Sexy Fictions

As most regular readers of this blog would know by now, I won the National Novel Writing Month this year, putting 50,000 words into a rough draft between the start and end of the month. What you don’t know, though (because this is the first I’ve told anyone), is that some 2000 words of that was smut.

Aside from some by any standard quite embarrassing cybersex back in high school and college, it’s the first I’ve ever created something sexually explicit. No doubt that’s in part due to that Catholic upbringing I wrote about earlier. And I certainly don’t make any claim that it’d be worth reading, given the WriMo ethos of quantity over quality added to the intrinsic silliness of most smut and most first efforts. But I certainly found it exciting, and a little liberating!

Much has been made of the USian double standard when it comes to violence vs. sex, in entertainment. It is far easier to find a TV show that will depict a disembowelment or a decapitation than one that will show a penis. I find that particularly strange, given that sexuality is a significant part of most adult lives, and certainly a much healthier thing in itself than beating the crap out of people tends to be. I often feel the lack of it, when reading or watching things that otherwise portray a wide variety of human needs and experiences.

It’s not that simply finding something titillating is difficult. “The Internet is for porn,” as the song goes, and it takes mere seconds to have the ‘net deliver on that purpose. But the sort of mass-produced stuff that’s easiest to find is soulless and formulaic, quick to deliver a sexual buzz, but entirely bereft of anything deeper. I want it all, I suppose: sexy action that means something due to how it’s situated in a larger narrative. Not just actors, but characters; not just foreplay, penetration, and climax, but character arcs and relationships that, as relationships do, sometimes lead to the bedroom.

I’ve looked for the kind of meaningfully situated sexytimes fiction in various places, to varying degrees of success. I’ve played a few eroge, but it’s difficult to find one whose gameplay doesn’t feel trashy and misogynistic, the player building up points until they can add characters to a portfolio of sexual conquests. This Salon article about a plot-driven porn flick had me hopeful, but the film fails horrifically in the respects the creators boast about; it’s a bunch of conventional pornographic scenes interspersed with badly acted arguments about monogamy, hardly a plot worth following. There’s a whole Web site dedicated to modifying games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to have sexual content, but from what little I can tell before I need to leave in revulsion (there’s a lot of love for… nonconsensual stuff there), it’s as vapid as the rest, adding nudity and erotic animations without any character or plot context.

The closest I’ve come to satisfying this odd craving has been in genre fiction that happens to have great sex scenes. N.K. Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Broken Kingdoms, for instance, have some really well written encounters between their characters that fit perfectly within the greater stories of those relationships. The Saga graphic novels feature some pretty steamy images with their main characters. But it’s difficult to specifically seek those things out, because books are rarely reviewed with this focus in mind.

Which brought me to this point with the WriMo novel. In my outline (I find I’m most successful if I have things mapped out to at least the chapter level, if not scene by scene, before diving in), I had a spot carved out for an amorous encounter between the protagonist and a chief rival. When I got there, I skipped over it. I told myself it was because the relationship between the characters had developed a little differently than I’d planned, and it no longer made sense for them to hook up. Of course, that was my comfort zone speaking.

When I got to the end of the subplot involving these two characters, though, I found that I was only a couple thousand words shy of the 50,000-word target for the month. I wasn’t likely to get very far with something entirely new; I had plenty more in the outline, but I would barely have scratched the surface of the next major arc before running out of space and/or time. So I looked back at that passed-over interlude, and thought, what the hell. Be the change you want to see in the world, right?

It was fun, in any case, though it’s probably for the best that no one else will likely ever read it! Now that I’ve done such a thing once, maybe it’ll be easier to psych myself up to doing it again. Practice makes perfect?

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All That Sex I Could’ve Had

As might be common for folks who grew up Roman Catholic, my relationship with sexuality was rather twisted, for much of my life. I was preoccupied with obedience to Church teachings, likely more than most of my peers; the Church was preoccupied with teaching me how to approach sex, likely more than most other moral topics. And that approach was little more than “Just Don’t Do It,” at least until such time as you’re married to your lifelong partner (who, for me, would have to be a woman). The virtue of chastity as the Church defined it meant no masturbation, no pornography, no physical intimacy beyond the most platonic of hugs and hand-holds. So I became a horrible sort of chastity crusader, to the point where premarital hanky-panky on others’ parts filled me with righteous rage.

To my friends from those days whom I subjected to one rant or another on the topic: you have my sympathy and regret!

Surprising no one, I found these strictures difficult to obey, despite how fervently I believed in their value. Failures sent me into little spirals of shame. That was trouble enough when the “sin” was mine alone, like perusing some vault of erotica or other, but the impact on my romantic partners had to have been far worse. Whatever intimacy we engaged in beyond the previously-described chaste touches, I would revel in it in the moment, then backpedal with guilt later. I established boundaries, then broke them, then reestablished them, in a terrible cycle. (I can only claim the meager credit that I didn’t lash out at these women for “tempting” me or something, which I understand is not uncommon in some Christian circles. I assumed all the pointless blame, which is problematic enough.) I can only imagine how horrifically frustrating that must have been, from my partners’ perspectives.

To my girlfriends from those days, then: you, too, have my sympathy and regret. It was ultimately for the best that we parted ways, but I treated you badly, and for that I am sorry.

When eventually I fell away from the Church, the realization that I no longer had need to abide by those restrictions came in a slow and surreal awakening. Here I was, the door of adult sexuality open to me as it had been for years, but barely knowing what to expect should I choose to walk through. When I began dating again, I wrote a letter to my new girlfriend warning her of and apologizing in advance for my hangups in sexuality and my relative inexperience. We did all right, thankfully: we got married a little over a year ago, and continue to get along fine, in all respects!

I do wonder sometimes what my maturation would have been like, absent those dubious burnt-in lessons–if, perhaps, I’d grown up under the Liberal Catholic Church instead of the Roman one. A different set of awkward memories and little regrets, no doubt, but probably a healthier path overall. As I continue my search for abiding truths to fill the role that religion once served for me, the matter of sexual morality becomes a crucial criterion. Only those philosophies with a greater emphasis on concepts like consent, tolerance, joy, and exploration than shame and repression make the cut.