Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

When You Poke the Sex, What Comes Out?

One of my favorite erotica stories is by Patrick Califia. (No surprise there.) “No Mercy” (which can be found in his collection of the same title) centers Terry, who is in an abusive D/s relationship with Heather, and on the cusp of finding her way out of it. The story begins as they approach a piercing shop to finally get the genital piercing that Terry has wanted for a long time. Her body could not accept the piercing from Heather, she kept safewording as the moment was approaching, so they decide to go to a professional piercer. The first 8 or so pages are filled with the lead-in to the piercing. Heather thinks of the piercing as a last ditch effort to save the relationship, and Terry thinks of it as another step away from the relationship. The tension in the story builds until the piercing is done, and once it is complete, Terry bursts out with a flow of words. The piercer, a leatherdyke herself who becomes a key character in the rest of the story, explains, “Once you poke a hole in somebody, something frequently comes out.” The piercing, which is hot in and of itself and also incredibly satisfying, is also holding so many other things for all the characters involved. It is this transformational moment, this intensely loaded thing.

Sex and kink can hold so much in them, and Califia is one of those writers that deeply embraces this reality, and uses the sex and kink in his stories to nudge the reader to grapple with the things he cares about. He’s pretty upfront about it too. In his essay, “A Insistent and Indelicate Muse”, printed in M. Christian’s brilliant collection The Burning Pen: Sex Writers on Sex Writing, Califia says:
“I like to use the cover of eroticism to entice the reader and make them emotionally and psychologically vulnerable to new ideas or discomfiting information. I hold out the reward of dirty talking in exchange for the reader stretching their political muscles.”
Califia is upfront about wanting the reader to stretch, to see the things that sex is holding inside itself, to grapple with those things in reading his stories.

When I started writing erotica, it was about reaching for my desire, trying to envision it and make it real for myself. My early erotica is full of my fantasies about BDSM, but more than that, about my fantasies of being seen, witnessed, and met in the wholeness of who I am, particularly around gender. I wrote a story about being seen and desired as trans by cis gay men. I wrote about being witnessed and desired as a genderqueer femme by queer trans men. I wrote about being desired as a submissive boy by a trans man, and as a femme dyke by a butch dyke.

These stories, these fantasies, were as much about gender and queerness as they were about spanking, or pain play, or sucking cock in a bathroom or an alley. They were imagining a sexual universe where I was able to be in the fullness of myself, and be desired. Because I was worried about that, worried about whether I was desirable in my gender complexity. Worried about whether the kind of queer kink I wanted was possible.

I am not worried about those things as much now; I bring other needs to my writing. But they often are still rooted in that desire to be recognized, that desire to create moments of recognition for readers, that desire to open up space that allows us to be in the wholeness of ourselves during kink and sex.

Erotica has been a place where I play with the ways we can feel seen and met in our desires, honored for all of who we are, witnessed and held in our vulnerability, as we show ourselves to our partners. That’s been a common thread in my erotica over the last 15 years of writing, because I find it to be one of the most gloriously hot aspects of sex and kink. I titled my recent queer kink erotica collection Show Yourself To Me to evoke that aspect of my work, to draw attention to the ways it is rooted in that place of yearning and meeting, of holding and celebrating, of showing who you are and being shown in return.

In a recent round table discussion on sex writing, Larissa Pham, who writes one of my favorite sex columns, Cum Shots, said:
“With Cum Shots, people would text me (saying), ‘Oh my God, you broke my heart again.’ This isn’t happy writing a lot of the time. Sex is just a way to talk about other things. You poke sex and a bunch of stuff comes out: power comes out, abuse comes out, emotions come out, trauma comes out, race relations come out.”
For me, writing stories about sex and kink has been a way to write about other things that I care about. You poke the sex and kink in my stories and a bunch of other stuff comes out, including the very things that Pham names in the quote above. Sex and kink is the arena where all that stuff takes place, shows its face, gets grappled with and held. I use my stories to illuminate ways I have found to create safe enough containers within sex and kink that can hold the things that come out when you poke.

When you poke the sex you are writing, what comes out? How do you grapple with that as a writer? How do you create stories that can hold it? How do you decide what stuff your story can hold, and where you need to limit that? What do you use sex to talk about?


  1. My first book had a divorced woman trying to reconcile her life, since the ex and father of her children had proclaimed himself gay and was now living with his partner. Since this actually happened to a friend of mine, I wanted to show her she could least in my book.

    My second book involved a woman in an abusive relationship with her ex, since another friend of mine was being abused by her husband. I wanted to "give" her wish-fulfillment, as the new man in my heroine's life defeats her ex twice, once verbally, and once physically.

    In another book I had the characters deal with all of the stages of Self-Actualization espoused by Maslow, as the main characters fall in love. He's an analyst, she's posing as a client. Once you finish the book you'll know all of the steps to achieve who you were meant to be...and it was painless, with no tests!

    In another book I dealt with the anger and trauma of growing up with a neglectful father who thinks of children as a waste of time, instead of as the joy they are meant to be. I dealt with the war between the Orangemen and Green Catholics in Ireland in another.

    I agree, we have all kinds of issues that appear in books that are genre-defined as romance or erotica. Sex is hugely important, but it's only one part of being alive. It intertwines with every other part of life in fiction, as it does in real life.

    I like to think of my books as erotic romance for people who think, and who are not afraid of big words.

  2. Another wise post, Xan. I started writing erotica at least partly to explore and express the way sex and particularly submission felt like a spiritual experience to me. I remain convinced that flesh is holy, and in my best stories, I hope I convey that.

  3. I loved "No Mercy" when I first read it! (It's in a story collection with that title by P. Califia, and includes a companion story, "Mercy.") It's very true that the best stories "about sex" are about other things as well.


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