All About Pleasure: Erotica Writers in Bondage

by | June 18, 2012 | All About Pleasure | 8 comments

by Donna George Storey

I always feel a flutter
in my stomach when I sit down to write a new story.  Part of me is excited by the blank page, pregnant with potential to be the most sizzling, sexy adventure I’ve
ever written.  But another part of me fears
that I’ve “lost it,” that what comes out will be the same old rewarmed themes
and scenes.  Once I get drawn into the
the story, however, I’m usually having too much fun for such worries.  Writing erotica gives me a sense of freedom
and possibility that I’ve never felt writing “literary” fiction or essays.  Exploring an important part of the human
experience that has so long been silenced, showing that sexuality can be joyful
and complex—no work I’ve ever done has enriched my mind and spirit as deeply.

The real constraints
appear when it comes to putting erotic stories out there in the marketplace.  Just the other day I learned that one of my
(non-erotic) publisher’s publicists refused to handle my book because she
thought it would taint her reputation.  She
hasn’t read the book, but in all fairness, it’s quite possible others would
judge her harshly without full knowledge of the contents as well.  Far from being discouraged, such an attitude
makes me all the more determined to write erotica, but it also reminds me that
writers are not subject only to the whim of the muse. 

Of course, it’s not as if
there aren’t plenty of books about sex, many selling phenomenally
well.  It occurred to me, though, that
the marketplace has certain categories and expectations of writing that
involves sex, categories that literary erotica in particular defies.  Even if we disagree with these assumptions or
intentionally subvert them as we write, the marketplace clings to what is
comfortable for the society as a whole. 
Thus, like it or not, erotica writers are bound by these
conventions—and, unfortunately, I’m not talking anything as fun as
rhinestone-studded handcuffs, suede paddles and safewords.  

I’d like to outline four
of the most prevalent ways our culture “allows” us to talk about sex.  The first has the deepest and widest roots,
the idea that sexual desire is the enemy of civilization and our higher nature.  Sex is acceptable only if properly controlled
by the institution of heterosexual marriage for the purpose of
procreation.  Otherwise the consequences of
carnal activity are damaging, even deadly. 
Not to deny maternal mortality rates over the centuries or the problem
of sexually transmitted infections still today, but this fear of sexuality is
expressed not just in abstinence education, but our popular and high-brow
culture as well.  How many movies, TV
shows and even literary novels rely on the rape and murder of a young woman to
provide pathos and suspense?  Of those
that don’t, how many involve ruinous adulterous affairs?  A “realistic” view of sex always emphasizes
dire consequences.  This is how we are
reassured the subject is being treated seriously. The Great Gatsby, for
example, is considered one of the great American novels.  Its themes are complex and varied, but if we
examine the sexual elements, well, doesn’t it all boil down to: “If you have sex
with people above you in social class and outside of marriage, you will die”?

There are some
exceptions—the Dutch movie Antonia’s Line comes to mind as a work that offers
both positive and negative views of sexual expression.  However, in the main, the safest and easiest
way to talk about sex and still maintain your reputation as a decent and
concerned citizen is to emphasize its evil side:  child molestation, unwanted pregnancy,
betrayal, sexual lust leading to the destruction of the social fabric
and the breaking of the Ten Commandments.

There are places where sex
can be portrayed as enjoyable, but only within the bounds of an erotic fantasy
wonderland, the Pornutopia we find in most X-rated movies, Penthouse letters,
and many erotic stories (including, I will admit, some of my own).  In this world, all the usual rules we learn in
our ordinary lives are suspended.  There
is no need to court a potential sex partner, they come on to us within minutes
of first meeting.  There is no disease,
pregnancy, judgment, regret or guilt. 
Everyone reaches orgasm easily and often and is eager to try taboo
acts.  At first blush this may seem an
unfettered celebration of sex, but this fantasy world comes with restrictions
of its own, which keep sexual pleasure securely within the realm of the
impossible.  Any hint of ambivalence or
complexity ruins the illusion.  My work
was once criticized for this sin by a professional writer (not an
eroticist).  He said every time he
started getting turned on, I’d use a big, fancy word that would ruin the
mood.  Pornutopia requires its own brand of
purity.  Literary turns of phrase or any
whiff of authentic complexity are the taboos here.

Some of the most enduring
bestsellers in publishing are not fictional accounts of sex, but scientific
studies of human sexuality.  In this
case, safety and respectability are provided by an objective expert casting his
cool, rational eye upon our base, animal urges. 
Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, The Hite Report, Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, all of
these books have escaped censorship, if not notoriety, because of their scientific
credentials.  If the author doesn’t have
a Ph.D. after her name, she must include a bibliography with copious studies
and references to give the properly sanitized presentation.  Yet this mode of presenting
human sexuality also has its distortions. 
There is a temptation to transform human experience into numbers, focus
on the bizarre extremes, and present a model of what is “normal” or at least
average.  Objective it may seem, but even
scientific studies should be viewed with a critical eye to the ways our cultural
assumptions shape the “truth” about sexuality.

