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On yet more sex shame

A couple of weeks ago Geraldine O’Hara wrote a warm, personal article about what life was like for her as an erotica author. Initially I leapt with delight at someone being so open about their writing, but my delight quickly turned to frustration and disappointment when I read on – it seems that even as she works hard to cater to her reader’s passions, she’s squeamish and pretty judgmental about them.

In the Telegraph article, Geraldine takes pains to explain to us that she doesn’t do ‘the things in [her] books’, and that she’s not a ‘sex maniac’ – the unspoken implication being, of course, that her readers are. Her worry is understandable: despite the explosion of erotic writing, many of us are still either giggling in a corner about sex or condemning it as something corrupting and vile. But how depressing when even those who produce porn feel compelled to protest: “Oh, I write it, of course. But I’d never think about doing it.”

It’s good to talk

I write filth, and the thing I enjoy most about writing is that I know I’m describing things that people actually do, and thoroughly enjoy. They email me their stories, and comment to say “oh God I did this once and it was spectacular.” I know it can be spectacular because I’ve done it too.

But as much as I’d like to think everyone’s becoming more open about their sexual needs, I still get a surprising number of emails from people saying ‘thank God it’s not just me’ or ‘I like [insert deliciously hot sex act here] too – I was worried that there was something wrong with me.’ These emails usually come from women, and they always make me sad. Men are equally likely to email, but their “oh yeah I love throatfucking” is more likely to come with a “lol” than a lament about how they’re probably sick and dirty.

You’re probably normal and it’s fine

Few of the acts I talk about here are particularly unusual. Even if the majority of people don’t enjoy these things, they’re relatively common fantasies: being spanked, enjoying giving head, having sex with groups of men instead of just one at a time, that sort of thing. And yet while we’re happy to accept male sexuality as a storming force of nature (often to the detriment of men), women’s heartfelt and lust-inducing fantasies are often treated as either faintly embarrassing or downright obscene: things we can write books about but never actually admit to ourselves.

I write mostly non-fiction. That is to say that almost everything I describe actually happened. I slept with that hot stranger. I had that threesome. I went to that bondage club. I didn’t do it because I was ‘curious’ about how other people got off: I did it because I, along with thousands of other women, enjoy it. I’m not ashamed of any of the sexual things I’ve done – I’m far more ashamed of times I’ve lied to people, ignored important phone calls from friends, or said cruel things to loved ones in the heat of the moment. The sex I’ve had isn’t just a collection of sordid fumbles which I’ve later come to regret: it’s sociable, heartfelt fun with adults who I like and respect.

Evil shameful deliciously hot sex

In her article, Geraldine explains that “I don’t write erotic fiction to satisfy any urges. I write it because readers want it.” I’m sorry to have to break it to Geraldine, but urges are definitely being satisfied – those of the readers. And alienating those readers by discussing their sexual fantasies as if they’re the deviant lusts of a sex maniac shows a stunning lack of understanding about sexuality, not to mention a lack of respect for the audience.

I’m not arguing that Geraldine should have to experience all the kinds of sex she writes about – far from it. I’d no more tell her what to do in the bedroom than what not to do, and if her imagination’s good enough to float people’s boats then I wish her the best of luck. But when she explains that

“asking an erotic romance author if they do everything in their books is like asking Stephen King if he’s murdered anyone lately”

it makes me want to laugh, then cry, then cry some more, then fight a rabid dog like they do in Cujo.

Sex is not murder. Not even if it involves whips, chains and squealing. An unusual type of sex might not appeal to you personally, but to compare consensual sex between adults to murder frames people’s fantasies as devious and evil, and makes me think that the author has fundamentally misunderstood that sex is a good thing. A more accurate comparison, surely, would be:

“asking an erotic romance author if they do everything in their books is like asking a romance author if they’ve ever been in love.”

Look: we’re all adults. We know that across the spectrum of adult humanity there is a veritable rainbow of sexual tastes and desires. There are those who would frown upon BDSM, pornography, threesomes, or anything that came with even a whiff of the sexually unusual, and they are well within their rights to do so. But for someone who creates porn – who actually makes money from the people whose fantasies she portrays – to compare those fantasies to an act of calculated evil? That’s just perverted.

