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'10 Authors Insider Tips

Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
Have More Good Sex
I Can Do Better ...
Trying to Get the Feeling
Plotting and Planning
Character Profiles
Discovery Draft
Be Bad to Be Good
E-Book Revolution
Naked for Halloween
Sex With Pilgrims

by Louisa Burton
The Music of Words
The Balancing Act
Your Fictional World
Backstory & Foreshadowing

The Fine Art of Submission
by Shanna Germain
Nailing the Query Letter
Banish the Boring Bio
Becoming a Market Master
Become a Market Master, 2
Backstory & Foreshadowing
Enticing An Editor, Part 1
Enticing An Editor, Part 2
Contracts, Money & More

Serious about Smut
by Vincent Diamond
No More Horsing Around
Short Stuff
Selling Short Stories
Editors' Pet Peeves
Settings: Beyond Time & Place
Beating Up Your Scenes
Selling Your Books in Person
Staying in the Saddle

The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
Broken Rainbows
Talk the Talk
10 Commandments for Writing
Plotting to Avoid
Cover Story

'10 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
St Valentine's Day
Renaming Body Parts
Sex, Cigarettes & Erotic Fiction

Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister
C. Sanchez-Garcia
Kathleen Bradean
Lucy Felthouse
Neve Black
PS Haven
Tracey Shellito
Tresart L. Sioux

Cracking Foxy
with Robert Buckley
Plenty of Miles Left
Don't Worry, Be Happy
Fly the Unfriendly Skies
Coffee Time
Castrated Words
Virtual vs. Actual Romance
The View from Gallows Hill

Get All Worked Up
with J.T. Benjamin
The Fashion Industry
The Same Old Same Old
Writing Porn
About the Closet
... About Spirituality
Making Sense of Religion
Worked Up About Monogamy
What's Next
All Worked Up About Nature
Still All Worked Up...

Sex Is All Metaphors
by Jean Roberta
Holiday Ghosts
Love and Romance
An "Interracial" Epic
Trying to Make It Go Away
Sexual Etiquette
Sex and Children
People Against Bad Things
Virtual Acceptance
His Cold Eyes, His Granite Jaw
A Flash of Northern Light

Sex Is All Metaphors

by Jean Roberta

His Cold Eyes, His Granite Jaw


As a reviewer of erotic literature as well as a social activist (to use a broad but useful term), I try to understand the motivations of very different people. Here is something you probably hadn't guessed about me: although I was not raised in any orthodox religious tradition and don't identify as a Christian, there is a line from the Prayer of St. Francis* that has always thrilled me: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace." Peace, love, justice, knowledge and understanding seem intertwined to me, so I hesitate to say there is any sexual taste that I really don't understand and probably never will. But there is.

Writers and fans of erotic romance often refer to the appeal of the Alpha Male for beta or Grade B characters of various genders, and even for Alpha Females who are willing to risk losing their status. Well, okay. Sometimes a leader is needed, especially in times of crisis or sexual need. If the Alpha Male is willing to rescue his beloved from seam-busting frustration or disaster (or both), even at great risk to himself, more power to him. If he embodies manly honor by telling the truth and keeping promises, he deserves respect. If he is competent at anything (especially anything involving manual skill), he might well turn out to be an amazingly hot lay. It makes sense.

The problem with general statements about Alpha or Dominant males is that there are several sub-species of this type. The one whose appeal completely eludes me could be called the Cold Bastard. (No disrespect is intended to those who were born out of wedlock, but I couldn’t think of another term that sounds harsh enough.) He may be physically attractive (and in an erotic story, he usually is), but he despises women, loathes "queers," and rarely shows concern for other people in general. He has "a sneer of cold command," to quote from the poet Shelley’s description of an Egyptian Pharoah. He doesn't pretend to like the one who secretly craves his attention and approval.

If the Cold Bastard is a boss, general, chief or Emperor, his underlings could spend every waking moment serving him without getting a word of praise. When and if the Man condescends to take sexual pleasure from an admirer, he does it for his own reasons. The person who has been sexually used soon learns that she or he has earned no privileges. If sex changes the relationship (assuming this word applies) in any way, the sex-toy or receptacle gets treated to an even deeper level of contempt as a result of 1) being a willing receptacle, or 2) trying to negotiate a better deal.

