Monthly Archives: February 2015
Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica,
erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her
husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web
site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon
I read “50
Shades of Grey” when the book first came out since the feminist e-zine ON
THE ISSUES had wanted me to review it. I felt the same way lots of people felt
about it. I thought it was poorly written. It started out as
“Twilight” fan fiction so it wasn’t even an original idea. It was not
a realistic depiction of BDSM, and I had read better erotic books with BDSM as
a major theme. Although some disagreed with me, I thought the relationship
between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele was abusive and stalkerish. This is
a very polarizing series of books. You either hate them or you love them. There
seems to be little middle ground.
Now that the movie
has become a huge box office hit, “50 Shades of Grey” is back in the
news again – with a vengeance. The books and movie are a cultural phenomenon
that has brought erotic fiction and talk about sex into the forefront. Make no
mistake – women have been reading erotic fiction for aeons, but they read
furtively. The Kindle helped bring about increases in sales of erotic fiction
in part because of the privacy the device gives the reader. Woman no longer worried about getting the hairy eyeball from strangers (or friends or family) who saw a
strapping, shirtless man on the front cover of the book. “50 Shades of
Grey” expanded on this. Sexologist Dr. Patti Britton wrote on her blog
that the book series “normalized the
discussion about sex and especially about the holy grail of BDSM: Bondage and
Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sado Masochism. It allowed kinksters to
come out of the closet and claim their orientation.”
What “50 Shades
of Grey” also did was bring the average straight woman out of the closet. Women
aren’t hiding their love for the series and movie as if they are ashamed of it.
It’s wonderful women feel comfortable enough thanks to “50 Shades of
Grey” to be so open about the sexual needs and wants. It has also
introduced an entirely new population to BDSM, despite critics accurate assertions
that the books and movie are not accurate depictions of the lifestyle. When the
first book initially exploded into public consciousness, sex toys sales skyrocketed
by 400%. According to an article in Cosmopolitan, ben wa balls (sex balls) in
particular became popular because Christian Grey gave a pair to Anastasia
Steele. Check out this description from the book: “He
holds out his hand, and in his palm are two shiny silver balls linked with a
thick black thread … Inside me! I gasp, and all the muscles deep in my belly
clench. My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils … Oh my … It’s a
curious feeling. Once they’re inside me, I can’t really feel them—but then
again I know they’re there … Oh my … I may have to keep these. They make me
needy, needy for sex.” Both men and woman wanted to re-enact the sexy
scenes the women read in the book.
online have talked about the effect “50 Shades of Grey” has had on
their sex lives. They’re enjoying sex toys more often. Some have found new and
creative uses for household items such as chip bag clips in place of nipple
clamps. They’ve discovered the joy of bondage tape, including humorous
astonishment at the fact that the tape sticks only to itself, not to skin and
hair. That stuff isn’t electrical tape, which sticks to everything. Keep in mind most of these women are very vanilla, and
this book series and movie are their first exposure to BDSM. Two subscribers to
the kink website Fetlife hand-crafted a paddle and flogger. Other fans
described their favorite scenes in the books.
have even felt compelled to re-enact scenes from the book. One man on Fetlife
who is new to the BDSM lifestyle with his wife talked about how his wife has
introduced a wide variety of sex toys to their play since reading the book,
including dildos, vibrators, hot wax, and ben wa balls. He and his wife planned
to see the movie, and he wanted to prepare a sexy surprise for her once they
returned home. He asked for advice on how to proceed. One person recommended
acting out a scene where Christian tied Ana to the headboard and blindfolded
her. He put headphones on her ears so she couldn’t hear – opening her to expand
her horizons through using her other senses.
Fetlife subscriber described enjoying being spanked. Like Ana, she enjoyed the
sting but leaving marks was not okay. One thread discussed songs that reminded
fans of the book, including Lucinda Williams’ “Sweet Side”, “Dark
Side” by Kelly Clarkson, “Love Is A Battlefield” by Pat Benatar,
and “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. The books and movie have introduced
the general public to BDSM, and Fetlife offers tips on exploring the lifestyle
to anyone who’s interested.
are writing “50 Shades of Grey” fan fiction, which is ironic since
the first book started out as “Twilight” fan fiction. Storylines
range from pure sex to loving relationship to even marriage between Anastasia
and Christian, complete with a baby. Here’s an excerpt from one of the stories
I know she loves
it when I tell her how much I lover her and need her, it gets her all riled up
and she will do anything “You’re so ready Ana. I love it when you’re so
ready for me.” I slide two fingers into her as my thumb strikes her
clitoris and I can see her building. “Not yet Ana. Not yet.” She
moans and I can’t help but let out a little giggle “be patient. Not long
now.” I move my fingers in a rotating motion to build her up even more and
she arches her back to push her breast in to my hand and lets out a cry
“oh. Please Christian. I. Need. You!”
are openly discussing what they want from their partners when it comes to sex.
This book series and movie have fired up imaginations, resulting in an uptick
in purchases of sex toys and erotic fiction as well as the creation of fan fiction.
Despite criticism, “50 Shades of Grey” must be recognized for the
positive effect it has had on women’s expression of their sexual likes and
by Jean Roberta
Erotica, fantasy and historical fiction seem to overlap in all sorts of delicious ways. If there is a fairy tale left in any of the traditional collections that has not yet been rewritten in a sexually-explicit version – or several – it must be fairly obscure. Greek and Roman mythology have also been heavily mined for modern-day erotic plots, and so have famous works of fantasy by known authors. The calls-for-submissions on this site usually include at least one that calls for stories about sex in the land of Faerie or on Mount Olympus.
So far, so good. However, much of the sex that occurred in Western culture in the actual past was necessarily forced or forbidden due to Christian laws. Any couplings that did not involve a husband and a wife had to be hidden, and were likely to result in drastic punishment for at least one partner if discovered. Marital sex was based on a husband’s legal ownership of his wife, who had no recognized right to refuse sex or pregnancy.
In short, what we know about traditional attitudes toward sex in the past few centuries is quite a bummer. (And on that note, laws against anal sex were widespread.)
Of course, fantasy literature doesn’t have to be based on historical reality. Authors and their characters can grow wings and fly away from anything that kills the buzz. But what if a certain authentic flavor is called for?
Ancient Greek and Roman myths and legends involve quite a bit of sex, even as written by contemporary Greek and Roman authors (Homer, Aristophanes, Ovid). However, the “affairs” of male gods, especially Zeus, tend to involve the capture and rape of mortal maidens, followed by further abuse by other deities (e.g. Zeus’s wife Hera) or mortal relatives. Attraction that is really mutual is likely to be illicit and therefore doomed.
Traditional British and European ballads, as recorded in a literate era (1700s-1900s), tend to be more violent than I remembered from having studied this material in the 1970s. I recently skimmed through one of my old textbooks, The Ballad Book, for inspiration, and found plots dealing with incest, with illegitimate, murdered babies, with the murders of women by the men who had seduced them, and of husbands by their wives, as well as a few lighthearted accounts of rape as a joke and abduction as a plot device. At one time, ballads were like tabloid newspapers for the common folk who couldn’t read or write. And as they say, no news is good news.
Then there are early written versions of older stories such as the Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory of the 1400s, about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. I recently skimmed through my old copy of this book after reading a call-for-submissions for “Arthurian” erotica.
The story of Arthur’s mother is intriguing in Mallory’s very brief version as well as in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s doorstop of an “Arthurian” novel, The Mists of Avalon. Igraine, before she becomes Arthur’s mother, is married to the Duke of Cornwall. He and the King of England, Uther Pendragon, wage war. Uther, aided by his court magician, Merlin, appears to Igraine disguised as her husband, “lies” with her, gets her pregnant, and then marries her after it is revealed that her husband was killed by the King’s forces before the crucial act in which Arthur was conceived. In due course, Arthur is able to establish his legitimacy as the rightful heir to King Uther.
Igraine’s feelings about all this are not recorded by Mallory. Does she ever love her husband, the Duke of Cornwall? If so, how does she feel after discovering that she has been deceived? Does she welcome her child by the imposter? (In Mallory’s version, Igraine has borne at least one earlier child, Arthur’s half-sister.)
In my version of the story, young Igraine is married to the much older Duke of Cornwall for diplomatic reasons, but King Uther has the “right of the first night” with the new bride. She finds him attractive, but she is still taken aback to discover that she is not to be deflowered by the man she has just wed. And then there is the siege in which the two men in Igraine’s life square off. Whatever the outcome, it will be bad news for at least one of them. Then there is the scene in which the King appears under a “glamor,” shouting a medieval version of “Honey, I’m home!” Does Igraine believe this man is really the Duke, her husband, or does something about him seem off? How does she react?
I sent my first version of this story to an editor, who responded by saying gracious things about my writing style, which she found suitable to the period. However, as she pointed out, the sex was not sexy enough. I saw the editor’s point. The problem seemed to be Igraine’s ambivalence. She needed to be more enthusiastic in the sex scenes with at least one of the men in her life. She couldn’t just be shown submitting to the inevitable.
Mutual orgasms – fireworks of the flesh – were required.
I did a substantial rewrite after getting the editor’s permission to ignore the original maximum word-count. I tried to show more ecstasy in the scenes of Igraine with the King, who is much more of a dream lover than one might expect because he is under a curse: a witch has ensured that if he ever ravishes an unwilling woman, he will die. To live long enough to beget an heir, he must become an accomplished seducer, and he must stop the moment his partner is really turned off. He has come to enjoy the challenge that this curse presents, and therefore he is in no hurry to be released from it.
Since the witch has placed her curse on King Uther’s whole army, an Age of Chivalry is born. Is this detail suitable to the historical period? Not on your life.
Like the inhabitant of a castle under siege, I am waiting for news about whether my story is now fit to survive the editor’s weeding-out process. I can only hope that the fantasy elements – specifically the female-centered sexual pleasure – don’t cancel out the period flavor.
Writing about Days of Yore appeals to me, but some aspects of the past simply don’t mesh with modern concepts of equality and consent. A touch of glamor seems necessary.
So, to recap, there was a book that many people enjoyed reading and many people enjoyed critiquing that was made into a movie that many people saw this weekend. It had strong sexual content. The wimmenz were the main audience. How can this be? *clutches pearls* *sinks onto fainting couch* *uncaps the smelling salts* Has the world gone mad?
No. It isn’t possible. I refuse to believe that any woman could make the personal decision to enjoy such a thing. Ever.
Western culture teaches us that women don’t enjoy, much less think about, sex. Unless they’re bad. Oh so very bad. *delighted shiver* And we all know that Western culture never gets anything wrong about the way women think and feel, ever, because it was written by manly men and some women who know stuff. They said so, so they must be experts. I mean, you couldn’t take each women’s word for what she thinks because women are notorious liars about their sexuality and need to be told what they think about such matters. Not to mention that they don’t have a clue in their pink, fluffy little brains about how women are. Completely clueless.
But why else would they be reading this book? It’s perplexing, isn’t it?
Oh that’s right. For the romance angle. It’s perfectly okay for women to like romance because that’s what they’re into. Whew! Here these women were, innocently picking up a book recommended by their friends, thinking that they were about to read a sweet romance, when Boom! They’re ambushed by sex! Surely they all flipped quickly past those pages and got back to the loooove, instead of lingering over the sex scenes and getting all moist down in their girly bits. No, they couldn’t have possibly done that. Of course they were repulsed if they happened to read part of the sex scenes by mistake. They didn’t go out and maybe buy a little something to try in the bedroom with their
lovers husbands, because women never initiate sex, and they never, ever think of it as fun.
And even if they did find themselves *whisper* aroused by it, surely it’s because they lack the capacity to distinguish between fantasy and reality. If they enjoy this story, they’re immediately going to search for a billionaire lover and do all the things in the book exactly as they are portrayed. Because, you know, wimminz.
This must be a vast conspiracy to fool us into thinking women actually have inner sexual lives and are capable of independent thought. We know this simply isn’t so. An expert told me.
All kidding aside, I have no problem with people criticizing a book. Erotica deserves to be well written. So go ahead and critique FSOG. Lament its shortcomings. Weep that it darkens the name of erotica, and sneer at how poorly it portrays BDSM. Write parodies of it. Trash it in blogs, Laugh at it. Use it to sell your own work. It’s open season; do as you will- with the book.
