A new anthology will be published soon called Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay. An extract from the book can be found at The Guardian. The article opens with a description of the anthology as being “first-person essays about rape, sexual assault and the patriarchy, including this essay, The Ways We Are Taught to Be a Girl”.
If the essay at The Guardian by xTx is any indication, the book sounds bleak, to put it mildly. And then there are the various threads, like this one at Reddit, where women recount experiences of sexual assault and harassment. There are also threads for men.
And then there’s the #Me Too movement.
The whole of it can make the writing of erotica more than a little disconcerting and discouraging, especially if one enjoys writing about encounters with strangers, sexual awakenings, sexual exploration, dominance, submission, bondage, and, in general, situations that can read unnervingly like descriptions of rape, sexual harassment and assault. Should writers stop writing erotica?
And what is erotica?
Is erotica nothing more than a lie? Well, yes, but you know what I mean? Is erotica really, truly, nothing more than wishful thinking. Are the stories that erotica tells, of chance meetings that are fulfilling, of sexual awakenings that are revelatory, of aggression, dominance and submission that are welcomed, little more than misleading fictions?
Is the erotica writer doing a disservice to the #Me Too movement—to victims of sexual harassment and assault ?
And what about a book like My Secret Garden by the late Nancy Friday, wherein truth and fantasy blur; where what we might expect to be a horrific experience is described by women positively and as a source for fantasy? Were all these women fooling themselves? Nancy Friday’s book, also an anthology of testimonials by women, strikes me as the antipode to Roxane Gay’s book. The simple and obvious answer is probably that the stories in both books are true, that the difference between a non-consensual and destructive sexual experience and a consensual, positive and revelatory experience can, in some ways, look almost identical. And so it’s no wonder, perhaps, that erotica, let alone pornography, is considered by many to be a lie, an utter fiction, a representation of sexual experience that can’t and will never be true.
And yet I know, because of who I know and who I am, that for some pornography gets it right.
And so I wonder if it isn’t time for another My Secret Garden? Just as we have much to learn from a book like Not That Bad, of which I’ve only read the extract, we also have much to learn from sexual experiences, from childhood on, that might be unexpectedly positive and healthy. Could such a book be written with being condemned? And if it were condemned, as some of the stories in My Secret Garden were, what would that tell us? Does it mean there are some who refuse and are unprepared to discuss sexual exploration and experimentation, from childhood on, as anything other than a negative? Is there too much risk in sharing positive experiences?—in sharing yours if you have one? I don’t know the answer to that last question but maybe you do?
Yes, there are experiences that can and will continue to be horrible and non-consensual, but hopefully less and less as men and women increasingly talk to each other and share their experiences. And I also can’t help thinking that sex education has to involve more than just avoiding pregnancy. Sex education should discuss the positives too, and open the eyes children, girls and boys, to the ways each will increasingly experience the other. I think this last is most important of all. So few young men really seem to understand how they’re perceived by women and so they’re forced to create their own fictions—fictions that shape who they are and how they think women should respond. The same with young women who so often seem dismayed to discover what men ‘are really like’. This shouldn’t be something we comprehend only after a burgeoning adulthood filled with errors and misjudgments. But this sort of education requires an openness and honesty resisted by a sizable portion of the public, especially by religious conservatives, among others.
For all my humor about the lies of erotica, I do think stories like mine, which are admittedly explicit and may be construed as unrealistic fictions, serve a purpose, if defiantly: that there can also be tremendous joy and knowledge in the sexual experience even in the most unexpected places and circumstances; that my stories don’t need to be fictions; that, if we’re willing to learn enough about each other and our complimentary desires, a little bit of bliss is ours for the having; and that, finally, there is also truth behind my stories and always has been.
Will Crimson | April 30 2018