Erotically Correct

by | April 21, 2013 | General | 17 comments

By Lisabet Sarai

In her post a few days ago, Donna
George Storey
celebrated the fact that erotic fiction has become
both more accessible and more accepted over the past two decades.
Erotica and erotic romance might not be taken seriously by the
literary establishment, but readers, shielded from the scrutiny of
their neighbors by their Nooks, Kindles and Kobos, have embraced it.
In most countries, the threat of official censorship has receded, at
least for the moment (although commercial restrictions remain a
concern, as demonstrated by #AmazonFail and PayPal’s strong arm
attack on independent booksellers). I wonder, though, to what extent
the members of the erotica community are censoring themselves.

Erotic authors naturally want to appeal
to as wide an audience as possible. This is a strong motivation to
produce fiction that does not offend – erotica that is politically
correct. Several contributors over the past month have emphasized the
need to avoid producing content that involves under-age sex. Incest,
even between adults, is a definite taboo. Non-consensual sexual
activity is another no-no. My main romance publisher recently
required me to add an explicit non-con warning to my
soon-to-be-released steam punk fantasy novel, because the heroine is
captured and sexually “tortured” by the heroes (enjoying every
minute of the process).

Any hint of bestiality also raises the
red flag. In the same novel, the heroine allows herself to be
penetrated by the werewolf hero in his beast form. Yes, you guessed
it – another reader advisory there!

Differences in race and sexual
orientation must be treated with respect at all times. Heaven help
the author who depicts a white individual deriving sexual pleasure
from abusing someone black (or even vice versa). Homosexuals must not
be portrayed as “fags” or “pansies”. Stereotypes are
pernicious and evil, especially when they derive from painful
histories of oppression.

Religion represents another area where
an author must tread carefully. One of my favorite short stories
(“Communion”) was rejected by a well-known publisher because it
includes sexual activity between a nun and a priest.

Then of course there are the more
extreme fetishes – bodily fluids, erotic asphyxiation, blood sports
and so on. Niche markets exist for such content, but I know from
personal experience that these topics will bar an author from
publishing in more widely distributed erotic channels.

Now, I usually write sex-positive,
emotionally satisfying, spiritually uplifting, woman-friendly,
equal-opportunity, eco-sensitive, organically-grown, healthy
erotica – stories unlikely to antagonize or scandalize any reader
who already accepts sexual desire as a legitimate topic for fiction.
On the other hand, I’m occasionally tempted to adopt a less PC
attitude in my choice of subject matter, because some of the most
arousing scenarios I can imagine just aren’t that nice. And
I’ve realized that by censoring myself, I’m losing the opportunity to
explore some erotic truths – possibly unpopular, even unpalatable,
but genuine nevertheless.

Last week, I read (for a review) a
collection of “extreme interracial erotica”. Many of the stories
in this book involve Caucasians who crave sexual abuse and
humiliation from dominant Blacks. The tales stereotype whites as
undesirable, neurotic, self-deceiving, manipulative, small-dicked –
secret sluts whose ultimate life’s purpose is to serve their
attractive, intelligent, well-endowed, ebony-skinned masters and

A part of me found these tales
disgusting, or at least distasteful (although I’m sure this was
partially the effect of the less-than-stellar writing). At the same
time, some of the scenarios turned me on. I’m enough of a submissive
to react to the D/s dynamics, although I’ve never had a personal
fetish about race. Furthermore, I could see how the racial elements
heightened the erotic effect – as well as how some readers might be
especially aroused by interracial tales that flipped the roles into
even less PC territory, allowing whites to control, use and abuse
black characters.

History has left deep impressions. We
may like to believe that we’re color-blind, immune to the residual
mythologies fostered by slavery, but the eroticism of power cannot be

Sex is not necessarily polite.

Rape is not an acceptable topic for
erotica. Yet women (and some men) frequently
report fantasies
involving forced sex – 62% of over 350
subjects in a recent study
Why do we become aroused imagining an experience that would be
aversive in reality? The scientific literature proposes a variety of
explanations; exploring such fantasies in erotic stories would add
another dimension to our understanding.

Some people fantasize about fucking
their siblings or their parents. Some imagine sexual congress with
tigers or horses or dolphins. Some of us are aroused by enemas or
wearing wet diapers. Some dream of stripping the habit from Mother
Superior and defiling her upon the altar.

These fantasies aren’t politically
correct, but they are, in some sense, erotically correct. They
are part of the complex emotional and ideational tangle that is
human sexuality. By not writing about these cravings, we’re hiding
part of the truth – and we’re denying ourselves and our readers the
opportunity to penetrate more deeply into the sexual psyche.

So what am I advocating? Stories that
treat rape as titillation? Tales that feature mothers sucking off
their teenage sons and daughters eaten out by the pet Doberman?
You’ll find such things on the Internet, of course – but I wouldn’t
necessarily categorize them as erotica.

