Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Sunday, May 11, 2014

In Defense of Bad Sex

By Corvidae (Guest Blogger)


A few months ago I attended a local science fiction and fantasy writing conference, FOGcon, held here in the Bay Area on the first weekend of March. Although it is a conference primarily about
speculative fiction, all sorts of avenues within that genre come up, including erotica. I was attending a panel whose discussion drifted toward themes in erotic writing when someone made an interesting
point:

Why isn’t there more bad sex in erotica?

Some people chuckled, of course, but the speaker was serious. Her argument came primarily from a sex-positive standpoint: she pointed out how many people build expectations of normal sexual behavior on the erotic material they consume, so for the sake of healthy development, it would be fair for erotica to include “bad sex” sometimes.

But no one wants to have bad sex, the audience murmured, so who would want to read about bad sex?

The conversation moved on, but that question has stuck with me. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come around to an intriguing idea: not only could bad sex be abstractly beneficial, but it might actively improve the story.

How? Well consider the following.

Take, for example, the science fiction and fantasy genres. We enjoy these stories for their hero/ines overcoming larger-than-life challenges in worlds beyond our imagination; in other words, achievements we yearn for. But how many of these stories have everything happening magically-perfect all the time? Where every battle is fought with top-score perfection and every villain brought immediately to their knees?

You can write such a story, sure, but odds are the reader won’t be as engaged as you’d like them to be. The reason for that is so simple it’s stressed in every book on writing-theory: Conflict = Plot. Without any conflict or build-up of tension, there isn’t really a plot.

I just learned recently (better late than never, really) about the old writers’ trick of adding conflict by Making Things Go Wrong. Don’t just have your characters jump from Point A to Point B, give them progressively larger obstacles to overcome along the way. A fun practice technique is to take a character and make her situation progressively worse and worse and see how she deals with things to keep moving forward. These obstacles make the story interesting, but they also help define your characters, in that your reader will get a deeper sense of who the character is based on how she deals with the challenge presented to her.

How does this apply to erotica? Well, quite simply, “bad sex” could be an interesting tool to Make Things Go Wrong. Don’t just have your characters jump straight to putting Tab A in Slot B. Instead, try incorporating unusual occurrences--physical challenges, emotional blocks, sudden introspection, maybe even things as prosaic people barging into fix the cable--and see how that affects not only the details of the sexual encounter, but the internal facets of the characters themselves.

For example: the other day I was reading a story by a friend of mine, Reyna Todd. Her upcoming novella, Ghuulden Girls, is an erotic fantasy novella that plays around with issues of gender identification in a few scenes. Though it is an erotic story, one of the highlights for me was a scene where two of the characters were engaged in much-lusted-for sex but decided halfway through that it just...wasn’t...working. The aftermath of this “bad sex” scene was some deeper introspection that led to them both evolving as characters, as well as playing a major role in advancing the overall plot.

Now, one could argue that these characters could have gotten hot and heavy in that scene and also developed through other, clothes-on methods. There’s nothing wrong with that approach in and of itself, but I argue that, as erotica writers, we can do better. Erotica already shows the scenes other stories don’t, so why not take things even further and show how those scenes--good, bad, and yes even
ugly--are inexorably tied up in the stories of normal human lives?

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About the Author

Corvidae is a biologist, a writer, and a near-lifelong fan of scandalous storytelling. She is an active proponent of sex-positivity, polyamory, and BDSM, both in her work and in real life. When not writing, what spare time she has is usually filled with yoga, dancing, and table-top gaming. Her first published work can be found in the Big Book of Submission  coming out this July from Cleis Press.

She tweets at @CorvidaeDream



11 comments:

  1. This is a great post, Corvidae, and a point well worth making. How can we write characters who feel real if their sex lives are perfect?

    Thanks for being our guest!

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    1. Thank you so much for inviting me! I am honored to be asked :)

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  2. Corvidae, this is an excellent post & also inspiring. i like to depict imperfect sex when warranted. it's part of using every aspect of the story to reveal something about the characters & provides opportunities for tension & conflict. ps- i know i've been away from ERWA for some time now, immersed in various duties relating to poetry & publishing, but i shall return :)

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    1. Indeed! It's definitely a challenge, I've been trying to wrap my mind around it since I thought of it, but I think it has rich promise overall. ;) And yay, we miss you and eagerly await your glorious return!

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  3. Interesting points, Corvidae. It's all too easy to get carried away thinking of mind-blowing sex scenes when sometimes the exact opposite makes the story better,

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    1. Yes, I think it's hard because--probably more-so than other genres--erotica is born of fantasy and our fantasies are often overly perfected, but *stories* are facets of life and life is never so. There is nothing wrong with erotic fantasies, but I am intrigued with the opportunities of storytelling as well.

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  4. I actually find "bad sex" to be a lot of fun to write. I've written several explicit scenes for plot or character purposes that I didn't want arousing. How else to capture the ambivalence that often accompanies sex?

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  5. If I want to read about bad sex, I read mainstream, or literary fiction, or well, any genre except erotica. Any level of explicitness seems to be acceptable, as long as the sex is unpleasant and the characters get punished for doing it. I feel like erotica is the only genre in which the author is 'allowed' to write sex that the characters enjoy. To me, the challenge is to write a good story AND good sex. Am I nuts?

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  6. I agree! Not only is 'good sex' somehow seen as not quite worthy of literature/mainstream fiction (although it may well be part of all sorts of stories), there is something puritanical about it. Seen as different from everything else in a story or a life. And over and above all this, mainstream/literature has all sorts of sex scenes, in great detail and at length, that are completely forbidden in 'erotica'. Which shows you how erotica is seen as a genre. In mainstream, 'anything goes' as long as it is a bad experience.

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  7. And: in a story about an intimate relationship, the sexual encounters are part of that story. Of course there would be all kinds of different experiences along the way. And there is so much between 'fantastic' and 'it just doesn't work'. In fact I would argue that the majority of sexual experiences are somewhere in between. Sex, in my opinion, is just like everything else. thanks so much for this article and starting the discussion. I want to support you in this!

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