Telling us we’re unhealthy is unhealthy

This sex shame is damaging and unnecessary: it leads to people (and women in particular) feeling like they should suppress their genuine desires for fear of looking deviant or freakish. In turn, the fact that there are few women publicly willing to admit to ‘this sort of thing’ means that younger women are more likely to feel guilty about their own (perfectly healthy) fantasies and desires.

It leads to the double-standards we apply to women and men (when was the last time you heard a male pornographer declare that of course he wouldn’t watch his own material?). And, of course, it creates an odd dilemma for people like me: unashamed to write about sex but preferring to write under a pseudonym lest future employers are horrified to find I’m not a sexless work-robot. It leads to those awful articles in magazines in which self-appointed ‘experts’ explain to strangers exactly how to please your lover in bed, because you’re scared to ask for what you actually want in case you’re branded a pervert. Above all, it leads to a hell of a lot of bad sex.

It’s not fair to lay all of this at Geraldine O’Hara’s door – it’s not her fault that we, as a society, are weird about sex. But as someone who writes about sex, and makes money from catering to people’s sexual fantasies, it would be helpful if she remembered that these are actually real desires – these fantasies take place in the heads of real people, who will (quite rightly) be offended when they’re compared to murderers. We aren’t perverts or souls to be pitied: we’re adults who are making informed choices about our sexuality. I’m not a bad girl who needs to be punished: I’m a woman who knows what I want.


  • Fiddy says:

    There are not enough perverts in this world.

    I mean, people freak out when they learn that my wife’s stomach bulges out when we have sex. She’s just small. For some reason people seem to think of it as horrifying and bad.

    But, society and media these days are censoring everything. So the amount of ignorance only continues to go up.

  • Alex says:

    As always, beautifully written and convincingly argued. This is one of your most appropriately measured rants and I doubt any sane person could disagree. As much as I enjoy reading your blogs that deal with sexual awareness and politics, and as much as I agree with you, I would like to think I speak for many of your regular readers when I say…..”When are you gonna get all down and dirty again?”.
    As someone who has bought and enjoyed your book, I miss the writings that make me feel naughty, dirty and completely ok with that. The ones that give me inspiration for the next time I have sex with my lovely girlfriend. You are a very talented woman and I am surprised you haven’t been offered a column in Vogue (or some other mainstream rag) as yet. Until you are, and are therefore beholden to write slightly more vanilla and acceptable stuff, can we have a large dose of filth please?
    I am a genuine fan, mostly because of how you write, rather than what you write, but the subject matter is important. One could argue (but I am not going to), that you perpetuate the status quo you have just described by intellectualising sex too much. By making it an ‘issue’ that needs to expounded.
    Fuck it, just tell me how wet your knickers are when you feel that kick of desire from meeting a sexy stranger at a party, how you will seduce him and the feel of his cock as it slides into you. OK, I still want the quasi-political rants but some dirt wouldn’t go amiss!


    • Girl on the net says:

      Hey Alex – thanks for your comment. I am genuinely always up for suggestions, so if there’s a particular branch of filth you want me to tackle, let me know – sometimes my best inspiration comes from emails from readers that reminds me of especially hot stories =)

      I wanted to give you a proper reply, though, and please forgive me if this sounds a bit defensive – I was a bit put out by your comment initially and I think I’m a bit oversensitive about this issue.

