Talking About Sexuality in a Porn-Driven World

Perusing reddit, I came across a post from a father wanting to know how to address the issue of pornography with his daughter. It’s an interesting question, in a world where the sexualization of women is big, big money, and most of that sexualization comes from a male perspective.

First, he must be commended, given that sexual content is nearly unavoidable these days, teenagers tend to be resourceful, and the web is vast. It’s great that he’s not pretending it doesn’t exist.

It’s delicate, because you don’t want to stifle growth, or give her life-long hang-ups about sex, but given the stuff that is out there, you wouldn’t want to give her the impression that the surface, the superficiality, is all there is to sex.

It’s weird seeing that question, as a person who writes explicitly about sex. What sets my writing apart from what this father sees as so concerning? Is my contribution part of the problem?

Or could it be part of the solution?

The answer probably lies in the idea of being sex positive, of having an open attitude toward sex and the many possibilities it embodies. In many ways, what shapes erotica is the sense of the characters as fully-formed actors, rather than objects that insert or receive. There is a focus on sensation over action, on satisfaction over showmanship.

And maybe that’s what he needs to tell her: the big wide world of sex out there is about someone else. Your sexuality is about you and only you.

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Erotica Isn’t Simply Smut

I jokingly refer to working on erotica as “writing my smut.” I think the word “smut,” itself, is a funny word, evoking an image of a granny in an afghan and glasses on a chain waggling her finger with disapproval.

We’ve been conditioned to think of sex as a taboo subject, and it often makes us uncomfortable. When something is given that kind of label, it seems to slide into the realm of “good” and “bad,” of “virtuous” and not so.

Like “smut” and “romance.” Is it the arousing nature of erotica that divides it from straight romance? Is it the language? When you think about it, romance takes you to the same place, it just doesn’t give you all the steamy details.

Like any romance, or most fiction, really, erotica is about connection. It reveals a facet of a character’s life, one that is usually hidden, while taking the reader on a vicarious, sensual adventure. It’s not only sex for sex’s sake – though there’s not a thing wrong with that – but sex as it’s experienced by the characters, through the characters.

We are all curious about what happens behind closed doors, and erotica opens them, offering the opportunity to see that human desire takes many forms and is expressed many ways. Despite my amusement with the word “smut,” it implies a kind of dirtiness in simply thinking about sex, and sex does not have to be dirty.

Unless you want it  to be.