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50 Shades of Grey

By Donna George Storey

It’s a deliciously “dirty” job, but a writer of historical erotic fiction has to do it. As part of my ongoing research for my novel, I’ve been reading the romantic and erotic correspondence of couples whose private letters have been published due to their literary and/or historic value. Sometimes both sides of the correspondence have been preserved, but this is rare. Intimate letters tended to be destroyed by at least one of the partners; more often it is the man’s that survive. If the woman’s do, frequently the racier portions are missing, no doubt for modesty’s sake. Still, many fascinating examples of both lovers’ seductive words remain for our curious modern eyes to enjoy.

Napoleon and Josephine, Thomas Jefferson and Maria Cosgrove, Mabel Loomis Todd and Austin Dickinson, Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan, Elizabeth Bowen and Charles Ritchie, Maud Hart and Delos Lovelace, my voyeur’s list may grow further still as I continue my research. But I doubt new examples will challenge my main conclusion: Romantic love and sexual passion are timeless human experiences. Of course there are references to split drawers and dressing gowns in these letters, but the words and emotions truly transcend any particular time and place.

Most of all these letters prove that people in olden times–even prominent, “respectable” people–did enjoy sex, as much as the guardians of moral order would like to erase such evidence.

On that note, I must mention one unwitting member of this immortal erotic letter-writing tribe, a man named Godfrey Lowell Cabot, who was mentioned in a number of works I’ve consulted on sexuality in nineteenth-century America including The Humble Little Condom: A History and Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America. Mr. Cabot was from a very distinguished Boston family and a member of that city’s Watch and Ward, a group of gentlemen who reviewed pornographic images and writings in order to censor them for the good of the community. While protecting the lower orders from lustful thoughts and deeds in his public role, Mr. Cabot himself was the author of a number of intense sexual fantasies written in letters to his wife, Minnie. These letters are certainly the most transgressive (not to say “sickest”) of my sample—“dreams” wherein Mr. Cabot urinated in his wife’s mouth or was swallowed whole by her, his entire body pleasurably lodged inside hers. Of course, he wrote these fantasies in German, so perhaps that made them less obscene by Mr. Cabot’s measure. One does wonder if Minnie, reportedly a social climbing snob who complained of her husband’s incessant sexual demands, bothered to get out the German dictionary or was fluent enough to understand the “dreams” without such an effort.

In any case, there are some who question whether modern readers should intrude on a private, intimate correspondence by an otherwise respected historical figure. Perhaps they worry that the dignity of the personage and of the very value system that elevates great men over the rest of us will be compromised. Mr. Cabot is an excellent argument for openness because it benefits us all to know how hypocritical the guardians of public morals can be.

But most of the time, reading sexy love letters from the past is just plain fun.

My favorite example of historical love and lust comes in the letters James Joyce wrote to his common-law wife Nora while he was away on a long business trip in Dublin. The letters date from December 1909 and only appeared in print in Richard Ellmann’s Selected Letters of James Joyce (1975). Thanks to the Internet, we can read some of the letters in one form or another. I think they’re well worth reading for the boyish, uninhibited pleasure the letters convey. Joyce is not editing himself for public consumption, he is revealing his fantasies and desires to the woman he loves. Many call them “dirty,” but I would characterize them as “sincere.” Occasionally Joyce worries his “fuckbird” will find his fantasies perverted, a nice touch of reality, but although her replies have not survived, it is obvious she was a passionate partner in the exchange and not just doing it to keep him away from Dublin’s brothels.

However, rather like the controversial tampon scene in Fifty Shades of Grey, James Joyce’s “dirty” letters draw disgust for one natural physiological aspect in particular–his obvious joy in his partner’s farts during intercourse.

“You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I fucked them out of you, big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole. It is wonderful to fuck a farting woman when every fuck drives one out of her.” (Excerpted from December 8, 1909)

A goodly number of online commentators are really grossed out by this (they are less vocal about Joyce’s delight in the image of Nora masturbating while she defecates, but perhaps that one was too much to tackle in a public forum). Surely anyone who’s read Ulysses–and haven’t we all?–could have guessed that Joyce is a butt guy:

“He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.” (“Ithaca” chapter, Ulysses)

And dare I suggest that anyone who has experienced heterosexual intercourse knows that the insertion of a rigid penis into the woman’s pelvic region results in the passing of gas on occasion? Joyce’s celebration of his lover’s farts during intimacy could be seen as endearing, an unconditional acceptance of her body and all of its qualities in the throes of passion.

In American Taboo: The Forbidden Words, Unspoken Rules, and Secret Morality of Popular Culture, Lauren Rosewarne contends that farts and fart jokes are allowable in low humor genres and as a way to portray male characters as unrefined and undisciplined. However farts invariably decrease the sexual attractiveness of women. Desirable women simply never fart, although they are supposed to endure with patience the farts of their male partners. Above all, one is never supposed to couple a towering god of twentieth-century literature such as James Joyce with something as crude as farting.

Now, if you find farts during sex disgusting and unspeakable, that’s fine. One should be no more judged for that reaction than the opposite preference. But I’d also suggest that this glimpse into other couples’ intimate lives does give us a chance to acknowledge how sex and the taboo are closely linked. Rather than recoiling in disgust, why not wonder at the variety of humanity’s sweet perversity? And be grateful to these lovers whose words show us we are all connected through time in our erotic desires?

Write on!

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

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
Author Page
.

—–

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.

Women
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.

Readers
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.

Another
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.

Women
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
at Fanfiction.net:

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!”

Women
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
dislikes.

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
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

The Line

by | Dec 21, 2013 | General | 25 comments

By Lisabet Sarai

Earlier this month
(https://www.erotica-readers.com/the-paradox-of-normalization/),
Remittance Girl challenged the frequently articulated claim that
exposure to porn encourages violence against women. The UK is about
to ban eroticized fictional depictions of rape because (the argument
goes) such fiction exposes people to the juxtaposition of rape and
arousal, makes rape appear more attractive and socially acceptable,
and hence increases its frequency.