However, I have a huge issue with judging the readers who liked it. There is a disturbing tone that creeps into those conversations, with hints that fans of FSOG are somehow less sophisticated, stupid, sexually repressed, frumpy, middle aged, or simply lower class than the “real” fans of erotica. They get scolded from everyone for liking it, and I’m tired of it. So here’s my guide to surviving what remains of the FSOG madness:
1) it’s just a book. A fucking book. That’s all.
2) if your panties get in a bunch thinking about women getting wet over the idea of an emotionally abusive asshole who malpractices BDSM, or any fantasy you disapprove of, then just stop thinking about it. Just. Stop. Problem solved.
Ahh… the dreaded sucknopsis. Otherwise known as the synopsis. I’m sure many of the writers reading this post are already groaning or resembling the man in the photo at the mere mention of the word, and I don’t blame them.
A necessary evil, the synopsis is basically one big fat spoiler of your work. Describing your tale from beginning to end, including any plot twists, surprises and things to make your readers gasp. I hate writing them. There are several reasons for this. One, because of the spoiler aspect. I know that a synopsis is not something ever intended for a reader to see – otherwise what would be the point of them reading your book? They already know what’s going to happen. No, these are aimed at publishers who may potentially publish your work – they want to know that your work has a plot, a point, a beginning, a middle and an end, and so on. And they’re absolutely right. They don’t want to end up contracting something that’s crap. But it feels so wrong to me to write something down that’s saying what’s going to happen, especially since, for the most part, a synopsis is written before the actual story.
And, following on from that, often with my work I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen until I start writing. Even if I’ve done character profiles, chapter by chapter planning, etc, my creative brain often throws things in at the last minute, literally flowing from brain to fingers to keyboard, which may alter what happens next, throwing me off the line of the synopsis. Mostly, it’s a change for the better, too, so it makes sense to go along with it.
Also, writing a synopsis for something, especially if you haven’t written the book yet can make you lose all enthusiasm for the work. You’ve written four pages on exactly what’s going to happen, ending and all, and now you’re bleurgh about writing the thing. Hence the term sucknopsis – which I didn’t coin, by the way. It’s been around for a long time, and it’s easy to see why 😉
So, how do you feel about writing a synopsis? We’re all different, so maybe there are some of you out there that actually like writing them. Speak up!
Me… nah! Give me a blurb any day. Let me tease you, taunt you, and, above all, not give the plot and any surprises away! I want to make you gasp… in the best possible way 😉
Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and
erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over 100
publications to her name, with many more in the pipeline. These include several
editions of Best Bondage Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica 2013 and Best Erotic
Romance 2014. Another string to her bow is editing, and she has edited and
co-edited a number of anthologies, and also edits for a small publishing house.
She owns Erotica For All, is book
editor for Cliterati, and is one eighth
of The Brit Babes. Find out more
Join her on Facebook
and Twitter, and subscribe to her
newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/gMQb9
By Lisabet Sarai
I used to be such a good girl. I don’t know what happened.
In the old days, I followed all the rules. I got straight As. I adhered to the high school dress code. I was an expert at figuring out what people wanted and giving it to them. In every area of my life, I aimed to please.
How did I get so contrary?
I guess I got bored. Bored with the same old plots and characters, the same tropes, conventions and clichés. Overwhelmed by ennui when I looked at the best seller lists. The longer I spent in the world of publishing, the more frustrated – even disgusted – I became by the tyranny of genre and the overwhelming influence of whatever is Currently Hot.
Over the past decade and a half (has it really been that long?), I have become progressively less interested in pleasing the masses. Instead, I seem to have cultivated my own personal imp of the perverse.
In the first vampire story I wrote for publication, my hero is a blond, blue-eyed, Midwestern frat boy who doesn’t have Goth bone in his undead body. Unlike Lestat, Edward Cullen or the many recent incarnations of Dracula, he’s not in the least ancient or world-weary – he became a vampire just five years before the tale begins.
My soon-to-be-released paranormal romance The Eyes of Bast turns the traditional “shifter” paradigm on its head. The male protagonist was actually born a cat. A sorceress gave him human form in order to have a vehicle for satisfying her lusts. And if the heroine succeeds in freeing him from the witch’s curse, will he revert to his original feline nature? This is not a typical concern in a shape-shifter tale.
In reaction to the hundreds (thousands?) of gorgeous, athletic, thirty-something Doms crowding the BDSM genre, I have stories that feature a middle aged, overweight master and slave (“Never Too Late”, in my new D&S Duos Book 2) and a dominant who’s half paralyzed from a stroke. I’ve even started writing a tale where the Dom is a quadriplegic, though so far I haven’t had the guts to push that one very far.
Of course, dominant billionaires and submissive virgins are all the rage at the moment. Right now I’m working on a novel entitled The Gazillionaire and the Virgin in which the heroine’s the one who’s richer than Croesus, and the hero is a brilliant nerd with deep theoretical knowledge about sex but no actual experience. Probably it won’t sell any better than my historical novella Challenge to Him, about a filthy rich Gilded Age industrialist and a labor activist.
I can’t blame anyone but myself. I’m just too contrary to write what sells.
When I see a call for submissions that seems worth my consideration, my first thought is “how can I twist this into something different?” This isn’t always the route to getting my work accepted. For example, one editor just couldn’t see the Hindu goddess Parvati as a succubus, despite her consuming the sexual energy of the aspiring ascetic hero. I thought it was a great, original take on the theme, but hey, that’s just me.
One trope that’s been bugging me lately is the Natural Submissive. I’m sure you’ve encountered her. Despite never having had any prior experience with D/s, she surrenders immediately and completely to the charismatic Dominant. Without training, she kneels with perfect grace and wears her bonds without complaint. Oh, and she’s got incredible pain tolerance, too, just what the nasty Dom likes. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read recently where the dominant canes the sub in the very first scene, despite the fact that caning is quite an extreme form of discipline.
Now, I’m somewhat guilty of this cliché myself, especially in my earlier work. “You were born for this,” my slightly cheesy dominant Gregory tells Kate in my first novel, Raw Silk. It’s thrilling to believe that your Master can see through your everyday facade to the kinkiness at your core. To be known – accepted – valued because of one’s dirty desires – that’s intoxicating.
