Category Archives: Sexuality
One of the things that I love about erotica is the fact that it gives writers an opportunity to challenge cultural expectations about sex and sexuality. For decades in American culture, simply talking about sex at all flies in the fact of acceptable mores. As sexuality has become more welcome in the public sphere, erotica continues to push the conversation by flirting with the edges of the unconventional and the taboo. As a proponent of sex-positivity, I very much approve of this this, since being exposed to sexual subcultures in any fashion helps normalize them; even if the reader never chooses to participate, it might make them more accepting of others who do.
Unfortunately, as much as we love erotica, it’s hard to argue that ideas coming from it might have a certain stigma attached. Luckily, though, in the last few decades we’ve seen cultural sexual conversation (particularly American sexual culture) expanding on many fronts.
For example, In the past few weeks, two articles have come across my newsfeeds addressing topics near and dear to my heart: female sexuality and polyamory. Now, it’s not unusual for online content generators to mine such topics for link-bait articles, but these articles are not such sensationalist jink. Indeed, they are frank, accurate, reasonable discussions about these so-called fringe areas of sexuality and are lent further legitimacy by their sources: the article on female sexuality is from the New York Magazine, and the polyamory article is in The Atlantic. Encouragingly, rather than being scandalized, people seem excited to use these articles as a starting point for open discussion. One friend in my poly-community said that the Atlantic article in particular is, quote, “The sort of thing I can send to my mom!”
Hopefully material like this–as well as the respectable research these articles cite–represents a coming seachange in how our culture views sexuality, and I for one am excited to be a part of the movement.
They say the internet is for porn–a fact which I certainly can’t contest, considering I would be making the argument on a blog dedicated to discussing sex and erotica writing–but the internet is also for nerds. It is, in many ways, our Promised Land, the place where we can simultaneously be ourselves (and any other personality we choose) in a Dali-esque landscape littered with cats and references to Dr. Who. This might seem a strange juxtaposition–sex and nerds, two armies of conflicting culture battling for the same territory–but the reality is these two armies are stronger allies than most outsiders might realize. Why?
This past July, HuffPo posted an article discussing a recent clinical study on BDSM and mental health. Even though by internet standards it’s ancient news, it’s making the rounds of my social network feeds again. Now that I have this blog, I thought this would be a good forum to comment.
The study’s findings boil down to this:
People who are into kinky sex may be psychologically healthier than those who are not, says a new study. Researchers found that people who were involved in BDSM — bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism — scored better on certain indicators of mental health than those who did not bring kink into the bedroom
What I really like about this article circulating is that everyone who has posted it is a kinkster themselves, and every one of their reactions has been something along the lines of, “Uhh….yeah! Duh!”
The article discusses some theories as to why this is the case. One favorite seems to be the rather elaborate hypothesis of:
People involved in the BDSM community may have scored better on these surveys because…they have done some “hard psychological work” to accept and live with sexual needs that are beyond the scope of what is often considered socially acceptable to discuss in the mainstream.
In other words, rather than try and suppress subversive desires, causing stress and all it’s downstream effects, these people have embraced their inner demons and come to terms with their darker sides. A darkly romantic idea that seems to have spawned from the few pieces of kinky cannon that have leaked over to the mainstream. And while it’s not an impossible hypothesis, I think it is secondary to the most likely explanation.
Communication. Communication. Communication.
One of the things that has really struck me about the BDSM community is how much of its culture is built upon connecting with your own needs and communicating them to your partner. Some of these communications might be more ritualized and formalized than others, but in order for BDSM to really work, they have to be there in some form. Any of these forms of communication are usually still way ahead of the communication expected in “mainstream” sexual interactions and relationships.
The good news is, the more you practice, the easier such communication becomes. The magical news is this connection with your needs and a willingness to express them bleed over to other aspects of your life. Once you’ve mastered things like negotiating the right amount of impact in your play, or what exactly you will allow to be put inside your body, then the more banal things like negotiating the dishes or identifying your preferences for your weekend plans become easier as well.
Or at least, that’s how it happened for me.