RG’s characteristically subtle
refutation of this view relies at least partially on the assumption
that readers make distinctions between what they like to read about
and what they do. After all (as I’m sure you’ve heard erotic writers
argue), murder mysteries are not banned out of fear that they’ll
encourage readers to go out and poison their neighbors or hack them
to pieces. “Admittedly, we do suspend disbelief when we read or
view fiction,” RG comments, “but we don’t mistake it for
reality.”

Until recently I would have agreed
wholeheartedly with this position. Then I read about this case:

http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/523503/20131120/fifty-shades-grey-rape-case-stratford-new.htm

If you haven’t heard about this, and
don’t feel like following the link (and putting up with all the ads),
I’ll summarize the situation. A man who’d been separated from his
ex-wife for several years bought a new phone, with a number
unfamiliar to her, and began texting her, pretending to be a 20 year
old stranger. Before long their interactions became highly
sexualized. They agreed to have a physical encounter at her home. Not
wishing to reveal who he was, he arrived masked and refused to speak,
giving her instructions through hand signs. Apparently he played the
role of the dominant, tying her to the bed, fucking her, and leaving
her there, still bound. This happened twice, and then (it’s not
entirely clear how), the woman guessed the true identity of her
lover/assailant and charged him with rape.

The relevance of this case to erotic
writing lies in the fact that both the man and the woman had
apparently read Fifty Shades of Grey. The woman kept a copy of
the book, as well as other titles related to BDSM, by the side of her
bed. If the media are to be believed (and I suspect that there’s at
least some truth to this interpretation), the protagonists in this
saga were acting out scenarios they’d encountered in erotic fiction.

Is this bad? I don’t give much credence
to the claim of rape (and apparently the judge didn’t either). The
motivations are murky but clearly the encounters were consensual.
What bothers me is the fact that these two people apparently engaged
in potentially dangerous BDSM practices without much of a clue as to
what they were doing. Any serious dominant will tell you that you
should not leave someone tied up, alone, with no means of escape. The
risks range from circulatory problems to death in the event of a fire
or other disaster.

These individuals had read about BDSM
in a novel and used the behavior in that novel as a model for their
own. Real world practitioners of dominance and submission have panned
FSOG as dangerously inaccurate, with respect to both the physical and
psychological nature of a BDSM relationship,
(http://www.tinynibbles.com/blogarchives/2012/07/clinical-psychologist-fifty-shades-is-harmful-distorted.html;
http://litreactor.com/news/50-shades-of-grey-criticized-for-inaccurate-portrayl-of-bdsm),
But how was this couple to know?

Clearly these people didn’t appreciate
the difference between fantasy and reality. One might guess that this
was simply due to ignorance. After all, if FSOG is your first
exposure to dominance and submission – and it now is, for millions
of readers around the world – how are you going to know that BDSM is
not about instant surrender, endless beatings and innumerable
orgasms? Who’s going to tell you to study up on the physical risks
before taking the plunge? While preparing this blog, I tried without
success to find reputable statistics on injuries or emergency visits
attributable to BDSM scenarios gone wrong, but during my search I
encountered plenty of chilling (as well as ridiculous) anecdotes.

It’s easy to criticize FSOG. Sour
grapes make such grumbling all the more tempting – even though ever
mention of the book just pumps up the sales. However, even those of
us who try to portray BDSM more realistically are sometimes guilty of
twisting the truth in the service of arousal. How often do we write
about negotiation? About limp or dry cunts? About the
exhaustion that sets in when you’ve been whipped and spanked for
hours, until, despite your devotion to your dominant, you really just
want to take a shower or a nap?

I’ve written about BDSM activities I’ve
never tried – knife play, fire play, branding, heavy caning.
Because let’s face it, for many of us, extreme or taboo sexual
scenarios are more exciting than more familiar acts. I’ve tried to do my research, but I
don’t focus too much on the risks because I know that too much
emphasis on those aspects can break the erotic spell. I’ve always
believed that readers have responsibility for their own actions, and
that most can distinguish the line between fantasy and reality.

After reading about this couple in New
Zealand, though, I have begun to wonder. Perhaps some sort of formal
license should be required before people are allowed to read porn.
Maybe they should have to take something like a driving test, to make
sure they know the sexual rules of the road. Minus five for slamming
your penis into her vagina immediately after you’ve fucked her butt.
Minus ten for using a plastic bag over your sub’s head to muffle her
screams. Minus fifteen for looping the rope around her neck because
you like the way it looks…

I’m being facetious, of course. I’m not sure how to deal with this evidence that people do, in
fact, conflate sexual fiction and sexual fact. We’re not educators.
Our books are not how-to manuals. We’re writing to challenge, engage,
and arouse our readers, not teach them about sex. Yet clearly our
readers do learn from our books – sometimes not what we intend.

Should this bother us? Or should we just
shrug off the people who take us literally, even when they might come to
physical or emotional harm? Is it really their problem? Or is it
ours?

At this point, I honestly don’t know.

Sexual fantasy is dangerous.

Or so you’d think if you look around at the way this common human indulgence is handled in the media. My first realization of the way sexual thoughts were treated as incendiary was the uproar over Jimmy Carter’s confession in Playboy:

“I’ve looked on many women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. God knows I will do this and forgives me.”

In retrospect, I’m not sure if the hubbub was just about Carter’s mental adultery or his rather chummy understanding with God to give the lustings a pass, but even as a freshman in high school, I sure remember the buzz. This was way back in 1976, but our attitude towards sex in the mind has hardly changed.  We’ve all read how internet porn is highly addictive, destroys real-life relationships and has created an upsurge in pedophilia (fears not born out by statistics), but even a happily married woman, as reported in Daniel Bergner’s What Do Women Want? can be faithless enough to fantasize about baseball star Derek Jeter while in bed with her spouse—proof indeed that all women are naturally polyamorous.