Comedy is yet another way
that sexuality is rendered harmless.  In contrast to the tragedy and death in
literature and melodrama, this view of sex focuses on the
awkwardness, the farts, the hairy parts, the gaffs.  This is the typical approach of memoirists in
magazines.  If the author and her husband
attempt to act out a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, you can be
sure the result will be ridiculous, and she will inevitably
conclude she and her husband are too pedestrian (read “normal”) for such
perversities.  There’s nothing wrong with
seeing the humor in sex, or with getting in touch with our inner
seventh-grader, but since the intended response is giggles and not something
more dangerous like genuine arousal, the idea of sex as shameful, embarrassing and adolescent is dutifully preserved.

There are other
strategies by which the disruptive power of sexual desire is neutralized
while simultaneously used to titillate and seduce us to buy books and other
consumer goods, but these four main approaches are the most common I’ve
observed.  Of course sex actually does
have negative consequences at times, but its pleasures can also help us transcend the restrictions of our daily lives.  Sex does deserve
educated observation and analysis and can certainly be funny, witty, amusing,
and even ridiculous.  Yet as artists who
deal with sexuality, it can only benefit erotica writers to be aware of the
deeply-rooted assumptions we face from the publishing industry so that we can
challenge–or indeed utilize–them for our own benefit. 

So, the next time you see
a sex scene on TV or read an erotic story, take a step back and question the
implications of the story line.  What if,
instead of getting raped and murdered, an adventurous and sexually curious
young woman has a great time with that dark stranger? Could a couple try out
partner swapping and decide they actually aren’t comfortable with other
swingers, but be glad they had the experience anyway?  Are the questions asked in the survey of
sexual activity you’ve just read in Cosmopolitan biased in a subtle, or not so subtle, way? And what if a suburban
couple tries out bondage and ends up giggling, but also discovers the experience
adds a new level of trust and excitement to their relationship? 

This level of realism
has yet to be explored in the mainstream media, but as we sit down to write our
next story or essay, with a fluttering stomach full of hope and uncertainty, we
may indeed find ourselves taking a less-traveled path.  And, my fellow writers, isn’t that what the
adventures of both sex and writing are all about?

Donna George Storey is the author of the erotic novel, Amorous Woman.  Her short stories have recently appeared in Best Women’s Erotica 2012, Best Erotic Romance, and The Best of Best Mammoth Erotica.  Learn more  at

Donna George Storey

I want to change the world one dirty story at a time. When I posted this mission statement on my website, I hoped my cheeky ambition would make my readers smile. I smile every time I read it myself. And yet I’m totally serious. I truly believe that writers who are brave enough to speak their truth about the erotic experience in all its complexity—the yearning, the pleasure, the conflicts, and the sweet satisfaction—do change the world for the better. So if you’re here at ERWA because you’re already writing erotica, a big thank you and keep on doing what you’re doing. If you’re more a reader than a writer, I encourage you to start dreaming and writing and expressing the truth and magic of this fundamental part of the human experience in your own unique voice. Can there be a more pleasurable way to change the world? I'm the author of Amorous Woman, a semi-autobiographical erotic novel set in Japan, The Mammoth Book of Erotica Presents the Best of Donna George Storey  and nearly 200 short stories and essays in journals and anthologies. Check out my Facebook author page at:  


  1. Damian Bloodstone

    I loved this article. It was the told about the very things that lead me into writing erotica.

    You are very true about how the mainstream views sex in general and anything outside of that is banned or cast out as evil.

    I find that the less traveled paths are constantly the easier ones to walk one without the trash of others before you.

  2. Donna

    Thanks, Damian. I love that image of the uncluttered path before us–who needs the garbage :-)?

  3. Lisabet Sarai

    Excellent observations, as usual!

    I find myself most "bound" by the assumptions of Porntopia. I like to write about the complexities of desire – confusion, regret, uncertainty, fear – as much as about the satisfactions. I spend a good deal more time on the build up to sex than on the sex itself. These days, however, that kind of story does not sell very well.

    The truth is that sex permeates all aspects of life. Sex is far more than mere recreation, as presented by Porntopia. Sexual connections DO have serious ramifications, but not necessarily evil or undesirable ones.

    Finally, you write what you're moved to write. Because bondage is consensual.

  4. Emerald

    Brilliant, Donna—not to mention exquisitely articulated. Thank you so much for writing this.

  5. Emerald

    And I, too, like that image, Damian!

  6. Donna

    Thank you, Emerald! And Lisabet, thank you for pointing out that bondage is consensual. I think one of the reasons I was moved to write this particular column was also because I was weighing what sells with what I've been wanting to write, and it's the same sort of complicated, ambivalent, "thinky," stuff that they tell us won't sell. Not that we can't do it all when we choose, of course. And the marketplace is constantly surprisingly the "experts" on sales. So, I guess it comes down to listening to that writer's voice within.

  7. Jean Roberta

    You've nailed it, Donna! And it is so hard to think outside the cultural "box," so to speak.

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