Have you ever thought about writing something real? You know, something important?
It’s not usually asked with real malice, but you can bet your sweet ass that I prickle all the same each time someone puts the question to me. I often nod and smile, saying I write all sorts of things, but I try to stick with what I know best, and sex is at the top of the list. Everyone has sex I’ll tell them, or at least most people do. And for so long we’ve left it out of our books as if it’s not a giant part of the human experience.
But none of that is enough. That borderline polite conversation doesn’t get to the heart of it, and the heart is important. The blood is important. The breath is important.
Erotica is important, yes because sex is a part of the human experience, but of course so is water. We all eat and we all have to sleep too, so why don’t I write about those things instead? What is it about sex that stands out as something in need of examination through fiction?
And the answer is that we’ve perverted the sexual experience in the most traditional sense of the word. We’ve taken a normal part of human existence and loaded it up with so much baggage that the only way to unpack it is through myth, fiction, and dialog. Sure we can write textbooks, but they only give us part of the solution. Educating our minds as to facts is important, but we tell stories for a different reason.
Stories allow us to experience something without having to do it. There’s a great lie that says if we’re exposed to violence or sex through games, films, or novels that we’ll act them out, but in fact, these tales have always allowed us to feel things first and then decide how to act. We know what’s it’s like to be burned by hubris without having to fly close to the sun. A textbook can tell you what an orgasm is, but it can’t tell you what it feels like. A how-to-film can show you what sex looks like, but it can’t give you the emotional sensations of experiencing it.
But a great novel or a great film can make your heart race and your palms sweat. A good book can pull tears from your eyes and laughter from your chest, the experiences almost as real as if they were happening to you. So when we write about sex, we let ourselves explore our own fantasies in a way that is safe, sane, and consensual before we test drive them with another person. Knowing what a blowjob is is vastly different than experiencing one, and writing and reading give us the chance to work through everything that surrounds it from emotions to physical sensations and social repercussions.
Erotica isn’t just about the mechanics and it isn’t just about the morality. It lets us explore one of the largest and most complicated aspects of human experience with depth, compassion, and freedom. Dirty books don’t just tell us what a threesome is, they let us know what it feels like to let go and do something risky. Dirty books can let us know how to physically have anal sex, but can also advise us on what it might feel like emotionally, both during the act and also the next day. Through sex, we experience love, pain, loss, elation, jealousy, anger, and fear. And if we don’t write about it (and therefore read it), with honesty and in detail, we are simply left with our cultural messages of guilt and shame.
I write erotica because I’ve been told from a young age that sex is dangerous and dirty. I write it because each one of us has been told that our desires and our wants make us broken, and I want to tear that lie apart as brutally and fully as possible. It’s scary to let ourselves go to places we have been told are dark, but if we’re ever going to unpack the baggage, reverse the damage, and emerge healthy and whole on the other side, we have to do it. I write erotica to turn you on and to turn myself on. I write it to explore desires that confuse and upset me, and I write it to fight back against cultural institutions and messaging that tell me those things are wrong. I write erotica to feel, to experience, and to learn.
Most of all, I write erotica to say one thing: you are okay. You are normal. The things you want and the things you desire make you human. And that is a message that most of us could hear as many times a day as it takes for us to believe it.
So pick up a dirty book and remind yourself. Flip through the pages one-handed and know it is true. Close your eyes and let whatever comes to mind come as it will. Sexuality, with all of its complexities, is a part of what makes us human and alive.
And that is just as it should be.