Over on my site, Tamsin’s Superotica, I’m doing the A to Z blogging challenge at the moment – which means a post per day through April, with time off for good behaviour on Sundays! So far, I’ve reached ‘C’, so I’m sharing it here.
One of the fun things about taking on the Blogging from A to Z Challenge is deciding each day what the particular letter will stand for. ‘C’ is day that positively spoils the erotica writer for choice – I could have chosen cock, cunt, clit, cunnilingus, clamps, cuckolding, cum, climax…there’s an endless list of dirty ‘C’ words and I could have written a post or found a story excerpt based on any of them. But instead, I’ve chose to return to one of my pet themes – the expectation that some, not all, readers have that erotica writers should write ‘responsibly.’ By which I mean, my characters should always use condoms and practice safe sex. That they should always secure consent for any sexual act. Coercion – not allowed. Cheating – another big no-no. In short, anything that might create conflict in stories that are by their nature highly sexual should be avoided or at the very least, come with a warning and a major comeuppance for the perpetrator.
You may have read my previous posts on this issue. So why do I feel the need to revisit it?
Before I started writing erotica, some four or so years ago, I hadn’t really read any erotica. And even now, I don’t read a lot of it – too much like a busman’s holiday. But naturally, I read some, for research purposes and to see what writers I adore have been writing. Last week, for the first time ever, I stumbled across what I can only describe as a ‘safe sex disclaimer’ at the front of a book I was reading for research. Seriously? This is what it said:
This is a work of erotic fantasy. In real life, please protect yourself and your lover by always practising safe sex.
I’m still open-mouthed today as I look at it on the first page. It was accompanied by another disclaimer stating that all the characters were over 18 and every act was consensual. To me, these warnings and disclaimers are unnecessary and strange on so many levels.
- Who needs a health warning on a work of fiction? Could someone mistake it for a ‘how-to’ guide? I’m afraid if a reader is still at the level of being unable to distinguish fact from fiction that means they’re a child – and children shouldn’t be reading these books. This is, after all, the most adult of genres.
- Why a disclaimer stating that all the acts are consensual? Isn’t the writing clear enough for the reader to able to discern this for themselves? Or could this be a disingenuous attempt by the writer to position the work as some sort of pseudo-non-con?
- I assume my readers don’t need this sort of mollycoddling – in which case, a disclaimer of this nature is horribly patronising. And frankly, if a reader wants to practise unsafe sex, that’s their choice and as an erotica writer, I don’t feel myself in a position to lecture them about it. Furthermore, if I wrote a scene in which my characters behaved in a dubious manner, it would not make me in anyway responsible for anything dubious a reader might do. After all, we don’t feel it necessary to exhort the readers of crime fiction not to go out and rob, torture or murder people.
So why did the writer feel that they needed to include such disclaimers? To cover themselves in the face of reader criticism, perhaps? I’ve been called out for having characters not use condoms, for being coercive, for smoking cigarettes (though amazingly not yet for alcohol consumption), and strangest of all, one reviewer complained about a character giving another character Advil – because it has some very dangerous side effects!
Perhaps I should include disclaimers to keep my readers totally safe – if you read Alchemy xii, you will come across characters who go outside in the snow in February stark naked (don’t try this at home, you might catch pneumonia), travel in cars without seatbelts (don’t do this in case you’re involved in an accident), carry a penknife (just don’t!), eat steak tartare (please don’t eat raw meat after reading this), have multiple piercings (don’t try to do these yourself – if you want a piercing make sure you go to someone licensed), drink alcohol (please drink responsibly within the recommended limits), go hiking without a map (oh no!), bare knuckle box (you could sustain a nasty injury), practise shibari (don’t tie ropes around anyone’s neck, don’t tie the ropes too tight, and actually get some instruction before even attempting it), swear (that’s not nice), lie (also not nice)…I could go on, but you get the picture.
I could write a story in which no disclaimers were necessary. A woman could meet a man (both above the age of consent, naturally) and they could fall in love and have safe sex. End of story. Nothing dangerous, no conflict, no bad behaviour by any character. Everything would be wonderful.
But I won’t write that story – no conflict equates with not plot. (And most of my stories are heavily plot driven.) In fact, the more often I’m confronted with this issue, the more indignant I become. And the more inclined I am to have my characters do anything I want them to do without censure. As I said earlier, this is a grown up genre and I want to write adult stories with adult themes and flawed characters. And I will.
(Though please don’t think I’m suggesting that readers should be thrown unaware into scenarios that may be triggers for them. It’s just that the book blurb should do it’s job and make the nature of the story perfectly clear without the need for warnings and disclaimers inside.)
For other genres, none of this is an issue. So it shouldn’t be for erotica. Fiction is fiction and we should be able to write whatever the hell we like. If you want safe, go back to reading children’s literature – may I suggest the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen?