- This is an essay I wrote in response to the Belle Knox controversy. I shopped it around various outlets but have had no responses. So, here it is. It may be a fitting way to begin the end of my erotic writing career. I’m not short of ideas, but I feel as though I’ve said most of what I want to say. One of my favorite works of literature growing up was Goethe’s Faust. What made Goethe’s Faust so interesting was the deal he made with Mephistopheles. He sold his soul for knowledge but with this proviso: Mephistopheles could only keep his soul if Mephistopheles also corrupted him. In the end, Faust kept his soul. No matter Mephistopheles’ temptations, Faust’s love of knowledge was never made complacent. I have much more writing in me, but erotica may be largely over. I have more than a few loose ends but I guess I’m like Faust in that regard. Ideas are my temptations, no sooner tried but I want to explore the next. Expect fewer stories but those that I do write will be better, I hope — or very different at the least. The last few years I’ve been primarily an erotic writer. No more. Now I’m just a visiting friend.
What I Learned by Writing Erotica
“‘Nasty bitch. You’re wet.‘ Rain rolled down my face like tears. I shook my head no and pouted like a little girl. “Oh yes you are,” he growled. He shoved first one finger, then two, then three in and out of me. My chest began to burn with lack of oxygen. He expertly flipped his wrist and unsheathed a switch blade. He pressed it into the place on my neck that bounced with my rushing pulse.”
I removed a few explicit lines from the passage above, but you get the idea.
I write erotica. I’ve been writing erotica for several years now. I share a blog with three other writers, two women and another man. The blog has received almost a million and a half visits and has been voted, depending which list you consult, as among the top 25 erotic blogs on the Internet.
This wasn’t the kind of readership I ever expected.
What prompted me to write this letter is Belle Knox’s post “I’m Finally Revealing My Name and Face As the Duke Porn Star”. I didn’t write erotica while in college, nor while obtaining my Master’s degree. It didn’t occur to me and, if I had, it probably would have been awful stuff. 18 to 20’s is the perfect time for a young woman to be a porn star. Do I really need to explain why? A woman’s body, for all the obvious evolutionary reasons, appeals to men with a beauty that all the world’s gold never will. We can only hope she is as wisely ready. The time for him or her to write erotica, on the other hand, is probably a little later. Erotic writing requires some reflection, introspection and a cunning ability to lie.
The bullying and sniping at Belle Knox is saddening and ignorant, but hardly a surprise. What I’ve learned by writing erotica, above all, is that almost everything I thought when I was 18, as regards women, was wrong; but not as you might suspect. That brings me to the passage I quoted above.
Are you horrified?
I didn’t write it. I haven’t had the nerve to write a passage like that – not yet. It was written by Ximena, a wonderful and incredibly talented woman with whom I’m lucky to write. By the time I was 18, the attempt had been made: I had been thoroughly taught, by the powers that be, that I shouldn’t treat women as sexual objects. Little good that did. From about the age of 12 on, I imagined girls, my own age, and women to be just that – sexual objet d’arts to be pornographically manipulated by the mind’s eye. By 14 I knew that I was a monster.
I used to go into my friend’s room, while he wasn’t around, and sort through his hidden stash of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler magazines. I preferred Hustler, since Hustler didn’t pretend not to know what goes through the minds of young men. They laid it all out in glossy photos, for which I was immensely grateful. There was one photo that riveted me, however, and I can still see it as though it were yesterday. This was a black & white photo of a woman hanging upside down by her feet, her wrists bound behind her.
There were whips hanging on the wall behind her. I was, without doubt, a monster. The sheer erotic beauty of her body, and helplessness, fixated me. To have a woman like that, willingly no less, and to be able to erotically explore her, freely and uninhibitedly, to whip her, to see how she moves, how her hips move, her eyes, to be able to make her come, and possibly even against her will! I was a monster and I was hooked.
Such images have, at times, been driven firmly underground and alternately outlawed. They encourage the objectification of women, the exploitation of women, misogyny, rape, abuse, and are construed as a gateway to sexual deviancy and harm.
Fast forward some fifteen years. I had read Anne Rice’s Beauty Trilogy. The trilogy was an eye-opener not just because of its content but because it was written by a woman. The content of the erotic photo that had riveted me fifteen years earlier paled next to the eroticism and desires expressed by Anne Rice. To be clear, Rice’s novels are full of bondage and the whip. I tried to find more erotica, but nothing online compared and erotica, at the time, was much more difficult to find at the average book store. I write in many genres. I tried to publish fables and fairy tales, but no one was interested.
