries later, in the 1960s, the protest movement against the American war in Vietnam (re-)invented the slogan “Make love, not war.” This command, as compelling as it seemed, was about as effective as Aristophanes’ play. (In the real world, the war between Athens and Sparta caused massive damage to both sides and ended the “golden age of Greece.”)

In fantasy, any activity that creates sexual pleasure can solve most personal and social problems. Sex is a form of exercise that burns calories, it enables two or more people to transcend their basic human loneliness, at least temporarily, and it increases the participants’ knowledge of themselves and each other. It is earthy and spiritual at the same time. Being desired is good for the self-esteem, and having one’s own desire satisfied is an antidote to negative feelings of all kinds. The hippies of the Counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s proposed orgies and “free love” (sex outside the bounds of formal, committed relationships) as an alternative to materialism, the profit motive and organized violence.

We all know how that revolution turned out.

Ideas for erotic stories are not hard to find. I assume that sex fantasies are part of every person’s stream of consciousness. Utopian fantasies about ideal societies seem closely related to fantasies about satisfying sex. Erotic romance, with an emphasis on an evolving relationship between soulmates who live happily together ever after, seems like a logical component of utopian fantasy.

So why do I often have trouble completing either a work of erotica or of erotic romance in which all the characters get what they want? Because real life messes with my imagination.

In the real world, several decades after the advent of “Second Wave” feminism in the industrialized world (circa 1970), sexual harassment, gang-rape, and forced prostitution are rampant in countries once classified as “Third World,” and there is no evidence that these traditions are disappearing in the “First World.” I am well aware that my currently privileged life (secure job with good income, equal relationship) is an exception to the way most women live.

Lately, when I try to imagine a delightful scene of “ménage,” formerly defined as “group sex,” my mind’s-eye flashes on a scene of gang-rape on a city bus, committed by a group of male buddies who apparently assumed they would get away with forcing increasingly violent forms of penetration on a young woman who clearly didn’t want it, wasn’t ready for it, and hadn’t invited it.

Religious and cultural traditions in which all females are defined as worse than males in every sense obviously have an effect on male-female interaction, but violence against women is only part of the problem. Dread of sexual “perversion” results in homophobic persecution, and while same-gender couples in Europe and North America increasingly have the option of getting legally married, violence against unmarried non-heterosexuals, especially those known to be transgendered, is still widespread.

Deteriorating economic conditions for the majority of the population all over the world seem to intensify existing hierarchies of power. A man who doesn’t think he could be thrown in jail for beating his wife is more likely to take out his frustrations on her when he loses his job. An unemployed racist who blames immigrants (legal and illegal) for his poverty is likely to attack them one way or another.

The Athenians blame the Spartans, and the Spartans hate all things Athenian. The feast has been cancelled, and the orgy has been transformed into a massacre. After the most aggressive humans have killed off all the rest, the ultimate earthquake or tsunami is likely to swallow up the "winners."

The part of my mind that could be labelled “Leftist Puritan” warns me that thinking about sex when the world is on fire is self-indulgent at best. How can I think about tempting bodies when so many people lack the necessities for healthy survival?

The answer to Leftist Puritan comes from Physical Self. My skin, my sensory organs, my clit, my orifices, my spine, my fingertips all remind me that a desire for touch that leads to orgasm can’t really be separated from the experience of living in a human body. Puritan disapproval tends to separate my consciousness from the body it lives in. If I want to stay in touch with reality, trying to function as an ego floating in space is not the way to do it.

So, when looking for an erotic story idea, I bounce from fantasies that are hard to hang onto because they seem unbelievably good (or childishly naïve) to a joy-killing awareness of human violence and misery. And I’ve been writing long enough to know that reality can never be completely ignored, even when I’m describing a fantasy world. If a feast and an orgy on some distant planet (Pelopponesia would be a good name) are to grab the imaginations of earthlings, they have to be fleshed out in realistic detail.