      First and foremost – I do still write a lot of filth! Click on ‘filthy ones’ on the right hand side to get the latest list. I had a bit of a dry spell in December as I was writing less, but there have been 2 hot ones and 1 super-hot guest blog this month =) I try to mix it up, and do one filthy one for each ‘other’ post I do (with ‘other’ being either thinky or trying-to-be-funny), because I know that a lot of people come here for the filth. However, it’s never going to be 100% filth, for a couple of reasons:

      – from a very boring optimisation point of view, the filthy ones get fewer retweets and usually fewer clicks when I put them out on Twitter. I suspect this is because people are understandably nervous about showing their public timeline that they read porn. Filthy ones get more search traffic, though – so people are clearly happier to be dirty in private =)
      – from a personal point of view, it’s really incredibly important to me that I’m not just seen as some sort of magical sex kitten. Part of the point of what I write is that I want to be totally honest – the vast majority of what I write is non-fiction, because my overall message (if that doesn’t sound too wanky) is that it’s actually pretty normal for people (and women!) to be pervy and sexual. And part of that involves showing the full story – things I think about that aren’t purely sexual. Just posting filth would, although exceptionally wank-worthy, mean I miss out on showing people the bigger picture.
      – finally and probably most importantly, although I love sex and I love writing about it, it’s not possible for me to spend my entire life fucking. Shame, obviously, because fucking is a very fun thing to do. Sometimes I watch telly, or go to work, or sit on the sofa eating crisps and drinking gin. And when I have a month (December being a fairly prime example) where most of the fucking I do is quick, simple, and as enjoyably unsexy as gulping down a bacon roll and dribbling sauce all over my t-shirt, there’s not much to write about that would be exciting to a casual reader. What I’m saying is: I’m not in bondage clubs every weekend, or having wild and dangerous sex in alleyways or cinemas. Those stories are treasured because they’re awesome, but I can’t do them all the time. What’s more, I’m incredibly aware that I never want to lose my wild-eyed delight and joy in sex, and if I start feeling like I have to make my sex life more unusual just to provide stories for the blog, I think I’d find it much harder to take such genuine delight in what I do.

      I know that’s long and rambling, but essentially what I’m saying is: I do still write filth, and quite a bit of it, and I’m happy to write on other filthy topics if you have any particular suggestions. But this blog is about my life, rather than just what goes on in my filthy mind, and I want my real life to dictate what happens on the blog, rather than the other way round.

      • Brilliantly answered . . . and brilliantly put (yet again!!!). I love this response, and hope Alex has read, and digested, and thinks again about the wider / bigger / better picture that life is all about!!!
        Xxx in awe – K

  • Simply brilliant post . . . and I agree with every word of your post, ESPECIALLY . . .
    “This sex shame is damaging and unnecessary: it leads to people (and women in particular) feeling like they should suppress their genuine desires for fear of looking deviant or freakish. In turn, the fact that there are few women publicly willing to admit to ‘this sort of thing’ means that younger women are more likely to feel guilty about their own (perfectly healthy) fantasies and desires.” . . .
    Perfectly put, perfectly sensible, perfectly correct . . . your post (ALL your posts!!!) SHOULD be being read in the “mainstream” media offering a differing view, an alternative response to, the almost apologetic treatment of women’s erotica that we usually see.
    Sex is many, many things to me . . . but in every sense and in every situation it is about sharing. Sharing the moment, sharing the excitement, sharing the passion, with who-ever I am engaging with at that precise moment. Our sexuality is to be enjoyed, it makes us better people, more caring . . . more sharing.
    We should all be proud to say “I am a woman who knows what I want” !!!
    Xxx – K

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thank you! And you’ve summed it up a lot more succinctly than I did – sex is about sharing, and it’s to be enjoyed =) x

  • Stephanie says:

    Another great post, GOTN! I have a question.

    As a physically disabled gal, I’ve often wondered, why aren’t people with disabilities included more in erotica/porn writing? I’ve only found 2 books of that genre, and although they may have been doing their best, a combination of poor writing and NO editing whatsoever…well…let’s just say it didn’t get my juices going whatsoever. I know there’s a scene out there for people who see disability as a fetish (personally not my thing at all, but to each their own), but what I’d love to see is really good literary smut featuring ordinary disabled characters.

    Writers I’ve spoken with say they can’t or won’t write it themselves because they simply have no personal experience with being physically disabled (blindness, deafness, mental illness or developmental delay, and many more things I can’t think of right now), so they feel they could not do the plot or characters justice. “What’s it like to use a wheelchair to get around when you’re paralyzed?” I have no idea, since that’s not me personally…but someone else who has that condition does know.

