Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Monday, February 27, 2017

Getting to the Good Parts

by Jean Roberta

The introduction of sex in a work of fiction can feel problematic for several reasons: sex has traditionally been considered “unspeakable,” something that can’t and shouldn’t be described in detail, at least in the social mainstream, and sex is considered an exceptional activity, a form of interaction that is completely different from any other. Of course, sex is different from every other shared activity, but even the most casual hookup is usually preceded by a comment or question (“Looking for a good time, sailor?” “Are you alone?” “Do you come here often?”).

The challenge for an erotic writer is how to get from here to there. Going beyond conversation to the shedding of clothes usually means shedding certain readers as well. Erotic writers know that some readers won’t read writing about sex, even if these readers actually have sex lives, and even if they bring murder mysteries with them to the beach for “light” reading.

Besides all this, there still seems to be an amazing amount of confusion about what is sexually acceptable in the real world. I recently had a conversation with my stepson (age 36, and a veteran of several serious heterosexual relationships) when he agreed to drive me to the home of a fellow-volunteer counsellor on the local sexual assault line so I could pass on the satchel that contains a mobile phone for emergency calls.

Stepson seemed to feel he was under suspicion of various crimes just because he is male. I assured him that I trust him more than I trust most men, having known him since his ninth birthday.

My assurance apparently didn’t ease his discomfort enough. He told me that when he sees an attractive woman, he wants to have sex with her. I wasn’t sure if he was confessing a sin or defending his male nature against a particularly feminist form of prudery. I told him that wanting sex is fine. (He knows I’m an erotic writer, but this fact often seems to slip from his consciousness.) I explained that wrestling a protesting woman to the ground or putting a drug in her drink to knock her out is not fine; in fact, those activities are crimes. He implied that no sane man would do any of those things, but he still seemed troubled.

I was aware that a stepmother-stepson relationship is an awkward context for a conversation about sex that is not intended as foreplay. For all practical purposes, I am one of his parents, but we’re not actually related by blood. I still feel as if someone needs to explain the concept of consent to him as thoroughly as possible, but I doubt if I’m the best person to do that.

I wonder how many other men either feel like criminals because the sight of attractive women excites them, or who feel entitled to do whatever they have to do to overcome most women’s refusal to have immediate (unpaid) sex with strangers—or with men they know too well.

A fellow erotic writer recently suggested to me that none of us are “politically correct,” which apparently means that scenarios about men using force or deception to have sex with women shouldn’t offend any of us. It’s not as if any erotic writer was ever a young woman who needed a job, and didn’t want to be tricked into a sketchy situation involving non-consensual sex and no pay, with the risk of getting killed. And it’s not as if any erotic writer was ever a woman who wanted human status.

As I’ve said here earlier, my fantasies about true sexual freedom (without degradation, contempt, or various forms of punishment) take place in an alternative world because I’ve rarely seen it in this one. I can imagine a culture in which it would be perfectly acceptable for a person to approach another person for sex, and perfectly acceptable to accept or refuse. In the case of rejection, the seeker would just continue looking for a playmate. In the absence of sexual hypocrisy, homophobia, or a sexist double standard, the search probably wouldn’t take long.

In a fantasy novel that I read years ago (sorry I can’t remember the title or the female author), the question “May I offer you anything?” was widely understood to be a proposition, and the answer was often yes. The simple honesty of this form of etiquette appealed to me, and I wished I could visit that imaginary world.

So in the world we live in, as well as in the stories we write, how do we take two or more sympathetic characters from everyday interactions—in which everyone is fully dressed—to sexual ecstasy? A standard guidebook on sexual etiquette would help. More honesty and empathy in the culture at large would help more.

What would help the most would be a general understanding that no one is “out of character” when they are out of their clothes. Au contraire. The butcher, the baker and the cabinet-maker want sex is some form, with someone. So do the doctor, the lawyer, the accountant, your child’s kindergarten teacher, and the bag lady pushing a shopping cart.

I haven’t found a way to segue comfortably from non-sex to sex on the page without feeling as if some part of the narrative doesn’t fit with the rest. As my spouse often says, I want to live on my own planet.

As long as I am stuck on this one, I will be tempted to describe sex (when I do) in a culture that speaks what is still largely unspeakable here.
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3 comments:

  1. My brother, who labels himself as a feminist, told me once that when he felt desire for a women, he also felt ashamed, because that meant he was looking at them as "sex objects". I wanted to shake him.

    Really excellent post, Jean, and a great follow-on to Kathleen's musings a few days ago.

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  2. Wonderful post.
    I often felt ashamed when other men around me spoke or looked at women more as sex objects than as people. Having to act the same or be viewed as unnatural or wrong was degrading to me. I have a high view of women. That was somewhat dashed afterward when I rode with a pair of women in the van once speaking of men. It changed my mind completely on the idea of what many women might think when talking of and viewing men. They were more lewd and vulgar than the men I rode with.

    I read a book once called The World Inside. The interesting phrase the author used was "top you". I had no idea this was a BDSM phrase at the time, but it was the common sexual asking phrase in the book.

    Auel in her book Clan of the Cave Bear used a hand gesture of interlocking fingers since the clan had no true language.

    I've read many other books with different ways of signaling for sex between the species. I think humans are just the most obtuse about it because of what we allow to get in the way of our natural instincts.

    Again, I really enjoyed the post.

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  3. Great article Jean and I agree with everything you've said. Guy's are not typically the sharpest knife in the drawer. After all that's why a lot of us give our dick a name because we don't want a total stranger making all of our decisions for us.

    You can respect a woman and not have to be PC about it. The big thing is that both have to agree with it and while you may not realize it swingers go from "Lovely day outside, would you like to party?" in about the same number of words. When you go to a house party, you are there to meet other people and only have a finite amount of time, so you cut out the dating ritual.

    Not trying to be sexist here but a lot of people (men and women) like to be thought of as sex objects and there is nothing wrong with that. We can't always apply the same rules to erotica that we do to straight literature. You have a different audience with different desires.

    I like to look at the best seller lists on erotica publishers for the most popular topics. What you'll find is that the kinkier the topic, the more popular it is. As an author, I write what turns me on and as a business person, I need to keep in mind what turns others on as that's what is selling.

    Really good article and I'd love to hear more from you.

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