Writing erotica has a lot more acceptance now than it did in the past, but there are still a lot of hurdles we’ve yet to leap. It might be ‘acceptable’ but it’s often far from admired. Like its sister genre, romance, it is often dismissed because of its largely female audience and creators, because something that’s ‘only’ for women isn’t ‘universal’ – yeah, right.
It’s surprising that even in the mainstream there’s still a discomfort linking women and desire. Libby Brooks, writing in The Guardian about the new collection In Bed With… that features big name writers who nonetheless write under pseudonyms, notes:
It’s a weary truism that it remains taboo for women to talk publicly about what turns them on. Another of the contributors, Joan Smith, says she has been fielding scandalised callers demanding to know why a feminist such as herself would even countenance writing erotica. For all the jocular gloss, the media’s imperative to identify Lette’s writers carries an unpleasant undercurrent of the scarlet letter.
Why is women’s desire such a powerful thing that it must be hedged around with such careful language and subterfuge? I suspect a large part of that comes from its mysteriousness. The physiological questions about female desire remain puzzles to researchers who find it impossible to sort out the overlap between impulses from the body and those from culture. In a recent New York Times Magazine piece, Dr. Meredith Chivers, who has spent long years working to understand the workings of female sexuality, continues to find it a perplexing problem:
“So many cultures have quite strict codes governing female sexuality,” she said. “If that sexuality is relatively passive, then why so many rules to control it? Why is it so frightening?” There was the implication, in her words, that she might never illuminate her subject because she could not even see it, that the data she and her colleagues collect might be deceptive, might represent only the creations of culture, and that her interpretations might be leading away from underlying truth. There was the intimation that, at its core, women’s sexuality might not be passive at all. There was the chance that the long history of fear might have buried the nature of women’s lust too deeply to unearth, to view.
That fear is still with us. We bear a heavy burden from cultural programming. It affects us in ways we can’t always realise or understand. But taking up the task of writing our desires is a positive step. The more we take control and own our erotic imaginings, the more that fear and negativity will fall away.
The one thing that is clear from Chivers’ work is how important being desired is for women. Tell us we’re loved, but tell us we’re sexy, too. That’s a guaranteed turn on. As we explore these notions in our stories, we become more sure of ourselves and better able to articulate our desires, and that’s good for everyone.