My subs are always conflicted, though, unlike the classic Natural Submissive. They’re shocked by their own behavior. Furthermore, they’re not ready all at once for the worst the Dom can throw at them (and of course the Dom knows this).
So now I’m toying with the notion of writing a story where submission most emphatically does not come naturally. I’m thinking about a female character who really does want to be a competent slave, but who keeps making mistakes – due not to lack of motivation but lack of aptitude and training. Maybe she has joint problems, so she can’t stand being on her knees or suspended from the ceiling. Or perhaps she’s just a natural klutz. Her poor Dom is actually embarrassed to take her to his favorite kink club. He loves her, though, and appreciates her sincerity, so he can’t bear to send her away.
Yeah, I know. Sounds like another best seller, right?
Ah well. At this point, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I’ve reached official curmudgeon age, hence I have license to gripe with impunity about “the industry”. And as long as I’m writing – and enjoying the process – I’ll continue to seek originality over marketability. That’s just the way I am.
by Donna George Storey
It’s a professional hazard, but many people have asked if I’m going to see the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey. The answer is yes, tomorrow, a date night with my husband who willingly agreed with no fear for his manhood. I’m not expecting the jaw-dropping sex or exquisite emotional subtlety Hollywood usually offers its moviegoers, but I am “curious” to see how Dakota Johnson makes Ana even bearable as a character and how a female director’s eye translates the story onto the screen. The Fifty Shades phenomenon has inspired lots of people to make lists of “truly” sexy books and movies, but it’s so personal. I myself didn’t find that Vox or Secretary or 9 ½ Weeks did it for me. The one movie I can think of that sent me home with a dark, confused but decidedly sexual buzz was Yimou Zhang’s Raise the Red Lantern, which is no less a model for healthy female erotic expression than Christian’s Contract of the Patriarchy. Now that I think about it, the most shocking sexual scene I experienced in a movie theater was the lesbian scene in Lenny. You could hear a pin drop until an older female voice croaked out, “Oh my god.” I was a precocious kid who liked grown-up movies like The Godfather and Cabaret, but I think my parents regretted bringing me to that one.
In any case, I know a lot of people are sick of talking about it, but recent columns here have shown there’s still plenty to say. What we’re talking about when we talk about Fifty Shades is our entire culture’s concepts of sexuality and romance and the varied responses to these assumptions. In the process we can’t help but reveal our own feelings about sex and sexual fantasy: That it’s dangerous, especially for women; that we should take fantasy literally; that it must be elevated by elegant prose or tasteful lighting; that we like what we like, and it’s no one’s place to regulate our desire. This topic is always of great significance to everyone, especially erotica writers.
Besides, there’s something I really want to say about the tampon scene.
Ah, the tampon scene, otherwise known as the “infamous” scene. The “most controversial” scene. The scene that the people who made the movie never once considered including on screen; they didn’t even talk about this most “talked about scene.” I wasn’t able to find all that much online about the content of this “talk,” except people found it gross, but admittedly I missed the first round of discussion when the book was published and my take on it might not have gotten much traction in the press.
By the way, if you find menstruation the most disgusting thing ever, you may want to stop reading right now. If not, I hope you’ll stay with me, because I’m going to talk about the only truly taboo-breaking scene in this notorious erotic blockbuster that is in so many ways quite conservative.
For those who haven’t read the book, Christian Grey, the young billionaire composite of Sergey Brin and Elon Musk and every other reasonably attractive high tech Midas (not Bill Gates, though, do you want to see him shirtless?), is so obsessed with innocent Anastasia Steele that he flies across the country in his private jet to see her when she’s visiting her mother. Ana goes to his hotel room and as always they quickly get naked. Christian nonchalantly asks her—and given his attention to detail, he was probably tracking her cycle—when she started her period. When she tells him it was yesterday, he replies, “Good.” Then he pulls on the “blue string” of her tampon, gently removes it and tosses it into the toilet. My mom told me this is asking for a plumbing disaster, but that’s the worst of it. Christian doesn’t use the tampon to paint Native American designs on his face. He doesn’t shove said hygiene product in anyone’s mouth. He simply has intercourse with Ana, without a condom, “skin against skin.” In the midst of her passion, Ana doesn’t mention any inhibitions about the blood, but the topic comes up in post-coital conversation.
“I’m bleeding,” I murmur.
“Doesn’t bother me,” he breathes.
“I noticed.” I can’t keep the dryness out of my voice.
He tenses. “Does it bother you?” he asks softly.
Does it bother me? Maybe it should… should it? No, it doesn’t. I lean back and look up at him, and he gazes down at me, his eyes a soft cloudy gray.
“No, not at all.”
He smirks. “Good. Let’s have a bath.” (FSOG, p. 431)
When I read this exchange, I paused and let this thought form in my head: As much as I’ve been resisting this on so many levels, Christian Grey is indeed every woman’s fantasy.
Imagine, a man who isn’t bothered by menstruation. He isn’t grossed out. He doesn’t treat you like toxic waste. He wants to know how you feel about it. He’ll even take a bath with you on your second day, which, I don’t know about you, but is usually when I get out the super-size tampons and stick to showers. This guy wants you so much, he’ll have sex with you during your period—happily. “Red sex” is not tolerated even by most erotica editors, yet here is E.L. James getting away with something the rest of us can’t, as she seems to do with everything else about Fifty Shades.
But more power to her—and she has a lot right now–here’s my point. Christian Grey embodies an ideal of a man’s acceptance of the female body and its natural rhythms. Have you ever met a real guy who is so laid-back when you’re having your period? Some are more chill than others, but shrugging and saying, “It doesn’t bother me”? Okay, the reality of red sex was not portrayed for sure. Real is a college boyfriend wiping himself off with the laundry service towels and observing, “They’ll think I was slaughtering pigs in here.” Perhaps with all the vampires, zombies, Game of Thrones dismemberments and M-rated video games abounding, guys today are more sanguine about the sight of blood, but then again given the icky-eeuw reaction in the media, maybe not.
As a writer, there’s another important question to ask about these two pages of unspeakable audacity. If E.L. James had gotten her book published in the traditional manner, with gatekeeper editors shaping the content because they think they know what the reading public wants–rather than loyal fans who actually know what they want–do you think that tampon scene would have remained in a novel aimed at a popular audience?
