On Writing Kinky Porn in Rape Culture


Content alert: discussions of rape and borderline-consensual sex, in the context of kinky porn. Also, there’s a somewhat different comment policy here than usual: please read to the end if you’re going to comment (you should be doing that anyway), and see the policy there.

So I’m having this conundrum, and I’d like some feedback on how to handle it.

I’m preparing to self-publish a collection of my erotic fiction. Lots of my erotic fiction is kinky: not all of it is, but most of it is, and most of the stories in this collection are kinky.

Now, here’s the thing about SM porn. It’ll be simpler to just quote myself, from the introduction I’ve written to this very collection:

Some of these stories are about consensual sadomasochism. They’re about negotiated SM scenes between consenting adults, with safewords and limits and attention to safety. There’s conflict in the stories, and mis-steps, and bad decisions… but fundamentally, what happens within those stories is consenting. They are attempts to express, in fiction, some of the things that consensual sadomasochists do.

And some of these stories aren’t. Some of these stories are about force, and violation, and abuse of power. (The ones in the “Force, Power, and Messed-Up Consent” section, mainly, and also some of the ones in the “Religion” section.) They are attempts to describe, not some of the things consensual sadomasochists do, but some of the things we think about. They are attempts to describe some of the images that come into some of our minds when we masturbate, or have sex, or engage in consensual SM. They are attempts to describe some of the activities and relationships that some of us consensually act out with each other. They are fantasies.

I am entirely comfortable with these fantasies. I am entirely comfortable with the fact that I fantasize about things I would find morally repugnant in real life. I have no more problem with these fantasies than I do with fantasies about robbing casinos, or slaughtering Orcs. And I’m not willing to debate that.

My conundrum is this: How do you write about fantasies of non-consent in a way that doesn’t glorify actual, real-world non-consent?

fifty shades of grey coverWhen “50 Shades of Grey” came out (which I haven’t yet read, btw), it was slammed with a whole lot of feminist criticism, largely about how the book was a terrible model for relationships… even kinky ones. “This isn’t what relationships should look like! This isn’t what healthy SM relationships are like! This feeds all sorts of stereotypes and harmful gender tropes! This reinforces terrible ideas of what romance and sex should be like! This reinforces the idea that control and force and denial of autonomy are romantic! If this is people’s first exposure to kink, they’re going to think this is what real-world kink is like — or what it should be like!”

Part of me is sympathetic. I think people who create narrative art do have something of a responsibility to be aware of the culture they’re working in, and to be aware of the biases and blind spots around them and in them, and to try not to feed them if they can avoid it. I think, for instance, that it’s totally fucked-up to make movies or TV shows where “getting the girl so drunk she has no idea what’s going on” is seen as a seduction technique… as opposed to, you know, rape. I think movie and TV writers need to be aware of how this plays into rape culture, and I think they should knock it off.

And part of me is entirely unsympathetic. I don’t think every piece of fiction has to provide a model of what people should act like. That’s true if the fiction is aiming to be realistic and shine a light on real life — and it’s true if the fiction is aiming to be a fantasy. It’s okay to write about human reality in ways that are morally complex and acknowledge human imperfection. And it’s okay to write about fantasies that are entirely unrealistic, just fun things to imagine. Not every piece of fiction has to be a preachy morality play, in which the good are universally rewarded and the wicked are universally punished. In fact, almost no fiction has to be a preachy morality play, in which the good are universally rewarded and the wicked are universally punished. Those are monumentally boring. (Unless, of course, the punishment is really hot.)

consensual sadomasochism coverAnd I am really, really unsympathetic to a criticism of kinky porn that slams it purely for being kinky. It’s one thing to (for instance) criticize kinky video porn for perpetuating rigid and unrealistic body ideals, or to criticize kinky porn fiction for promoting the idea that being wealthy is a key element of being a hot and powerful top. It’s another to criticize it purely on the basis of, “They’re hitting each other! That’s violent!” “Or, “The man is dominating the woman! That’s sexist!” Or, “One of them is controlling the other’s life! That’s unhealthy!” That’s basically saying, “You’re a bad person for being kinky. You’re a bad person for having these fantasies and wanting to read about them. You should stop it right now.”