I guess what I’m suggesting is a bit
more honesty and a bit less self-righteousness when it comes to
erotic content that doesn’t fit within the range of what we’d
consider “normal” or “socially acceptable”. I’d like erotica
authors – and readers – to be more daring in the topics they’re
willing to consider. Most important, I’d like to see a clear
distinction recognized between fantasies
of exploitation, oppression, humiliation, violence, or degradation
and the real thing. The latter might be dangerous, but the former can
be exquisitely exciting.

takes significant talent to write a taboo fantasy that’s arousing
without crossing that line. One author who excels in this regard is
ERWA’s Bob Buckley, for whom this contrast is a frequent theme. His
story “Squandered Sins” (in Coming
Together Presents: Robert Buckley
for example, deals with a city health inspector with a secret desire
to dominate and abuse Asian women. Although he’s basically a decent
guy, he’s prey to all the erotic stereotypes about passive Oriental
females. In the course of his work, he is offered a Chinese girl as a
bribe and is horrified to find that he’s momentarily tempted to
accept. Then he meets a Chinese-American policewoman with desires
complementary to his own, and makes her his “chink bitch” – to
their mutual satisfaction.

sexual connection between these two characters burns up the page –
precisely because they
are enacting a scenario condemned by any right-thinking member of
society. The hero’s barely-resisted urge to make his fantasies real
sharpens the tale, adding to his sense of shame. Some readers might
find this tale offensive. I thought it was brilliant.

you choose erotica – or it chooses you – you venture into dark and
dangerous territory. In a previous
, I defended my tendency to write positive tales that would
teach, by example, about the possibility of good sex. I still believe
this. However, another lesson erotica can teach is that good sex
sometimes goes beyond what’s politically correct, that desire doesn’t
necessarily conform to the dictates of society or even morality. We
can pretend ignorance of this fact – but we’re simply lying, to
ourselves and our readers.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Big Ed Magusson

    I think a lot of the challenge is that a taboo tackled well can be amazingly erotic, but a taboo tackled simply for the "ooh, look at this, it's taboo, isn't that hot!" might temporarily satisfy but at the cost of pulling down the genre.

    Incest erotica is probably the best example. "Ooh, she's my sister!" can get a rise, and a lot of poor quality porn stops there. However, the powerful stories go beyond that and address the emotions of violating the taboo, the push-pull of the attraction, etc.

    Of course, I say this as an author who's writing erotica about sexual addiction. How much self-censorship does our genre get into there? (rhetorical question).

  2. aureliatevans

    I'm a reluctant advocate for ravishment fantasy (reluctant advocate, not reluctant fantasizer). I struggle a lot with the assertion by the dominating publishers that if I want to publish fantasies that some argue a majority of female readers have and enjoy, I have to do it through back channels, often by self-publishing, since no one else will take it. Thus, feeding into the shame game against any unacceptable fantasy, in spite of the fact that no one's getting hurt and no crime is being committed.

    I think that if some publishing companies rose up to the occasion and screened transgressive erotica for the same quality and literary merit as their erotic romance, there could be a place for it.

    In the meantime, I'm left wondering whether I'm the one in the wrong here, just because my BDSM isn't codified and I occasionally have a good day at my characters' expense.

  3. Desiree Holt

    What a great blog. I passed it around the web.

  4. Lady Flo

    I also feel this self-censorship writing erotica. I also repeat that fantasies and reality are distinct. I also know that literary establishment accept only some erotic stories, while others (that no PC) go into internet free as anonymous stories of second, third, fourth level.
    In fact we can writing no PC erotic stories, but we cannot claim they are accepted, disclosed and sold by literary establisment.

    What do we want? Do we want that establishment accept some extreme sexual practices stories? If is this, we should explain to establishment why it should accept these stories.

    Explain why is a cultural initiative much large and hard.

  5. Amanda Earl

    the problem is that a lot of the taboo fantasies people have are not represented by mainstream erotic publishers because of the legal ramifications. so what we end up with is poorly written work that is the only option for those who enjoy such taboo fiction. the need for good underground taboo fiction has never been stronger. i have my own taboo fantasies & i find myself looking into the bowels of the internet to find them. it's frustrating to have no outlet to write & to read such.

  6. Amanda Earl

    fiction to me is fiction & should not be censored in any way. the fact that a bunch of literal-minded oafs with no imagination are the ones deciding what we can publish disgusts me.

  7. Kathleen Bradean

    Erotica is the most heavily self-censored genre out there, because the thought police are a real danger, not an imagined one.

    My Night Creatures is awash in blood. I await news from a potential publisher. We'll see if it passes.

  8. aureliatevans

    And to add my previous comment, I jumped into erotica through my work in fanfiction. Now there's a hotbed of transgressive acceptance, so you just get used to it being okay. Then you come into the places where they give you money, and suddenly all those things that were perfectly fine are considered taboo. In fanfiction, all you need to do is put in a warning, and the people who don't want to read it … don't read it. Novel concept, I know – no pun intended.

  9. Bob

    Thank you, Lisabet.

    "Squandered Sins" is one of my personal favorites because I was able to put myself into the hero's shoes, a simultaneously uncomfortable and exhilarating POV, but then isn't that the formula that fuels good erotica? We all have notions that stoke shame. Well, I have more than my share, being brought up in an Irish Catholic family.

