Sex On The Page

Julia Fierro contemplates a challenge of many novelists:

When I asked literary writers about their experience writing sex, their responses ranged from, “I am terrified of sex scenes!” to “I fear the reader will think I’m a pervert, or terrifically immature, or both.” Why do so many literary writers fear writing about sex? Why do we add to the collective anxiety by celebrating The Literary Review’s “Bad Sex Award” — the annual public humiliation and literary stoning of one published writer?

In my experience as both a writer and a teacher, this fear of writing about sex is tied to the fear of sentimentality that takes root in a writer’s formative years. Writing instructors chastise writers in class — a setting that can feel quite public — when the writer risks sentiment, which a naïve writer might mistake for emotion. Writers accrue a kind of scar tissue, blocking their ability and their confidence to imply emotion, inevitably leading to a clouding of meaning in their work.

Meanwhile, Amanda Hess wonders when erotica will be taken seriously:

Fifty Shades has only cemented erotica’s reputation as juvenile, poorly-constructed, and—perhaps most damning—totally feminine.

In a world where most mainstream pornography is filmed with a male viewer in mind (and often, with guys manning the camera and the promotional machine), written erotica has been traditionally more accessible to women, who can produce it cheaply and anonymously, with few resources, no institutional support, and reduced risk of public shaming. That’s only reinforced the idea that women prefer to read their smut as opposed to watching it—and that they’re so hard up, they’ll accept whatever amateur bodice-rippers are offered to them.

The Internet has changed only some of that. Online, it’s easy to click away from traditionally feminine stuff and into “some crazy fetishes and things that are clearly not ‘girly,’ ” [Lux Alptraum, publisher and editor of the sex-centered blog Fleshbot] says. “Erotica can be Harry/Draco slash fiction. It can be aliens raping farmers. It can be whatever you want, and it doesn’t have to be in this soft purple packaging with the heaving bosoms and Fabio.” (Trust: I’ve read plotlines on that would not be legal to film in the United States.)