Inspiration and Obstacles

by | May 27, 2022 | General | 2 comments

For the past few years, I’ve been privileged to teach several creative writing classes in the university where I have taught literature-and-composition since the twentieth century. I’m currently teaching an intense class in a six-week semester, and the students have to try their hands at various genres: fiction, drama, poetry, non-fiction.

I’m not sure if all the students know I write erotica. I never bring that up at the beginning of a course, partly because male students often have conceptions of sexiness that would have driven me out of the room if I were their age.

Let me offer an example. Fred, as I’ll call him, is slightly older than my other students (late thirties?). For his dialogue scene, he described two men in a truck, both employees of a construction company. The younger one is eighteen, and the older one is a supervisor in his fifties As the truck is stopped at an intersection, the younger man points out a woman crossing the street. He claims that she has her “headlights on” (her nipples are showing, and her breasts are described as large, even though she is slim). Then the observant young man also admires her “caboose.” The older man chuckles, apparently with approval.

The older man is reminded of “the ironing board game,” which he used to play with his best friend in high school. Both boys agreed that because there were a lot of girls in their school, they would have to learn to remove a girl’s bra with one hand, and with impressive speed. To develop their skills, the two boys borrowed the bras of a very indulgent mother and fastened them around her ironing board, then practiced undoing them as quickly as possible. The construction worker who remembers this game gives his friend credit for being a “ladies’ man,” presumably because he perfected his ability to remove a bra from the rigid object that represented a living girl.

There is no indication in the written scene that bras should only be removed with the consent of their owners, or that even casual sexual encounters require a minimum of civility on both sides. As I pointed out in class, there needs to be some negotiation before underwear comes off.

The student who wrote this piece said he hoped that no one else in a largely-female class would be offended. The temperature in the classroom  seemed to drop by at least ten degrees when we began discussing the dialogue between the older man and the younger man, and the older man’s fond memory of his own youth.

I’m not sure if the writer of this piece is aware that universities tend to be hotbeds of sexual abuse and sexual misunderstanding because they still attract students between the traditional post-secondary student ages of 18 and 22. Despite the general aging of the student population due to the increasing expense of a university education, many students are relatively young and single. Dating relationships are the norm for those who seek human companionship as a break from studying—and, in too many cases these days, working to stay out of debt. Female students have told me about the double danger of going to the campus bar with fellow-students, and working as servers in various watering-holes, where their youth and attractiveness (which got them hired in the first place) make them magnets for predatory male customers. And in general, women now outnumber men in post-secondary institutions.

Entry-level creative writing classes in this university have traditionally been run as workshops, so my students know that their works-in-progress will be critiqued by their peers. So far, the critiquing in this class has been reasonably polite and constructive. When the piece about the two men in the truck and the ironing-board game was up for discussion, I noticed that the rest of the class seemed to be speechless. I had a one-to-one conversation with the student who wrote it, and he indicated that he hoped his piece was funny. I explained as tactfully as I could that I thought it would need to be considerably revised before it could tickle the funny bones of anyone who knows that bras are generally worn by living people.

I couldn’t help wondering if members of the generation currently in high school really believe that an ability to take off a girl’s bra quickly is a primary requirement for a “ladies’ man.” As a woman who dated men in my own far-off youth, I remember taking off my own bra, as often as not, when the time seemed right. Once things had progressed to a certain point, my date had only to ask for access to my breasts, and I usually preferred to slip off my bra as efficiently as possible than to put up with his efforts to find the hooks or worm his fingers underneath a snug band of stretchy material or an underwire.

Of all the qualities I looked for in a date, an ability to take off my bra with panache was not even on my list. And the tendency of high school boys to snap or undo the bras of their classmates in public places encouraged me to sidle down the hallways like a crab, keeping my back to the wall. I was not amused or aroused, and I never met another girl who claimed to enjoy this “joke.”

I suspect that my older male student now believes that I have no sense of humour, and that too many of his classmates are like me in that sense. Sigh. At least my own education has paid off.

Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica ( Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links:


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Jean,

    I have mixed feelings about this. Should we be judging the attitudes of a writer (even a novice) based on the attitudes of his or her characters? We all know that these aren’t necessarily the same.

    Do you think that this student really was as thoroughly oblivious as his characters?

    I don’t envy you your job, though. I think it’s easier teaching people to write software!

  2. Shiloh

    I imagine boys want to look like they’ve done it before, even if it’s their first time doing it for real.

    I recall a comment that Mike Tyson made on a podcast not too long ago. He said that even when he was the #1 fighter in the world, and had all the fame and money he could ever want, he still felt like nothing, because all he really wanted was for a woman to tell him that he was the best and his dick was the biggest.

    Men are terrified that a woman won’t think they measure up. They would rather go to war and be shot at than have a woman laugh at them. Perhaps that’s the missing context.

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