In her recent Kinkly column, “Fifty Shades of Abuse?” Rachel Kramer Bussel discusses a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, “’Double Crap!’: Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey” in which the authors studied the mega-bestseller for evidence of intimate partner violence and concluded that the novel “adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.” Even friendly sexual self-help books, which nominally accept the healthy existence of sexual fantasy, abound with advice to cleanse the mind of any self-indulgent imaginings and be with your partner in the moment. It’s as if having sexual thoughts that aren’t explicitly about how much you spiritually love and honor your partner somehow taints the encounter with, well, something dirty like eroticism.

I’m willing to admit that an actual sex act could have serious consequences. Infidelity can stress or destroy a relationship. Power is often abused in human relationships whether sex is involved or not. And totally erasing your partner’s existence in bed probably indicates some intimacy problems that would best be addressed. But let’s remember that other kinds of fantasy itself can have negative consequences. The lottery, the diet industry, and pretty much every advertising campaign out there feed our fantasies about being effortlessly rich, thin and lovable while they slip their hot hands into our wallets.

But what’s so scary about merely thinking about sex?

The assumption seems to be that fantasies represent something we actually want to do and would in the blink of an eye if given the opportunity. Once we imagine, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, being intimately massaged by eight nubile members of the opposite sex all dressed in matching loincloths, we’ll jump up and start recruiting a merry band for the weekend’s pleasure. Maybe you’ve heard the story that all of the feed stores in Iowa sold out of rope after Fifty Shades hit the bestseller list–clear evidence of monkey read, monkey do.

Let’s just say I won’t believe it until I see the inventory statements.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that not all fantasies are treated so literally. If we experience an urge to eat a whole pan of brownies, but don’t, the guilt stops there.

In pondering the reasons why sexual fantasy is regarded as so dangerous to our souls, I remembered an observation in Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, volume 1 concerning the evolution of confession in Catholic Europe. (As an ex-Catholic, this passage made an impression— the book is dense, but I do recommend the book for anyone interested in the topic of sex, language and power). By the 17th century, priests were urged to use indirect language when questioning the penitents about sex, even as the scope of the confession increased.

“According to the new pastoral, sex must not be named imprudently, but its aspects, its correlations, and its effects must be pursued down to their slenderest ramifications: a shadow in a daydream, an image too slowly dispelled, a badly exorcised complicity between the body’s mechanics and the mind’s complacency: everything had to be told. A twofold evolution tended to make the flesh into the root of all evil, shifting the most important moment of transgression from the act itself to the stirrings—so difficult to perceive and formulate—of desire.” (History of Sexuality: 1, 19-20).

All the major religions have figured out this trick—make a natural human experience sinful, and the believers will always be sinning and on their knees in need of forgiveness. And no doubt, the confessions of their more articulate congregation members provided a forbidden pleasure of its own to celibate priests. But where does that leave erotica writers, who create sexual fantasy for shameless public consumption? Are we hazardous to the mental and moral health of decent citizens everywhere?

My answer? Nah.

In fact, I’d argue that fantasy offers a healthy outlet of expression for desires and dilemmas that are otherwise repressed from ordinary discourse. Too many ostensibly responsible, educated people read fantasy like a road map when it’s usually more like a fable, a fiction that offers us a coded story of our deepest desires. And here I’m talking especially about the weird stuff that embarrasses us, the dark and “dangerous” fantasies. I’d also argue that the erotic appeal in Fifty Shades and Derek Jeter fantasies is the power more than the sex. While sexual attraction doubtless informs many of our interactions throughout the day, as human beings, power informs all of them. In the highly indirect language of fantasy, the pleasure in being ravaged by a powerful man is less about rape than the desired object’s own power of attraction in trumping his worldly might. Imagine—a pretty, naive college student can captivate one of the richest men in the world and make him focus all of his billionaire attention on the humblest details of her life. Fantasy of every kind delights in overturning certainties, violating taboos, weaving images of absurd abundance, relieving us of all obligations and restrictions. As much as we might wish, rarely does it come “true.” For most of us, the pleasure lies in watching the transgressions unfold in our heads.

I find it interesting that as the legal and social restrictions placed on sex acts are loosened, the attempts to control sexual thought seem to be increasing. Fifty Shades of Grey, whatever its flaws, opened up the world of erotica to millions of readers. In response we have an apparently serious scientific study that tells us a fantastical novel promotes delusions about the romance of BDSM that could harm female identity. Surely there are more effective ways to improve female self-esteem on a societal level. Studies showing the benefits of equal pay? More status for female-dominated professions? The benefits of treatment for both partners in actual cases of abuse?

And last but not least, don’t we all have enough trouble switching from the stresses of daily life to passion in bed with our partners without having to worry that a fleeting hankering for a sweaty baseball star is the equivalent of a full-fledged affair? Attention sex journalists and self-help gurus: leave my imagination alone!

On the other hand, if sexual fantasies are so powerful, well, my fellow ERWA writers, that means we can and are changing the world with our stories. That’s a power play we can all enjoy.

By Donna George Storey

Hard as this might be to believe, in the 1960’s and 1970’s “liberal” was not a dirty word. Today you must be brave even to use the euphemism “progressive,” but there was a time, or so it seemed to my youthful, idealistic self, when many believed that if we recognized the evils of racism, poverty and sexism, our society could quickly come up with solutions and move forward to a just world for all. Of particular relevance to this blog is the Sexual Revolution, which once promised liberation from the rigid morals of the past—which, let’s face it, were chiefly about controlling sexuality with fear and shame to assure a man of his paternal rights.