One day, I decided to write the kind of erotic story I wanted to read. I can’t tell you what it’s like the first time you write the word “cock” or “pussy”. Try it yourself. I wrote the story and promptly locked it away. I was ashamed. That first erotic story, though, was like the first woman. Once you’ve tasted that kind of pleasure, there’s no going back. I discovered something else, erotic stories flow from me like water. I’m the Hans Christian Andersen of erotica. I think it was Agatha Christie who said that she could turn anything into a murder weapon. Say ‘salt & pepper shaker’ to Agatha Christie and watch out. Me? I’ll turn them into sex toys. Turns out, I was born with a gift for writing erotica; and I never wanted it.
Belle Knox, like Anne Rice, was born with another kind of gift and her sheer physical beauty is only part of it. We don’t choose our gifts and we shouldn’t allow others to dictate to us whether or not we have the right to express them.
And what have I learned by finally using my gift for writing erotica? What I’ve learned is based on hundreds of comments, public and private, mostly by female readers. I learned that while I was imagining tying a woman upside down from her ankles and whipping her, there was another woman imagining that she was being tied and whipped to a humiliating orgasm. I learned that while I fantasized about the anonymous woman in the alleyway, there was a woman imagining the anonymous man, turning her toward the wall, lifting her skirt and spreading her ankles. I learned that women are monsters too. I learned that our sexual fantasies, just like our bodies, are beautifully and mysteriously reciprocal. Men aren’t monsters. Women aren’t hapless. In short, I learned that the erotic desires of women were often, and startlingly, the mirror image of my own.
I learned that what attracts us to each other, as far as science currently knows, is unique to the human animal. Since a female doesn’t display her readiness to copulate, nature must ensure that we copulate as often as possible. How does nature do that? By evolving the erotic imagination. We can imagine the past and future. We remember the sex we’ve had and we imagine the sex we want – the ability that is at the root of all erotica. It’s possible that our ability to imagine the past and future arose as a necessary element of erotic desire (the need to perpetuate our species). As every other carnivore that has ever existed has amply demonstrated, and over hundreds of millions of years, we emphatically do not need a sense of past and future to be successful hunters.
Erotic desire is at the root of all art. The erotic imagination requires that we appreciate beauty. It is our capacity to recognize each others physical beauty (or what evolution has taught us to recognize as beautiful) that attracts us to each other. The erotic imagination requires that we understand metaphor and symbol. The very first works of art are pornographic statuettes that become ever more phallic and symbolic. Erotic desire may be at the root of all spirituality and religion – much to the horror, I suppose, of a certain few. How nubile and tempting are all those medieval and Renaissance angels – partially clad, youthful, and in their sexual prime. God clearly prefers his angels in the 14 to 20 year range. It’s possible that the human mind, in all its intellectual glory, is almost entirely a product of nature’s elaborate procreative scheming. And the very act of denying the same, of excluding women from both the pews and iconography, is an assertion of the same by negation.
I’ve learned that erotica is a kind of fairy tale for the sexually awakened mind. Just as there are those who read religious texts literally, seemingly incapable of perceiving or comprehending metaphor or analogy, there are those who read erotica literally. Unlike any other literature, they require that erotica be “true to reality”. Amazon.com recently attempted to ban all forms of erotica that involved procreation between human and non-human species. In other words, sex between Bella Swan and Jacob Black, the male teenager, is okay. Sex between Bella Swan and Jacob Black, the werewolf, is to be banned. (As if there really are such things as werewolves and we shouldn’t want to encourage it). Apparently, it is okay to be impregnated by a dead/undead (presumably cold as a fish) vampire but emphatically not okay to be doggied by a werewolf. But I know from personal conversation that many more women are “Little Red Riding Hoods” very much interested in getting lost in the deep, dark woods.
All erotica is best read as a metaphorical expression of erotic desire. We don’t ban talking wolves and geese from our children’s stories because we understand them to be metaphors. It’s equally silly to ban animals and absurd settings from adult erotic literature. Does Amazon or Paypal intend to ban Greek mythology (and Yeats) because Zeus preferred to rape Leda as a Swan?
