An Email Exchange on Writing ‘Taboo’ Erotica

  • I’ve been having an interesting email exchange with an individual who’d like to commission an erotic story. I’ve been forced to explain some of my own practice in writing erotica and thought that other readers and writers might enjoy and have their own ideas and experiences. I haven’t included the correspondent’s comments for privacy. Mine are lightly edited.

On Do’s & Don’t’s

WC:

December 2014: I make a general list of do’s and don’ts because that’s simplest. But if it interests you at all, my thoughts are as follows: What kills a story is not whether it’s taboo, but whether it respects the way real people behave (even in my tentacle erotica), and whether the relationship is capable of being portrayed erotically. In other words, no woman, in reality would ever find it erotic to be raped or treated like a sex slave. The job of the story teller is to create the context, the fantasy, in which the reader can erotically enjoy somethinglike sexual slavery and rape. So, if one wants to write about parent-child incest, for example, it can be done but can it be “erotic”? One either has to ignore a world of questions and consequences or, in attempting to answer them realistically, write something other than erotica.

I don’t know that infidelity has never ended well (without real pain being experienced), but I also don’t know that it hasn’t ended well. What I’m getting at is this: Erotica is a genre, in my opinion, that comes with some fairly serious constraints. It’s entertainment. When it becomes serious fiction, then it’s not really erotica (though it can certainly have erotic elements). I don’t know if I could write “erotic” infidelity without veering into serious fiction. All these issues are what makes writing true “taboo erotica” very difficult and why I’ve yet to see any other writers do it well (or succeed).

  • October 26th. 2015 Ideas change and evolve. Having written Erotica’s Future I would amend what I wrote. I think that erotica can be more than just entertainment and that it can be serious fiction. What I meant was that the intent of erotica, as a genre, is to arouse. A story that treats rape or incest realistically (which is probably a better word than serious or seriously) isn’t likely to be erotic.

If you were to ask Remittance Girl, she would say the same thing, saying that she can’t write “sex without consequences”. Taboo sex is, by definition, consequential.

On the difference between Rape & Non-Consensual

WC:

I’ve always defined it this way:

Non-Consensual: Being forced ‘with’ ones will.

In other words: Force me to do what I want to do. This puts the “victim” in control. To fantasize about “rape” in this sense *can* be to fantasize that ones desirability is so overwhelming that the “rapist” can’t help themselves. This can be a positive fantasy. In an erotic story the distinction can be as subtle as body language—but important nonetheless. Check out the following site:
Dealing with Rape Fantasies as a Survivor of Sexual Violence

You’ll find this:

More often than not, most people who have rape fantasies imagine a passionate scene with very little force, based around the “victim” being so desirable that the “rapist” cannot control themselves, while the victim generally does not feel the terror, confusion, rage and disgust of an actual rape. These kinds of fantasies are often termed “erotic rape fantasies” (Critelli & Bivona, 1998). The second type of rape fantasy that is generally discussed is an “aversive rape fantasy” – one which more realistically resembles actual rape and has themes of humiliation, violence and pain (Critelli & Bivona, 1998). While this type of rape fantasy is more realistic it is not an indication that the person fantasising wants to be raped. The “wish fulfulment” could very well be that the person desires a passionate sexual encounter, that they want to feel desirable, or have the relief of not having to be in control.

These are the two scenarios I try to recreate in all my stories. I try to give the readers enough space that they can imagine either of them. Even in my non-consensual stories there’s ideally enough space that the reader can imagine the “victim” enjoying and pursuing her orgasm. Was it really non-consensual?

Rape: Being forced ‘against’ ones will

There is nothing positive in this experience. The signs of a woman being raped, forced against her will, are so obvious as to not really need description. I assiduously avoid these sorts of description. The line between non-consensual and rape as portrayed in erotica can be thin and in my opinion not all writers navigate it. Then again, I suspect that there’s a class of writer who only writes sex for other men. You get a lot of that at SOL and ASSTR. The stories can be full of sexual violence and aggression, the kind that few women could comfortably fantasize about but that men seem less troubled by.

