Erotica is more than just sex on page, Erotica speaks to our inner-most demons: a lesson about our humanity
Sex is a touchy subject, and a very personal one, even in books. In the past six to seven months I’ve read a lot of Erotica, I’ve even written one myself. I’m not a prude, I don’t mind talking about it, and I’ve written blog posts about it earlier. Recently, I was contacted by a fellow author who was wondering about a very particular question regarding sex in books. We began an online discussion, on Facebook first, and it was so interesting that I figured I’d try to make a blog post of it. Unfortunately, and I’ll get back to that later, it became very personal after while, feelings were hurt and we decided to call it quits. Here’s the beginning of that post, the “mission statement” so to speak:
“For some time now, I’ve been thinking about sex, and the way sex is described on page. I’ve noted subtle differences in how I (a gay man) read sex, how I react to sex on page, and how female readers react to it. I’ve read the works of several authors, and was recently contacted by another one, to ask me about this very same question. I’ve invited them on the blog to discuss sex, erotica, and how they view differences between male, female, and how the sex on/off page varies depending on who you have in mind as audience. My first question: IS there a difference between how men and women write and read sex?”
Let me respond to the question myself (having the responses of my colleagues in the background): YES, there is a difference, and I’ve seen this not just in the reviews for Ross Deere – Handy Man, but also in the discussions we’ve had. It seems that “male erotica”, i.e. geared toward men, is more mechanic in nature, it is more detailed in the description of the actual act, whereas “female erotica” tends to focus more on the emotional aspects, particular before the sex. All authors I’ve spoken to about this say they have a specific audience in mind when they write. Now, not every man and every woman reacts the same, reads the same. We are talking tendencies here, nothing more.
I remember a particular lesson when I studied psychology. The professor was telling us that one of the differences between men and women was that men need the intimacy of sex to kick-start their emotional bonding with their partner, whereas women need an initial emotional bond before they have sex. It’s a small but very important difference, and again, the correlation in psychological studies, to be considered strong, is around 40%, which basically means that only four of ten people feel that way, but they are the largest single group, not necessarily the majority. I’m stating this here to avoid the other 60% to go off on a tangent about “yeah, but I…” Yes, you may feel differently, but you do not constitute the largest single group, s’all.
Hence, sex written for men would not talk about the romance or love aspects until after the physical act, whereas sex written for women would include the wooing and the emotions even before the fucking. Make sense? I think Ross Deere – Handy Man is a good example of male erotica. I specifically remember one review I read, where the author was criticizing me for not including enough romance (it’s erotica, duh, not romance) and for the absence of emotions. I re-read the book and was baffled. There is plenty of love, plenty of romance, and the particular encounters in the book are all about the friendships and bonds created as a result of the sex. But yes, it’s male erotica, and the bond is created because of the sex, not to have it. Understanding that difference makes it easier for me swallow reviews that just don’t seem to like the story. It’s because it wasn’t written for them.
Sex, writing sex and reading sex, how can it be such a touchy subject? How is it possible that our discussion became so personal that we had to abandon it? Well, I’m not sure, but I think part of it has to do with the fact that writing such scenes, to a certain degree, is very personal. It is about our own desires, kinks, experiences. Right now, BDSM is huge in Erotica, and most of what I’ve read was very violent. And there is a twist, and I found it interesting to explore: most of the gay erotica is read by women. That is no surprise, given that most books are read by women. So why wouldn’t women read gay sex?
Why indeed? It boils down to a couple of things which I’ve heard a lot from the readers I’ve interviewed: two men are better than one (duh!) and that the relationships are more equal in how they’re described than what would be typical in het romance/erotica. In other words, women long for equal relationships. Can’t say I blame them.
When it comes to the BDSM aspect, I’ve gathered from our discussion that women don’t like to read about women being hurt, but they don’t have an issue with men being hurt. In fact, in a recent online discussion, someone mentioned that she enjoyed reading gay stories where the main character is tortured (“I like dark twisted reads, sex trade, slaves, selling body parts, kidnapped stories etc“) Body parts? Really? Well, I’ve read a lot as part of my research, and while I haven’t come across anything like this yet, I’ve read scenes that made my stomach churn. And this is where I have an issue with it: what makes it okay to “hurt” gay men in books, but not women? Granted, that’s just me, and I don’t claim to be representative for gay men. And why do people want/need/seek out this sort of violence in the first place?
Somewhere here, in our group discussion, feelings were hurt, because all of a sudden, it had become very personal, and deep dark secrets were shared. I don’t claim it’s the answer to the question, but I gathered that it is not uncommon for a lot of us to be victims of sexual abuse, probably more so for women than men.
And without claiming a correlation, I’ve noticed two ways to react to such abuse in your past: you read more about it, or you avoid it altogether. We cope differently. I’ve been the victim of sexual abuse as a child, and I’ve been raped as an adult. Maybe that colors my dislike for such descriptions on page. I find BDSM utterly distasteful.
Please note: I, not you, not anyone else, just ME! Don’t infer anything else here. Why? Maybe (I don’t know) it’s because I was once forced to do things I didn’t want to, which is really at the core of BDSM, to always be borderline. For some of us, it’s too borderline.
To me, there’s also a political aspect. I do not condone violence (sexual or otherwise) against women. Why would I condone violence against men? And why would I find it acceptable if a women thinks it’s disgusting to read about women being raped but okay for men to suffer such treatment? Don’t get me wrong, I certainly understand the reasoning behind it. I understand the need to cope, to safely relive such things, with the victim being a man, hence impossibly you. It’s a safe way to relive, to try to understand. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. And if we were to dream about excerpting revenge for how we were once treated, why not turn it against those who hurt us in the first place? Not that I’m a big fan of revenge either, but… Why let another disenfranchised group suffer?
There is no moral to this post. It just is a reflection. People read books for many different purposes. Some read to exorcise demons, others to call to them. If I’ve learned anything from the past few weeks is that Erotica, and sex in books, is so much more than just getting your rocks off. It often goes to the very core of who we are, as humans, what we’ve been through as children, adolescents and adults. I would like to thank everyone who’s contributed to the making of this post, consciously or subconsciously. It’s been months in the making, and I think I’m good now. I think I finally understand why I wrote Ross Deere – Handy Man, and I’m more proud than ever before for actually writing that story. Yes, it was originally intended as a quite different project, but in hindsight, I realize that my subconscious – as always – had a hand in making it the book it’s become. And I think I’ve learned the lesson my mind was trying to teach me all along.
Have a great week,