We are not monsters. I’ve never tied up a woman by her ankles and I’ve never whipped a woman. I’m not sure I would enjoy it (though some men and women would). But the fantasy powerfully appeals to me because of what it symbolizes – dominance and submission, the embodiment of a certain kind of masculinity and femininity, of pain and pleasure and the symbolism expressed by his self-control and her willing lack of control. But who really dominates who? The men and women who act out these fantasies, like Belle Knox, are also engaged in a symbolic eroticism. They do these things because they enjoy it. Maybe they’ll have regrets, but that’s no different than anything we do.
I learned that erotic preferences are like politics or religion. There are those who think that all liberals are mentally ill and others who think that all Muslims are terrorists. Likewise, there are those who consider their own sexual proclivities to be the norm and that all other sexual preferences are a kind of deviance to be feared or suppressed.
I learned that there really isn’t a norm or, if there is, it isn’t what some or many might think.
Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry and by that standard alone, the pleasure we take in watching others have sex is the norm. Why shouldn’t it be? When Thomas Bagley outed Knox, he recognized her because he was watching and paying for, at $200 a week, hardcore porn. For most of our evolution we probably watched each other having sex. Why not enjoy it? If the goal of evolution is self-perpetuation, then why wouldn’t nature take advantage of the opportunity? Why impregnate just one female when nature can knock them all up? What fun. What is arguably and demonstrably abnormal, if that label must be thrown around, is the dislike of pornography or erotica. In truth, I would rather dispense with a word like abnormal or deviant. Human beings have varied sexual preferences and it is time they were recognized as just that – fairy tales for the erotically minded. The desire to tie or to be tied can be healthy and good. Let each enjoy and celebrate their own unique sense of eroticism. A young woman like Belle Knox, one hopes, shares in the enjoyment of her viewers. She also monetarily benefits; and why not?
But, one might argue, hasn’t permitting certain behaviors produced a history of sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, cover ups, misogyny and sexual exploitation? Yes. Women have suffered horribly at the whims of men: exploited, tortured, murdered, marginalized and treated like little more than sex objects to be conversely worshiped and vilified. However, and despite all this, no one is arguing that we abolish the Catholic Church, or any number of other religions, and this despite the many men who enabled and covered up child sexual abuse. The history of Catholicism is replete with the abuse, torture and the sexualized murder of many thousands of women.
There are kinds of sexual deviancy that are harmful and horrible, but to think that banning erotica and pornography will solve such criminality is simplistic. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, recently penned a column in Decision Magazine praising Putin’s brutal stance toward the LGBTQ community. Has anyone in the pornography industry recently penned a column praising and calling for the brutal suppression of human beings because of their sexual preferences? Who is the real monster? It’s true that women in pornography can be exploited and that their working conditions ould stand improvement, but there isn’t an industry for which the same couldn’t be said. To lay these sins at the feet of pornography is selective and hypocritical. The oppression between the nexus of politics and religion, if that’s the route to be taken, is far more damning than that against erotica or pornography. Patrick Rock, one of David Cameron’s closest aides, was recently arrested on charges related to child pornography. And what did Patrick Rock do? He was the government official most determined to block and limit the public’s access to the pleasure of watching others have sex.
What I’ve learned is that for the vast majority, the pleasure in reading about sex, in all its metaphorical and symbolic guises, and the pleasure taken in viewing others having sex, is good, healthy and normal. What is abnormal is the attempt by some to marginalize the sexuality of others, whether by government officials, by religious officials, or even by feminists. What is abnormal is the kind of bullying that Belle Knox has been subjected to – and much of it because she is a woman. If the labels must be used, then this is what is deviant, abnormal and unhealthy. To condemn the choices of Belle Knox is to condemn the sexual preferences of tens of millions of men and women. Specifically, it suggests that women shouldn’t want or shouldn’t enjoy the kind of eroticism expressed by Belle Knox, especially educated women. Contempt for Knox is no less a phobia than homophobia. If there’s one thing I’ve learned by writing erotica, it’s that women are just as monstrous as men, that it’s a wonderful thing, and that celebrating our complimentary and reciprocal sense of eroticism is good and healthy.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the best erotica, like all that’s best in art, music, and literature, proceeds from and is an expression of Love.
Will Crimson: March 21, 2014