On the Suspension of Belief

WC:

The starting point is whether the story is fantasy-based or reality-based. If it’s fantasy-based, then all bets are off. We can immediately suspend the law of consequences since they can be whatever we want them to be. We don’t have to imagine whether someone would in reality want a tentacle up their ass. When written right, the writer and reader enter into an unstated agreement: we’re both going to treat this monster (whatever it is) as a kind of metaphor or archetype. I’m going to give the reader just enough description, but not too much, and they’re going to fill in the rest. That’s our agreement. I have to respect their imagination. Stories about tentacles and were-beasts are erotic cousins to Aesop fables and fairy tales—stuffed full of talking animals and magical beings. We all know, even from a young age, that a talking fox is symbolic of a certain kind of person. The guise of the fox is a signal that we can suspend our beliefs and expectations. We’re permitted to follow the story-teller’s lead. Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, can behave like a convincing little girl even though she enters a world of pure and sometimes terrifying fantasy. Characters in fantasy-erotica are a bit like Alice. The only collusion between author and reader is in agreeing that Alice wouldn’t have immediately curled up into a little terrified ball—and that the site of a real-life tentacle alien wouldn’t do the same.

  • At this point my correspondent admits to struggling with how to “formulate” a story in which the characters seem and act real within the constraints of erotica; to which I responded:

Welcome to my world: If I’m writing reality-based erotica (think up your own scenario – rape, incest, bestiality) then one either has to ignore the very real consequences these experiences have (which makes the story one-dimensional sexploitation); or one has to be true to the consequences of these experiences (which is what I meant by “serious” literature — not serious in the sense of artistic merit, but serious as in grave and not trifling). If I write a story where a character is actually raped, she’s going to be devastated. She will suffer emotional trauma. She will be distraught, terrified, angry, depressed, etc… The experience won’t be erotic. The same goes for parent-child incest. There will be feelings of betrayal, fear, distrust, guilt, self-recrimination (because children often blame themselves) and severe emotional distress. These are the consequences and they’re known consequences. A writer either confronts them or one-dimensionally ignores them.

  • The correspondent then mentions my Forbidden Trilogy—specifically, the story Bestial.

WC:

Yeah, but you know, I played a little trick in that story (as in each story of the Forbidden Trilogy). I’m thinking you may not have caught it (only hinted at in the story). The young woman was, herself, a werewolf, which is why the werewolf was trying to mate with her. Is it still bestiality if it’s two werewolves mating? Is Incestuous really a story about incest?—neither of the women were related. Was Non-Consensual really non-consensual?—being a story within a story?

Latest Comments

  1. joebondibeach says:

    Hi Will—

    “The job of the story teller is to create the context, the fantasy, in which the reader can erotically enjoy something like sexual slavery and rape.”

    I’m struggling with the idea that one can write “something like” sexual slavery or rape and turn out erotica, but that writing about “something like” parent-child incest cannot be done realistically and be anything other than one-dimensional. Full disclosure: much of my early work was incest-themed, although I’m tending away from it because no one—Amazon, Apple, etc.—will allow it on their sites. Why can’t there be “something like” incest? (I’m ruling out the “siblings” who turn out not to be siblings, or the “moms” and “dads” who turn out to be step-parents.)

    I’m not ignoring the unlikelihood that any incest in real life ends well, but then this is really a “What if …?” proposition. And there seems to be some evidence—and much wishful thinking—that sibling incest, at least, may have a positive outcome. (I’m not arguing whether incest is good or bad.) I admit that I’m having trouble imagining what “something like” incest would look like.

    At any rate, thanks for this post. I’ll have to contemplate it a little more.

    • willcrimson says:

      //I’m struggling with the idea that…. writing about “something like” parent-child incest cannot be done realistically…//

      Well, for one, it’s simply bad biology. Setting aside ethical and moral issues (and let’s say the child is a consenting adult), there’s still the problem that any offspring are at a substantially greater risk for recessive or deleterious genetic traits. That’s a tough hurdle to overcome if you’re trying to turn such a relationship into erotica. If the child is a child, adolescent or teenager then the psychological (let alone ethical) problems are insurmountable. There’s a tremendous power imbalance. The parent/child relationship is the most formative in a human being’s life and incest is the most damaging violation of that parental responsibility. The psychological harm can’t be overstated. The problem from the erotic writer’s perspective is that any sexual relationship between a parent and child can never, by definition be equal or consensual. I think that might be the best way to consider the difference between erotic portrayals of parent/child incest and erotic portrayals of sex slavery (D/S) and non-consensual sex. In the latter the relationship can be equal and consensual, but never the former.

      How can the “sex-slave” or “non-consensual” sex by equal and consensual? Because the dominant/submissive nature of our sexual psychology is intrinsic. There’s the element of both in every sexual encounter and I think that most human beings innately understand that (and it’s why a book like 50 Shades can be so immensely popular). Rape, sexual abuse and exploitation represent a perversion of what’s intrinsic, not the other way around (meaning that we don’t accept rape and sexual exploitation as intrinsic to the dominant and submissive aspects of our sexuality). We also innately understand that equal pleasure can be enjoyed by both partners. The same isn’t true of parent/child incest. The pleasure can never be equal because the power will never be equal (unlike in a mature D/S relationship). There can’t be something like incest, erotically speaking, because parent/child incest will always be abusive and exploitative.

      I can much more easily imagine a healthy sexual relationship between siblings (and I think they’re not as rare as some might suppose). Still, such a relationship probably isn’t wise (or ethical in the event of offspring).

  2. joebondibeach says:

    Sorry, forgot to add: Where does the “can’t tell it realistically and still turn out erotica” rule fall with respect to under-18s. 17? 16? 12?

    Cheers.

    • willcrimson says:

      You should read Wikipedia’s article on Ephebophiia. It begins:

      “Ephebophilia is the primary or exclusive adult sexual interest in mid-to-late adolescents, generally ages 15 to 19.[1][2] The term was originally used in the late 19th to mid 20th century.[2] It is one of a number of sexual preferences across age groups subsumed under the technical term chronophilia. Ephebophilia strictly denotes the preference for mid-to-late adolescent sexual partners, not the mere presence of some level of sexual attraction.

      In research environments, specific terms are used for chronophilias: for instance, ephebophilia to refer to the sexual preference for mid-to-late adolescents,[1][2] hebephilia to refer to the sexual preference for earlier pubescent individuals, and pedophilia to refer to the sexual preference for prepubescent children.[2][3] However, the term pedophilia is commonly used by the general public to refer to any sexual interest in minors below the legal age of consent, regardless of their level of physical or mental development.[4] This could be due to the fact the media is unaware of other terms.”

      The teen years represent sexual discovery. They’re wonderful years and fun to write about. I think one does have to be careful though. Again, I would guess that the main issue is one of power. Is the teenager discovering and exploring or is he or she being abused and exploited? The younger the character the greater the risk that any erotic encounter will be perceived as exploitative. I know I’ve mentioned this before but all of Anne Rice’s Beauty Quartet involves “underage” sex (sex under the age of 18). Wikipedia questions whether it’s ephebophilia. Rice gets away with it and Amazon and Paypal greatly profit. I think she gets away with it because she creates a fantasy world (a context) wherein such sexual discovery makes sense.

    • joebondibeach says:

      I have read that Wikipedia article. I think you’ve nailed the issue—is it exploration or exploitation. As for age in whatever context, it turns on whether the adolescent (13 and up, for argument’s sake) is capable of informed consent. I’m not talking about what the statutes say; the challenge is to present an authentic character who persuades us he or she consents to whatever is going on.

