Recently I read this article by one of my
favorite erotic authors, Tamsin Flowers. In it, she raises some very good
questions about the state of erotica, and the struggles erotic authors face.
Mainly, (to summarize), that our fiction, no matter how well-written, carries
with it the stigma of being little more than trashy, literary porn.
No matter how
well-written. This is a sticking
point for me, because I honestly adore some very, very talented erotic authors
(many of the same ones Tamsin discusses, including Remittance Girl, Malin James, Erzabet Bishop), and—speaking from
the point of view of a woman who has studied English Language and Literature
and has one hell of a nerdy hard-on for analyzing narrative—they write some gorgeous stuff.It’s beautiful not just for its eroticism but
its skillful writing, and provocative subjects. I don’t just mean graphic sexual content, but realms of idea, identity, kink,
and relationships that don’t see much exploration outside the realms of “smut”.
Remittance Girl, for example, has written an
intriguing novella about a polyamorous trio, titled Beautiful
Losers. The description for this book calls it “a love story but not a
romance… contains explicit depictions of sex in which gender and orientation
matter less than desire.”
I find that last part—“in which gender and orientation
matter less than desire”—to be particularly fascinating. Here we have a story
examining some very deep themes about friendships and relationships, sexual
orientation and the expectations thereof, and the possibilities (and
consequences) that open up when one embraces an alternative to the expectations
and definitions surrounding them. And this is not a romance, and it is not a lofty work of literary fiction
masquerading as something “hot”: this book is
graphic, it is sexual, it is brutally, beautifully intimate. It is also the
book which inspired me to finally find and explore a character concept I’ve
been toying with since seventh grade: a “perfect love triangle”. Beautiful Losers—though again, not a romance—inspired the trio of Finn,
Ninevah and Nerissa, from Goblin Fires and
the upcoming sequel, Elvyn Nights,
which focuses specifically on this polyamorous romance.
Losers—and, in fact, most of the very good and very talented
erotica that I read in books like the Mammoth
Collections of erotic themes—makes me curious. Besides being pleasing to my
sensual mind, it sparks feelings and questions and new thought.
And why should that be strange at all? Why can’t we
have erotic content that contains complex deeper themes as well as being sexually exciting or exploratory?
Tamsin’s post reminds us what we are to mainstream
readers: what my good friend refers to as “fap fodder”.Tamsin calls it “a masturbatory aid”.I like the phrase “a one-handed read”.
And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with writing
material that arouses people and gets them off. I’d be thrilled to know my readers consider any of my pure erotica, or my
erotic romance, hot enough to “inspire”.
But why can’t erotica
be both hot, and well-written? Well,
actually, the better question is, why can’t it be hot, well-written, and appreciated for being both?
I’ll take a minute to point out again that my
published works fall more into the realm of erotic romance than pure erotica,
and because of that I have it a little easier than some of the authors I’m
mentioning today. I get a little more room to play in my worlds than most
authors of erotica, because as Tamsin points out, in erotica you are pressured
to get to the sexual parts of your story right
the fuck now, whereas in romance you are expected to draw the story out and
develop relationships, love bonds, etc.It’s tougher to write and be recognized for more long-form erotica. That
being said, I have mad love for authors who do it anyway.
Because one thing I love and admire about erotic
material is its innate Fuck You to status quo. I love to read stories about
women defying convention and being unabashedly sexual. I love to read about
couples who get off on bedroom games most of the romance-reading crowd hasn’t
even considered yet. I love stories about public sex, creative sex,
multi-partner sex, scandalous sex, greedy sex, transgressive sex. I love to
read about alternative lifestyles and new expressions of sexual identity. I
love speculative sexual fiction.
And even though my books get to sneak by as romance,
this is the kind of sex I like to write about, too. I love writing graphic and
shameless sex; this is why Rhiannon in LotusPetalsuses words like fuck, cunt, and
pussy, and why she’ll be venturing
into a threesome in Satin and Steel as
well; this is why Reagan from GoblinFiresis an unabashed Cassanova, having four different sexual partners over
the course of her love story (and yes, it is
also a love story, a story about unrequited, beautiful, pure love, despite
the several other conquests of the lead character); this is why His Cemetery Dollfeatures graphic sex
including external cumshots and solo masturbation, even amid what I hope is a
very sweet romance. This is why my current work-in-progress, Lady in Chains, will include scenes of
anal sex, breast play, knife play, spanking, whipping, and homoerotic experimentation,
and still be about a romantic
connection. These are all things I find compelling, sweet, beautiful, kinky,
and moving. These are what I like in
a one-handed read, but also what I want out of a novel-length adventure. I don’t
see any reason they can’t be interwoven together (as might be obvious, since I’ve
already published three novel-length books with a fourth on the way, employing
I don’t believe
erotica deserves the sort of dismissal and condescension we seem to get from
the mainstream. We’re seen as writing pornography and smut.I’d say that’s not fair, but then again, I
also want to ask what the hell is wrong with pornography and smut?
Erotica goes a hell of a long way to helping bring
issues of sexual identity and community to light. It opens the doors for
conversations and openness about homosexuality and bisexuality, BDSM and
polyamorous pursuit, sex play and creative romance. Truth time: reading erotica
significantly improved my early married life, in opening my mind and opening my
mouth to discuss fantasy, desires,
and kink with my husband. It helped me to come out to him as bisexual, and
helped him to discuss with me fantasies he previously wasn’t comfortable
So let’s not let
erotica get shuffled into the toy chest, under the bed, behind the pillows, and
be called ‘trash’. Let’s accept that erotica is powerful and thematic, that it
goes beyond fap fodder, and that it’s not only okay to read it but good to read it: it opens up
conversation about important human situations. Let’s legitimize and discuss
what it says and what it means, and let’s recognize it as real fiction instead of reducing it to nothing more than smut,
trash, or porn.
Consider this a Part 1 of a 2-part discussion,
though.Because in order for erotica
authors to be taken seriously, we need to take ourselves seriously, and that means writing good material. Come back next week and we’ll talk about
writing material that deserves to be taken seriously.
In the meantime, here are some wonderful blog posts
from erotic authors I admire, on why they write erotica: