Erotic litterature - What do you think?(56 Posts)
Not usually posting on here but I always enjoy reading posts in this section so wanted your pov on that.
I have noticed recently that you can find more and more erotic literature on the bookshelves next to more 'classic' literature. So it seems to become a very 'acceptable' thing.
But is it OK on a feminism pov or just as bad as porn (albeit it's only words on paper not real people)?
There's nothing wrong with visual porn in itself as far as I'm concerned - the problem is with the porn industry and its treatment of the people within it (drugs, coercion etc) Going from that viewpoint I can't see how erotic literature can be any better or worse than any other form of literature as a genre. As an avid reader of specific types of 'erotic literature' I'm probably biased though, so I'm quite interested to hear any other viewpoints.
I have been wondering about what sort if image it can send. Some of them are very much the Alpha male and the poor little woman who can't possibly resist him...
I don't think it's as bad as porn because there's not the same exploitation of actual people. However, depending on the 'novel' they may or may not be a great example for teenagers to read depending how the women are portrayed. I'm also wondering if it's just more explicitly sexual these days, and these books always existed. I read lots of erotic fiction, e.g. Lace, as a teenager, my Mum had no idea what it was about until she picked it up. She was shocked at how explicit it was but didn't stop me reading it because she went to a boarding school that distributed lists of banned books, not surprisingly the girls all tried to get hold of all the books on the list.
I think you can definitely find specific examples of 'bad' erotica, but you can do that with regular literature as well. Most pieces of Classic literature would have women in a subordinate (non sexual) role.
IDK. It's a tightrope I think. WRT the scenario you mentioned; do you belittle women who may want to read that kind of erotica by assuming they can't tell the difference between fiction or reality? Or is it protecting people who may take the wrong lessons from it? Do you censor 'for the general good'? What people like to read for kicks isn't a mirror of their real life.
There can be ethical issues with any kind of media. I don't think sexually explicit material which doesn't involve actual people, be it written or visual, has the same issues as that which does involve actual people.
The range of sexually explicit written material is huge. I don't think it is just based on one trope.
I used to write erotica and I am a feminist. I don't see an incompatibility between writing it or enjoying it and being a feminist.
However, yeah, some of it is a bit off (I'm thinking of 50 shades of course).
There's plenty of decent erotic literature out there's written by women for women.
There's nothing erotic about badly written erotica but no I don't think it's exploitative in the same way that porn is. It's just peoples fantasies at the end of the day.
I don't think erotica is wrong, no. But like other posters have mentioned it can be as exploitative as women as other kinds of printed non sexual media. Depends on what people are reading, good erotica could probably be a really good thing for teenagers to read.
So big production company (the vet the women) or owner produced is okay??
What would you say is good erotica? Could you give me an example?
It's funny I was expecting lots of people coming in and saying they were all depicting women as being feeble, unable to take decisions etc... I must have come across the wrong ones lol. (not my usual reading as you can guess)
Okay. I think it's a bit difficult tbh. I can't stand badly written anything, that's what I'd call 'bad' erotica, I guess you're referring to subject matter, which is very... subjective
If you like reading trashy novels with big Alpha men and swooning women, then you're not going to see it as bad,. 50 Shades isn't bad because it's a D/s novel with tropey male/female roles (haven't read more than a few pages so apologies if that's a wrong assumption) it's bad because it's badly written and just bad. There's an internet acronym, YKINMK (Your Kink Is Not My Kink) which works here.
I guess what you want is more realistic erotica, with strong independent female characters giving as good as they get? Hopefully someone will suggest something. If I buy books like that it tends to be in the Urban Fantasy range, so fair amount of sex but a lot more Vampires/Werewolves/Witches and actual plot than most people want!
(If I read porn for porns sake, it'll be something fan written from an internet site)
Totally consensual? Women really enjoying it? And yes to well written.
I agree with others - the ethical issues are different from porn, and can be avoided, because it doesn't involve abusing someone else's body.
I have issues with crap like 50 Shades the same way I have issue with beautifully written novels like Lolita (which I can't and won't finish so this is not a deep interpretation of the whole text). I think there's something sick about literature that makes something attractive out of something abusive.
But it isn't the same as actual abuse.
I think it's very telling that there are huuuuge reams of free erotic lit on the net, and, relative to this, the erotic lit marked that's paid for is small.