When I came of age in the late 1970’s, remnants of the bad old ways still lingered—I was often called a slut for the sin of being comfortable discussing and joking about sex, for example–but I was confident my children wouldn’t be troubled by the virgin/whore complex or face obstacles to reproductive self-determination.

As we all know, I was wrong.

Fortunately, I can point to one area of “progress.” Erotica, once discreetly swathed in brown paper wrappers, is now burning up the bestseller charts. It’s even possible for an author to use her own name without being socially ruined (discretion is still advised depending on your job and community standards). Yet Lisabet Sarai has correctly pointed out that the genre’s commercial success has led to homogenization. There are exceptions, but for the most part publishers and readers bring certain expectations to their erotica reading experience—to the detriment of originality, surprise and depth. In that sense, the more the genre has “succeeded,” the more freedom of expression has suffered.

More disturbing is Jean Roberta’s recent discussion of our society’s efforts to silence honest discussion of the sexuality of anyone under eighteen. Public discourse on the topic tends to hysteria, allowing for no nuance or complexity. Suggest a lesbian seventeen-year-old should have access to intelligent, thoughtful information about her sexual orientation and to some minds you’re no different from the founders of the North American Man Boy Love Association. Be but under suspicion for downloading child pornography (which could actually mean a 17-year-old consensually sending a topless photograph she took of herself for her lover’s eyes, although we all immediately imagine the very worst kinds of brutal victimization), and you’re condemned without a trial. It’s an effective way to silence us all with fear just like the old days.

The sexual abuse of a child is a heinous crime, and even speaking of it pains me. I am also horrified by the physical and emotional abuse of helpless children as well as the suffering caused by the refusal to provide medical care and food to impoverished children, although that far more common misuse of adult power seems to elicit little concern among lawmakers. I’m also deeply saddened by an environment where a natural human instinct cannot be discussed in any way that would suggest enjoyment or any positive outcome other than pregnancy. Far too many people feel shame about their sexualty because of ignorance, and thus are vulnerable throughout their lives in a childlike way to those who would exploit that shame (to the profit of capitalism mainly).

Jean’s column reminded me of a book I read recently by Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex. The first section is all about why the author had such trouble publishing the book. And this is 2002 when the tolerance and enlightenment that first blossomed in the 1960’s ideally should have been fully incorporated into our national consciousness. Alas, the Big Five publishers might cautiously publish a book by a Ph.D. on sexual dysfunction or the dangers of the hook-up scene, but a suggestion that sex education for those under 18 should mention pleasure was too incendiary for the printed page. It was eventually published by a university press.

Such is progress in our time.

Erotica writers explore the pleasures of sex in their writing—that is in fact why and how our work is categorized as erotica. Characters must bizarrely exist without a sexual thought or feeling until their eighteenth birthday, but I have personally found enough to fascinate me in the erotic lives of happily married middle-aged couples, a relatively new territory of outrageous sexual expression that has yet to be made illegal. Yet Jean’s column got me thinking that in writing (the world of imagination) as well as law (the world of real actions), the rules designed to protect the innocent are arbitrarily applied.

For example, although the TV adaption underplays the ages of the protagonists as written in the books, the wildly popular Game of Thrones is bursting with sexually active teenagers and incestuous relationships of various kinds. Why do they get away with it without any of their millions of viewers protesting or engaging in copycat behavior? Is it only because the sinners suffer imprisonment, death, thoroughly evil spawn or miserable, miserly lives so that “pleasure” is clearly married with punishment? Or think back to Risky Business, Tom Cruise’s breakthrough movie, about a highschooler who earns money by running a brothel in his house while his parents are away. Skinny boys obviously in their early teens are shown cashing in savings bonds to take advantage of the new local business. Shouldn’t this horrible and dangerous endorsement of perverted entrepreneurship be pulled from the market as harmful to our morals? Yet somehow it has eluded the eyes of the censors.

Sometimes I fear we’re moving backwards or at best sideways.

Yet perhaps I am being too impatient. The pace of modern life accelerates, but revolutions always take time to root and flower. The rise of the middle class took centuries—let’s hope its reported fall is equally leisurely. Why shouldn’t a more enlighted view of sexuality be allowed a lifetime or two to stick? There are some promising signs that the progressive spirit need not despair. An African-American is president. Gay marriage is gaining mainstream approval, most promisingly among the young. A respectable married woman like E.L. James uses a pseudonym, but nonetheless appears in public to be celebrated for her provocative story. The forces of profound change provoke reaction, but democracy is slowly gaining ground throughout the world and in new, more subtle ways like self-publishing.

Okay, I’m feeling a wee bit better now.

Twenty-first century society is not as liberal as I imagined it would be 40 years ago, but I have to admit, we’re better off now in important ways. So I’ll do what I’ve always done–keep writing erotica, calling myself a progressive and doing whatever I can to make liberation a reality.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

Dreams and fantasies—we treat them as if they’re night and day. Night dreams speak to us in inscrutable codes that require the interpretation of Sigmund Freud or a book on dream symbols. On the other hand, our daydreams, sexual fantasies included, are generally read as transparent, a simple expression of will and desire. If you fantasize about being tied up by a billionaire, your husband had better get nervous the next time Bill Gates happens to drop in on your monthly book club meeting.

This literal view is often applied to erotica, sexual fantasy’s bookish sister, as well. Erotica writers (who we all know don leather corsets and thigh-high stockings every morning whatever their sex) write stories about their own experiences. Erotica readers in turn are highly disposed to act out these stories at home. I’ve been told by two different people that all the farm supply stores in Iowa sold out of rope soon after 50 Shades of Grey soared to fame. I suspect it’s an urban legend, but it proves my point. Our society is rather blinkered and literal-minded when it comes to sex.

