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In Defense of Sex

posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , , ,


Please don't talk about sex in fiction. It's called erotica.

Please don't talk about sex on film. It's called porn.

And please, please don't talk about having sex -- talk about coitus or shagging or fucking or making love. Ok?

I write erotic fiction, as it is known. I've recently embarked on trying to publish said erotic fiction and I am learning many things in the process.

"Sex sells," they say. They're right. What this does not mean is that sex is commercial (or at least, not overtly; scantily clad model? Ooh, hot. Description of said model masturbating in a public toilet? Sorry, not unless you're Easton Ellis or Philip Roth).

"Sex is normal and healthy," they preach. They're right. What this does not mean is that mentioning sex is mainstream, or even acceptable in many venues. In fact the presence of sex in fiction and film is so contentious that we've given them their own genres if it gets too detailed. As a writer, this is confusing and frustrating to say the least.

"Sex cheapens everything," they whisper. I feel a bit sorry for them, because they must either be having awful sex or feel pitifully guilty for what they do have. Calling something bawdy, tawdry, smutty and gratuituous only serves to demean the emotional value of sex (and there is always emotional value, whether it is positive or negative) because it automatically attributes meaning to the physical side of sex over the rest. 

Sex and violence are often deemed gratuitous (as if this is always a bad thing. I'm currently eating a gratuitous scone and let me tell you -- it's awesome). Unless there's a specific purpose to sex and violence, a writer or a film maker should fade to grey. Even if you feature a lot of valid, plot-worthy sex and/or violence within your project, rest assured that it will get a special label to alert the public to its questionable content. Warning: people doing normal, human things that you may or may not agree with! Hang on a minute...isn't that one definition of good fiction?

I'm well aware of religious and moral agendas (and I'm sure this particular point is argued more eloquently, and in more detail, elsewhere). Everyone is entitled to their view. But here's the rub: a lot of us are afraid of these normal, human things. We've externalised those "primal" urges, given them special words and laminated them with very modern rules, as if they are somehow contained on our walls beneath the plastic.

We think these urges say bad (mostly Freudian) things about us. We don't want to know about them. We don't want to read about them or watch them and we especially don't want to talk about them -- it's vulgar, you see. One wouldn't talk to their friends in the park about going to the toilet, and sex is just another bodily function (if sex is a little like going to the toilet for you -- heads-up. You're doing it wrong). Sex is directly related to our most intimate secrets, fetishes and fantasies. It is symptomatic of the things which make us vulnerable, and desire is often dictated by neuroses modern men and women aren't supposed to have  (therapy fixed my Daddy issues...so why do they still get me off?). When you look at it this way, how are you meant to have sex and not feel guilty? And if you don't, why are a hundred critics descending to judge you (and your characters)? What have they got to hide...?

It's perfectly valid to keep what goes on between you and your partner private, if that's your preference -- but sex can still be discussed in abstract, if you'd like. It can be discussed with dignity. It doesn't have to be a competition about how much more you've tried, or a crude carnival of curses and slang. Truth be told, I think it can be talked about with wit and elegance, and insight that is touching (excuse the pun) and meaningful. There's no need for a nudge and a wink.

I can say all of this until I'm blue in the face (a frisky flush would be more appropriate) but it comes down to this: I wrote a book with lots of sex. I wrote a book about sex. Because it's not all abstract; because it's not devoid of emotion; because there is evident enjoyment in that sex (which is kind of the point of the act, nooo...?); it's proving pretty hard to place. It's intelligent, people have said. It's written really well. It's just not for us. Books about sex need their own publishers, you see, and most of those publishers have to "hide" online (just as sex often has to "hide" in other genres, such as fantasy, literary or horror). I wrote a book about conflicts that a lot of people have and about something that almost everyone does (even if they don't do it in the same way, or don't talk about it if they do), and people are afraid of it. Above all else, that just makes me...sad.

I want to stand up for sex. Not smut, not filth, not fucking or lovemaking or erotica or romantica or whatever box they want to stuff it in to make the tropes fit. I want to share the freedom of fearlessness. Not everybody wants to read about sex, no...but we seem to have forgotten (and subsequently stigmatised) the people who do, as if only one preference can prevail. The healthy sales figures of erotic fiction suggest that the latter is possibly the more commonplace view, and things are getting better, slowly...but slow it is.

So, there you have it. A not so much "let's talk about it all the time!" but a "let's not ignore what is staring us in the face more often than we'd care to admit." A defense of sex.

Now...are you sitting uncomfortably?


  1. Anonymous
  2. Peter Green

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