With porn it's the other way around, and I'm dubious about how 'free' some supposedly amateur porn is anyway.
I think that says something about how we're being manipulated in the porn industry.
Read Anais Nin for some well written stuff.
LRD 'making something attractive out of something abusive' is exactly the feeling I came out with the couple of books I've read.
Some parts just made me think about some threads on the relationship board, except that here the women are supported from abusive partners whereas in the book, it was shown as something how ever so lovely .
But I also get that not erotica is like this so I will now have to hunt down the 'good' ones.
Yes, it gives me the shudders sometimes. Especially because of course sexy writing is actually sexy (or can be, god knows 50 shades makes my ladybits want to retreat into my larynx, but still ...), so it feels a bit grubby to read. For me, at least.
Agree with others that there are not the same concerns because it's not real actual people doing stuff.
I read a lot of fanfic much of which contains explicit sex / is no more than porn. The situations and people who get put together is a much wider range than the "mainstream" stuff you mention - much of it is miles away from the dominant man / passive woman idea you talk about (not least because a large amount of it is male/male).
I am not opposed to erotica, either visual or literary.
However most of the erotic literature out there be it the Mills and Boon novels, Harlequin romances, or the more racy Fifty Shades of Crap are so immersed in traditional gender stereotypes that I want to vomit.
I disagree that most erotic literature is immersed in gender stereotypes. I agree with NiceTabard that the range is very wide. OP, I don't think it is possible to say what good erotic fiction is because tastes vary widely and female interests tend to cluster around a number of quite specific tropes which usually don't have equivalents in sexual content made for men. I assume that most women who read erotic fiction read fan fiction (there seems to be huge quantities of it compared to anything else). The biggest source of such fiction (erotic or general) is archive of our own:
Coo, feel like I'm in a parallel universe fan-ficcers anon meeting: "Hello, my name's lurcio and I like erotic fanfic." <Hope very sincerely that the one RL person who knows my username doesn't spot this>.
Actually, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the links between fanfic erotic fiction and feminism. One of my fan-fic mates (who ocassionally betas for me) said that she'd heard fanfic described as a community of the disenfranchised, by which I think she meant that it was a space for women to explore fantasies that weren't allowed by mainstream culture. Certainly it raises all sorts of interesting questions for me - such as why does so much fiction perpetuate sexual stereotypes from the 1950s? Why do so many of us like slash? (My reasons: it tends to be better written; given the 1950s vibe of much het fiction, it presents much more equal relationships; some of the fandoms I'm interested in have very few female characters, so unless you want to introduce female OCs you're stuck with writing slash).
Crap erotic fiction tends to perpetuate sexual stereotypes, good stuff can challenge them, though as LRD says upthread, it's particularly disturbing when you come across something that's well written and offensive (on the whole I subscribe to "your kink is not my kink and that's ok", the one exception I make to this is when people promulgate rape myths - I will call them on that).
It's been very interesting for me trying to write fanfic, especially since my story attracted a young teen readership (wasn't an erotic fic, though the characters were adults, so there was a romance, and sex happening "off screen" as it were - think 12 cert film) - I'm having to think very carefully about issues of consent, power relationships and the like. (There was an interesting thread on Jacqui Wilson elsewhere today, which discussed this - how good are teenagers at reading between the lines and distinguishing the character's own assessments of the situation from a more objective stance - the book in question was about a teacher-pupil abusive relationship where the head teacher ends up victim blaming and the pupil seems, at the end of the book, to accept the head's assessment that it was her fault - very disturbing message for young teens if they're not in a place where they can step back and say "actually that's a crock of shit.")
Bugger, can't spell "occasionally"! This is why I write using a word processor with a spell checker. :-)
A freind of mine gave me a copy of her favourite erotic novel which I felt was a bit anyway - I didn't need to know what gets her off!
But the book kicks off with the handsome prince spotting the beautiful princess asleep/unconscious and choosing to fuck her awake! It was so gross and rapey, not arousing at all. My bits want to shrivel up and die when I read stuff like that.
When I see it I think
That is neither erotic or literature.
It should be on a shelf marked Wank Pulp in Waterstones.