I do think it’s worth critiquing the ways pop culture feeds fantasies, especially when it’s a consistent or ongoing pattern with little or no variety (such as the trope of macho men rescuing helpless women). But if the critique consists solely of “This is kinky, and kink is bad”… I am not on board. (More thorough thoughts on this are in my earlier piece, Porn, Social Criticism, and the Marginalization of Kink.)

So I’m not sure where the balance is here.

I’m not so much concerned about triggering. I plan to put the equivalent of a trigger warning/ content alert in the book description, so people who don’t want to read about this stuff know to not read the book (and so people who do want to read about this stuff know to buy it right away!). My problem is more with the question of how to publicly explore fantasies of non-consent in a way that doesn’t glorify actual, real-world non-consent. And my problem is with how people who aren’t familiar with kink, or with kinky people and the kink community, are going to perceive it.

How should I go about this? Will it be enough if I make it clear in the introduction that these are fantasies, and not a relationship guide or a kink how-to manual? Not everyone reads introductions, so I don’t know if I can count on that. What if I included a resource guide at the end, with info on safe/ sane/ consensual SM, and again stating, “This is not a how-to guide, here are some actual how-to guides”? Is there something I’m missing here? Thoughts?

COMMENT POLICY FOR THIS POST: For comments in this post, I am not interested in debating (a) the validity of kink, (b) the validity of erotica, kinky or otherwise, or (c) the existence of sexism and rape culture, and the importance of countering them. I might be okay hosting those debates elsewhere, but I don’t want to do it here. Please don’t comment here unless you are basically okay with the idea of erotica, basically okay with the idea of kink, and basically on board with feminism. Violations will be disemvoweled or deleted; repeated violators will be banned. Thank you.

Comments

  1. Christopher Stephens says

    As a person attached to a one-eyed trouser snake, I realize rape culture doesn’t really harm me at all. So my two cents on the matter could be way off-base.

    That said, the best video porn (especially any scenes that have any element of power-imbalance or even outright coercion) make it crystal clear that the actual events being filmed are entirely consensual, and that the issue of consent matters. I might even be willing to argue that these ethical standards could be a bit more relaxed in the case of written porn (erotica?), such as the written stories in question, or the Lost Girls books, given that the characters themselves are entirely fiction, without even actors.

    Seems to me that the educational disclaimer/resources that you mention, Greta, definitely satisfy your ethical due diligence.

  2. The Mellow Monkey: Caerie says

    Whoo boy. Okay, gonna out myself here:

    I write kinky erotica. It’s actually the thing that finally managed to make me enough money that I could start writing full time. Hell, it’s the thing that raised me from being literally penniless to actually being able to live. I’ve branched out over the last few months, but my kink and erotica pen-name remains a beloved favorite. I am deeply, deeply grateful that this market exists, that I have an outlet to write these fantasies, that I have ways to connect with people who share these fantasies who might have never realized that they aren’t alone.

    I’m always extremely aware of the issues you talk about here and how I want to draw the line between what’s fantasy and what’s the sort of thing that’s actually realistic. It’s incredibly difficult, though. For my “romantic” stories that focus on a relationship of two or more people, I’ll actually include the negotiations and all of that. Maybe I’m weird, but that’s foreplay to me. There are ways to eroticize the negotiation and explicit consent and I like doing it.

    For the “harsh” stories that are really just an unrealistic fantasy removed from how people might act it out in a RACK manner, I still haven’t found a way I’m entirely comfortable with. I’ve done introductions, I’ve had resources in the back like you suggest. I don’t know if it works or how it helps, but there’s a lot of cross-over between the people reading those darker stories and the ones with the negotiations illustrated, so I hope people are getting a full, healthy picture.

    The frustrating thing is that I have no way of knowing for sure, though.

  3. says

    Clarity and forthrightness: say it in the introduction, say it again in the reference guide at the end, say it in briefer introductions to individual stories or the subject divisions of the book. The mini-introductions could also talk about where the ideas for the stories came from, how it feels to write sex scenes while sitting in a coffee shop, and anything like that. Interspersing the introductory material throughout the book would, I think, lessen the chances it’d be skipped.

  4. says

    If definitely thought about this and have argued both ways before but I don’t know of a silver bullet solution. All I can say is yes put it in the introduction, information in the back, anywhere it seems appropriate. Ultimately I don’t think there’s a perfect way to get past receiving criticism on this but you can at least try to be clear in your views and help people interested in these topics. And of course for readers being aware of the negative aspect of tropes etc is an important first step in enjoying something dealing with them.

    Off topicish: I’m reminded of the little are you in an abusive cult checklists that show up in the back of books on neo paganism.

  5. says

    It might be helpful to compare the fantasy of messed up, fucked up erotic situations with the fantasy of no-consequences vanilla or vanilla-ish situations. Just like we don’t really want to have unprotected sex with a stranger, or with a hot but assholish or married celebrity or co-worker, or even on the beach with a beloved partner where sand gets in the cracks and the dogs have probably pissed and you might roll over onto some sludgy seaweed, yet such fantasizing is common.

    You could have a Notes section as an appendix, giving a bit of analysis about what made you classify these particular stories as the messed up consent ones, and what to do if one finds oneself in a truly abusive situation like the one described.

  6. John Horstman says

    This is sort of a corollary to Poe’s Law: people are going to interpret this writing (most writing, really) in problematic ways that have nothing to do with any of your actions. Certainly including a warning/explanation in order to clue-in the clueless and perhaps make people stop and think is a good idea (and doing so also helps contextualize the stories as fantasy that is not okay in real life), but ultimately some people are going to ignore that and eroticize actual assault/rape. The only way to avoid that is to not write anything that includes non-consensual sexual(ized) experiences for characters, which itself is a problematic self-silencing technique. The problem isn’t a function of the writing, it’s a function of the cultural context that allows for people to eroticize actual harm (not fantasy harm) visited upon others, and since the reading (and interpretation) of any writing is (presently and generally) contextualized in a rape culture, the only way to avoid the problem is to not have a rape culture. You can’t achieve that in a forward or afterword or even giant flashing letters that say “DON’T RAPE” every other page. As, for example, YouTube comments make clear, talking about anything as a female person is enough to prompt some members of an audience to think rape is awesome and say so. Explicitly contextualizing your work as fantasy and decrying actual sexual assault is about all you can really do in the case of a given work, and you’re already fighting rape culture otherwise.

  7. says

    Hmm, You’re right, not everybody reads introductions (I’ve been know to skip them).
    Notes, manual, introduction, they’re all great ideas, but they’re often regarded as optional read
    Maybe an additional 30pt author’s note at the start of the section about the difference between fantasies and actual desires. I guess many people are more willing to read an additional page or two in the middle of a book than some pages before the book even starts.
    At some point I think you have to let your readers be adults. You can lead them to the section but you can’t make them read. It’s like warning labels on equipment: There’s always some people who simply ignore them.

    Since we’re talking about this already, may I thank you here for helping me come to term with some of my rather fucked up fantasies?

    I’m also looking forward to your book

  8. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    All I can offer is: Don’t glorify it, then. Of course using “poetic justice” at every turn to not glorify that which you find wrong is boring and won’t work. But the narrative voice can certainly indicate, without being all didactic, that such-and-such a thing is wrong and totally not cool, or that so-and-so is being foolish/wrong/mistaken/a complete asshole at the moment or at their core.

    I can’t possibly be specific as I know nothing of your fiction writing style(s). But best wishes to you.

  9. The Mellow Monkey says

    F:

    All I can offer is: Don’t glorify it, then. Of course using “poetic justice” at every turn to not glorify that which you find wrong is boring and won’t work. But the narrative voice can certainly indicate, without being all didactic, that such-and-such a thing is wrong and totally not cool, or that so-and-so is being foolish/wrong/mistaken/a complete asshole at the moment or at their core.

    Depending on the kink in question, making those things clear can actually be part of glorifying it. The “wrongness” of a particular situation may be part of the appeal. The sadist who is truly evil and truly terrifying has appeal. And, really, it’s not good porn if it isn’t enjoyable, so it should glorify things a bit for the reader.

