Let’s Get Real

by | February 21, 2017 | General | 10 comments

Lisabet Sarai

few days ago, I received the welcome news that a short story of mine
had been provisionally accepted into an anthology. The editor wrote:

love your story, but it will need a little bit of amending: we cannot
have any mention of anyone under the age of 18 having sexual thoughts
or masturbating. (I know this is absolutely silly but we are not in a
position to risk it.)”

me make it clear that this story (which would probably be categorized
as literary erotica) does not feature underage sex. The main
character has an unusual and rather dangerous fetish, which first
appeared after an experience in his mid-teens. The story includes a
flashback in which the protagonist describes those early events and
how they shaped his current, adult sexuality. Like most teens, his
reaction to arousal was to masturbate.

not going to fight with this editor, first of all because I really
would like to be part of the anthology and secondly because she
recognizes the ridiculous nature of the prohibition. However, this
state of affairs still makes me fume. I mean, let’s get real.
Nobody masturbates more often than teenage boys! And sexual
thoughts? As I recall my high school years, it was pretty difficult
to focus on anything else!

hard for me to understand the logic behind this rule. We’re not
talking about pedophilia here. We’re discussing private sexual
stimulation. Who is being hurt? Why should this be a forbidden topic?

first time I remember masturbating, I was four. I didn’t have any
idea what I was doing, but I knew it felt good. I had erotic
fantasies in grade school (about being kidnapped at the beach by a
classmate who wanted to pull off my bathing suit). It’s an accepted
scientific fact that children have sexual urges, and that in the
years right after puberty, hormones run rampant. What purpose does it
serve to pretend otherwise?

anyone still cling to the myth of childhood purity and innocence?

fact, fetishes often have their roots in childhood experiences.
Changing my story probably won’t do great violence to its main
points, but it does reduce the authenticity of the tale.

write, and read, erotica for many reasons. As for me, I’m simply
fascinated by sex. My personal motivation in writing is to explore
the way sexuality complicates, illumines and transforms human
existence. I want to realistically portray the experience of desire
and to show its varied impacts on the lives of my characters. If I
can arouse my readers in the process, I’m pleased, but that’s a
side effect rather than my primary goal.

become quite difficult to achieve this goal when I’m forced to deny
power and importance of teenage sex. Confusing, scary, wondrous,
indescribably intense—our
earliest encounters with sex strongly influence our adult fantasies
and needs.

who says otherwise is either a liar, or out of touch with reality.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Fiona McGier

    Very ridiculous! Did you ever watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" There was one episode where Zander, her male friend, was temporarily turned into a super-soldier, for whatever paranormal reason. She was asking him if it turned him on to hold huge, powerful weapons. He grimaced and said, "I'm a 17-year old boy. Looking at linoleum turns me on!"

    Like you, I can remember being very young and yet being extremely sexual, albeit alone. Some people are still trying to deny reality…but then we're living now in a time of "alternative facts," so I guess we can inhabit alternative realities also, where no children ever have sexual thoughts, everyone, male and female, is virginal until marriage, and no one ever cheats on their spouses. Now can we all hug and since "Kumbays" around the campfire? Bleah.

    Give me the reality of sexuality anytime. With all of its concomitant messiness, fluids, and heartache…but with all of the ecstasy that's possible. Sorry you had to change your story, but as you say, sometimes you gotta do it, to get published.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thanks for your comments, Fiona. Love the Buffy quote!

      As far as I know, there's no legal basis for prohibiting the depiction of underage masturbation. And actually, the story has been previously published.

  2. Martin Gross

    If you aren't graphically describing minors being sexual (i.e., how they stroke themselves), it shouldn't be an issue. I agree that censorship on these grounds is ridiculous.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Indeed, even if my description IS graphic, I don't see the legal basis for banning it.

  3. Jean Roberta

    I feel for the editor and the publisher as well as you, Lisabet. No one wants the strong arm of the law to come down on them, so everyone plays it as safe as possible. I agree that this is ridiculous. IMO, the concept of "childhood" has been stretched as far as it can possibly go in the modern industrial world, and some folks are even nostalgic for a time when adulthood supposedly didn't start until age 21.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Erotica authors and editors have become craven cowards, imho. Nobody is going to peruse this volume looking for legal gotchas. Even if they did, as far as I know, there's no law against portraying masturbation.

  4. Donna

    This is the price we're paying for allowing erotica for adults to be published openly. Sex is so dangerous, if you give in one place, you have to rein it in elsewhere. Remember "Risky Business" where young teenagers are cashing in their savings bonds to enjoy the Tom Cruise character's suburban brothel? They would never allow that today! I've also been told the same thing be editors, hence all of my stories have the heroine thinking her first sexual thought on her eighteenth birthday. I hope everyone gets the joke.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      It's no joke.

      I wish I had the resources to fight this silliness.

  5. Jean Roberta

    Oh yes, Risky Business! Not to mention the French-flavoured musical of the 1950s, Gigi (in which the girl, played by Audrey Hepburn, is groomed to become a much older man's plaything). Adolescence ain't what it used to be. 🙂

    • Lisabet Sarai

      I think adolescence has become even more of a minefield than it used to be. I'm grateful I grew up in a simpler and perhaps more honest time.

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