    Taboos fade, but PC issues are a particularly resilient pain-in-the-ass. I might entertain the sensitivities of folks who have an actual claim to offense, but the ones who annoy me to the point of homicide are the self-appointed cross-carriers who loudly claim offense on behalf of others. I'll include in that category those who invoke the welfare of children when they condemn a book or a movie or TV show.

    The best defense against the cry of offense is to write intelligently. How profound is that? Duh.

  10. Emerald

    Thanks for this, Lisabet. Inklings of it have occurred to me too, and I have encountered the same question in response of, "What exactly do/am I advocating then?" I don't really know. I do know that it has occurred to me that if professional writers of erotic fiction are not "allowed" to write/publish work on these themes or subjects, does that result in some sort of disservice (somewhat aligned with what Amanda said about the quality of erotica available to those who experience fantasies in these areas)? It's not as though these things disappear from our psyches or consciousness because most publishers will not allow them in their published content.

    It's an interesting subject and, I think, one worth considering. I appreciate your doing so and inviting others to as well in this post.

  11. Kalita Kasar

    Great post, Lisabet. I think you've said what a lot of us have been thinking but afraid/unwilling to say.

    I've had one novella of mine literally shredded by some critical readers because it contained scenes of reluctant consent, white slavery and other such taboo subjects. My publisher got brave and put it out there, and I had to cop the flack. *shrugs* I maintain to this day that the scenes depicted were not rape they were RC. And the white slavery was contextual to the setting of the story.

    Ravishment fantasy, IMO is not rape for titillation, anymore than having a graphic murder depicted in a crime novel is meant to turn the reader on to go out and kill someone. Fiction is fiction, true, but it should also imitate real life and those taboo scenarios and fantasies occur in real life. Why disallow them then, in fiction?

  12. Kalita

    Incidentally, my above mentioned novella sold better than almost anything else I have written!

  13. Lisabet Sarai

    Thanks to all of you for your great comments!

    @ Ed – You have an excellent point. Breaking taboos just for the sake of effect doesn't offer the sort of insight that I'm talking about. And to the extent that more "serious" erotic authors avoid non-PC topics, the world will be flooded with these cheap tales that don't go below the surface to consider what the taboos *mean* when they're broken.

    @ Aurelia – publishers like Republica and Freaky Fountain, who were brave enough to bring out quality books that pushed the envelope, have gone out of business. Very sad.

    @ Amanda – I sometimes wonder if the legal argument is just an excuse. Sure, kiddie porn is definitely illegal, but as far as I know there are no laws, at least in the U.S., against written portrayals of incest, or race games, or golden showers. Of course there is always that murky claim that something is "obscene"…

    @ Kathleen – not to worry. Any amount of blood seems to be okay!

    @ Bob – I hear you! And you do (write intelligently).

    @ Emerald – We need to refute the claim that by writing about something, we are advocating it. I agree that I'm uncomfortable writing, or reading, a rape scene in an erotic novel – but that's the way it should be. These topics *should* make you squirm. That's part of the point.

    @ Kalita – I get complaints from some readers simply because my consensual sex is too graphic or too rough. You've got to shrug it off and find your readership.

  14. Donna

    I love your phrase "erotically correct," because obviously, whether we are allowed to write about it or not, our sexual fantasies are nourished by taboo. I find it very interesting that as soon as we gain freedom in some area–as in the ability to publish erotica widely as we can today–other ways of control pop up to encircle the danger. Basically as you and others point out, it's that only a certain kind of erotica is "allowed," and, more frighteningly, thought and deed are seen as one in the same. However, I do believe that writing intelligent, carefully crafted erotica is still a rare and brave act, regardless of the theme. To declare "I'm smart and I think about sex" is still radical!

  15. The Boca Deb

    I have a question regarding the "underage sex" mentioned in the OP. Specifically how is "underage sex" defined? Is it two minors of a similar age (e.g., two sixteen year olds) having consensual sex? Or is it an older (legal adult) partner and a minor partner?

    Thank you in advance. Anyone with an opinion, feel free to answer.

  16. Lisabet Sarai

    Hello, Donna,

    I use the term "erotically correct" in the sense of genuine. There are of course many erotic fantasies that happen to be politically correct, but quite a few of the most potent are likely to trigger outrage, at least among some people.

    Anyone who is interested can read now read my review of the book that triggered this post, Minority Affairs, over at Erotica Revealed.

  17. Lisabet Sarai

    Hello, Deb,

    Sorry your comment got trapped by the spam filter and thus delayed.

    It doesn't really matter whether one is talking about sex between two teens or a teen/adult affair, you can't touch either of them. And though some people will be appalled, I think both scenarios have tremendous erotic potential.

    I'm not talking about pre-pubescent children, mind you. But I feel that a relationship between, let's say, a thirty year old guy and a sixteen year old woman should be allowed grist for the fictional mill.

    I was fifteen when I had my first sexual experience. My lover was twenty one.

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