      As for the whole parent-child incest thing, I acknowledge the power issue and the violation of parental responsibilities—what I am trying to figure out is whether there’s some fashion where one can construct “something like,” and thus transcend the one-dimensional thing that falls short of true erotica. Your contention is that there must be a core of truth, as for example where the tentacles don’t matter because they represent a construct that doesn’t conceal the true nature of the consensual interaction, but that for some encounters the core truth is such that it cannot be made anything other than what it is. You may be right.

      (For what it’s worth, the whole biology thing doesn’t matter in this age of contraception, unless the story will depend on the pair having children, or unless the characters live in Texas.)

      I tried one of the “Beauty” stories years ago and was repulsed. Recently I tried the first of her “Mayfair Witches” series and gave up—it was tedious and boring. But as soon as I reach Anne Rice’s sales numbers, I’m sure Amazon will carry anything I care to write—

    • willcrimson says:

      Just this morning I was reading Dear Prudence at Slate Magazine. A correspondent, woman, wrote in to describe a relationship she had with a highschool math teacher. She says that when she was younger, she considered the relationship consensual, but now has misgivings. I thought the letter was relevant to all this:

      When I was a high school senior, I had a relationship (sexual, emotional, you name it) with one of my teachers. I have always viewed our relationship as consensual, but as time goes on I have begun to see the negative effects it had on my life. It pushed me away from my friends, family, and activities I cared about. While my other friends went to football games and the homecoming dance, I was sneaking into my math teacher’s house through a laundry room window. (….) I gave up so much to make that relationship work and now I still feel like I’m carrying around a secret.

      So I could imagine writing an erotic story along these lines and at first blush call the relationship consensual. She was the one, I’m guessing, who seems to have pursued it. But I think Emily Yoffe (Prudence) either missed or didn’t mention the real nature of the exploitation: the damage it did to her relationship with friends, family and peers. You could argue that the teacher also had to conceal his relationship (and he certainly risked more), but the difference is that he was old enough to know better but chose to exploit the opportunity (for sex with a pretty, teen-aged girl) nonetheless. His “authority” put him in a position to continue their relationship and effectively condone it. Beyond that, his authority gives him access to a bevy of new, fresh, teen-aged girls every year and apparently that’s just too much for him.

      The letter helps me dig into what consensual sex, where both partners equally consent, really means.

      But anyway, if this had happened in a completely different context, in a fantasy-land like Anne Rice’s, then I’m guessing it would be okay. And interesting that you didn’t like her books. Readers either seem to love or hate them. I have to say, though: I suspect many readers don’t like the stories because of the equal-opportunity bisexuality and homosexuality. There’s a lot of homosexuality. Not wanting to read those parts doesn’t make one a bigot — it’s a sexual preference like any other.

    • joebondibeach says:

      I agree with the letter writer’s (and your) assessment of the student-and-teacher thing, although I’d add that the salient characteristic (aside from the physical or emotional abuse itself) of any abusive relationship is the abuser’s effort to isolate the other person from his or her friends, family, and others, sometimes with the other’s help. And a milder form is the high school kid, male or female who is so enthralled by the jock or hot girl that he or she doesn’t notice how friends and family have disappeared.

      Plus, a teacher-student relationship is *always* an unequal power relationship. Always.

      I gave up on Anne Rice’s “Beauty” because (a) it was gross, and (b) because I’m not into “real” sexual slavery or BDSM. As for the “Witches” thing, it was b-o-o-r-i-n-g. Although, facing the start of NaNoWriMo this Sunday, I admired her ability to pack in a lot of description. 50K looks a lot easier in that context. I don’t have any objection to bi- or homosexuality, and have written it a bit myself, but as we know anything can and is overdone.

    • willcrimson says:

      //unless the characters live in Texas//

      That cracked me up, by the way. Or Mississippi…

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