Intimate Race Relations

by | August 21, 2020 | General | 12 comments

Photo by J.D. Mason from Unsplash

What can we say about race now? What can we write?

The past four months, since the murder of George Floyd and the international eruption of rage, recriminations and soul-searching that this event triggered, have turned the always-sensitive topics of sex and race into even more of a minefield for erotic authors. Breaking taboos is our stock in trade, but it may be that taboos related to race are now off the table.

Interracial tropes have always been popular in erotica: the white woman ravaged by the black bull with the enormous cock, the black woman with the sassy attitude and the big booty telling the whimpy white guy what to do, the black jocks and the white cheerleaders breaking all the rules, and so on. You may not have written any interracial sex, but I’d be very surprised if you haven’t read some.

Black authors use these stereotypes as much as white ones. Damien Dsoul, for instance, ( writes interracial erotica from a black man’s perspective, full of hungry, horny white women begging for penetration and domination.

These days, though, even writing interracial romance (let alone hard core smut) can get you in hot water. One of my author friends recently had the promo post for her new novel rejected by Facebook because it supposedly violated their standards. The apparent reason? This book, a reverse harem tale, features a black heroine and two white heroes. She had no trouble with the previous installment in this series, which has a very similar cover and blurb but which features all Caucasian characters.

Have we really got to a point where we can’t have any black characters without being censured or censored?

I don’t generally write “interracial” erotica, in the sense of stories where the race of the protagonists is part of the kink. In fact, I don’t really like to use that label. I do, however, have quite a few tales with a mix of black and white characters. In fact, my most recent release, The H-Gene, is an explicit MM erotic romance in which one of the heroes is black and the other white. The race of the characters is an integral part of their back story. I’m not using it specifically for titillation, though Rafe’s a big guy, in every way, and his dark skin and imposing stature do contribute to Dylan’s attraction.

After my friend Tina’s problems, I’m starting to get worried. I’m a white, Jewish woman writing about a black man from the ghetto. Am I racist? Will I get excoriated for “appropriating” the black male experience? Am I revealing my prejudice in deciding that my black character grew up in the slums while my white character is the son of a Boston lawyer?

Is it racist to write smut that uses the Big Black Cock kink? On the one hand, this is perpetuating stereotypes. Obviously not every black guy has a big cock, any more than every black guy has an innate sense of rhythm. I certainly wouldn’t like to read erotica that portrayed all Jewish guys as neurotic navel-gazers or all Jewish women as controlling guilt-trippers. (Of course, that’s the opposite of sexy, so maybe this isn’t a good comparison.) The trouble is, these tropes have been around for so long that we (i.e. the reading public – maybe including the black reading public) have been conditioned to find certain stereotypes arousing.

Should we try to decondition ourselves? Do we need to explicitly recognize and reject these racial stereotypes?

If these tropes become socially unacceptable, won’t that just make them more taboo?

I’m really quite perplexed about this. I recognize that black people have been systematically oppressed for centuries, and that racism is so firmly entrenched in many of our institutions that we don’t even see it. I know we need to open our eyes, to take responsibility and to change.

But does that mean abandoning the Big Black Bull?

In the current social climate, do we dare to write any black characters at all?

What do you think?

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. Rose B. Thorny

    A thought-provoking piece, Lisabet.

    Actually, for me, it was a rant-provoking piece. I started drafting a response comment and it turned into many paragraphs, which I couldn’t possibly post here, because it’s too long and pretty heated. The topic is timely and I’m a bit surprised (okay, very surprised) not to see a dozen responses, at least.

    I don’t know…perhaps writers are already censoring themselves, because they fear being censured by the writing community, for whatever reason (guilt by association?) and their readers (loss of sales). There was a time when a topic like this, posted in Writers, would have generated a very lively, multi-response thread, with input from many.

    My little dissertation morphed into a much larger discussion than what focused on erotica tropes, because, in fact, I think the topic doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Any discussion of racially focused tropes in erotica, evolves into tropes in general, and racial stereotyping can easily become a much more intense discussion involving stereotyping of any kind.

    At this point, all I can say, without getting going again on everything my unpublished dissertation included, is what I’ve always said about art, in general, and literature, in particular: In a free and democratic society, censorship is an abomination and one of the stepping stones to building a totalitarian dictatorship. Shame on publishers who cave to the whims of those who wish to control what artists create and what the lovers of arts are allowed to see and read.

    Rose 😉

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Rose,

      Thanks for your thoughts. (Though I am curious about what you wrote in your multi-page dissertation!) I agree with you about censorship, including self-censorship. However, what if we’re really doing harm by taking advantage of the myths about Black virility (for instance)? I really don’t know whether this is true, but a case could be made.

      I’ve seen arguments against porn that focus on the unrealistic aspects of porn conventions. In a world where many people may use porn as a major source of information about sex, there’s a very real risk of confusing fantasy with reality. People who only know about porn sex may be disappointed when they discover how complicated, imperfect and even unsatisfying real sex can sometimes be. These days, with more female directors, I think porn is becoming somewhat less stereotyped, but it’s still, like erotica, based on unrealistic premises and conventions.

      With regard to porn, I love to preface each movie with a disclaimer. Maybe that’s the solution for IR erotica that exploits the tried and true kinks.

  2. Rikki de la Vega

    One person’s trope is another stereotype and/or cliche. That’s definitely my case. When I write my sex scenes, it’s two (or more) people enjoying sex, and if anything I try to go against tired old portrayals of how people of different races are “expected to” behave.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Rikki,

      I also love to turn readers’ expectations on their heads.

      But in fact readers sometimes seem to crave the same old cliches. That’s what pushes their buttons.

      I suppose we don’t have to participate. Often I deliberately will not. But many authors intentionally take advantage of these popular scenarios/conventions/tropes/stereotypes. And I have to wonder, is that justifiable, or wrong. (I really don’t know.)

      • Rikki De la Vega

        Lisabet: Whenever writing a book, one question sticks in my mind: “Is this the kind of world I want?” To a big extent, that’s what got me writing my Free Spirits series, bcoz it allowed me to “create” a world where sex was considered natural and playful, religion didn’t have to conflict with it, and people could live their lives as they pleased without giving in to the flawed expectations of either prejudice or political/religious dogma. If a reader doesn’t like that I refuse to make cookie-cutter characters who conform to racial and gender stereotypes, they can go elsewhere. But if they like smut that also piques their intellect and desire for a better world for all of us to live in, READ ON!!

  3. Elizabeth Schechter

    I think the difference is writing a character and a caricature, and what you’re talking about aren’t tropes. Those are stereotypes, and it can be argued that a lot of stereotypes are at best harmful, and at worst horribly racist.

    You brought up the example of the Big Black Bull. How about the Submissive Asian woman? The Southern Redneck. The Flamboyant Homosexual or the Bull Dyke? These images are almost a punchline, and the problem is that there are people who are not interested in looking past them. That’s all they know, and that’s all they want to know. There’s not much thought involved. There’s nothing to them to challenge or spark thought. They’re pablum.

    They’re EASY.

    We need to move past easy, even if we’re writing erotica. One way to to give Own Voices space at the table — the writers who should be telling these stories are the ones whose stories they are. We need to amplify those stories. Romance writer LaQuette makes the point that it’s easier for some people to accept thousands of English Regency dukes with washboard abs and all their own teeth than it is for them to accept that there were People of Color in Regency England. We cannot keep pushing the Lily White narrative, and we cannot keep fostering the harmful and abusive stereotypes.

    We need to keep in mind that when we do write interracial erotica, we’re writing characters. Not caricatures.

    We cannot take the easy way out.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Elizabeth. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Authors do use these stereotypes because they’re easy, a kind of shorthand. Readers already know what to expect, how to react.

      But I also believe that at least some readers like and expect this. When people are reading for pleasure, or for arousal, they often don’t want to work too hard, Most of these readers probably do not consider themselves at all racist.

      Is it our job as authors to educate? You talk about challenging and sparking thought, but if no one reads our work, because they don’t want to be challenged, then what is the point?

      Please note that I’m playing devil’s advocate here and I definitely agree with your premise.

      • Elizabeth A Schechter

        Is it our job as author to educate?


        We regularly normalize relationships outside the cis-het-white norm. We challenge what the definition of “normal” is and push boundaries that most people would rather were left unpushed.

        Creation is art. Which sounds pretentious, but it’s true. We are creating, therefore we are artists. And the job of art, the essential core of Art, is to educate and inspire.

        • Lisabet Sarai

          In thinking about my own question, I’ve come up with a slightly different take. It’s our job to model a more inclusive and less judgmental world – to set an example. It sounds pretentious and arrogant to me to say that we’re “educating” our readers. However, we’re demonstrating that the landscape of sexuality can be far more varied than the stereotypes would lead you to believe. Hopefully at least some readers will pick up on that message.

          • Elizabeth Schechter

            “we’re demonstrating that the landscape of sexuality can be far more varied than the stereotypes would lead you to believe. Hopefully at least some readers will pick up on that message.”

            That’s educating.

    • Rikki de la Vega

      Big round of applause for this!!

      • Elizabeth A Schechter

        Thank you, Rikki!

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