I've read all about the appeal of supernatural predators. Vintage movies featuring Alpha Males as sexy monsters are almost unavoidable at this time of year. But any screenwriter who wants me to understand why women (always women in older movies) would flock to a male character of that kind like moths to a flame has to suggest that the monster is capable of loving back, at least when all the planets are aligned.
Is there a masochism so pure that it can survive on negative feedback alone? I wonder if some admirers stubbornly cling to hope of finding a chink in the Cold Bastard's armor that will release the emotional warmth that must be hidden somewhere inside him. If there is no evidence of warmth, there is really no mutuality and no relationship worthy of the name. And while men like this can harm anyone who crosses their path, the Cold Bastard's generic attitude toward women seems especially dangerous, since no woman, however impressive in any way, can ever prove herself to be something else. 

Please note that I don't necessarily object to male Dominant/female submissive pairings in BDSM (bondage/discipline/sadism/masochism/slave/master) literature. Stern but protective Doms and sweetly submissive or sassy-bottom heroines can be convincingly shown to be each other's true mates. The same dynamic often works in M/m and F/f pairings. Mutual attraction, reciprocity or complementary desires are the key element here. There is usually some internal conflict (within each character) in a story about this kind of courtship, as well as apparent conflict between the two leads, but in the end, everyone wins.

The logical conclusion of an obsession with a Cold Bastard could be more accurately described as lose/lose than win/win. Does this need to be said? In fiction, a character is the way he is described; if the author doesn't indicate that the male lead feels any interest in the welfare of another character, then he doesn't. Real life is more complicated, of course, but there is no good reason to believe that a man who consistently expresses contempt or indifference really feels something else.

Unfortunately, girls have been told for generations that the reason boys call them names and dip their pigtails in the inkwell is because boys are overwhelmed by the intensity of their natural attraction to girls, and don't know how else to express it. Women are told that men, being from another planet, have their own emotional language. Women in relationships with chronically angry or inexpressive men are told that men must protect themselves from rejection and shame by masking their emotional needs. In some M/m fiction, the "girl" is male, but otherwise the dynamics are traditional.

In much erotic literature, erotic attraction is described as uncontrollable. I'm not convinced. In the world of television talk shows, those who feel as if they can't live without something that could kill them are usually told they are wrong, and that their lives will improve when/if they go through rehab. When my partner worked in a shelter for women refugees from violence, one of the most popular books in the shelter library was How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern. The title says it all.

"Surrender to the feeling" is the message of much erotic literature. At least readers are invited to witness characters surrendering to their feelings, sometimes against their own principles. In noir-flavored erotica, common sense usually fights a losing battle with Passion, which is shown to be stronger than good intentions. This is the message of some of our oldest stories. One-sided, self-destructive love doesn't contribute to serenity or long life, but it makes for great opera.

The more practical messages of self-help literature (e.g. "Use your head" and "Save yourself") often look philistine in comparison. But what if a good hard look at the object of one's desire by sober daylight could shift that desire an inch or two? If a collective passion for, say, big hairstyles from the 1980s can change quickly, maybe the mystique of certain Alpha Males could be debunked with a little eye-rolling as well. 
From what I've seen, a Cold Bastard is more likely to be shallow and self-obsessed than deep, mysterious or strong. At best, he is not suited to the one who wants him, and at worst, he is lacking some essential ingredient that enables most human beings to bond with others. If all else fails, a cold shower followed by a run over sharp rocks could be as intense an experience as a close encounter with a cold man. With all due respect to those who find such characters compelling, I would rather leave the monster in the dungeon. 

*The feast day of St. Francis is October 4. Since he was the patron saint of animals, this is the one day in a year when Christians can bring their pets to church!

Jean Roberta
October 2010

If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to Jean Roberta

Follow Jean Roberta's trail to Sex Is All Metaphors in 2010 ERWA Archive.

"Sex Is All Metaphors" © 2010 Jean Roberta. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written

About the Author:†Jean Roberta is the thin-disguise pen name of a writer who teaches mandatory first-year English classes in a Canadian prairie university and who writes fiction (erotic and otherwise), research-based articles, opinion pieces and reviews. She joined ERWA in December 1998, and has never looked back. Several of her stories can be found in the "Treasure Chest" gallery. Over sixty of her erotic stories have been published in print anthologies, and Eternal Press has released her single-author e-collection of erotic stories in various genres and flavors, Obsession (2008).
Jean is a staff reviewer for the monthly reviews site, Erotica Revealed (edited by D.L. King). She blogs on Livejournal as "Lizardlez" and at Her website ( is a work in progress.
Read Jean's full bio at Erotica Readers & Writers Association.

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