I am (unfortunately) pretty straight, but that doesn’t stop me from having girl-crush on the writer and sex educator Allison Moon. I first saw her when she was a co-presenter at a sex education talk given with her partner, Reid Mihalko. Later I ran into her at a science fiction writing convention. I learned there that we have friends in common, which just about blew my mind (who would have thought that the local sex-positive community would be so incestuous?) Because of our shared interests and connections, I decided to support her developing writing career by checking out her Tales of the Pack books about lesbian werewolves (Lunatic Fringe is the first book, and Hungry Ghost is the second). Even though I am not a lesbian (and, last I checked, not a werewolf either) I highly enjoyed the books. I was drawn to her characters and sensual writing style. I have even used the latter as an inspiration to deepen the sensuality of my own work.
I recently heard of a new project she has in the works that’s part comic book, part erotica, and part sexual education manual. It focuses on lesbian perspectives and in her description of the project she indicates that she hopes young lesbian women will use it as a fun, straightforward guide to understanding their developing sensuality. Basically the very definition of a sex-positive project, which I am 110% for. In addition, other famous artists and sex educators are contributing to the project, including Tristan Taormino (whom I also girl-crush on). Like her previous novels, Allison is funding the project through Kickstarter.
Even if you’re not interested in reading the final product, if you support sex-positive education for people of all orientations and genders, you should totally go support this project!
I am a big fan of the website Cracked.com. They classify themselves as a humor website and their primary content is listicles that comment on various aspects of pop-culture. They have an impressive range of material, from lighthearted snark (such as deconstructing the fashion of hipsters), to surprisingly-insightful and well-researched commentary on human psychology and behavior (like this entry discussing how feelings of hate and anger in humans are actually psychologically addictive, which I have thought about almost every day since the first time I read it). And yes, since they are a humor site and not a academic journal, their conclusions can be prone to hyperbole, but I enjoy their general writing style and can often be found scrolling through the latest entries on my phone while eating sushi by myself before dance class.
This week, one of their top stories discusses six commonly-held myths about sex. Now, not to be all sex-hipster about it, but I already knew most of these points were myths, since I run with a very sex-positive crowd and actually know some professional sex-educators. But I thought Item #1 on the list was very interesting, not because I didn’t know it was a myth (I did), but the fact that it’s apparently such a common belief that it was cited as #1 on the list.
The myth is that for women, losing their virginity through vaginal sex is always a painful experience. The article describes it as such:
“For a guy, losing his virginity is like winning the lottery while simultaneously eating bacon and playing an early-release copy of GTA V, if all those things only took 30 seconds. Girls, on the other hand, dread their first time because it’s less winning the lottery and more getting repeatedly stabbed in the groin with a fleshy harpoon. It’s in pop culture all the time: A happy young couple attempts to lose their virginity. Cue comedic/creepy scene of the girl awkwardly trying to endure the pain, immediately followed by the obligatory off-screen premature ejaculation. Starring Jason Segel or Seth Rogen.”
The article goes on to discuss why this myth is false, citing evidence like the fact that the hymen is usually broken by the time the woman reaches reproductive age (there are medical conditions where this is not the case, but they are uncommon), and that situations where the woman does feel pain are often do to things like poor lubrication and muscle tension (ironically caused in the first place by stress from worrying that the sex will hurt). And while anecdotes are not data, I can personally confirm that it is possible for a woman to lose one’s virginity pain-free, as my first time was easy-breezy.
So if I knew this myth was false, why am I dwelling on this? Well I got to thinking that if the general public believes that first-time sex for women is painful, does that affect how they respond to erotica that does not portray it this way? One of the things I have learned from my general studies on writing and storytelling is to be mindful of “believability” in writing. Even if you are literally describing something that actually happened, if the audience doesn’t believe it, it will ruin the story (Cracked has an amusing article on this phenomenon as well). This is one reason why so many unrealistic tropes persist in popular culture; storytelling media are held hostage by the beliefs of their audience.
So say someone writes an amazing coming-of-age story about a young woman discovering her sexuality and having a passionate first time with a hunky man? It happens quite often in the romance-romance genre. In my experience, though, people seem to find this theme just as much idealized fantasy as the rest of the story, but accept that because they knew that’s what they were getting into when they picked up the book. But the world of erotica seems to be struggling with public conceptions and mainstream acceptance, and many skeptical readers seem to be looking for reasons to write off (ha) individual stories or the genre as a whole. Perhaps they might use this preconception as a weapon against a story, no matter how realistic and sex-positive it is.
I don’t have any answers, of course, this is just something I’m thinking about. I’d welcome discussion in the comments!