No way in hell, baby.
But it did survive. Of course, this genuinely transgressive moment in Fifty Shades cannot go unpunished. It has to be made “controversial”; the one part of the story–so loyally shepherded by its author to the screen–that cannot be portrayed or even hinted at on film. Clearly society at large wants us to keep the I’m-not-bothered-by-menstrual-blood lover boy in his proper place—erased and silenced.
Good thing I don’t have to keep quiet. Thanks to Fifty Shades, everyone’s giving her or his opinion about sex and romance, how we like it delivered and how we don’t. So I say forget the floggers and cable ties, the abusive childhood and the healing power of true love, it’s the tampon scene that redeems Christian Grey for me… even if it is the hotel doing the laundry.
Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
A dear friend and I were talking over coffee about “Fifty Shades of
Grey” now that the movie has come out. She has read all three books, a very
respectable climb, something like reading “War and Peace” front to back, or
maybe reading the first five books of the Old Testament without stopping. To
achieve something like that, I suspect she has an unexplored kinky streak
inside her but so far I haven’t asked. But she got me re-thinking the world of
BDSM (Bondage Domination Submission Masochism) and how all that works. I myself
am not kinky as far as I can know, which I kind of regret. I think I’m missing
out on something. I might be a more interesting, or relatively less boring
person, if I had a kinky streak.
I think that Dominance and Submission are to sex what espresso is to
ordinary coffee. They are extreme expressions, concentrated to their essence,
of what has always existed in a latent form in all eroticism – the dynamic of
I want to make a distinction here between eroticism and sex. To my way of
thinking they are not the same, just as creativity and, say, writing poetry is
not the same. Eroticism is your nature, your wiring, how you relate to the
world and to the experience of union, and most especially the frustrated desire
for union. Sex is a media for expressing eroticism but its not the only media
of expression. Sex is an act that you do, just as writing a poem is an act.
Fucking is an act. Eroticism is who you are.
The forces of nature work off a fundamental state of existence, which
is the dynamic state of latent, unmanifested energy. This restless energy
acquires a direction and then takes on a form that expresses it’s unique nature
for that brief moment. This is the heart of the mystical experience with the
spiritual. This is also the heart of eroticism, which further convinces me that
spirituality, creativity and eroticism are three faces of the same god. It is
the same quality of energy in three distinct, but related forms of expression.
It explains to me the competitive dynamic that has always existed between
religion and sex. These are sister forces vying for dominance in our psyche.
In erotic relationships, and in the act of sex, there is a dynamic of
dominance and submission even among the unkinky. Its the nature of the desire
manifesting itself into the motion of the act. My criticism of some of the limp
wristed attempts at BDSM fiction I’ve read here and there is that this dynamic
is not being understood by the authors. There’s too much spanky-spanky and
mustache twirling, without any actual eroticism happening. Too much What, not
Four skillful writers in this genre form have always stood out to me
regarding this power dynamic – Lisabet Sarai, Remittance Girl, M. Christian and
in the past Mike Kimera. These are good writers for the ambitious BDSM author
to study because in their best stories they have never been about the What,
they have been about the Why. Eroticism in it’s mysteries is what we’re talking
about. I think this is partly because at least two of them have had intimate
personal experience with being submissives or dominants in reality. They know
the emotional territory first hand. I also recommend people who need a clue to
study the autobiographies, and there are plenty out there, of professional
dominatrices such as ”Whip Smart” by Melissa Febos. They tell similar tales.
What does a submissive do? Allow herself to be handcuffed and spanked? No! That
is incidental. Who gives a shit what she does – WHY does she do it? What need
does it serve, rather than, say knitting baby booties instead? What is
“subspace”? What does it feel like, how do you get there? Why is it so
addictive that you crave to go back? If you don’t know what “subspace” is, you
need to stop writing and start studying.
Think about this for a moment – what is naked? There are many levels
of naked, more than we usually think of associated with that word. There
is the basic nudity of the body, right before love making. But there are
deeper, non-physical levels of exposure as well. The nudity of the raw
emotions exposed in those moments we let our inner guard down. Think of a
woman in the throes of orgasm, racked with the wildest pleasure, longing to
experience more and deeper, and yet fighting the feeling of emotional rawness
that is tearing her open. Imagine looking in that woman’s eyes in the
instant of her perfect rawness, her perfect, ecstatic vulnerability. The
mind in conflict with the body, the mind fearing to let go completely, the body
demanding everything. We long to let go. The more in control we
are, the more we long to let go of the rope for just a while. Its what we
experience dancing, that Dionysian letting go of control, or voodoo trances in
which some allow themselves to be possessed, or evangelicals allowing
themselves to be taken by the Holy Spirit and babble in strange tongues.
It’s what we experience in mediation when the mind finally, at long last, falls
silent for a moment.
There is within us, a tender, wounded emotional core. The core no one
sees, no one touches, too often not even touched by ourselves. Yet I
think every soul longs to be touched there by a worthy person, someone they can
trust their soul to, their ultimate nakedness to. Maybe that’s why people
follow charismatic gurus, or fall in love over and over without success.
I think, in some ways, that is what subspace is. I would like to
understand that better, that soul nakedness, which is maybe achieved when you
allow a person, within specific boundaries, an absolute trust and power over
you, even the power to inflict pain so that for a while you are no longer
afraid of pain, because in giving a person that permission you have given
yourself permission too. Maybe subspace is when you also allow that
tenderest place to be touched deeply by another, even a stranger. In
fact, maybe a stranger is best, someone whose power is ultimately
Some are born kinky. Some have kinky thrust upon them. Some of us are
forever kinky-challenged. And then there is the seduction of the innocent.
Finding a girl, like Ana in the Fifty Shades novel, who has a kinky side she
doesn’t even know exists and bringing it out and making it bloom like a dark
rose. BDSM classics such as “The Story of O” and the “Sleeping Beauty” trilogy
of Anne Roquelaure (Anne Rice discreetly disguised)are all about this dark
blooming, as well as Lisabet Sarai’s early novels such as “Raw Silk” and
Remittance Girl’s savage novel “Gaijin”. These are not about the old
spanky-spanky, but about the unfolding of something hidden in response to a
power dynamic that is bitter and delicious and sometimes terrifying.