GreenSkittles - I've come across amateur fics like that where I want to shake the author and say "you do realise that's rape, don't you?" To give a charitable reading, in some cases in amateur fics, it's a complete failure of imagination - because the author thinks "well they love each other/are destined to fall in love, I as author know that," they can't step back and say "but hang on a minute, at this stage in the story, the characters don't know that." But sadly I think more often it's because the authors have internalised all sorts of rape myths and don't even realise they've described a rape. Grim. The bad fanfics out there really depress me because they're written by women who think this way, not by cynical writers of pulp fiction out to exploit the market place. Somehow that's even sadder.
Lurcio, genderswap is a possible way of reading more fic with women in, and if well written often raises a lot of feminist issues. I think slash is somewhat insulated from the problematic culture of het, and so has developed its own tropes. So I'll read het if it's written by a well known slash writer because I know it will be written within the context of slash tropes because that's the environment the writer is thinking in.
Thanks for that insight, Freya. I think that makes a lot of sense.
Of course, 50 Shades of Grey did start as fanfiction. And say what you like, millions of people, mostly women, got something out of it. Maybe not anything erotic in every case, but something. That doesn't seem like a compliment to the female reading public, but we also have to recognize that the patriarchy gets its hooks into us the moment we start to breathe. Probably we actually respond best to a story that's just shaking up the ingredients of everything we're read before.
50 Shades of Grey did start as fanfic, but the fact of millions of women chose to go out and buy it when the story is freely available online suggests it is being bought by people who are unfamiliar with the fanfic community and erotic fiction.
But it is a classic example of why I will not read anything that comes out of the het fanfic community. It is just too influenced by mainstream dynamics and I am not prepared to engage with that on the off chance the occasional interesting fic will turn up.
50 shades of grey is a pile of shite, and the sex scenes manage to be simultaneously abusive and repetitively boring. (Or as LRD put it, "makes my ladybits want to retreat into my larynx).
Insofar as I've dabbled in writing more explicit stuff (my main genre is comedy/parody) I try to consciously write to subvert stereotypes - so I'll take a character where 95% of the fandom portrays her as a virgin, and write fics where actually she isn't. Or make her the emotionally detached, cynical one and have the man longing for emotional engagement. The latest thing I've tried to write, I've consciously tried to model my het fic on slash - both are equal protagonists, both are equally prepared to initiate sexual contact. But reading it back, I still find places where I've slipped up - gender stereotyping is so pervasive from such an early age that it's really, really hard to escape from. (Incidentally I'd be the first to admit my writing's shit, but that's a failure on the creative writing front, hopefully not on the gender stereotypes/endorsing abusive power relationships front).
50 shades is probably not representative of any kind of fanfic. Out of all the kinds of fanfic available, publishers are going to choose something they will appeal to the book buying public. So they chose the thing that they thought would be most appealing to the widest number of people. Presumably (Lurcio maybe you know?) there is a wide range of different kinds of het fanfic so people will find their niche. That makes it not suitable as a commercial venture. I quite like the fact that women's sexual and romantic interests are so varied that in most cases you can't cater to them by publishing something generic.
Not sure that I do know - I'd say I probably read 75% slash, for very similar reasons to the ones you've described. It's depressing when one comes across sci fi fan fics which I would have thought offer a perfect opportunity to challenge thinking on gender, and fic after fic reads like a bloody Doris Day movie. Still at least there's slightly more chance of a realistic description of female sexuality. Probably the best het fic I've read are fics for some of the American crime drama series, I think because most of those pass the Bechdel test in their original screen incarnations - lots of strong female characters talking about non-romantic issues like forensics and playing as big a role as the men. (Which isn't to say these shows aren't problematic in other ways - treatment of sexual crime is always a very grey area on TV: I think there was a thread about it recently). But as a rule of thumb, the more equal the original show/book, the better the het fanfic is.
BTW I'm flicking between this thread and reading a slash fic by a mumsnetter!
I'm reading this thread and RPing (although gen not erotic). I actually don't want to be too harsh on 50 shades. It is ultimately a story about somebody whose partner has sexual interests that she is unhappy with, and how she eventually changes that relationship so her needs are respected. It has parallels to the current situation of many women feeling at odds in relationships with the sexuality men are bringing in from porn, so maybe that is why they feel the story says something to them. It isn't my area of interest, but I think there must be something there for others. People read problematic things sometimes because they have to deal with problematic stuff in their own lives.