    The problem is ensuring that it’s enjoyable as fantasy while not letting it feed into existing rape culture. This is especially true because a lot of people who read kinky erotica (perhaps even the majority) aren’t actually involved in the kink subculture, so aren’t having talks about Risk Aware Consensual Kink all the time. They’re going to interpret their fantasies through the cultural lens they’ve been given.

  10. baal says

    If this book is any thing like the lesbian sheep story you posted a bit back, I’d say you’re dramatically over thinking the problem.

    The most helpful reminders / intros I’ve seen say something like, “Welcome to adult land, we may or may not play like you do but remember movies are movies, books are books and real life is real life. Don’t get confused.” and they more or less leave it at that.

    This approach does a decent job of putting folks on notice that they need to compartmentalize fantasy and RL and that they do it all the time anyway. The ‘ask’ is that they then make a new compartment for kinky sex writing.

    I otherwise agree with Blake @ 3.

    OT:My post is in line with the caveats Greta notes in the final paragraph.
    Other ‘Cred’ disclaimer intentionally omitted. I feel like I’m required to post ‘cred’ or make a huge list of disclaimers however, due to the endless and often unhelpful negative criticism I receive. Well, I’m done with that.

  11. jemima101 says

    I have written forced sex porn/erotica/. It is a problem I think only if you believe the ted bundy defence, that somehow good decent people behave badly simply because of what they have seen. I find this a very worrying argument as it denied that people have a choice not to rape.

    So I say write what you want, if people complain that you are perpetuating rape culture then they are missing why people actually reap, because they do not accept the notion of Enthusiastic consent.

    http://itsjustahobby.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/how-to-rape-a-willing-slut/

    This discusses some of the same issues you are talking about ti, so I a posting it here.

    The point of writing, as far as I can see, is to push explore and challenge, if you are not doing that why bother?

  12. raymoscow says

    My wife writes erotic fiction. She avoids non-consensual stuff, in part because her usual publishers don’t want it and in part because she doesn’t really like writing it.

    She doesn’t always have her male characters use condoms, though, unless it fits the story line — even though she (and I) would always advocate safe sex in real life. But hey — it’s fiction, written for adults, who are supposed to know the difference between fiction and real life.

  13. Angela Sargenti says

    I write kinky erotica, too, and the only way I can think of doing this is to have the female character masturbating to her secret rape fantasy. That way you can make it clear that it’s something she would never want done to her in real life and maybe she’s a little ashamed of it, but it turns her on a little, too. Within that context, you can play the whole scene out. Good luck! I hope this advice helps.

  14. scott1328 says

    I Posted this on your FB page also:

    Have you considered a framing story? One that comments on the stories-in-a-story. Perhaps the dialog in the framing story could be between an erotic author and an editor. They could discuss the stories. In this way you get the erotica and the bonus of dispelling any glorification of nonfiction with a common literary trope.

  15. says

    I saw a kinbaku performance in which the beginning of the performance was the bottom very sincerely asking for it from the top. It was, actually, extra-hot because it was pretty, poetic and quite intense. When the top assumed control of the scene, they said something to the effect of: “Don’t try this at home. First off, we’ve been working on this for years, it’s a performance not reality, we are trying to entertain you and ‘we all are but players on this stage'” and then the lights went down and they lit the candles and that also cemented the audience’s subliminal understanding that we had transitioned into a performance-reality and that this wasn’t anything we should mistake for “real”. It also helped that some of the activity was done with an almost kabuki-like exaggeration, which also kept the performance on the other side of reality, if that makes sense.

    The thing about performance or role-play is that you are looking for the feeling of X where X may not necessarily be achievable. So, if I want to smear peanut butter on a nun, what’s really going on is that I want to have the experience of doing this thing so I can see what it feels like. In that sense, I probably don’t have to have a real nun – I could get a friend to wear a habit and then we’re off to the races with the peanut butter… For me, what is interesting about kink is exactly that: it lets me play with ideas that probably aren’t safe in normal contexts. So I get to feel the experience, without having to do the experience. It’s actually a way of making something that might be actually dangerous and scary into something acceptable and fun. Ideally, fun for all involved. (Because in my world, “fun” isn’t “fun” if it’s only one person having it)

  16. says

    In this day and age people are pretty sophisticated consumers of media. They understand that four girls don’t typically have sex with the pizza boy and that Spielberg doesn’t condone the Holocaust because he depicted the Holocaust. The audience has to trust the artist and the artist has to trust the audience. Your audience will do fine with your message. I don’t think they need disclaimers or footnotes or anything.

