Archives

the topic of porn

Writing The Secret: Sex & Romance in Fiction

 

Figure 1. Well, not really...

Figure 1. Well, not really…

 

Last weekend, I taught a workshop at The Loft Literary Center on with the title as the topic. It was me and 11 students all interested in how to approach  sex and romance in their stories without being ‘cheesy’ or ‘going too far’ or ‘crossing the line.’ It was a great class, and like most of the ones I teach at the Loft, way too short for all the things I wanted to cover.

So here I figured, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d post a little recap of what we discussed and what we didn’t get a chance to cover, along with some recommendations for further reading.

I hope I conveyed my enthusiasm for students to write about sex and romance. I hate that it’s considered prurient or indulgent or gratuitous (fuck you) or a B-plot. I hope they will try writing a sex scene or a draft full of romantical gestures, and that each time they do so, it gets easier and easier.

As I said in the class, more than once: EVERYONE wants to read about sex. But not everyone is willing to WRITE about it.

Figure 2. The Reedus making one of the Universal Gestures we all learn in grade school...

Figure 2. The Reedus making one of the Universal Gestures we all learn in grade school…

 

Some topics covered:

– writing group response to sex scenes in manuscripts
– technical terminology to use for body parts and genitalia
– my aversion to the whole “Only If It Serves The Plot/If It Isn’t Gratuitous” line re: sex/romance in fiction
– explanation of romance, erotic romance, erotica
– the responsibilities of the writer re: triggering and writing non-consensual sexual acts and rape
– concerns of writing sex in young adult books
– Rule 34
– the advantage fictional sex has over visual sex (porn)
– some notes about the romance genre and market
– vulnerability and romance
– romantic cliches and how to defy/defeat/revitalize them

 

Figure 3. Sometimes you just need some Reeduslingus... or something

Figure 3. Sometimes you just need some Reeduslingus… or something

 

Please message me or leave a comment if you’ve got a link  or book recommendation I should add – this is greatly appreciated!

Further Reading

Nonfiction
Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex by Judith Levine, University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male by Andrew Smiler. Jossey-Bass, 2013.
Virgin: The Untouched History by Hanne Blank, Bloomsbury, 2007.
The Erotic Mind by Jack Morin, Harper Perennial, 1996.
How To Write A Dirty Story by Susie Bright, Touchstone, 2002.
How To Make Love To Adrian Colesberry by Adrian Colesberry, Gotham, 2009.
How To Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton, Picador, 2013.
Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love & Desire by Lisa M. Diamond, Harvard University Press, 2009.

Fiction (super literary grown-up fancy kind)
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
In The Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
Endless Love by Scott Spencer
Swimming Sweet Arrow by Maureen Gibbon
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
Towelhead by Alicia Erian
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Testimony by Anita Shreve

Recommended Romance Authors
Victoria Dahl
Tessa Dare
Lisa Kleypas
Elizabeth Hoyt
Joanna Bourne (god I love The Spymaster’s Lady! So excellent!)
Linda Lael Miller
Megan Hart
Charlotte Stein
Laura Lee Guhrke
Lorelei James
Cecilia Grant (great review here of A Lady Awakened)
Eloisa James (this review especially pleases me: “Bitches love a castle.”)

Online
On Porn & YA Literature:
http://carolrhoda.blogspot.com/2012/09/on-subject-of-material-containing.html

On Making Sex Normal – a TED talk by Debbie Herbenick:

http://www.makesexnormal.tumblr.com

Real Sex Advice: The Savage Lovecast podcast (with Dan Savage)
http://www.savagelovecast.com/

The Sex Talk:
http://www.throughthetollbooth.com/2013/03/25/the-sex-talk/#comment-275

Sex, YA Books and Some “E” Words
http://www.stackedbooks.org/2012/12/sex-ya-books-and-some-e-words.html

Sex in YA series (by author Kody Keplinger)
Taboos: http://www.yahighway.com/2011/04/sex-in-ya-part-1-taboos.html
Keeping It Safe: http://www.yahighway.com/2011/04/sex-in-ya-part-2-keeping-it-safe.html
Stereotypes: http://www.yahighway.com/2011/06/sex-in-ya-part-3-stereotypes.html
Sex v. Romance: http://www.yahighway.com/2011/07/sex-in-ya-part-4-ya-vs-romance-sex.html

On Sex by Ashley Hope Perez
Part I: http://www.ashleyperez.com/blog/item/105-on-sex-part-1-this-house-i-cannot-leave
Part II: http://www.ashleyperez.com/blog/item/106-on-sex-part-2-teens-are-sexual-people-too

Let’s Get It On: Sex Scenes in Young Adult Novels:
http://acrowesnest.blogspot.com/2008/12/marianna-lets-get-it-on-sex-scenes-in.html

On Sex , YA Literature and Terminology:
http://carriemesrobian.tumblr.com/post/39518860167/on-sex-ya-literature-terminology

Writing Sex in Literary Fiction:
http://juliafierro.tumblr.com/post/43403588243/writing-sex-in-literary-fiction

So… Are Your Characters Ever Going To Fuck?
http://www.carriemesrobian.com/2012/08/soare-your-characters-ever-going-to-fuck.html

The Boys of My Youth: a collection of posts about days gone by
http://carriemesrobian.com/category/the-boys-of-my-youth/

10 Contemporary Sex Scenes That Will Make You Believe In Love:
http://www.bustle.com/articles/13178-10-contemporary-sex-scenes-that-will-make-you-believe-in-love

 

 

 

Sex & Violence & Stuff

Here's my book. I'll probably be talking about it a lot.

Here’s my book. I’ll probably be talking about it a lot.

 

Hey. It’s me. On my blog. Linking to stuff about my book:

Like, here’s a review of Sex & Violence…by an Actual Real Teenage Reader!

And here’s a chance to win one of ten free SIGNED copies!

And also, here’s me at The Flyleaf Review on how I like to read book series.

And here are two Storify thingies I did: one on my Romance Writing Class at the Loft Literary Center, which was super fun (at least for me!) and one of me banging on about Sex in YA Literature, which is my little cri de coeur, as you might know.

This is Rick Grimes. He's busy. With stuff. Also, things.

This is Rick Grimes. He’s busy. With stuff. Also, things.

Since other stuff is going on in the world…

Here is the Comic-Con 2013 season 4 trailer for The Best Show Of All Time, I mean, The Walking Dead.

Here is why we must all write Ken Cuccinelli and ask him where his penis/mouth have been and what’s been up his butt, as well. For the good of our nation, you see. WHERE HAVE YOUR GENITALS BEEN, AMERICA? AND DID THEY WIPE THEIR FEET BEFORE COMING IN THE HOUSE? THE NATION NEEDS ANSWERS.

Here is a brave girl named Tuesday Cain fighting the good fight, with an awesome dad named Billy Cain, backing her up. God, this makes me all verklempt.

Here is Kelly Jensen fighting the good fight for books and teenagers and young adult as a genre, which was spurred on by some religious fuckwit insisting on banning Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak because rape somehow equals porn (I KNOW. I CAN’T EVEN.)

 

 

 

On Porn Part I

 

Saying you don’t like porn is kind of like saying you don’t like television.

For example, if you told me that you don’t like television, maybe I’d press you with some follow-up questions:

“Really? None? Not even PBS? No America’s Test Kitchen or Masterpiece Theater? Not even premium cable stuff like The Wire or The Sopranos? No Netflix Streaming? No clips from The Daily Show? No old episodes of I Love Lucy?”

Then you might backpedal and cop to watching basketball games (“only during March Madness”) or episodes of Breaking Bad on your iPad. As if this doesn’t, technically, count.

What I think you’re really saying, though, is “I don’t like shitty awful depressing demeaning television.” Like reality TV or game shows hosted by Howie Mandel or anything about drunken numbskulls in New Jersey.

Or maybe you’re saying, “I’m not one of those people who makes their television the centerpiece of my living room.” Like, you don’t own one, or if you do, it’s hidden in a craftily-painted armoire or whatever.

Either way, numbskullery and/or gross aesthetic emphasis are the first images that pop into your head when you hear the word ‘television’ and that’s why you hit the REJECT button.

Similarly, some people hear the word, “porn” and what automatically pops into their head is an image of some naked blond dimwit with pneumatic breasts and acrylic nails and a spray tan and a complete lack of body hair and personal agency. And whatever she is doing with her unlikely body is probably context-free and alarming in its excess and vigor and surfeit of body fluids.

To the “I don’t like porn” people, all the above = porn. (Never mind that research doesn’t support it.) It’s kind of like saying that what’s for sale at an airport bookstores = the best of modern literature.

The “I don’t like porn” people remind me of people who say they don’t like to read. I automatically think, “you just haven’t found the right book yet.” Same with porn. There exists something for every preference and niche in porn. Every body style. Every activity. Every taste level, every camera filter, every context or lack of context. I can understand being annoyed by having to wade through a whole bunch of crap that makes you shudder, yes. But dismissing ‘porn’ as a monolith is a mistake.

(Though there doesn’t exist porn for people who don’t want to look at sexual content, I guess. Sorry.)

Furthermore, assuming everyone involved in the production of porn is some kind of drug-addled, underaged, abused brainless runaway is also a mistake.

It is true that most people would not want to have sex while people are filming/watching.

It is true that most people would not want to have sex on camera for money. (Or even be able to do that! How many of us get aroused on cue? Or can act professional while stark naked and surrounded by camera equipment and strange people? Sex on film involves skills that most of us do not use in our bedrooms).

It is true that most people want to have sex in private situations, with people they love and care about, and aren’t interested in the world seeing how they look naked and while in the throes of passion or whatever.