For the sake of my sanity, I should probably limit my exposure to world news, and other writers should probably do the same. Yet if we want to write honestly about sex, we need to be aware that it is a language that can convey many messages, including some that seem paradoxical (whips and bondage to express fierce love or pride; sexual abuse or sexual rejection to express contempt). Sex is literally used to create life, to enhance life, or to destroy life.

In an earlier post in this blog, Lisabet Sarai claimed that real sex can be as good as our fantasies, and I believe her. I’ve been there too. Yet so much of what passes for reality convinces too many to give up hope. As sex-writers, we’ve taken on the mission of keeping the faith. It’s a challenge.

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10 comments:

  1. Thanks, Jean, for your analysis. You have highlighted the problematic nature of sex.
    I also write erotic stories and I also feel the same thing you say: "they seem unbelievably good (or childishly naïve".
    Perhaps, the problem arises when we consider the eroticism as "Erotic romance, with an emphasis on an evolving relationship between soulmates who live happily together ever after".
    I can't write these kinds of stories. I focus on a problematic aspect of sexuality, but problems haven't erotic appeal.
    The question is: the purpouse of erotic stories is to get excitation or make you think about sex in all its aspect?

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  2. Lady Flo, I think you've identified the problem for writers AND readers. I don't want to write a non-arousing story that is guaranteed to disappoint readers looking for reading-matter that will inspire a good wank (or session with a Significant Other), but that doesn't mean that no one should write about the problematic aspects of sex. Clear warnings that not all writing about sex has the same purpose or flavour seem to be needed.

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  3. I don't know if I explained well. I also want to excite readers, but at the same time I propose a critical issue.
    For example, in my novel "Sedotta e liberata" (in English can be translated in Seduced and released)I telling a F/F domination story. Some scenes are exciting for those who like this genre, but the ultimate goal is to bring the conflict of the slave into relationship with her mother.
    It is the problematic aspect of sexuality into this story, just an example.

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  4. Jean - I don't know if you remember Teresa Lamai's stories. She had a way of illuminating the uglier side of human nature and still writing an arousing story.

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  5. Lady Flo, it's true that arousal is often in the eyes of the beholder, so a story can show sex as problematic and arousing at the same time. However, to write a story that turns the reader on, the writer prob. has to be aroused! (Extreme, non-consensual violence turns me off.)

    Kathleen - oh yes, I remember Teresa Lamai's stories. They often involved jealousy and competition in the world of dance.

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  6. @Jean Arousal rather than problems...?...
    Do you think happy ending is necessary?

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  7. Ah Jean,

    When I read your post, I feel that I must be a naive optimist. And yet...as hard as it may be to believe, various statistics show that overall, social conditions around the world *are* improving, though the progress is spotty and occurs in fits and starts, with some backsliding.

    In talking of the sixties and seventies counter-culture, you write:

    "We all know how that revolution turned out."

    But did it really turn out so badly? Would we be able to write and sell (openly) the books we do if the "Free Love" movement had been an utter failure?

    Of course, I understand and appreciate your main point - that it's all too easy to violate the truth when you focus on the fantasy aspect in erotica, and that indeed, it's difficult to ignore the darkness.

    Sex is not simple. And neither is writing about sex.

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  8. With regard to Teresa Lamai's work - I edited a collection called Coming Together Presents Teresa Lamai, which I recommend highly. It includes her amazing BDSM novella "Planet Justine", one of the most intense and moving BDSM tales I've ever read.

    http://www.eroticanthology.com/presents%20%28Teresa%20Lamai%29.htm

    All profits from the book benefit Amnesty International

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  9. Thanks for the link, Lisabet!

    The "free love" movement of the 1960s and '70s did have some long-lasting effects on the general culture, but some of its proponents thought that love, pleasure & beauty would trump capitalism, the profit motive and organized violence. That didn't happen!

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  10. Surely the "free love" movement allows us today to write freely without being condemned in advance. Capitalism is an economic and political issue, in these issues the world is still conservative.

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