Pointed my fanfic friend at this thread, and she said it was nice to see sex-positive feminism, so I explained that it was much more nuanced than this - this is the reply I sent her (I'm copying it because I think it's helped me to clarify in my own mind what the difference between porn and erotica is):
Sex positive - now there's a difficult phrase, bit like "pro life". One of those phrases which has been co-opted by a special interest group and come to mean the opposite of what it should. I think most of us on mumsnet are sex positive with lower case letters, as in, we enjoy it and see nothing wrong with enjoying it (though will engage in a feminist critique of individual sexual practices, up to and including Dworkin's critique of PIV, which I think I've talked to you about in the past). But it's been adopted by a certain minority group, and Sex Positive Feminism has come to be synonymous with an uncritical defence of the porn industry.
As far as I can see, there are two main problems with mainstream visual porn. First, a lot of it involves the actual rape and abuse of real human beings (and only watching home made doesn't get you off the hook, because you can't know whether the video was filmed or shared with the woman's consent). And even "ethical porn" is problematic because on the whole it is marketed by the same distributors as mainstream porn, so by buying it you're still lining the pockets of people involved in the wholesale abuse of women. And the second thing is that a lot of porn objectifies women and encourages abuse. Even if we're not talking graphic rape/SM stuff, when a bloke tries to coerce his girlfriend into anal when she doesn't want it, using porn to normalise it, or comes on a woman's face on the first date without asking her if she likes it, that's the influence of the porn industry. As far as I can see, Sex Positive Feminism (TM) is a label for attempting to shut down debate about the real conditions under which porn is made, and the influence it exerts on sexual behaviour, by labelling anyone who object as a "prude". And then it puts the cherry on the woman-hating icing by trying to persuade us that pole dancing is empowering.
When I worked in a book shop, I would honestly estimate that it was purchased by 80% men.
This has made me very cynical about the target audience that the books were published for.
Freya can you link some decent het fanfic? I have to say I read 95% m/m slash (and that other 5% will be genderswap rather than actual het) because I tend to get quite twitchy at unrealistic depictions of het sex - particularly those starry eyed ones where the woman basically gets touched by a penis and explodes into rainbows and fireworks of multiple orgasms. I find I don't care about it so much when it's just men involved - one step removed I guess.
I know a few people have done studies on why women seem to enjoy reading and writing slash so much, but I've never read any solid conclusions. It's interesting I think, I'd love to know more but it's not something women really talk about off the internet. I know that real life people who know I read (and used to write) it (I get a bit passionate about it when I'm drunk ) tend to sideeye me a bit over it.
I've read posts arguing that it's anti-women, and I've read posts arguing the opposite and both have valid points.
I will suggest a fandom to you. It is the drama series Vikings. The main female character is the shield maiden and mother, Lagertha. She is in no way a passive or submissive character. Here is a short video of her in action:
She is married to Ragnar. Here is a video about their relationship:
They live with an English monk called Athelstan, who starts out as their slave. Here is his relationship with Ragnar:
It isn't canon, although Lagertha and Ragnar proposition Athelstan and he refuses due to being a religious virgin celibate monk. It is very appealing to slashers, but because so much of Ragnar's sexuality and romantic behaviour is bound up with Lagertha's character, it mostly has to be written as a relationship with all three of them, but written by people from slash fandoms. It is a small fandom that will hopefully grow (the show has been renewed for a second season). I think that would be an easy way into het because even if you read het bits and think nope, you still have the slash happening in the same fics. The whole thing is immersed in supernatural belief systems in the show too.
If you want something more strictly supernatural, I would look at fic about Erica and Boyd, two beta werewolves from MTV's Teen Wolf series, which is mostly a slash fandom. There are definitely slash writers who also write Erica/Boyd.
I tried to look up fic for you, but am so into angst that I started reading some poignant pregnancy Erica/Boyd fic instead, and so I am probably not the best person to identify your preferred tropes.
