The Erotic Writer’s Quandary: Childhood, Adolescence & Discovery

little-red-riding-hood-pictures-5Most 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

Jouissance Précoce

William Crimson | September 15 2015

Latest Comments

  1. myarousal says:

    Priceless……spot on……we rarely look at or embrace this topic from the perspective of the “human condition”…….bravo!

  2. myarousal says:

    Reblogged this on myarousal and commented:
    These words from the text are significant and compelling as any that I have ever read…..”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.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Well said. Thank you. I tell the truth, about the rapes as an adolescent girl. We live in a country that is closed to sexuality, condemning it even. It is, to me, turning their backs on the beauty of sexuality. My novel deals with the issues of sexual and physical abuse a young girl endures in a religious household where she should feel safe from such abhorrent behavior and betrayal…and yet, she is stripped and held down and strapped with a belt, her brothers looking on….wondering why her father doesn’t love her…then worrying and shameful ….why does he come to her bed at night to find remorse and caring? She finds love within lust at a very early age. It is a deeply moving addiction. Who can she trust? What of that? A girl who cannot have sex without abuse? A woman who can’t love or trust a man no matter how she re-invents herself? Well, the answer is, she frees herself, and she writes erotica. I tell the truth. I think it helps. My story is fiction. I’m not going to write a non-fiction self-help book for victims because I know the world wants them cured…and that is the true fiction of it. There is no cure. The cure is in the cause not in the victim. I have a brother who is a convicted pedophile because of the harm our father did. No cure, and he is the true victim here. I am free to write my story.

    • willcrimson says:

      The different ways that one recovers from sexual abuse, assault or rape can almost be opposite in their extremes. To some, sex and intimacy is almost an impossibility — relationships and marriage suffer; while others embrace sex, eroticism and intimacy and transform it. I can more easily understand the first impulse than the second, as so the second is deeply interesting to me. I think that embracing sexuality is a way, perhaps, to own it and take it back. But I think your story could be very helpful to a great many readers.

  3. finnwest2015 says:

    A stunning insightful post!
    I look forward to following this blog!

  4. kevinarmstrong101 says:

    Spot on. Will the credit card companies want to ban ‘Romeo and Juliet?’

    • willcrimson says:

      Did Romeo & Juliet ever make love? There are definitely YA novels that have sex in them. I think it’s all in whether one calls it erotica — yet even then…

  5. kevinarmstrong101 says:

    Yes, I think that it’s safe to assume that Romeo and Juliet made love. After all, they are secretly married (at great danger to Romeo) with the assistance of Juliet’s nurse and a priest. In his great 1960’s film Franco Zeffirelli certainly depicts them having sex and he is careful to show Romeo’s cute butt.

    • willcrimson says:

      Funny, I just watched Zeffirelli’s film a few weeks ago. There’s always the question of how much is Shakespeare and how much is interpretation, but had to go back to the text to remind myself. :-) Here they after a night of lovemaking (consummating their marriage):

      SCENE V Capulet’s orchard.

      [Enter ROMEO and JULIET above, at the window]

      JULIET Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
      It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
      That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
      Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
      Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

      ROMEO It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
      No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
      Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
      Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
      Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
      I must be gone and live, or stay and die.

      JULIET Yon light is not day-light, I know it, I:
      It is some meteor that the sun exhales,
      To be to thee this night a torch-bearer,
      And light thee on thy way to Mantua:
      Therefore stay yet; thou need’st not to be gone.

      ROMEO Let me be ta’en, let me be put to death;
      I am content, so thou wilt have it so.
      I’ll say yon grey is not the morning’s eye,
      ‘Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia’s brow;
      Nor that is not the lark, whose notes do beat
      The vaulty heaven so high above our heads:
      I have more care to stay than will to go:
      Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.
      How is’t, my soul? let’s talk; it is not day.

      JULIET It is, it is: hie hence, be gone, away!
      It is the lark that sings so out of tune,
      Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.
      Some say the lark makes sweet division;
      This doth not so, for she divideth us:
      Some say the lark and loathed toad change eyes,
      O, now I would they had changed voices too!
      Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray,
      Hunting thee hence with hunt’s-up to the day,
      O, now be gone; more light and light it grows.

      And Juliet was 13. Wikipedia:

      One aspect of the story which now seems problematic is Juliet’s age. As the story occurs, Juliet is approaching her fourteenth birthday. She was born on “Lammas Eve at night” (August 1), so Juliet’s birthday is July 31 (1.3.19). Her birthday is “a fortnight hence”, putting the action of the play in mid-July (1.3.17). Her father states that she “hath not seen the change of fourteen years” (1.2.9). In many cultures and time periods, women did and do marry and bear children at an early age. Romeo and Juliet is a play about Italian families. Lady Capulet had given birth to her first child by the time she had reached Juliet’s age: “By my count, I was your mother much upon these years that you are now a maid” (1.3.74–75).

      And then there’s some speculation as to why Shakespeare made her 13: possibly having to do with the age of the boy playing her.

