Content Warning, Mature Themes.
As with all my blogs the opinions stated here are my own and presented for informational purposes only.
So, I’ve been thinking about a blog centered around eroticism and sex as part of a narrative for a while and it has prompted me to give some thought to my own position on the topic. Now sex is quite a big part of literature, from ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by D.H. Lawrence to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by E. L. James (don’t ask me for my opinion of the latter, please) even to the Dinosaur-otica (yes, you read it right) most prolifically authored by Christie Sims. It is its own genre and a huge market but, what is the place of eroticism and sexual content in more mainstream fiction?
To my mind a book, like any media, is a feast for the senses, we’re looking to provoke emotional reactions and responses, to entertain and engage our audience and, in that way titillation through eroticism is another tool available to us for that purpose. I’ve read stories where it has been used well and where it has been used badly. One notable example, if the anecdote is to be believed, was the result of published pressure. The old adage of ‘sex sells’ used to encourage the writer to shoehorn in a racy scene the book didn’t need. I’ve also read a series where, after a few books, the sex became seemingly the point of the story and that was disappointing, especially when the author had another set of titles where such material was infinitely more appropriate to the setting.
Now, it’s interesting to note that, while books with sexual content have been suppressed in the past (Lady Chatterley, for example, wasn’t available in the UK or US until the 1960’s), they are now widely available but rarely subject to the tight controls or age classification of movies, the ‘watershed’ of TV or the even Explicit Content warnings on music (at least, here in the UK). To date there is an ever growing range of fiction titles aimed specifically at young adults and dealing with sex and sexuality but how much detail is expected in such stories? The answer is ‘I don’t know’. That’s something you have to figure out for yourself, what are you comfortable with sharing.
That’s the same for adult books too. How much page space do you want to dictate to a sexual or erotic encounter? So far my personal approach has been been to go as far as is required to drive the story before drawing the curtain and leaving it to the readers imagination. While the characters involved are still sharing or developing their relationships I’ll stay ‘camera on’ but no further. I’ve also used seemingly erotic content to put the reader off-balance and bring a sense of perversion to a scene (the scenes between Morgana and Geoffrey in Dragon Fire and Dark Magic) because we are never more vulnerable than in those intimate moments.
This leads me on to the subject of sexual violence/abuse. It’s a distasteful subject, not one that is, or should, be ‘comfortable’ to discuss but it’s something society needs to discuss until its no longer a factor and that’s is a discussion writers can inform through their work. It’s a sensitive subject too, in the wake of the #MeToo movement it has become appallingly clear that sexual abuse and violence is pervasive in our so-called ‘civilized’ society. It’s not something that should be ignored (as has been the case for too long), nor something that should be normalised or approached casually. Like with anything else, if you’re not writing from experience (and there’s a lump in my gut even as I write this considering that) then do your research, be sure that it’s what the story needs and approach it the ‘right’ way.
That said I remain sex-positive. Further down the line perhaps I will write a ‘nuts and bolts’ sex scene and I hope to do so in a way that conveys a healthy attitude toward body positivism, consent and individual autonomy. Maybe take the ’emotional weight’ out of it and portray something fun for those involved. It seems common that sex equates to a ‘step up’ in a romantic relationship and carries the burden and expectation tied to that. Healthy sexual relationships based on respect and informed consent should never be approached as ‘taboo’ and they don’t need to be restricted to characters in romantic relationships. The idea that humans ‘need’ a commitment to engage in sex is outdated in my opinion. All that is needed is a basic respect for each other and a responsible approach to the act. The sense of mutual respect and responsibility in any relationship is what we, as writers ought to be normalising in these times.
There’s much in the way of expectation and old opinions which we, as a society, are still carrying with us. The pressure on young men to ‘play the scene’, the idea that young women who do likewise are somehow ‘dirty’ and the idea that anything that isn’t hetero is ‘wrong’. These ideals cling on stubbornly and they still influence elements of media narrative which in turn influences the audience, little by little. So, as producers of media, it’s our responsibility to present a healthier picture, paint a better world around the trials and tribulations of our characters where we can. Influence understanding, tolerance and kindness through writing.
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