As I am preparing to put outline to story today, a thought occurred to me.
Can erotica guide and teach others?
We fool ourselves if we think that at least some readers do not try to emulate what they read in erotica. We already know of a tragic case where a young man hurt his friend because he wanted to experience (without proper consent unfortunately) his own Fifty Shades of Grey fantasy. While yes, I like to harp on how Fifty Shades romanticizes what is actually an abusive relationship, how consent is questionable (especially if you consider what Christian would reasonably know in a scene), and how it not only misrepresents but actually disrespects BDSM, if someone is either irresponsible enough to harm someone or wants to harm someone using your story as a “guide” or “inspiration” they will do so, no matter how responsibly you write your story.
That does not mean, however, that we should write whatever. I have said this before. When you write a story, you create a world and a setting where things become normalized. When I am writing my Haven stories, there is a reason that I make sure it is understood that the club works under Mistress Victoria’s protocols, and that the Dominants, submissives, and other fetishists follow those protocols when there, is that I am normalizing a certain philosophy and perspective about BDSM in my stories. Mistress Victoria is a professional Dominatrix. She follows a strict protocol in part because of liability for her clients’ well-being and in part because it was how she was trained as a Dominant. Consent is of the utmost importance to her, and she ensures that those who are welcomed into her club understand communication and limits, especially if they are Dominants who hope to play with her slaves or her submissive, Heather.
I could write a lot of stories, but I choose to write erotica that pays attention to the ideas of Safe, Sane, and Consensual play. I make my characters exercise RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink) and if a story call for one of those basic tenets of BDSM to be broken, then that is the conflict of the story, not its primary erotic element, and that breakage is address and in some way rectified.
So in thinking about that and thinking about the story I am about to write, I asked myself – can erotica teach others?
A Lack in Adult Sexual Education
Did you know that the first time you have sex, it does not have to hurt? It does not matter if it is the first time with a specific partner or the first time you have ever had sex period. I did not know that when I was a teenager, or through most of my adult life. I thought the first time was supposed to hurt. My first time was not as painful as I thought it would be, but it was not a very pleasant experience either, for a lot of complicated reasons. Had I gone through my adult life believing that the first time has to hurt, I would have taught that to my daughter, and perpetuated a myth that is scary and harmful.
It is scary because unless you’re a masochist, you don’t want to hurt, and even if you are a masochist, you may not want that pain. It is harmful because it makes a young women passive in sex, which removes some or all of their agency in deciding how sex will go. “He will penetrate you and it will hurt” makes a young woman an object to be acted upon. She becomes the passive participant.
The truth is, if she learns about her body and communicates with her partner, then the first time does not have to be painful at all. In fact, her hymen might not even break (assuming it is even in tact still by the time she has sex for the first time, which may not be the case). Her boyfriend does not have to go in to break the hymen to make sex more pleasant. All he has to do is just make sure she is plenty aroused. An orgasm or two prior to penetration usually does the trick very nicely.
The hymen/virginity myth is just one of the myths that we were fed and continue to perpetuate. We learn others as well, about how women should behave vs. men, about who should want sex more. We even learn myths about sexual peaks, who should initiate sex, etc. Americans especially have a very Puritanical idea of what sex is, how it should be, and what attitudes we should have about it and those who partake in it. We also grow up on confused ideas about sex and consent. We are fed this growing up and we perpetuate it with the next generation.
And yet we eat up porn and erotica. We enjoy them in part because they are so different from what we are fed about sex. We enjoy sometimes dark fantasies because they are forbidden. We like ravishment fantasies because they both allow us to enjoy something we would otherwise deny ourselves and because they highlight that self-denial.
Erotica as a Teaching Aid
If we are writing ethical erotica, that is erotica that pays attention to reality and to consent and that respects that gender identities and lifestyles that it presents, then why not allow that erotica to teach and guide a well. If a woman can learn from a virgin fetish erotica that is told responsibly that the first time does not have to be painful, that if a lover takes care to arouse a woman and get her ready that she will thoroughly enjoy the experience, then maybe she can internalize that lesson. When it is time to talk to her daughter about sex and what will happen “the first time” she can say “well, I know what you’ve learned in your sex ed class. Here is what they did not tell you. Get your boyfriend to do this, and it does not have to hurt.” That starts a new cycle of agency because that daughter is going to talk to her boyfriend and communicate to him what she wants to happen during their first time.
When we present a female protagonist who accepts her sexuality and seeks out partners who are accepting of her, maybe we teach women that it is okay to not only own their sexuality but to expect to still be respected for doing so. Maybe we teach them to stop looking down on other women who are sexually expressive and liberated because we present to them protagonists who they can empathize with. The woman who dresses in short skirts in the office is not just a slut anymore. She is like that character in the erotica our reader just finished, who was happy to enjoy a healthy sex life, but also shared other values common to our reader.
Food for Thought
No, erotica is not a text book. Yes, we do and should feed our readers a fantasy. No, those fantasies do not always have to be realistic. As erotica authors, we can still write stories that are ethical, that are responsible, and that while may not present the actual reality of a situation (Heather and Mistress Victoria begin their dynamic in Heather in Haven before they ever sit down and negotiate, even though that is not how a healthy D/s starts) it still can pay homage to and reflect reality in a fantastical way.
It’s our job as authors to figure out how to make that work.