      “That the parts of young women were played by pre-adolescent boys in Shakespeare’s day also cannot be overlooked and it is possible that Shakespeare had the physique of a young boy in mind during composition…”

      Would any modern film maker or director dare use an actual 13 year old girl/teenager/adolescent? Shakespeare never tells us Romeo’s age.

  6. Rudy says:

    Wonderful and sensitive post, Will. Written with insight and respect, and NECESSARY honesty. And the very honest and revealing response from “Anonymous” on Sept 16 shares essential truths. Thanks to both of you. Oh, that this discussion could take place in a more public arena, to help relieve the silent shame and suffering of so many survivors. As a mental health professional, I’m inspired to read this exchange.

    • willcrimson says:

      Given your profession, Rudy, I doubly appreciate your comment. The role of erotica in the lives of survivors isn’t something I fully understand, but deeply interests me.

  7. Jane says:

    As a child of the 80’s I am amazed that we have gone so far backwards in America regarding sex. Perhaps there was something in the water where I grew up, but there was a healthy amount of sexual awakening going on in the under 18 crowd, and we were not ashamed. Of course, every era has it’s outcasts, but in general, we were horny in a humanly decent way. I’m not sure if today’s youth have as healthy an attitude about it. Perhaps some of them have a better one? (
    Many of today’s decision makers at credit card and publishing companies must also be products of that era. Hard to fathom how they could so blithely trample the freedoms we were blessed with. Disturbing to think that Risky Business wouldn’t be produced today. Especially since it’s not fantasy but a fact of life that many, many people under 18 have sex.

    On another note, I do firmly believe that what we create in our imagination manifests in the world in some way, so there is a responsibility to consider that when we make art for public consumption. Sometimes we *should* be disturbed and repulsed, not desensitized. There’s a big difference to me, between stories about sex with an octopus ( fun! ) and young women being literally slapped in the face while choking on dozens of cocks. ( not fun! or empowering. ) I see things on Tumblr that I wish I could forget. But I love the Sleeping Beauty trilogy.

    I’m all for edgy realism in erotic fiction – and mainstream books and movies. I’m for freedom in art and expression. And sex, of course. I am for all kinds of glorious sex. It is also important to talk about and acknowledge through fiction the terrible things that happen to people, such as rape. I am thankful good writers exist who will do that. But probably, too, if we create more beauty and respect with our words and pictures, we will start to see that reflected in our world.

    • willcrimson says:

      //On another note, I do firmly believe that what we create in our imagination manifests in the world in some way…//

      I’m not unsympathetic with this belief (although the willing and gameful sex-loving girl I tried to manifest during my teen-aged years –and later– never “manifested”) I think it’s a dangerous path in respect to art of any kind. It’s a rationale that’s been used to ban all sorts of expression.

    • Jane says:

      I apologize in advance; I can never seem to express myself as well as the professionals here. :-)
      I didn’t intend it that literally about manifesting, but anything is possible! I’m thinking more of collective discernment than censorship. Not so much a “what constitutes art and who decides?”debate, but just a thought about how we shape our society through art and myth. To be clear I don’t advocate banning anything – except perhaps low slung pants everywhere and firearms in grade schools.
      It’s just hard to imagine that even if we had cell phones in high school, back when graphic violence in media wasn’t ubiquitous or was at least on after 10pm -on cable -that people witnessing a crime would first film it for Facebook before a) intervening b)recoiling in shock and horror or c) running for help. We now shun happy endings, even in erotica, for being “unrealistic.” boring, or unintelligent. I mean maybe it is fantasy but it’s not without purpose.
      Marvel movies have to get “dark” to be legitimate. They even ruined cartoons for Chrissake. I don’t know what to do with the popularity of Game of Thrones and Donald Trump at the same time. It’s too much! But quality sex scenes in movies and sex under 18 in fiction is still banned. And it wasn’t when I grew up. Insanity.
      I’m certainly no Mary Poppins, this is not vanilla vs. kink. Kink is great! I just think we are dangerously low on important things like empathy, mystery, beauty, sensuality, respect….and again, I am not equating respect with vanilla. (But I’m also not equating abuse with empowerment.)
      Censorship is bad but anarchy doesn’t help much either. What is in between?

  8. Jane says:

    One more thing. I hate it that we live in a world where Risky Business is not ok but Game of Thrones action figures are sold in the toy section at Target.

  9. Liras says:

    Hmm. I think that when it is two young people of the same age, or separated by a year or two, it is considered a story of awakening. That is how I look at it, myself. But when the age gaps spreads, there is always the thought that the older party has the advantage and may be using it unfairly.

    Sure, it might be the other way around and the older person of the duo is the naive one. seems we do not come across that often.

    The Beauty Series might get a pass because they are mythological characters and it is implied they are one the way to rule the various kingdoms. Beauty is 15, nonetheless.
    (I will skip any comment on Belinda, as I am not fond of Lolita, either.)

    Obviously, there is a gate. Only a few can pass thru and still get their writing published, when dealing with this type of material.The rest? Nope.

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