Most of the publishers I’m familiar with, because of pressure from credit card companies, paypal, etc… won’t touch an erotic story if the “characters” are less than 18—called underage sexual content. Apparently nobody told them what the title of Nabokov’s Lolita means; and, yes, there’s sex in it. But that’s a literary masterpiece. How about Anne Rice’s Beauty Trilogy? None (or few) of the characters are 18 or older—considered ephebophilia by those who classify such things.
By the less-than-18 standard, the Beauty Trilogy is pedophilia from beginning to end, yet a company like Paypal seems untroubled by Rice’s novel. There’s also My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday, a compendium of women’s fantasies published in the early 70’s. Very explicit underage sex is to be found there (and not just a little), including a nine year old’s enjoyment of sex with her uncle. (which is not, by the way, in the context of fantasy). I don’t notice that Amazon, Paypal, VISA or MASTERCARD refuse to trade in this book.
So what’s going on?
In the case of the Beauty Trilogy and My Secret Garden, which are still strong sellers, I’d say that the morality of the companies skimming the sales is as thin as a dollar bill. On the other hand, there is writing that’s flatly pedophilia meant to titillate. My problem with this latter genre is that it’s a lie, and not in a good way. Children, with perhaps some extremely rare exceptions (if Nancy Friday’s book is to be believed and I’m very skeptical), are and would normally be terrified of sex with adults. The power of adults—the physical and emotional imbalance—and the utter betrayal that is pedophilia can’t be overstated. Pedophilia is a violation of more than just a child’s body; but also their imagination, trust, faith, safety, security, and natural development.
But should all writing that explores the child’s erotic awakening be banned?
Back in June, the writer Katie Tandy wrote a blog post that appeared at Huffington post, called The First Orgasm (and Other Revelations). Tandy recounts the discovery, by her friend, of her mother’s “big white tomb. It said “Women” across the front.” She then tells the story of her eight year old self having her first orgasm—experimentally caressed by her best friend.
Reaction varied. Some respondents “wept” for her lost innocence, some accused each child of corrupting/abusing the other, and some wondered what pedophilia-inspired spark of exhibitionism compelled her to write the post.
But the responses I found the most interesting were those that expressed gratitude. There are other sites that ask readers to describe their first orgasms (and this usually happens in childhood or adolescence); and no two stories are alike. Obviously, there’s an element of erotic titillation, but one will also find expressions of gratitude. Why? Because to judge by the stories there’s often an element of embarrassment: Was I normal? Was there—is there?—something wrong with me? Was what happened a mistake? Should I be ashamed? Reading the stories of others allays these fears. There is no normal way to have a first orgasm. A child or adolescent’s erotic awakening can happen early or late, accidentally or curiously, individually or mutually; and childhood goes on, can be healthy and validating.
Have writers written deplorable depictions of sex with and between children? Yes. Should they be banned? Possibly.
But the more interesting question pertains to the writer whose aim is the human condition. In the context of a larger story, or as part of a collection of stories, should stories of sexual awakenings really be off-limits? And if not, then what are the writer’s responsibilities? I would say: Tell the truth. If the writer’s truthful, even if it’s truth in fiction, then readers will recognize their own experience and gain from it. Literature, at its best, expresses our common humanity and that includes childhood and adolescence. It’s hard to see what benefits if so much of our lives, and something that is so important to our lives, is made off-limits. The best literature, and that includes the best erotic literature, ultimately offers us empathy, insight and self-knowledge.
“But mostly I think it’s about telling the story. With shame. With honesty. With humor and love and humility. Saying that I’m scared. Or that I love sex. Or that I’m screwed up and lonely and lost but I’m also lucky as hell. To say that I need my friends, that without them I would surely perish. To say that I might be too erratic and forgetful to ever have a child because I really might forget to hold its hand and then it runs into traffic and then I have to kill myself.” Why I Tell The Truth: An Ode to Writing | Katie Tandy
William Crimson | September 15 2015