    My two cents…probably worth considerably less.

  17. bcmystery says

    I write mystery, and over the years have often encountered discussions in the mystery community about what’s appropriate in terms of writing violence, and sex, and sometimes sexual violence.

    One of my friends publishes hardboiled detective novels under one name and erotica under another, and she’s noted a distinct difference in the way readers talk to her about content. When it comes to the erotica, readers seem ready to believe (and comfortable with) the idea that she’s “tried out” all the things her characters do. Yet no one has ever asked her if she’s ever killed someone. This experience is born out by others I know.

    There isn’t a lot of sex in my own writing (I’m not very good at it, to be honest), but what little is there has gotten more attention than I ever would have thought. At a book club meeting once, half the time was spent discussing an awkward and embarrassing (for the characters) hand job scene, and I was asked point blank if the specifics were based on my own experience, and what really happened, and, and, and. All the while I’m thinking, “There are five murders in this book, but it’s the hand job I have to explain and justify. Oy!”

    The thing is, fiction is about conflict. Whether its about murder or a bank heist or a struggling relationship or hot sexy times, the story gets interesting when things go wrong. You’re writing about a kind of sex which makes a lot of people giggle nervously behind their hands, and for some reason they think that means they have a right to ask you to explain yourself. Fact is, when you’re writing about conflict, you’re almost certainly going to write things which you don’t actually want to see happen in real life, for all that they too often do.

    Our writing will certainly reflect our worldview in some way, but often we’re intentionally exploring situations and beliefs outside our own desires and values. It’s unfortunate that because you’re writing erotica it’s necessary to explain that to people, but I kinda suspect it won’t matter even if you do. People will either understand that fiction is fiction, or they’ll snicker behind their hands and ask if that awkward hand job really happened to you.

  18. jacobletoile says

    First I would like to say thank you for writing, both your erotica, and your writing on the ok ness of kink. Without going into detail it has been useful to me as I work things out in my head. Speaking to your specific question a simple boiler plate at the beginning of each fantasy where the consent is in fact absent should suffice for any reader who you can reach. Perhaps along the line of “The following is a fantasy involving a lack of consent and should in no way be construed as saying it is ok to force yourself on someone without their consent. For more information please see . . .” Having something like this at the beginning of each story should make it perfectly clear what the situation is and if someone still misunderstands your intentions I don’t think there is much you can do about it.

    If you are comfortable writing and including a resource guide in your book, but are concerned that people who need it won’t read it, perhaps in the main body of the book you could contrast two situations. First you could have a story that would be utterly inappropriate to act out as written, followed by a story where the participants negotiate the acting out of that particular fantasy. At the end of the second story you could either write about consent in kink and how important it is, or you could point them to the resource guide.

  19. yarnspnr says

    I can’t comment on your problem from a moral standpoint. As far as I’m concerned there is no such thing as a moral standpoint. But I can tell you what I’ve learned about being a writer.

    First, target your audience and write from you to them. If you feel you must put a warning on your work, make it short and to the point. You have no control over who reads your stuff or how they apply it to their lives. If a person is way outside their comfort zone – it’s on them, not you.

    Your job as a writer is to write whats in your gut. Express it the way you feel it no matter how stark or pointed. It doesn’t have to be real. in fact, when you get into the realms of fantasy, and especially sexual fantasy, there is no real. No rule book either. Are you going to offend some people? Of course you are. “Bambi” offended some people. Stay within yourself. Don’t write about life as it really is, write about it the way YOU feel it. BE the rapist, BE the victim. And get their stories across to me so I can feel them just as you do. If you can accomplish this, the world is your walnut. And your readers will thank you for being YOU.

  20. leftwingfox says

    I know exactly where you’re coming, from, and it’s something I’m struggling with as well.

    I’m an enthusiastic consent kind of guy, open-minded to kinks as long as my partner is into them. I also have an active fantasy life, which goes well past kink. “Omnisexual” is probably the least squicky way of saying it. Personally, I can only enjoy those fantasies in ways which are safe: writing, art, and role-play. The thought of those happening to real people is horrifying, to the point where I can’t even watch most mainstream porn, for worrying that someone is being abused or degraded in real life, outside the scene on film.