MrsDimitri - I am so with you on "penis touches, immediate orgasms"! I feel like trying to start a campaign for real sex (I've talked to several writers both of slash and het about this - there's actually quite a few of us interested in this issue). My American friend LP and I have been experimenting with the idea of what she calls the "sexfail" - writing fics where sex goes wrong, either for angsty reasons (hers) or humorous reasons (mine). I've also tried to write scenes where things are clumsy. But one thing you have to remember are the constraints of the genre - most of us are writing/reading for escapist fantasy. So you end up with what LP calls "idealised realism": yes to acknowledging clitoral stimulation, probably no to not having orgasms (otherwise your fic ends up quite literally anticlimactic - though I have come across a couple of good fics which tackle the fact that it may take women quite a while with a partner before they experience an orgasm for the first time). Writing has certainly opened my eyes to just how difficult it is to do.
The other thing that you're continually hitting up against as a writer of het fic are the limitations of language, and this I feel is definitely a feminist issue. Think about talking about clitoral stimulation. Well, you're certainly not going to use that phrase . So - ciltoris? Too clinical. Clit - bit better, but not my favourite word. Head into Mills and Boon territory with euphemisms like sensitive bud - ladybits immediately retreat into larynx! Where is the female equivalent of "cock"? I know some writers head for the 18th century and use "quim".
Of course majority of them are immersed in traditional gender stereotypes.
You don't even have to open the book, just read the title- The Greek Billionaire's Innocent Virgin being one example. The man should be rich and powerful, the woman should be helpless, innocent and virginal.
Even the BDSM novels usually involve women who are lifestyle "subs" and enjoy being submissive to a man. Rarely will you come across a novel in mainstream erotica where the woman is the dominant.
Not to mention the fact that most women in these books have token careers, which they promptly leave "out of choice" as soon as they marry their overbearing billionaire.
Abortion is a huge taboo and the only answer to an unplanned pregnancy in these books is to have the baby (not saying there is anything wrong with having the baby, just saying that they never even bring up the possibility of a termination even in the most adverse of circumstances)
There are certainly exceptions, but most the erotica I've come across has been fairly awful for womankind.
On the slash thing I discovered fanfic a couple of years ago (after reading about it on MN) and am a lifelong star trek fan so guess where I ended up! It's been a bit of a revelation and I have spent time trying to figure out why slash is so appealing.
For me, I can come up with
As they are blokes I don't have to identify too much with either of them - I don't have to empathise / connect with the female character. Which is kind of freeing.
The relationships are those of real equals and are easily written as such because neither the writer nor the reader has any subconscious stereotyping going on.
I like men so two men is better than one
No-one seems to wonder why lots of porn for men features women having sex. It's the same thing I guess.
Still interesting and worth checking out. On archive of our own the best way to identify something worth reading is probably to look for a program that you like and search by kudos or number of reviews, and then go through until something takes your fancy. Most fanfic is short story type length but there is novel length stuff and some really huge series. Some of it is terrible and some is great. It is very addictive though so be warned!
Picking up on PeaceAndHope's point: I agree the lazy gender stereotyping is nasty and in some instances dangerous (in fact, in contrast to Freya, the idea that women in a nasty relationship could identify with some aspects of 50 shades of shite is precisely why I find it so repulsive - it promulgates the myth that abusive men can change if only you're nice enough and find the right moves in the bedroom to please them). But is it the erotica that's the problem? All the attitudes you describe are ones that are almost universal in mainstream commercial romantic fiction, from Beauty and the Beast through to Mills and Boon and Chick Lit.
I particulary hate the loss of virginity plot line. It's interesting to draw parallels between slash and het at this point. When it's het, it's almost always experienced man and female ingenue, with all the nasty patriarchal overtones of purity, loss of purity, taking possession of property, domination, etc. Now you do come across quite a lot of slash where one character has known they were gay from an early age while the other is only just realising that they're gay (the being in denial about the nature of their feelings phase is quite a useful plot device for building up sexual tension). But when it comes to the first sexual encounter, it's just a mismatch of experience. There's no additional baggage that comes with it, which I find very interesting.
Freya Oddly enough you're about the fifth unconnected person who's recommended Vikings to me, and all because of the (potential) threesome aspect I've actually read a couple based on recs by someone I usually trust and quite liked them, but I need to to watch the show to really get a grip on the characters. The one problem with fanfic (of any flavour) is that writers, ime, tend to rely on readers already being familiar with the characters so don't flesh them out as well as they would with an original character.
poignant pregnancy Erica/Boyd fic You watching S3?