    It’s a really common misconception that disabled people don’t get horny, fuck like there’s no tomorrow, or want sex so badly it hurts. It’d be wonderful if we were seen as being just like everyone else when it comes to sex. FSM knows my husband and I both love fucking! We just tend to be very creative. ^_^

    • Girl on the net says:

      That’s a very good question, and I think it extends beyond porn as well – I’ve not read many novels that include disabled characters where it wasn’t part of the story, or essentially as just people getting on with their daily business, etc.

      For my part, I write almost exclusively non-fic, which I guess explains my lack of coverage of this area, but a while ago I tried to find writers who’d be up for writing guest blogs on the subject (and I’m still very keen on publishing other people’s experiences if you fancy doing a guest post!)

      But you’re right – there’s a huge gap in the market for erotic writing that includes more variation in characters rather than the staple cis, able-bodied etc etc following relatively formulaic structures. Not having personal experience of it is a barrier to making it easy to write this stuff, but by no means makes it impossible – there’s always research! If I write any non-fic (and I’m toying with trying) I might have to hit you up for some advice.

  • The majority of my erotica is fact, and I am relying quite heavily on memory. It was erotica (and especially sex bloggers) that led me to know that my fantasies were normal, that it was okay to desire some things, to even suggest some new things that I never considered but found hot while reading it.
    I really feel that insulting a reader is shameful, especially if that reader reads your stuff. I cannot begin to fathom this author doing such – it makes no common or business sense. But you are right, our society still looks down on those who like such things.

  • CuriousAngel01 says:

    Your hilarious GOTN….lol :D I can’t quite believe she has the audacity to insult her own readers….and why does she think its so much of a stretch for her readers to believe she does the stuff she writes about? I means she must think about for a good portion of her day, right? You can’t right that stuff in 10 minutes, unless of course you have an arsenal of years of experience in or around D/s relationships or doing a hell of a lot of research…and she expects us to believe she doesn’t flick the bean at this stuff she writes…..I’m not buying it….at all…lol

    I guess she thinks her readers believe Gene Roddenberry really has a warp drive spaceship, and Beatrix Potter is really a rabbit, and Stephanie Meyer plays baseball with vampires…..never pissed myself laughing so much as writing this reply….oh, the mental images!!!!…..lmao :D

  • Vida says:

    It’s the same in every interview. Writers seem forced to tell us that they’re really just boring jolly mums – who knit, no less. And trot out the one about the asking an erotica writer blah blah. They’re all the same – caution, don’t worry, women don’t really have dangerous or challenging libidos, it’s all just a bit of fun, have a Kimberly.

    The truth is, some of them write their experiences and lifestyle, some of them write their day dreams, I suspect some of them have ventured further in exploring their desires than they would have if they hadn’t started writing erotica.

    ‘Yes, women like sex’ is the answer they should give, I think. That’s what it comes down to.

  • Jason says:

    GOTN ,
    you have hit the nail on the head here. I am a psychosexual therapist and my clients are commonly presenting with issues that are bloody NORMAL and which are NORMAL for them. We live amongst a media storm that wants to measure and shame.

    Wtf is wrong with the media/journos/writers that they need to denigrate and label others including their readers with thier puritanical bollox.

    I adore your rough/ready/naughty sexualised musings that hopefully enhance your readers erotic pleasures and entices those that wish to explore and discover themselves and partner(s) lovers sexual desires. We only learn through ticking off or unticking boxes.

    As the great Jack morin author of the erotic mind, wrote ‘ no one has ever been put in prison for a fantasy’. The mind and body are linked sexually, Our media restricts the mind by labelling which puts the brakes on our erotic and sensual body…a concept examined by Emily Nagoski in ‘Come as you are’.

    You and Chloe Thurlow have my vote and my clients referrals for honesty around sexuality…keep up the good naughty work because our naughty side needs its own channel out or it will fester in destructive ways.

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