This might be one reason why some people are hesitant to write erotica or openly share their fantasies. A woman who gets turned on by an aggressive lover obviously wants to be raped in real life and is ambivalent about sexual equality in society at large. If a man likes dominatrix stories, surely the only thing stopping him from signing on with an official domme is the cost. I haven’t yet seen a quick-n-easy explanation for the M/M boom of fiction by women for women (hmm, good old-fashioned penis envy times two?), but maybe that proves my point, too.

By simplifying sexual fantasy in this way, it may seem we succeed in transforming our uncontrollable, mysterious imaginations into something safe and explicable, while reminding us that unbridled sexual urges are weird, transgressive, and often illegal. In any case, it keeps people quieter about the steamy dramas in their heads.

Except erotica writers.

The apparent danger of a more complex, nuanced view of sexual desire is yet one more reason why sexually explicit writing must be denigrated as filth and trash. However, if you read an erotic story (which includes daydreams and fantasies) with a careful eye, I’m sure you’ll find it as rich and elusive and worthy of analysis as any literary short story. Freud already showed that can be done. But the recent attention to (and many would say misunderstanding of) BDSM got me thinking about how power infiltrates this process of reading and writing erotica at every level, even without rushing out to buy up the rope supply at your local feed store.

If you think about it, sex and power have something very important in common. From childhood on, we’re forbidden to discuss either openly. I hardly need elaborate on the fact that sexual information is deemed harmful to minors, but our society’s power structure is equally off limits. As children we’re not supposed to question the authority of our parents, teachers or other adults. Those who do are punished, if not physically as in the past, then by diagnosis of a behavioral problem and medication. And besides, we live in a democracy where everybody is equal, and if anyone is losing the race up the ladder, it’s their own lazy fault, so what’s to critique?

Nevertheless, in the media and our lives at school, home and church, we constantly witness the workings of both sexual feelings and power play, but we can’t acknowledge them honestly. At best, they’re hidden behind safe cliche. Thus, I would argue, these two forbidden elements of human interaction are forced below the surface, into the darkness of night, if you will, and can become suggestively entwined in our imaginations. Erotic stories break one taboo. Erotic power play stories battle two—which is why they may be so compelling.

Equally appealing, for me anyway, is the true pleasure of considering the possible “meanings” of a sexual fantasy and its power dynamics. There are no right answers in this exercise, of course. Rather the more possibilities you can come up, the better.

Take the ever-popular femsub story. The simple reading is that women naturally liked to be dominated by the superior male, and these fantasies are an honest expression of a timeless female desire. I’m a feminist, but to be fair, maybe there’s something to this (especially if you replace “female” with “human”). But take a closer look at someone else’s story or your own, and what else could be going on? Wow, the subordinate partner seems to possess power—less obvious but critical to the game. Because the dominating partner—whether boss or billionaire, duke or doctor—desires the sub and aims to know and please her.

But why stop there? I’m reminded of the controversial scene in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina where Bone transforms her step-father’s sexual abuse into masturbatory fantasies. Could femsub fantasies be a way to work through the subordination and repression women still face today? If the authority figure is ordering us to be sexual, then we can be obedient good girls by complying while also enjoying sensual pleasure. Could it be that a cool, distant dom also gives us permission to get off without the prescribed romantic relationship making us honest women?

For men, I’ve noticed that delayed ejaculation is a common power play device in erotic stories. What might be going on here? Might it recreate a man’s experience of sexual scarcity and helplessness, his satisfaction fully subject to the only important question on earth—will (s)he or won’t (s)he? Does it play with the reality that everyone, men included, are punished and ridiculed for sexual feelings outside of a very narrow scenario, and god knows exhorted to wait, wait, wait? Yet, doesn’t it also show a very macho self-control over a powerful desire? And the payoff is that we all know when the tension has been building for a long time, the release is all the more powerful.

Of course every fantasy and every story will have its own unique elements—my goal is not to endorse another form of simplification. Rather, I’d like to encourage erotica readers to enjoy power’s slippery lubricant along with the other more visible and tactile varieties. To me erotic stories are much more than a masturbation aid. They are windows to our unspeakable desires within and our complex relationship with our culture’s sexual values and myths without. The mystery of night and the intensity of day all mixed up together.

So bring on the billionare and let the fun begin.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

I learned just a few days ago that the erotica webzine Oysters & Chocolate has closed down.  I expect everyone else knew this a while ago, but fortunately I’m used to being at the blunt edge of news and fashion trends.  In any case, I was very sad to hear that yet another fine erotica literary magazine has faded into history.

When I first started writing erotica, I dutifully sent my stories out by quaint snail-mail to print magazines like Libido and Yellow Silk.  Both of them ceased publication before my work was saleable enough to receive back more than a Xeroxed fortune-cookie-sized rejection.  However, soon enough I did have more luck with the then-revolutionary online magazines like Clean Sheets, Scarlet Letters, Playboy’s CyberClub, Fishnet, Ruthie’s Club, dearly departed Oysters & Chocolate, and finally The Erotic Woman and the ERWA galleries (the only two left standing from my publication list).  There are numerous other fine webzines that I won’t mention for space.  Most of these focused on an edgy, complex, not-always-feel-good—also known as “literary”–type of erotica. 

More important than a list of the fallen brave is the question of what is filling the void left by these magazines.  I don’t have a confident answer, but I’ll hazard a guess that it’s not uncommon for a new erotica writer to dash off a story, throw it up on Amazon for ninety-nine cents, then dive into the self-promotion madness before she even really knows who she is as a writer–all the while receiving plenty of encouragement for business savvy.  Of course, there are some publishers who still put out fine anthologies and welcome newcomers, but for me the webzine world was the perfect place to ease into publication and meet editors, not to mention share my work widely without imposing too much on my friends’ pocketbooks.

