January 25, 2016

Talking Shop: Discovering Myself through Erotica

There are a lot of reasons I enjoy writing romance and erotica, not the least of which is sheer enjoyment. I recently realized these genres are the only ones where I find myself capable of writing something actually literary, something more than simple fiction. That’s not to say fiction and genre storytelling aren’t wonderful ways to express one’s writing passions; I prefer a good escapist fantasy over heavy literary tome any day. But I find it fascinating how deeply erotica can reflect subtle truths about the human condition and the people we truly are.
One thing erotica has allowed me to do is to fully realize my own sexuality. As a child I understood the hetero-normative view of the world. When I wanted to kiss my female best friends, I knew full well I’d be going against the status quo. I knew never to tell a female friend I loved her without qualifying it as platonic. I understood that I was STRAIGHT, 100%, because I had a boyfriend.


But I also knew that women were beautiful. I knew I loved to draw them and I loved the sight of their nude forms. I knew I felt more interest in them, aesthetically, than I did men. I knew when my scene partner in drama class grabbed me and kissed me on the lips—demonstrating a means of kissing without actually touching by placing her thumbs between us—I really did wish she’d meant it for real.

I made it out well out of high school and into college—and an ever-deepening intimate relationship with a male partner—before ever admitting I might be less than 100% straight. I’m probably not the first person in the world to discover the infamous Kinsey Scale and be utterly flabbergasted by the idea I didn’t have to be entirely one way or the other. The concept of bisexuality, not completely unknown to me, was suddenly visible and tangible. And I, very nervously, floated the idea to my fiancée that maybe I did harbor a little bit of sexual attraction for women, too.

Thank God for a man who listens. My fiancée—now husband—never batted an eye at the idea his bride-to-be might be fantasizing about women behind closed doors. In fact to this day he remains the least concerned and least put-out by my growing understanding of myself as bisexual. My family likes to pretend it’s a phase or just the eccentricity of a writer who’s tripped her way down the path of “smutty books”. My mother plays off any mention of it as a joke, and if she’s really pressed she points out my husband as proof I’m really, actually, straight.

But all that is just fine. My partner appreciates me for who I am. My friends accept it. My family doesn’t have to acknowledge it if they’re not comfortable.

The gap of years between discovering the Kinsey scale and connecting all those moments when I wanted to love girls instead of boys, though, and my current ability to readily call myself bisexual, took quite a bit more time and understanding. This is when I really began writing erotic fiction. In fact, the very first erotic piece I really sat down and wrote—Life Drawing—was at its core a look into my own curious discovery of sexual orientation.

Erotica has allowed me to explore my own sexuality in ever-increasing ways, and at a wonderfully safe distance from any disruptive influences (like my reluctant mother and her attempts to laugh it all away with the reassurance I married a man, and that is that).  With first Life Drawing, and later Lotus Petals and Satin and Steel, I opened myself up to exploring the landscape of lesbian attraction and interrelationship. Even today, I couldn’t exactly put in words the sort of distinctions I discovered between different characters and different situations, or name to you exactly what each tale said to me about my own feelings, but I understood myself more and more each time I opened a new door through my fiction.

It started with the fantasy of giving another woman oral sex. This was something I examined while I wrote Life Drawing. The concept of a larger, more far-reaching relationship became more and more real to me as I focused on it in Lotus Petals. In Satin and Steel, I connected with the ‘bad girl’ side of my sexuality, and the desire for sometimes rough, sometimes loveless, completely selfish sex with a girl.

But I’m not a lesbian. I’m bisexual, and it’s a different thing entirely. But that’s another distinction I felt my way through while writing. Because my bisexual characters are different from my gay characters and my straight characters. It’s easy to think they’re just “in-between”, but when you write them and you delve into them and you get to know them, you realize it’s not that simple at all. Bisexual characters have different expectations, different desires, and different needs in same-sex relationships as opposed to opposite-sex relationships. Their view—just like my view—is not a matter of simply being open to sexual intimacy with either gender. It’s more nuanced.

Nuance is a factor I pick up on most when I can see it on the page. When my bisexual character responds to her surroundings and situations; when my gay character is faced with assumption and labeling; when my heterosexual character stumbles into a situation with a same-sex secret admirer. One can never really assume things will always go according to plan.

Writing erotica and erotic characters opened my eyes to even more subtle gradients between the black-and-white of gay vs. straight. It leads me to understand the concept of a “singular same-sex attraction”, or how a gay character identifies him or herself based not on actual deed, but on emotional and mental self. The genre of erotica opens up not just avenues of the straight-bisexual-gay continuum, but of polysexuality, pansexuality, asexuality, intersex, and so on. It opens doors not just into the insight on sexual orientation but sexual personality: connecting with those lifestyles and fetishes you don’t yet understand, but want to understand. One could repeat my journey to enlightenment over bisexuality with a similar journey into BDSM and power exchange, threesomes or swinging.

The fact is, I’m a writer before I am anything else, and a storyteller, and a fantasizer. Escapist literature is wonderful, and I love to tell it. But all stories carry a weight of some truth in them, not just for the reader, but for she who put pen to page. I learn when I write; I learn about myself when I write. I learn about my own real self, and needs, and love. And that may be one of the most liberating and empowering things in writing erotic literature.


  1. Thank you for writing this Brantwijn.

    Your final lines say it all. xxx

    'I learn about myself when I write. I learn about my own real self, and needs, and love. And that may be one of the most liberating and empowering things in writing erotic literature.'

  2. Just wonderful. You have a much clearer view of yourself than I do. You have taken the time and had the experience to put thought to motion and in so doing, evaluate yourself. I'm still a bit confused. More so because I know what I like, and it crosses over both genders, but also because I haven't given myself the opportunity to put desire and need into practice. This will change as opportunity arises, but I wish I'd done something about it many years ago. Actually, I did, when in college...so many years ago, but I have never revisited that moment, and have always chalked in off to being in love with a person and not specifically with someone who happened to be of my sex. At fifty, college is thirty years in the past and it took my writing to transit all those years and to remember vividly just how much I loved the experience and the woman with whom I shared such a loving and erotic experience.

    I'd always been conscious of my looks and how easily I turned heads. Emmanuelle and I have had this discussion and the ease with which good looking people who have the gift travel the world and get what they want. But I have sometimes felt it a burden to not be sure that those who come into my circle actually see me or just my shell. Yes, with time, I can tell, but it is that initial moment which confounds and brings out all the insecurity which prevents trust and presents me with the ability to approach lust and love with reckless abandon. Once married with children, whatever fantasies I might have had were simply placed on the back burner.

    When I wrote The Summer of 71 and presented it to a publisher who asked if there were any same sex elements in it and then my short story The Exchange Student, I knew that I still had a strong bi-sexual drive within me and now that my girls are growing beyond their college years and my marriage has come apart, I see myself in a different light. We'll see where this goes. I am certainly not as brave as the characters I write and less likely than they to put desire and need into motion.

    Needless to say, I am who I am and can see myself with greater clarity as I write the people I love, most of them being me in any case. Each of my characters are me, men or women, young and old, they are me. I still like what I see when I look in the mirror and that comes out when I write, but my protagonists aren't laden with the same degree of hesitancy that I endure.

    I loved reading your few paragraphs on this page. Your words settled me and made me happy. They give me strength. Thanks for that Brantwijn.

    Rebecca Branch


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