Monday, July 07, 2008

Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker: The End of Erotica

(the following is part of an ongoing series of columns I did for The Erotica Readers & Writers Association on the ins and outs and ins and outs and ins and outs of writing good smut)

In an interview on ERA, William Dean asked me "From your experience, what are we, as erotica readers and writers, apt to see as trends in the coming year?" After answering him I got to thinking about the future of erotica and where it could go - or, since it is my column after all, where I want to see it go.

My answer? I want erotica to vanish, to disappear as a literary genre, to utterly and completely GO AWAY.

Biting the hand that's fed me? Sour grapes? Making noise for the sake of noise? None of the above: hear me out.

Erotica exists because a need wasn't being met. Readers looked around at movies, books, television, and every other media and noticed that something was missing. Rob and Laura Petrie had twin beds, Ricky Ricardo and Lucy pulled off a trick not seen since Mary got knocked up by a ghost: a virgin (as far as we know) birth. If a book managed to actually talk about what happened behind closed doors and under the sheets, it was immediately banned, burned, or branded INDECENT.

So, erotica: a peek behind those doors and under those covers. Sex was out in the open and, more importantly, it was profitable. Sex sold, and very well - and with anything that sells well, the people doing the selling began to make more and more and more of it.

That, in itself, isn't a bad thing. After all, if sex didn't sell we wouldn't have MTV, Fox, beer ads, Britney Spears, Ron Jeremy, the entire literary erotica genre, or even the Erotica Readers and Writers Association and my column. But all this and more is popular, and remains popular, because it doesn't exist anywhere else.

Pick up a book, switch on the tube, plop down half your paycheck for a movie ticket and sure there might be hints, suggestions, or allusions but that'll be it. The world remains a place where giving head gets an X, cutting off a head only gets an R.

Meanwhile, out here in the wild woolies of smut writing, we continue to write books and stories that address what no one else seems to be talking about: sex. The problem is that for the longest time, we were part of an opposite but equal problem, which was talking about nothing but sex.

Luckily this has been changing. It used to be that just simply writing s-e-x was enough, but as the public started to get more, they also began asking for more. Editors, publishers and more importantly readers have responded by demanding erotica with depth, meaning, wit, style, and sophistication - and writers have been doing exactly that, pushing the boundaries of what sex writing can be.

The result? Erotica writers have created a genre worthy of respect and serious, non-genre attention. This is a great time to be working in this field, because for the first time writing about sex is not a guarantee of condemnation or exile to a professional Elba. Erotica writers are breaking out and otherwise mainstream publishers are being to pay serious attention not only to the marketability of sex but because of what's developed in the genre, they can sell it without blushing.

This is a good thing for another, more important reason. Crystal ball time: As erotica becomes more and more refined and mature, more elegant and accepted, it may very well begin to be accepted as a valid and respected form of literature. But what I really hope will happen is what's happened with many other genres: assimilation. It used to be that anything to do with time travel, aliens, or space travel was exiled to science fiction. Then came a renaissance in that genre, and a subsequent use of the old elements in new ways - Kurt Vonnegut comes immediately to mind. The same thing has happened with mysteries, horror, romance, comic books (excuse me, 'graphic novels'), television, and so forth.

As the sexually explicit techniques and methods developed in erotica permeate other genres, the need for erotica as its own separate, unique place in bookstores will fade, then vanish. Erotica will become what it always should have been: a part of life, legitimate and respected - not something to be ashamed of, hidden away, or even just separate.

How will that serve us, the erotica-writing world? Wonderfully, I think. Erotica is fun, I definitely believe that, but it's only one genre. As we become better and better writers, trying new things, new techniques, dipping our toes in new pools, other venues will open up, other - better - playgrounds to frolic in.

Sure it might be scary, once erotica merges with the rest of the world and fades away as a genre in its own right. But think of how much better that world will be, a place where sex is something to be talked about, celebrated, and understood without fear or shame.

Our genre may disappear, could utterly and completely go away - but we will have accomplished something remarkable: We changed the world.

1 comment:

Nobilis said...


I've been seeing a spate of authors who include explicit sexual scenes in their works, but which aren't focused on sex exclusively, publishing either with independents, or on their own, because the Establishment has no place for them.

Those doors will come down.