I have a temperament that has never loved rules or authority figures, so part of me is thrilled with the new “Wild West” atmosphere of self-publishing.  I firmly believe that anyone who takes the time to write about sex, even in a formulaic way, is going to be paying more attention to an important aspect of our humanity that is still reviled, even as it is harnessed to manipulate us by providing the addictive hit of “ideal” sex. (See Remittance Girl’s recent Apollonian & Dionysian Dialectic: Inner Conflicts and Revolutionary Acts for a discussion of this and other thought-provoking arguments about what makes for a compelling erotic story).

Yet I think we do lose something important with the demise of an editorial vision on the web.  As scary as gatekeeping editors can seem from the writer’s point of view, I appreciate that they work hard to select good stories for their readers.  With the advent of self-publishing, it’s the reader who has to wade through the slush pile—and pay for the privilege.  During the golden age of the webzine, you could click on over with confidence you’d be getting a certain level of quality.  For writers, the magazines also provided an easy way to research and be inspired by a wider variety of stories selected by veteran editors.  I learned a lot from my reading.

I may be flashing my West-Coast-hippie-romantic undies here, but I’m still dismayed by how often people invoke money as the reason they write erotica or retire from doing so.  Or rather how we’re all okay with that as the most important reason to do anything at all. 

“I thought I’d get as rich as E.L. James writing a dirty book, but it didn’t happen so I quit.” 

“Smart move, follow the money, honey—maybe try Hollywood or country music?”

Which reminds me that erotica webzines paid little or nothing.  This probably lessened their appeal to new writers as well.  Yes, I know, we all need to make a living and pay the orthodontist, but presumably most of us have sex for pleasure and emotional connection without plotting a way to get paid for it.  Why should writing about it be any different?  And why shouldn’t we enthusiastically celebrate authors who write on even without thousands in royalties?  (One inspiring example of the spiritual approach to writing erotica is described in Garce’s Confessions of a Craft Freak: Sex and the Apprentice Writer.)  I’m not saying refuse payment or stop promoting, just, you know, appreciate there are other ways to be a success.  Otherwise, we’re buying into the system that puts profit above all.  Really.

Now I definitely don’t believe the golden past is unquestionably better than the alloyed present.  After all, in the old days ice cream only came in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, and now we have Americone Dream.  But while I’m reminiscing, I’m old enough to remember way back to about 2005 when traditional print editors suddenly decided they wanted to cash in on the erotica revolution.  Many writers I know got juicy contracts for anthologies with big publishers, which meant not just money but respect.  I had great hopes this would be the break-through for sexually explicit writing that dares to go deeper than titillation followed by a chaser of sin well punished.  Finally, we were being taken seriously by the Big Boys.  Alas, the hoped-for deluge of profits did not come and they dropped us cold, proclaiming erotica dead.

We could probably have an interesting discussion about whether 50 Shades of Grey genuinely revived the erotica cause or not, but obviously millions are still intrigued by sexuality and what other people do and think about it.  Like any writer, I hope my work will be read and appreciated, although I’d choose fewer readers who appreciate what I do over millions who are getting a faked sensibility in the name of sales.

I guess I’ll just pull out the Americone Dream while I wait and see how this chapter in the publishing-and-money saga plays out.  I can always soothe myself with the undying truth that whatever form it takes, humanity’s curiosity about sex and its meaning in our lives is here to stay.

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com
or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

Hans Bellmer, The Brick Cell

There are probably a number of outstanding erotica writers out there who have written delicious novels full of BDSM kinkiness wondering why their royalty checks don’t look anything like those of E.L. James. This post is an attempt to explore why that is, and how the Erotic Romance genre is, philosophically and politically, almost the binary opposite of Erotica.

You would think that genres which predominantly focus on the nasty things two or more people get up to in bed would be closely related. Superficially, and commercially, they look very similar, but readers know they are not. Underneath the hood, ideologically, they stand almost in opposition to each other, despite the subject matter they share.

Modern erotic romance novels conform to the mythic structure of a classical comedy described by Northrop Frye. People meet, they become lovers, chaos ensues, but social order is finally restored in the form of a wedding. Although most erotic romances no longer end with a wedding, the ‘Happily Ever After’ convention is maintained through the explicit culmination of the romance in some sort mutually agreed upon serious and long-term emotional commitment to each other. By the end of the story, we are left with a stable ‘family-like’ unit. We go from order to chaos to order.

Even when the pairings in an erotic romance are non-normative, i.e. gay, lesbian, bi or trans romances, they still ultimately pay obeisance to the prevailing cultural dominance of a ‘normative’ relationship structure: two people, together forever. Even when the story revolves around a menage, it either ends with a pair at the end, and the third party neutralized somehow, or an hermetically sealed threesome that, for all intents and purposes, results in a place of domestic order.

No amount of wild, kinky or transgressive sex in the middle can mitigate the final conservative outcome of a neat, socially recognizable and culturally settled bond. The outcome of all these stories is essentially a conservative one. One that supports and perpetuates the prevailing social order.

I cannot recall who said it, but one very famous murder mystery writer once said that her readers were people who had a very passionate love of justice. No matter how gruesome the murders or thrillingly evil the murderer, he or she is inevitably caught and made to answer for the crimes.  The convention of the genre demands it. The readers expect it and are left disgruntled and unsatisfied when the implicit promise of the narrative is not delivered.

I would echo this by suggesting that, no matter how explicit, licentious or debauched the  sex, erotic romances promise something similar. These two individual characters with their chaotic taste for erotic adventure find each other and this perfect matching up of desires neutralizes whatever destabilizing influences they might have on society. The inevitable pairing at the end guarantees the reader a return to emotional and sexual order. Erotic Romance lovers are essentially ideologically conservative in their appreciation of a restoration of the social order.