Thank you for the ideas
LurcioLovesFrankie Ha! We have that in the Teenwolf fandom, although it's called FailwolfFriday I quite like reading it I have to say.
NiceTabard I'm with you with those reasons.
MrsD, yes I have watched all of series three so far. I'm unhappy this week, as you can imagine.
Ooh, thank you whoever started the thread. Great timing. Can I bang on (and on and on) about My Book? It's a 'femdom pansexual romance'. The heroine is older than the main two male characters, who engage in a certain amount of rude stuff with each other....
I have always preferred femdom stories with a bit of m/m action - it's not that I object to people getting turned on by or enjoying the standard helpless-girlie-big-strong-hero stuff, it's just that it doesn't work for me.
SGB, as well as talking about your own book, have you any opinion on the varying views of different posters that there is more erotic fiction in bookshops now, that the majority if it is immersed in gender stereotypes and that most of the people who are buying it are men?
I think the posters on here who are saying they read erotic fiction (including myself) are discussing from a perspective of reading online fiction in fandom, while others are coming from the perspective of not reading any erotic fiction at all. It would be interesting to hear about commercial fiction from somebody who reads and writes it.
OK, there have always been quite a lot of women reading (and writing) commercially-published erotic fiction. When the Black Lace novels first started coming out in 1993 there was a lot of whining in the mainstream media that only men would buy them, and this really was down to the mainstream's (then) insistence that women want love, not sex.
There is a lot more openly erotic fiction around these days ie in the last year or so, which is mainly down to EL James, but not entirely so. About 4/5 years ago the genre was allegedly dead in the water; there were various reasons for this being claimed, some of which were truer than others. What really is true is that a lot of women like erotic fiction, and that there is some genuinely good stuff out there if you hunt for it. ALong with a lot of crap, of course, but that's true of every genre of fiction (horror, crime, chicklit, whinyarse lit...)
I'm guessing that among the putative reasons was "the mainstream insistence that women want love, not sex". I'd be interested to know what you think was the real reason for the dip in sales/ interest round then?
Lurcio: a big chunk of the reason was more and more people getting their fiction jollies for free on the internet (the same thing happened to a lot of mainstream porn magazines; that market is nearly dead now). Another aspect was publisher buy-outs; imprints getting swallowed up into bigger and bigger publishing houses and, to an extent, the really big ones going 'Ewww! Smut! No thanks' and first starving the imprints of resources and then closing them down. Of course, they've changed their minds now for which we do sort of owe Ms James a pint.
But there's an ongoing problem with erotic material of any kind that's made by/for women and it's this: media control is in the hands of men. So if you are a woman producing erotic entertainment material aimed at other women, you will only be able to get so far before you hit a brick wall in the shape of a man in a suit who says 'Well my wife wouldn't like it, therefore it won't sell' - and you get no distribution/no promotion/no backing or you end up having to ruin your product by filling it up with adverts for lipstick and tampons/mansplaining/tee-hee-not-really-boys antifeminism.
Anyway, I now have a release date for My Book. And would actually love to get it discussed all over the internet, naturally. I'm not just being a squawky MeMeMeeeee! author here, I do genuinely think that it's worth discussing why so much erotic (and romantic) fiction aimed at women has to feature a submissive woman and a dominant man. I've been told over and over again that this is 'what women want' but at the same time I know a lot of actual women who would far rather read about a powerful woman and a submissive/innocent/less powerful man/men. Anyone know any other good discussion sites to muscle in on?
Solid i read loads of Black Lace books in the 90s. And a few of them did feature powerful/dominant women and submissive men.
A few titles off the top of my head. Dark Obsession Rude Awakening Nadyas Quest The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (that was the first one i read which i got free with a copy of New Woman which is how i found out about BL.
Also used to buy Scarlet for the Cliterature section (they carried a really good serial by Mathilde Madden.)
When i read erotica i quite like reading about f/f even though ive never actually experienced it and m/m though i like m/f too.
Your book sounds great. Just my cup of tea.
And yes too much erotic fiction does depict a submissive woman and a dominant man. WH Smith and Tesco seem to be drowning in it at the mo
Darkest: would you like a link to the book's Facebook page, which has an extract uploaded? I don't think you have to have a Facebook account to view thepage.
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