Every act of social intercourse has power dynamics. Having a cup of coffee
with a friend has unspoken power dynamics. The act of sex, as well as the act
of courtship, is the constant shifting of unmanifested power dynamics coming
into manifestation. Pick up a copy of Anne Hooper’s “Kama Sutra” coffee table
book and look at the color photos explicitly illustrating heterosexual sex
positions. Each position of man and woman joined in the act expresses a power
dynamic which you can viscerally feel, either when you’re engaged in the act of
copulating with a partner or fantasizing about it. And you need to be aware of
the physical and emotional feel of this dynamic if you ever hope to write
effectively about it. It isn’t just that a man assumes the missionary position
above a woman. A manly man, a man with some big balls hanging down MOUNTS a
woman in that position. Mounts her like a fucking stud horse. He takes her,
dominates her gently or strongly with his rising tension of male assertiveness
and sweet Jesus he mounts her and fucks her silly. Make no doubt about it. It
may be rough or it may be gentle, it may be slow, tender and loving or rough
and crazy but there’s no question who’s riding on top and who’s getting ridden.
What if the woman is on top? If the man asks her to be on top, that’s a reduced
but balanced dynamic. Partners as equals. The woman is receiving and expressing
power because he wants her to. But if the woman rolls him on his back,
you-come-here-to-mama-you-sexy-sonuvabitch, climbs on top and she mounts him,
puts her man inside herself and works that thing good, that’s her goddess
coming out. She’s taking him, and I think that is the very sexiest thing a man
can pray for, being screwed brainless and fuckless by a goddess. Doggy style?
Male assertive. Standing up? Could be either or. Ankles over her head? Male
assertive almost to the edge of rape. Each position, and the act performed in that
position, expresses a dynamic of who is asserting and who is submitting – but
only in that moment. Enthusiastic and adventurous lovers might switch positions
and acts several times in the moment of passion with the power of dominance and
submission switching back and forth like alternating current. Rarely is it in
balance for long, not if they’re having fun.
And then there’s what the dominatrices call “Topping from the Bottom”.
Think about oral sex. There’s an act which is fraught with power. In a scene
in my story “The Lady and the Unicorn”, my vampire girl Nixie assertively
seduces and dominates her mortal male lover by suddenly opening his pants,
going down on him and taking his phallus in her mouth. This is an act, not of
female submission, but of strong female dominance. She has never done this for
him before, only thought of it on the spur of the moment, and at first he’s
startled and then thrilled. On her part, this is a calculated and even
predatory act of initiating fellatio on him in order to thoroughly cast her
spell over him. As long as she has those lips around his dick, he is helpless
man jelly in her hands. Experienced women know this power very well. A good
lover will generously and lovingly perform oral sex on a woman, but this
is a subtle act. The power dynamics in giving cunnilingus are not well defined
in the moment of the act. It is more of a giving and savoring experience than a
dominance. Giving oral sex to a woman in hopes of bringing her to orgasm is
more of a eliciting act as if you were leading her on a dance floor, drawing
something out of her carefully and patiently. When a woman is giving oral sex
to a man in reality, the man clearly feels his male energy rising inside of him
as though it were being honored in some way. It is a thrilling experience to
see another human being on their knees in front of you giving you pleasure. You
feel so powerful and men love to feel powerful and are easily seduced by this
feelng. But power is an illusion we bestow. Sometimes bestowing power, as in
Nixie’s impulsive act of seduction, can be an illusion, the woman giving the
man the feeling of dominance when in fact she has brought him exactly to the
emotional place where she wants him to be. That’s Topping from the Bottom.
In another story of mine, “You Belong to Me”, Frankenstein’s creature is
having a passionate love affair with a blind woman in the mountains, which is
fated to end badly. They live together, absolutely adore each other and hump
like bunnies. She has carefully and meticulously trained him how to make love
to her. In a scene of love making he pleads, demands, over and over for her to
say to him “I’m your woman”, and she refuses because this is the power dynamic
of that scene. He needs to hear those words and she teasingly dangles the words
just out of his reach every time, making him more and more fiercely passionate
as he tries to excite her into saying them. That’s a power dynamic.
That scene is not about sexual expertise, although she has made him an
expert. It’s about power between two people who love and understand eachother
and know how to play off eachother’s hunger, working it up into a frenzy. They
don’t just fuck, they make love, with knowledge. The sexual tension in the
scene doesn’t come from what they do. It’s from why they do it.
I think so many of the sex scenes I see these days fail to reach me
emotionally, because that is the missing element. The dynamic of power. I don’t
want to know what they’re doing, I want to know why. How did they get there?
What do they see in eachother that makes them different? Why don’t they play
miniature golf instead? It’s not always the guy doing the mounting, who maybe
just thinks he’s on top when he’s actually being played by his lover; “topped
from the bottom” in the dominatrix parlance, like an expert fisherman with a
Fifty Shades of Grey is the first mainstream film based on an ‘erotic novel’ in quite a while; the last one I can recall was Secretary, loosely based on a short story with the same title by Mary Gaitskill, but I could be wrong.
have been numerous recent art-house films considered to be erotic, like
Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Abdellatif Kechiche’s La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour), and Andrew Haigh’s Weekend but none of these, to my knowledge, were based on written prose. All are more explicit than Fifty Shades of Grey,
and the last two mentioned are certainly, in my opinion, more erotic.
But they are also not as accessible to mainstream movie-goers since both
films focus on same-sex couples. I admit to being bored to death by Nymphomaniac, but the opening sex scene of Von Trier’s Antichrist
still sticks in my mind as one of the most explicitly erotic pieces of
film I’ve ever seen. The rest of the movie was in need of a stricter
editor, but that initial scene is raw, feverish and terrifying, which
is probably a telling clue as to my tastes.
Explicitness, it seems, is relative. There has been a great deal of television – True Blood, Spartacus, Deadwood, House of Cards, etc. – that is just as explicit as this movie, but those works don’t expressly promise to turn you on. Fifty Shades of Grey sells itself specifically as an erotic film.
