The “S” Word

Last week, Jennifer Stevenson posted a great blog on erotica, pornography, and the reader audience (not to mention a few salient words on the difference in sales and hence revenue from women’s erotica versus men’s pornography). I had some interesting personal responses that I’d like to elaborate on.

The first thing I noticed was that the older I get, the more frankly I am able to talk about sex, sexuality, gender, and all the related issues. Maybe I’ve finally reached the age when I can say “sex” and not have people, men usually but not necessarily, hitting on me. Or if they do, I give ‘em the old grandma glare and that settles it. I’m very private about my personal sexuality and have long since made my peace with my history of having been molested as an adolescent in the late 1950s, with all that entailed. Nice girls don’t talk or think about such things, but they do get them done to them. But thanks to therapy and a very understanding partner, I finally arrived at the place where I not only love sex, I want to talk about it.

Why is it that when a person — a woman in this case — wants to talk about sex, it’s taken as an open invitation to all and sundry? “Oh, she said the S word, so of course she’s willing to sleep with me even though we’ve barely met.”

Not. And not funny.

Most people are interested in sex, or so I believe. It’s such a powerful part of life. It offers us the potential to be rich and complex and saturated-with-ecstasy and simple and earthy and sublime. So how do we talk about sex that isn’t either 1950s prudery or I’m-more-libidinous-than-you or a statement of implied availability? Or sounding like a sex ed class, good, bad, or criminally indifferent? How do we talk about something so personal and yet so universal?

Anonymous environments are certainly one venue, but for me it’s important to not hide, to not pretend I’m not there. (I understand the desirability of using a different pen name when writing porn/erotica, but when I do, you’ll know it’s me.) I vividly remember the first convention panels on sex that I participated in. It’s amazing, given my background, that I didn’t blush the entire time, but I didn’t. I may have stammered and stumbled around, grabbing for latinate terms from my health care background instead of direct four-letter words, but I found I had a lot to say (and that things I’d taken for granted astonished other people). In fact, if you’re ever on a panel and the discussion is lagging, just start talking about sex and things will perk right up.

I mentioned writing the stuff. The other thing I noticed about Jennifer’s blog was that one of my reactions to the current political climate was an impulse to not only read porn/erotica/smut — thereby contributing to the financial well-being of them what writes it — but to jump in and write some myself. Some of that has to do with being “in-your-face” politically and my belief that one aspect of the censure of LGTBQ folks has to do with repression of any sort of sexuality. Some has to do with furthering my own journey. And some — let’s face it, a big part — is that this is just plain fun. It’s juicy and playful, and it speaks to the way we’re hard-wired in the pleasure centers of our brains.

As a final note, the Jewish sages considered it a religious obligation to have a full and joyous sex life (albeit within limitations that depend on the branch of Judaism) — and hence our celebration of life — and that we will be called to account for the healthy pleasures we did not allow ourselves to enjoy.

The painting is Danae by Gustav Klimt, public domain.


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About Deborah J. Ross

I began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with Jaydium and Northlight, (and the omnibus edition, Other Doorways: Early Novels), and short stories in Asimov's, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy and Star Wars: Tales from Jabba's Palace. Now under my birth name, Ross, I have written an epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield. My collection Azkhantian Tales, includes four short stories set in that world. Book View Cafe also offers my nonfiction Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life and a number of my stand-alone short stories.
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4 Responses to The “S” Word

  1. Phyllis Irene Radford says:

    Well said, and politely said. Sex is a natural bodily function. To deny it is like starving ourselves of a much needed nutrient. We don’t need to report it on a daily basis, but we do need to acknowledge it, participate however seems right to each individual, and celebrate life to its fullest.

  2. Deborah,

    I read Jennifer’s piece and now yours. Both were informative while neither really pinned a definition on the divide between porn and erotica, a divide that I don’t think really exists except perhaps in marketing circles. In fact, about the only definition that resonates with me is porn = more sex scenes, erotica = fewer scenes, and that’s more of a story decision.

    I did want to comment on your “the older I get” by mentioning my fortunate experiences in college. I was lucky enough to be able to take a two-semester course in the biology curriculum titled Human Sexuality 101 & 102. The course was taught, ironically enough, by an ex priest and an ex nun (married I guess we know where they come down on the issue – pun intended) and culminated in a 24 hour blitz titled SAR – sexual attitude re-evaluation session. All attendees were encouraged to invite an other (I brought my girl friend and my brother and attending got him laid his first time – but that’s another story) and everyone watched a variety of porn, educational documentaries, slide shows (yeah, it was a while ago) and broke up every few hours for group discussion – how do you feel? what made you feel icky? what excited you? etc.

    Needless to say the girl friend and I returned to the dorms with a whole host of notes of things to try, but the greatest benefit I received was that it took the subject of sex in conversation out of the closet and into normal everyday discourse. I found myself very comfortable with discussing just about anything sexual, with just about anyone, and in a largely non-judgmental way. I’ve come to understand that there’s just no way to TELL someone what should or should not turn them on; it’s got to be accepted for what it is (with due caveats about those things that shall always remain non-consensual and therefore verboten) and that once you get past that concept, it’s much easier to have an appreciation for things that don’t work for you personally but that float someone else’s boat. (If more people would really sit down and examine their own dirty little turn-ons they’d be less critical of others I think.)
    I think that one of the reasons you find yourself more comfortable with the subject as you get older is somewhat tied into the above; how many times do we have to say to ourselves “huh, never thought that could get someone hot”, or “I had no idea he/she was into that!” that we realize the spectrum literally includes everything and that once we give up on any lingering embarrassments (“Gee, I’m really not that weird”) it becomes a learning experience. And of course a dash of the usual age induced – your opinions aren’t going to change my life-style.
    As for the porn-vs-erotica question? I don’t think it really matters.

  3. Nothing to add–I just find myself nodding at everything you say here.

  4. Deborah, I know what you mean about wanting to write it… every time I read someone else’s erotica, I write some of my own. Kind of in rebuttal. Or maybe just finishing the job right ;)

    And yes, it’s lovely to be an old broad and not have to get hit on all the time. I agree, only a certain kind of man assumes any woman talking about sex is coming on to him. (Poor thing. He was probably raised very strictly and is easily shocked.) This kind of man acts positively insulted when a woman he doesn’t want to have sex with talks about sex. As if he feels it’s inappropriate for undesirable women to talk about sex where men can hear them.

    Lots of other men are way cool with it, however, so times must be changing.

    Steve, that college class sounds like it smashed a few barriers! When was this? Sounds very “early seventies” to me.