But, according to Georges Bataille (the French writer and thinker who spent more time considering eroticism that almost anyone else on the planet) this conservative social order and eroticism are almost mutually exclusive.  Eroticism, said Bataille, is a uniquely human phenomenon that results from an excess of sexual energy. (Unlike almost all other animals, humans indulge in sex far more than the continuation of the species demands. Our instinct to have sex might be procreative, but our desire to have it far outstrips the needs of nature.)  This excess, this eroticism, is a dangerous and destabilizing force, he said. Which is exactly why all cultures, in one way or another, have attempted to control the effects of this energy and why so many of our religions, taboos and customs are especially focused on matters of sexuality and violence. Foremost amongst the mechanisms used to control these desires is the institution of marriage and the promotion of monogamous, procreative relationships.

Bataille, Lacan, Zizek, Deleuze, and others have made interesting observations on how one of the most effective ways to control humans within society is through work. Work occupies us, distracts us, commits us to the social order.  Spouses, mortgages, and 2.3 children turn out to be a very good way to keep us occupied, working to support them. So the myth of the romantic ideal of the permanent single partner whom we lust after in perpetuity and love eternally serves that hegemonic structure well. Perpetuating that myth through erotic romances encourages us to aspire to that myth in reality, make it our loftiest of all goals, and ultimately to internalize and validate that authority and its rules of social order with enthusiasm.

But the reality is that eroticism is a fleeting, liminal human experience. It does not – cannot – last long. And it would not be so attractive or precious to us if it could. Erotic heights are by their nature impermanent, chaotic, and fundamentally transgressive. Our greatest erotic experiences occur right at the edges of the limits imposed not only from without (in the form of prohibitions, taboos and religious interdictions) but more importantly, at our inner limits of the rules of behaviour we have internalized. Erotic ecstasy is the place where we lose ourselves, not just to another, but to the structured world. This, of course, cannot be sustained.  Or rather, it can only be sustained in death.

A person who gives themselves permission to enter this state of erotic rebellion is an anathema to the fabric of social order, since none of the rewards that society can offer them have any value in that moment. They are in a state of revolution against the stable, against categorization, against limitation, against even language itself. And this is what lies at the heart of all the best erotica. This essentially transgressive, anarchic, unconstrained state of being.

It took me a fairly long time to fathom why I, as a writer and reader, had such a deep antipathy toward the narrative structure of erotic romance. What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I like a good love story? Why can’t my characters end up blissfully happy and together forever? I have come to feel that the underlying text of the story-form of the erotic romance is a type of conservative social propaganda. Not ‘unfeminist’ as some feminists have claimed, but simply reflective and supportive of the status quo as regards all our positions as productive, functioning and controllable members of the current social structure.

I am, at heart, deeply anti-authoritarian.  And although in my everyday life, I am a quite a law-abiding, acquiescent citizen, I am not interested in taking that part of my world into my fictional writing.

The eroticism that does interest me lies in the opposite direction: that place of impermanence, transgression, and dangerous erotic experience. Its very instability is what I find so blindingly beautiful, intriguing and exciting.

So it is really not so very surprising that, despite the veneer of transgressiveness, Fifty Shades of Grey has done so much better than well-written, more erotic, more informed pieces of erotic fiction. Because beneath all the surface naughtiness, E.L. James’ ‘global shocker’ strongly reinforces a very stable and conservative social order. And, the truth is, most readers are far more comfortable with that.

(And before anyone jumps all over me, I would like to underscore that I’ve used the word ‘conservative’ to mean ideologically at home with the status quo and traditional social structures. I haven’t accused anyone here of voting Republican.)

Erotica writers get no
respect. (Apologies to Rodney Dangerfield.)

I’m sure every
erotica and erotic romance writer has been mocked for what she writes. (I’m
using the feminine pronoun only because most erotic writers I know are female.)
We are told a squirrel could write what we write since it doesn’t take much
talent, and that women of little intelligence read it. That sort of thing
normally doesn’t bother me since I have a cast iron resolve, but I posted in a
forum recently where I felt like “one of the guys”, letting everyone
know about one of my erotic books making it to #18 in Amazon’s free erotic
Kindle books. That’s the highest I’ve ever ranked, and I was proud of it. I wanted
to let everyone know so they could pick up a copy of the book and drive me to
#1.

Didn’t happen.

Instead they
ridiculed me, which took me completely by surprise. They made comments like,
“An erotic romance novel? I’m so scared I think I just peed myself.” I
was quite miffed, although I shouldn’t let that kind of thing get to me.
Ridicule may be one of the professional hazards we take as erotic writers, and
we deserve combat pay for it. I’ve heard of other women tsk-tsked by family
members, laughed at by friends, and given the hairy eyeball by work colleagues
when these people find out we write stories with hot, steaming sex in them. Too
many people who have never picked up an erotic book in their lives think the
prose reads something like D. M. Dunn’s Dishonorable Mention Romance winner in
the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Awards contest: “Their love began as a tailor,
quickly measuring the nooks and crannies of their personalities, but it soon
became the seamstress of subterfuge, each of them aware of the others lingual
haberdashery: Mindy trying to create a perfect suited garment to display in
public and Sean only concerned with the inseam.” Too many people who have
never touched an erotic book or a romance novel think all of them contain words
like “turgid”, “throbbing man meat”, and “burning
slit”.

What About Other Erotic Fiction Writers?

I interviewed erotic
romance writers about whether or not those closest to them take their chosen
profession seriously, and most had some horror stories to tell. I noticed
common elements, such as ridiculing the writers by reading steamy passages
aloud at family gatherings in order to get a few laughs at the writer’s
expense. Calling what they write “trash” or “smut” or
“porn”. Wondering why they “waste their time” if they
aren’t making much money at it, if any at all. After all, why aren’t they
making as much money as that woman who wrote “50 Shades of Grey”? Those
from conservative or religious backgrounds bore a great deal of ridicule and
tut-tutting.