I’d like to draw a distinction between erotic film and pornography
because it helps to explain why it’s not the lack of explicitness that
rendered Fifty Shades of Grey unerotic for me. I watch porn – I sometimes get myself off to porn – but I seldom consider it erotic.
narrative – filmed or textual – can be explicit, but it doesn’t have to
be. It doesn’t serve to remind our bodies that we’re mammals who seek
pleasure in the vague and often failed hope of conforming to our
biological imperative. It addresses our cultural mind and talks, not of
sex, but of what we as humans have made of it: not urge, not drive, but
desire. Eroticism is seldom about the pleasure felt or the orgasm; it’s
about the desire to get there, all the cultural and personal detritus in
which we wrap that pilgrimage, and the curious delusion from which we
all suffer that there is some tremendous, epiphanic mystery that lies
beyond that moment of pleasure. We settle for less. We settle for the
orgasm and the intimacy and the delusion fades, until the next time.
like watching animals fucking, porn works on my lizard brain. It works
at a very uncritical, unthinking and physical level – it speaks to my
muscles and my glands but not my brain. Porn that made attempts at
narrative always put me off because it was invariably facile. People
used to put narrative into porn as if they needed an excuse to show
people fucking, but we’ve gotten past that. Now we just have video of
people achieving orgasms in various ways. For me, porn is a bit like
running the faucet in an attempt to encourage urination; sometimes it
works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not as if we don’t remember how to pee
theoretically, but the sound of that water running kind of bypasses the
understanding part and nudges the bladder to take the jump.
is about love – a cultural construction but no less powerful for that.
It often has a sexual dimension, and this is undoubtedly true for Fifty Shades of Grey:
the story of a young woman who falls in love with a very rich man whose
sexual practices are – even if she is intrigued by the trappings –
repugnant to her. So, essentially, Fifty Shades of Grey is, for
all it’s superficial focus on sex, neither pornography, nor erotic
film. It’s a love story. Some might consider it a very conservative sort
of love story, because the main character (not in the movie, but by the
third volume of the novel) trades the sexual relationship she would
prefer for love. This is what women have done for thousands of years.
anyone who has practiced BDSM, the book and the film are both rather
offensive parodies. Like spies who watch espionage thrillers, or
soldiers who watch war films, or doctors who view medical dramas, there
is always a sense of the false depiction of their lived realities. Fifty Shades of Grey
portrays a highly fictionalized and poorly researched approximation of
BDSM. All the props (too many, in fact) and none of the soul. There is
none of the visceral understanding that BDSM is not a game of sexual
‘Simon Says’ but an erotic experience that people go into very
willingly, driven even, to ‘queer’* the biological imperative and revel
in the ways that culture has embellished it.
There has always been
dominance and submission in mammalian sex, BDSM unpacks it and examines
it, dissects it and revels in the dichotomy of humans as animals and
humans capable of making a conscious choice in the power dynamic.
Similarly, there has always been pain and danger in the nature of
biological sex; instead of trying to mitigate or overlook it, BDSM
reveals it, gazes into it, glories in it. Semiotics – the many layers of
meaning we ascribe to any given word, act, person or event – are
central to BDSM, even when we don’t explicitly acknowledge them. The
handcuffs, the crops, the floggers, the wooden spoons, the sterilized
needles, the corsets, the gags are not tools without context. It is
their historical and social semiotic baggage that makes them erotic.
BDSM is an erotic defiance of allowing things, people and acts stay in
their socially and historically ascribed places. That’s why it’s
fundamentally obscene and immoral to whip a non-consenting individual
and deeply erotic to whip your consenting submissive lover. It may
appear sexist and unfeminist when a male is dominant and a female
submissive, but consider that both parties have made a deliberate choice
of positioning, in disobedience of what cultural norms are now or what
they have been in the past. We didn’t have a choice. Now we do and we
exercise the choice consciously. It is an intentional transgression, a
defiance and sometimes a parody of the status quo.
What makes the trappings of BDSM in Fifty Shades of Grey
so upsetting to practitioners is not just the absence in both the book
and the film of any sense of BDSM’s complexity, but the knowledge that,
for many people in the mainstream, this is their first encounter with
something purporting to be BDSM. Sociologist Eva Illouz points out that
erotic romance in general and Fifty Shades of Grey in particular is being consumed as a kind of dramatized, sexual self-help guide.
Fifty Shades of Grey
serves up a heady cocktail of paradox. It glamourizes BDSM, adorns it
with conspicuous consumption, bling, polish and muted lighting, while
responsibility, agency and choice are hauntingly absent. Meanwhile,
subtextually, BDSM is pathologized, criminalized: Christian Grey is into
it because he was abused. The only other practitioner we even hear of
is his first lover – a dominant, pedophilic woman who initiated him at
the age of 15. So the message is: the sex is hot, the toys are
expensive, and the only people who really enjoy this are sick. It’s not
difficult to see why so many in the BDSM community are ambivalent about
the book and the film. Much like EMTs who complain about the way film
portrays CPR. Of course, if you performed CPR on film with veracity,
you’d risk cracking someone’s ribs while boring the audience to death.
If the BDSM in Fifty Shades of Grey was performed with any
level of veracity, there’d be a lot more sweat, snot, welts and
screaming. It’s likely there’d be a few more obvious orgasms, too. I’m
sure neither of the starring actors would be willing to expose themselves
quite so thoroughly, even if those sorts of details had been in the
Personally, I’m not so concerned. Hollywood is constantly
producing films where women are innocent victims with little or no
agency – this is just another. It’s also constantly pumping out films
where characters make monstrous compromises in order to be loved. I’m
sure many filmgoers will return home after seeing the film and attempt a
bit of tie-me-up-and-spank-me’, and most will survive it. A very few
may find it immensely erotic and seek out more informed and detailed
sources of information. It may lead to some undesired and upsetting
bouts of rough sex, but so does going to a bar and by all accounts, so
does attending many universities. It might even result in a few
break-ups as partners find their tastes are incompatible. But, let’s be
honest, anyone with even an inkling of interest in BDSM may seek out far
more explicit and harrowing videos on the net.
