Are YOU Afraid of the Dark?

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Safe, sane and consensual. In the Kink world outside of book fantasies, this is how we are supposed to play. What about within the confines of our fiction? Here, after all, we explore the insides of our heads, and those are not always safe or sane. Our Erotica doesn’t have to be. Or does it?

There’s been some trouble lately with certain subjects in Erotica, self-published with a certain company, although this may be occurring to some degree with other companies as well. I’m not going to name the company, because I publish with them. I’m not going to name the authors, because I haven’t asked their permission. I don’t think I need to do either to make my point.

Nonconsensual sex is a sanitized phrase for rape. We haven’t touched on this subject, for many reasons. Previously, none of them would have been ‘fear of censorship’. Rape is a scary word for a scarier concept, but we have freedom of speech in this country, and freedom of the press. Go ahead and laugh, I realize both of these have been severely abused of late. Get it all out. I’ll wait.

I’ve been reading a good deal within my genre for research, and through other incarnations of myself have become acquainted with a few of the authors I’ve been reading. Therein lies our tale, and my concern.

In a recently published anthology was a story that I felt crossed the line of safety and sanity. It eroticized rape, and broke boundaries like I’d break a nail. Granted. Would I censor it? Hell, no. Maybe a trigger warning should be included, maybe. But this is inside our heads, harming no one.

Rape fantasies are common, aren’t they? According to Psychology Today, forty to sixty percent of women have such fantasies. I maintain that the vast majority of these fantasies have more to do with submission than any desire to be raped. The recent popularity of BDSM themed Erotica would seem to bear me out.

Regardless, it was a story, perhaps not to my taste, but then I am more in touch with my inner submissive than many women. If you’ve read Switch It ON, you know my inner submissive will talk your damn ear off. Many, many stories don’t appeal to me, in and out of the steamier section of the e-bookstore. I’m certain their authors are traumatized. Ha ha.

The troubling part is that the retailer censored it, and seems now to be subjecting all of the authors who published in the “offending” book to heightened scrutiny, even to the point of making their work unavailable. While it appears that this has been sorted out, it concerns me.

There are some dark themes in BDSM literature. During my research, I’ve read stories that upset me. I’ve read about relationships that appear to me to be the result of Stockholm Syndrome. I’ve seen photos that made me cry. I, like Mistress Madeline, have more issues than the New York Times, and like her, cry easily. I am not, however, afraid of the dark. A good portion of my soul lives there still, and is perfectly at home.

Switch It UP has travelled down some of the darker paths through the woods. We’ll meet some wolves that really need a comeuppance from the Woodcutter. I address child sexual abuse, violation of consent, and, yes, rape. All of these appear off-screen, and none of them are romanticized or eroticized in any way. However, the recent censorship gives me grave concerns. Will my work be blackballed because of its honesty, as happened to an author among those referenced whom I hold in high regard because of her failure to sugarcoat, her commitment to truth and authenticity?

Those rape fantasies seem to imply that the truth might be different from what anyone supposes. Authors leave readers free to explore those areas that ring true to them. Publishers and retailers seem to feel readers need protecting. What do you think? Do you need Grandma to hold your hand, or do you want to walk through the dark woods, and let the wolves beware?

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Erotica or Pornography, and Why We Should Care (or NOT)!

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According to Webster’s, erotica are “works of art or literature that deal with sex and are meant to cause sexual feelings”, while pornography is “defined as movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement”. So what’s the difference? Should it matter? If so, why?

As I believe I have mentioned on the blog before, America was settled by Puritans, the original Right Wing Nut Jobs, and it has had that Peeping Tom attitude about sex ever since. This country obsesses over this subject in a disgusted fever. Legislating morality is a waste of time, as every clergyman caught with his pants down could attest. Sex, and more importantly our reaction to it, is a large part of what makes us human. However, this attitude is the genesis of the popular debate: Art vs. Obscenity.

As beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, so too is artistic merit. I know what I think of as art, and your ideas may be different, but they are no less valid. It’s only in a legal context that we come against the serious problem of defining obscenity. “…I know it when I see it…” The quote is famous within this discussion, and I discovered I had no idea where that quote originated. Wikipedia says it should be attributed to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in 1964, and I was surprised to learn that the entire quotation actually judged the piece in question not to be obscene.

The courtroom used to be the only place this conflict really mattered. Now, in the world of self-publishing, the court of public opinion can make or break an author. If one is writing about everyone’s favorite subject, S-E-X, multiply this a thousand times. How we define a thing does make a difference. If erotica cannot be taken seriously as literature, then pornography must be trash for the masses. *Insert eye roll here.*     

So what brought all this up? I obviously think erotica is valid as literature, and an important expression of the human experience. If not, I would certainly not be sharing it with you. I guess it’s about labels. Effectively labeling one’s work can enhance sales, and more importantly to the artist, get one’s work in front of more readers. Specifically, I happened to read a short novel labelled “Contemporary Romance” that my mind labelled “Pornography”. That got me to wondering why. At least 85% of the book was sex, graphically described. There was romance, of a sort, and a bit of a plot, but it hadn’t even been marked as an “Erotic Romance” as one might have expected.

Self-publishing has begotten some unusual and exotic genres, and has enabled authors to create their own and even play with the concept of what makes up “genre”. Who would ever have imagined 10 years ago the existence of the Erotic Romance genre, much less the wild popularity it has achieved? This is not to say that books that would have fit this category were not written. Frankly, when I was a young woman sneaking reads of her grandmother’s historical romances, it was for the sex!   

I learned a lot, most of it piquantly naïve. Imagine my surprise when I met my first “cock”! It was not nearly as romantic as the vaguely described “manhood” I’d been reading about. It was years afterwards that I could even type the graphic details without blushing, and I was a precocious reader with a good vocabulary of obscenity before I ever sat down to write it.

As a grown woman, and the author of Switch It ON, I am not sure it does matter. One man’s romance is another’s erotica, and still another’s trashy pornography. Whatever the reader enjoys is a perfectly acceptable form of artistic expression. And those who may be offended? They certainly shouldn’t destroy someone’s reputation with vitriolic reviews. Although I mentally categorized the “Contemporary Romance” differently, I still was able to enjoy it as I experienced it. I would review it favorably, perhaps adding my favorite caveat: not for the faint of heart. If one stumbles upon something “offensive” perhaps to simply note that it was not one’s cup of tea might be a lot more productive than slinging literary acid all over someone’s Goodreads page.

It’s entirely possible that I will be criticized for my judgment of critics, but luckily, I currently have no reputation, positive or negative! In my opinion, lively debate is positive. Character assassination is not. If you enjoy your stimulating reads, share them with the world. If your Puritan soul is scandalized, keep it to yourself!