It is true that what is presented as ‘sex’ in porn is a facsimile of sex, generally. It is really happening, yes. It’s ‘sex’ by definition. But not in the way that sex ‘really happens’ to people in reality, since most of us don’t have sex for money or on schedule or in front of cameras and such. (Well, no shit. Don’t look at art if you’re concerned about Pure Reality. Go read Robert Boswell’s essay “On Urban Legends, Pornography, and Literary Fiction” if you want to really get dorky and deep on this matter).

But to assume that the people involved in porn production and consumption are degenerate or exploited or somehow lesser is to lack imagination. And lack of imagination is more obscene to me than, say, Super Slutty Anal Gangbang 7, as far as I’m concerned.

 

On Porn, In Text and Image

I just finished reading some novelporn (AKA ‘romance’) and it was a bust for me personally.

First, the Man kept using a term of endearment for The Woman that grated on me.

Second, there was too much elaborate dirty talk (who speaks in whole paragraphs when they have sex?)

Third, the Woman was always wearing matching bras and undies – AS IF – and had a Brazilian, which just, no. Ingrown hairs aren’t sexy. Plus it’s boring.

And finally, there was a threesome…with a dude who had a ponytail. Bleeccchhh.

The worst part was there was a rape theme that kept twining its way through the story and it distracted me.

‘Distracted’ isn’t a strong enough word. Unnerved. Unsettled. BOTHERED. The rape wasn’t sexualized, mind you, but its presence darkened the whole set-up, though this book had a bit of the crime/thriller aspect to it, to be fair. I don’t like crime/thriller junk in the novelporn form (it seems quite popular, nonetheless) so putting rape in there repetitively is a cold shower move for me. Gets me thinking about nothing good or leisurely, for starters.

More importantly, though, setting rape beside lavish scenes of consensual sex seems like the worst kind of elevation. Rape doesn’t get to share the stage with pleasure.

The whole thing made me think of image porn, the kind we’re used to online – videos and naked pictures – and all the things that bug me about it.

Like, what’s the deal with everyone doing their sex business on THE SAME CHEAP IKEA COUCH? Do I have to keep searching through all the porn in the world to find another one? (That nasty saggy-leather black couch doesn’t count.)

Also, let’s not shave men’s parts. Please. That’s just madness. I’d ask the same for women but that train’s already left the station. I get why people want shaved ladies – they want to SEE everything and what is image porn if not about the visuals? But for dudes, that’s not really an issue – is it?

I’m also weary of the aesthetics of the bodies involved. The pierced belly button and tongue. The lame-o tattoos. The goddamn spray-tan. And, really, do people seriously let women with fakey fingernails put those plastic claws anywhere near their nethers? It just seems like a vector for infection and laceration.

Is it asking too much that we can just watch two regular people go at it…Why is it only just the view of one body and not both? Like disembodied hands and genitalia and stuff like that. It makes me wonder what the other person looks like and if they’re gross or have warts on their nose or something. Why can’t we see both of them? Is one of them working the camera? Who all is really in that room, anyway? Is that someone’s house or a movie set or what? Did they break for lunch? Is there a costumer or do they own those crazy outfits? Didn’t I just see that same bedspread at Target last week?

…people that are old enough to have voted in more than one election, at least?If the people involved look really young, then I just wonder if their parents know they do this or if they’re orphans so it’s okay. Because if they’re not orphans, I wonder what their parents think of them writhing away on that cheap Ikea couch on the internet and then I get really sad. Do they have another job besides blowing some disembodied penis? Were they hoping to be ballerinas or cowboys when they were little? Do their moms just sit at home and cry?

All those questions up there? NOT SEXY.

Yes, I know that men are the main consumers of porn and they want to see a perspective that matches up with the usually-solitary situation in which they find themselves with respect to porn. (No judgment, either; I’m all for Masturbation, being The Greatest Love Of All and everything.)

I’m sure some people would respond that the answer to all these quibbles is WATCH MORE PORN IDIOT. There’s ignorance here on my part, yes.

Meanwhile, this is kind of an obstacle when it comes to the point of the whole medium. I have problems willingly suspending my disbelief when it comes to porn in text and image. I’d like to believe the fault’s not mine, however. Apparently, I have some model of what ‘real sex’ should look like and when it knocks up to these depictions, I get all annoyed. I’m supposed to be seduced and I’m all finicky and whatever. Why can’t I accept other people’s versions/visions of sex?

BUT. How is anyone ever supposed to know what ‘real sex’ looks like? If you’re not currently doing it, in any case? If you film or write something down meant to seduce and arouse, isn’t it by definition ‘unreal?’ So then how is it that people succeed at pornographic portrayals? How is it that some things work and others don’t? Is that why there’s so much of both forms, romance novels and visual porn? Is it a good thing to be flooded with so many choices? How does anyone ever sit down to work on such endeavors? With people like me on hand to mock them ceaselessly? What a goddamn crazy messy gamble it all is.