Gina’s ex-significant
other did everything in his power to prevent her from working and he still does,
although he’s the biggest purveyor of porn she’s ever met. Gina owns a small,
independent erotic romance publishing company. She had no issue with his porn
until he found it more preferable to masturbate than to have sex with her. Ann
heard that one of her sisters had shown her erotic romance web site to older
family members at a family gathering in the hope of shocking them and shaming
her. She also read aloud snippets from one of Ann’s steamy ménage romances, at
the top of her voice, after dinner. This was not done in a supportive manner to
promote her sister’s books.

Similar stories
abound, especially accusations that what we write is porn as if that’s a bad
thing. Sex columnist and author Violet Blue describes the difference between
porn and erotica for Psychology Today: “Porn is something that is a
graphic sexual image that conjures up an animalistic reaction in you. You like
it or you don’t,” she says. “Erotica also is graphic sexual imagery,
but it has an extra component or several extra components that resonate with
the viewer—be it artistic, be it passionate, be it something that emotionally
engages you, be it something that parlays into a fantasy that you have about
sexuality or the way that you relate to the people on screen.” When the
general public sees “porn”, it views it as gratuitous sexual imagery without
emotional connection that serves no useful purpose, and this view is a negative
one when it doesn’t have to be. As Violet Blue said, you like it or you don’t.
It’a a matter of taste.

A woman told Jerry,
a male erotica writer, that she refused to read or write porno. He elaborated
on his chosen form of writing, saying he writes stories with sex scenes but she
probably refused to listen. Shawn, another man who writes erotica, was also told
what he wrote was porn and he was wasting his time since he’d never make any
money at it. He was also told it was illegal. His family told him he was an
embarrassment to them. He wasn’t fazed, and continued to write erotica. His
girlfriend’s family even went to court to get a judge to keep him away from
her. That didn’t work. His girlfriend’s family has a very large trust fund she’ll
get when she turns 35. They think he’s after her money, which isn’t true.

Jean
made a very good point when she told me: “It’s the romance part that is
the stickler, Lizzie. People don’t take romance stories seriously. Somehow,
they think romance is easier to write or less important or emotional or
meaningful. And they are so wrong. But I don’t bother trying to explain. I
simply chalk them off my list.” Drew told Jean she could always remind
those people that “everything from Gone
With The Wind
to Romeo and Juliet
to When Harry Met Sally are romances,
and then tell them to shove it.”

Religion plays a
huge factor in disapproval, especially from family members. Shawn’s
girlfriend’s family is extremely religious. They tell him what he writes is
against God’s will and he’s tainting their daughter with his porn. (There’s
that word “porn” again.) Karenna told me: “At the church I used to attend, a woman I didn’t know
well asked me about my writing. She smiled and nodded when I said I wrote
novels for teens. When I said I also wrote adult romance, her expression
changed and she looked at me like she’d scraped me off the bottom of her shoe. My
husband’s grandmother and one of his aunts had similar reactions. The
grandmother actually put her hands over her ears and said, “I prefer not
to discuss that kind of thing. Times have certainly changed; that used to be
private.”

Creative Solutions

Not
all is gloomy. I’ve heard from erotic writers who have very creative ways of
handling the negative feedback they get. I proudly blurt, “I write
smut!” when asked and I enjoy the shocked and stupefied expressions on
people’s faces. Then, once I have them off guard, I explain in plain, gentle
English what I actually write. Interest in my writing is piqued enough for me
to sell some books. Kendall’s girlfriend constantly interrupts him when he’s
writing erotica. She looks over his shoulder, lets out heavy sighs, turns on
the TV very loudly or has loud telephone conversations. It’s very irritating
and distracting, which is her intension. However, if he’s writing something non-erotic
like an essay or play, she leaves him alone. Gina had an amusing suggestion –
the next time she sighs loudly, “grab her and toss her on the bed and do
super naughty things to her. Betcha she won’t bother you when you’re writing
erotica again for a while. When she does she’ll do the exact same thing as she
did last time, hoping for the same results – keep your ears open. Eventually
it’ll work out for you both. Trust me.”

I am
like many erotic writers in that I am very selective about which people I allow
into my literary world. My parents and sister aren’t supportive. They don’t
ridicule or give me the hairy eyeball. They simply have no interest in what I
write, and they don’t give me any support. I have a feeling if I discussed my
writing at length they’d disapprove., but I don’t want to test that theory. My
writing never comes up in conversation, and I don’t volunteer information. I
also write horror, and even that is greeted with a blank stare. I’ve developed
a close relationship with an older couple. They give me lots of support about
my writing. My husband and son are also very supportive. I have writer friends
online and in meat space I look to for conversation and advice I know I won’t
get from my family. One of my closest friends is a science fiction writer who
is very supportive of my work. Laurie also is very selective about who she
tells, as is Regina. Regina told me: “If someone brings it up I’m okay
with it. But I never say anything on my own.” Laurie replied that her
husband will tell some of his friends that he wants to be married to a smut
author. I imagine him saying that with a twinkle in his eye and a proud smile.

I work
at home and I’m my own boss so I don’t have a supervisor to worry about. Not
all writers are that fortunate. Tessa cheekily asked how she should handle the
fact that her day job boss knows about her extra-curricular writing job. Julez
suggested she smile sweetly and give him a copy of her books. She would but she
writes personal assistant/boss stories and she doesn’t want to give him the wrong
idea, something that could be very amusing.

It
must be a work hazard all of us erotic writers must deal with at one time or
another – negative feedback about our chosen profession from friends, family,
and work colleagues. I also would bet my burning slit many of those who mock
what we write have their own dog-eared copies of “50 Shades of Grey”
shoved beneath their mattresses, hidden away as if they are teenagers keeping
copies of Playboy away from mom and dad. Considering that erotica and
especially romance novels sell like hotcakes – outselling books in all other
genres – we may laugh at the ridicule and snippy looks as we deposit our
royalty checks into our growing bank accounts. In the end, as always, success
is its own reward.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica

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