Fifty Shades of Grey is just not that important a film. Go see it. Just don’t expect to come away with a new lease on your sex life.
to the book, the dialogue is pretty cringe-worthy. Jaimie Dornan came
across as a joyless, humourless, self-important pedant. He reminded me
of guys who tell you they’re ‘Doms’ but turn out to be bitter, mean,
self-pitying and entitled little boys. But, in all fairness, that’s how
Christian Grey is written in the novel. Dornan’s far, far sexier as a
serial killer in the British series The Fall. However, I found
Dakota Johnson much easier to stomach than her textual counterpart; she
did the best she could with the lines she had and I found her smile
rather contagious (even when I was trying hard to dislike her
lip-sucking). She really does have a very erotic mouth. Finally, if
director Sam Taylor-Johnson does a poor job of visualizing the eroticism
of BDSM, she more than compensates for it by making helicopters,
gliders, Audis and interior decor look sexy as hell. My guess is that she
finds wealth a lot more erotic than kink. But then, sadly, so do most people.
So let’s ask the question: what is sex – especially what is sex when it comes to writing erotica?
I will not begin with a dictionary definition … I will not begin with a dictionary definition … I will not begin with a dictionary definition …
It’s a very common misconception that erotica is supposed to turn the reader on … or to be exact, that it is supposed to be written to turn the reader on.
There’s a huge problem with that, though: mainly that you, as a writer, have no idea what turns a reader on. Even getting the cheat sheet of writing for a specific anthology there is no way you can possibly cover every permutation of that theme.
Let’s pick anal sex, just to be provocative: some people like anal sex people of the pure sensation receiving, or giving; while others have their desire mixed with domination or submission, etc., etc, etc. Bottom line – sorry about that – you, as an erotica writer, cannot cover everything, erotically, when you write.
So how do you know how much sex to put into a story – and how to approach what sex you do put into a story?
What’s odd is that the answer is in two parts – but boils down to what you are writing: and, no, I don’t mean your audience but rather the format of what you are writing.
The good news first: when writing stories for a specific anthology you can be pretty easy-going with your erotic content – depending, of course, on the anthology editor’s demands according to their call for submissions. This is because anthologies, by their nature, will have a wide range of content and approaches to whatever the book is about.
Back to butt sex: let’s say my antho is underway and I’m picking stories. To give the book an appeal to a wide range of readers I, as the book’s editor, will pick stories that (you guessed it) cover all kinds of approaches and all kinds of levels. That way whoever buys the book will, more than likely, get what they want in at least one or two of the stories.
Some of these might be very light, almost romantic, with only a bit of explicit content while others might be classic bumpy-grindy kind of stuff. Typically if an anthology’s theme is … well, let’s say ‘deep’ for lack of a better word than a simple anal sex book, the editor will be looking for stories that say more than insert object A into anus B – and, that being the case, sex would be less important than being able to tell a good and touching story.
Personally, when I edit an anthology I always look for stories that tickle my mind more than my libido. In fact (trade secret here) my most common reason for rejecting a story is that it is just porn: in other words the author is saying nothing but sex sex sex sex sex over and over again. Sure, this is just how I operate but a lot of anthology editors have confessed to me the same: the amount of the sex in an erotic story counts a lot less than the story itself.
So when you write a story, how much sex is really very (ahem) fluid. But the game changes when you write a novel – but even then the amount, and kind, of sex you put into your book is totally up to you.
But keep in mind that publishers want books that are what they are supposed to be – by that I mean that if you are writing the wildest BDSM book ever written then you’d better have a lots of ropes, canes, Sirs, Mistresses, and the like.
The reason is obvious: a publisher wants to be able to market a book very specifically – and nothing annoys a publisher more than being told a book is not what the author says it is. This doesn’t mean the publisher is a villain, but rather you, as an author, need to be honest about what the book is – and, most importantly, whom it is written for.
You cannot know what turns on your reader on, but if you are writing a book that is more story that sex then there’s nothing wrong with saying that your work is, say, erotic romance rather than hardcore when you submit it.
There are no formulas, no rules, no magic percentages of how much sex needs to be in an erotic novel – except for the obvious fact that you should know who will be reading your book and why. A publisher who gets a book that is described as “literary but with several explicit BDSM sex scenes, written with female readers interested in romance with some hot male dominant spice” will make a book publisher very, very happy. They may not be able to take it – for a wide variety of reasons – but at least they’ll know what they are looking at without having to read it cover-to-cover to find out what you wrote.
Similarly, you should be extremely aware of what that publisher or anthology editor cannot accept. It’s always a good idea to be up front with anything (ahem) provocative about your story or novel (age of the characters, non-consensual sex scenes, beastiality, incest, violence, pee or poo, etc.) as many editors and publishers have issues with these kinds of things – and don’t react well to reading submissions that, halfway through, they realize they cannot accept.
So to answer the question of what is sex – or, more precisely, what is sex to an erotic writer – the quick and dirty answers are that for short stories you should approach your writing with thoughts of telling a good story that still meets the erotic demands of the anthology editor; and with novels you can write whatever you want … but be able to submit it knowing what you have written and the audience for who you have written it.
As with any genre, there are no absolutes as for what makes an erotic story erotic – but, also with any genre, try to develop what could be called literary street smarts: the intelligence to know that it’s not how much sex is in a story but being able to navigate the often stormy seas of what it means to be a professional writer.
by Ashley Lister
You may tie me up tight if that suits your need
Suspend me by piercings through my bare skin
Spank me so hard that my flesh starts to bleed
Make me go shopping with a butt plug still in
I shall surrender to your every sin.
You may use or abuse me howe’er you want
You can make me send mails in comic sans font
Whate’er you fancy I’m sure would be groovy
There’s only one act that I’d find repugnant
Please don’t make me watch the Fifty Shades movie.
The Dizain is ten lines of rhymed poetry following a
pattern of a b a b b c c d c d. Usually this form is presented in iambic
pentameter, although other variations work equally well. The majority of the poem
above consists of eight syllable lines. Originally a French form, the Dizain has
a stylish rhythm that works well with erotic subject matter.
Let me put my lips around it.
I’d like to taste it with my tongue,
I want to coat it with my spit,
I need to suck it all night long.
This deviation keeps me young.
Now I’m on my knees before you
And you know what I want to do
Not too hasty. Let’s take it slow.
First I’ll slip off your small shoe
Then spend my night sucking your toe.
If you fancy sharing your interpretation of the Dizain,
please leave one in the comments box below.