Sex sells, of course, but is there a point where it becomes too much?
I came across a post on Facebook by one of the many authors I know. It was one of those sexy men pics that flash by on my stream every day, and it gave me pause: et tu Brute? Never before had I seen the headless torso, that awful thing that has appeared on the cover of MM romance novels for a decade on his wall before. He writes gay fiction, mostly for young adults, and I guess, he, too, realized that sex sells, consciously or not, but after all the dorky convention pictures and crooked smiles, the headless torso was certainly a big leap.
I’ve spent a great deal thinking about that, not just as I try to steer clear of all the sexy men on my Facebook wall, but also in light of the recent debate in Europe about how straight men treat women in public with all the sexual assaults, rapes and groping that has been reported recently. And while we can debate about the reasons and whether or not this is an immigrant thing or not, it is a fact, sex permeates every aspect of our lives, and there is likely going to be an influence of what we read, watch and see on our real life behavior. We are, after all, influenced by the media, and not just for the sake of it. Sex sells books, it sells cars and protein bars, and might just – sadly – influence our own behavior toward others, “as seen on TV”. But when is enough, enough? When will it no longer work? When will we have had enough?
I’ve certainly had enough, a long time ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love sex, I watch porn and jerk off to it, and I certainly don’t have an issue with being nude or seeing someone naked (online or elsewhere.) BUT! And this is my point, what about our sensitivity to it? Where’s that overload point? Is it when they’ll start to market milk using a penis or – god forbid – a vagina? For now (and the sake of this post), let me stick to writing and my own genre, gay literature, MM literature specifically. Eight of ten readers are women, straight women, most of them happily married or divorced, they’d never even get close to gay sex in their real lives, yet they revel in the fantasy of two men humping, in what I’ve been told is logic, as “two men are better than one.” Which makes it so – duh – logical that het men fantasize about two women humping. For me, as a gay man, no such luck, as neither het nor lesbian sex are in the least bit interesting to me, there’s no two for the price of one here, as I suffer from a severe case of vaginofobia! I do understand that it’s all about the fantasy, not reality, yet still, sensory overload anyone?
In all but one (!) of the writing conferences I’ve attended, strippers, erotic dancers or butt-naked butlers were present to entice the audiences, to the joy of both women and gay men. The BDSM workshops are always “sold out” and the doors locked tight. And on the book covers I see, the stories I read, the sex tends to become rawer, and more “brutal” (for lack of a better word, although I hear that it’s called “dark erotica”, I’ll review one such book on Wednesday, and I’ve reviewed a couple such books last fall, one gender-bending example, one het.) In my own writing, and my marketing, I’ve tried to stay away from this as much as I could, for as long as I could (which translates into lower sales numbers, but so be it.) I had my first real* face on a cover on my fifth novel, and my first couple on book number six, and my first torso (though not headless and with armpits to make my toes curl) on the one coming out next week, book number seven. It’s also on the coming novel that I dip my curled toes in erotica, in sex, and I’ve put together a trailer that is very sexy and very light on skin. So why am I complaining about others? (*I had a sketched face on book 3)
I’m not! That is important here, I’m not passing judgement. I’m reflecting. Mind you, there’s a difference. Subtle but important.
If you think you can sell more books about your romances set in ancient Rome with the pictures of naked legionaries, go ahead, if you think your fireman story sells more with a fireman bending over to showcase his bubble butt with a grin, good for you. As writers of gay fiction we are lucky in that our male nipples are safe on Facebook (that’s sexism for you), naked butts not so much (that’s American double morale for you). So we mostly see torsos, while Twitter, void of any restrictions showcases it all, if your heart desires (thank God for the mute function!)
I wonder, when is enough, enough? When will readers be so fed up with the sex that they’ll become oblivious to it? Sex sells, but how long? When will the stimulus lose its appeal? Seems to me the recent trend in more and more BDSM in fiction, kicked off in main stream by that shady book series, is a sign of what’s to cum (pun intended.) Whereto next? What comes after BDSM, when it no longer brings us the thrills that the headless torso obviously no longer provides us with? Will we see a return to a more demure (I hate that word) period, with more romantic covers, less humans but more symbolism? Will sex once again be off page rather than in our face? If so, I would welcome it.
Which of course begs the question: why am I writing erotica and marketing it with the sexiest book trailer in the history of book trailers (and very tongue in cheek, I hope that comes across loud and clear?!)
Well, I, too, fell victim to the pressure of writing, what my father (who is an active supporter of my writing) would call, “commercially successful” (as if you could just sit down and do that), and my own vain (?) desire to write a book depicting gay sex as realistically as possible (without balls slapping into your partner’s chin during a 69), with positions that I’ve all personally tested, par one (which, that is for me to know.)
All else is real, as in “been there, done that”, real. I wanted to write a story that isn’t “out there”, that isn’t “over the top”, where vanilla rules (just as it does in most of our bedrooms), and where the people in the book are just genuinely nice guys (not assholes or jerks.) Yes, they’re human and flawed, but they try to live good decent lives. I’ll grant you that after three forays into the genre (my first, my only and my last), I’m done! And even though I’ve long ago stopped saying never say never, I think my contribution to Erotica will be this one time only.
I don’t shy away from on page sex in my books, if and when it adds to the plot, when it is vital to bringing the story forward (which can be for many reasons), but most of the time, my sex will remain off pages. I’ve also, very consciously, decided to go back to my roots, and my two other confirmed releases this year will be anything but pure “literary” covers: no faces, no torsos, no humans. I’m also writing a very dark book about a serial killer (I want to explore the darkest sides of humanity), and in my vision, that cover, too, will be very literary, very noir.
I don’t know when the general public, the audience, the readers, will change their
ways, and what would then prompt authors to follow suit. If looking at the pace of society in general, and our media exposure specifically, is any indication, we haven’t seen the “worst” yet (whatever that may be), but rather we’ll continue on this gentle slope toward the next step (is Hunger Games or Running man an indication of what beckons in terms of media thrills?)
I for one will not begin to put naked men on my Facebook page or Instagram. I’ll just continue to be me, and that may be as horny as the next guy, but if I share something, it’ll be genuine (like the story I once shared about me and a cute guy from room service) and from the heart, not a calculated (or sloppy) trick in the hopes of attracting more readers, because I doubt that works, since almost everybody’s doing it.
Fellow writers, authors, dear readers, what is your take? When is enough, enough? What is enough? Sex sells of course, but when do you feel the proverbial penis has been in your face or even shoved down your throat? Let’s have it in the comments…
I’ll be back on Wednesday with my review of Jenna Johanis Claimed by the Order, her first book in the S-Gods series. I hope you’ll join me again, then.
Have a wonderful week!