    To me, there’s a big difference between rape and rape fantasies. It’s the difference between “push me out a window” and “I like skydiving”. I know that at the same time though, I know not everyone feels that way, and comign across those who are interested in the reality of an action, rather than the fantasy, is always scary. I do worry that some of the extreme fantasies, while harming no-ine directly, might be giving cover to those who do want to harm others. At the same time, we manage this distinction with violent fantasies, just not sexual ones.

    It’s not something I have a satisfying answer to.

  21. says

    I think I handled it a bit during an article about consent. You can use it if you like…

    I have dated women with rape and force fantasies, but that’s the thing. I know people with murder fantasies. (They give each other a signal and if the other plays along the signalled one just flops over and plays “dead”)

    These are fantasies. They may have a basis in real life but they are fantastic and wonderful and different, even if they aren’t for you.

    And yes some women and men fantasise about sex without consent. About rape. It’s a pretty widespread fantasy surprisingly…. but the most important thing is that the “rapist” in this case is played by someone you trust and who behaves in a stereotypical notion of what a break and enter rapist would behave like. You are not a real rapist you are a cartoon villain, a pantomime villain of a rapist.

    There are boundaries in this sort of fantasy when acted out. And if there aren’t you should sit down and make boundaries. Obviously when you faff around with a rape fantasy, in the context of this fantasy “no means yes”, but that’s because you have and should always set an alternative method of communication. The system I know of is the traffic lights (Green/Yellow/Red) which is easily recognised and provides instant information about consent. But consent is about trust, for this fantasy to be truly safe you and your partner should trust each other to follow consent at all times.

  22. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    If this book is any thing like the lesbian sheep story you posted a bit back, I’d say you’re dramatically over thinking the problem.

    The most helpful reminders / intros I’ve seen say something like, “Welcome to adult land, we may or may not play like you do but remember movies are movies, books are books and real life is real life. Don’t get confused.” and they more or less leave it at that.

    This approach does a decent job of putting folks on notice that they need to compartmentalize fantasy and RL and that they do it all the time anyway. The ‘ask’ is that they then make a new compartment for kinky sex writing.

    I otherwise agree with Blake @ 3.

    This is pretty much my feeling. No disclaimer is going to stop people reading in bad faith…but neither will not publishing; they’ll just find something else.

    OT:My post is in line with the caveats Greta notes in the final paragraph.
    Other ‘Cred’ disclaimer intentionally omitted. I feel like I’m required to post ‘cred’ or make a huge list of disclaimers however, due to the endless and often unhelpful negative criticism I receive. Well, I’m done with that.

    Well, the content of this comment is otherwise reasonable.

  23. Greta Christina says

    Really good ideas and feedback here, folks. Thanks. A few replies and clarifications:

    “If this book is any thing like the lesbian sheep story you posted a bit back…”

    baal @ #10: It’s not. Not in the slightest. It’s waaaaay more explicit, and waaaaay more kinky. The whole reason I published the lesbian sheep story on my blog was that it didn’t fit into the collection, mostly because it wasn’t actually all that dirty… but I wanted to give it a home.

    yarnspnr @ #19, and others: Don’t worry. I have no intention of changing the stories themselves. Not for this reason, anyway. The only reason I’ll change or edit the stories is to improve their literary and/or pornographic impact.

    Blake Stacey @ #3, and others: I don’t really want to introduce every single story with a “don’t try this at home” disclaimer. I think that would be disruptive, and would read as apologetic. (Also, some of my stories are okay to try at home… and some are more borderline… and I don’t want to have to decide which stories need the disclaimer and which ones don’t.) I do have the stories divided into sections, though, and the sections do have introductions. I can make sure there’s some sort of “don’t try this at home// fantasy vs. reality” disclaimer in the section intros, as well as the main introduction and the resource guide. (Which I’m now deciding, based largely on feedback from here, would be a good idea.)

    The Mellow Monkey @ #9: You hit the nail on the head. The key issue is that, with at least some kinky porn, it’s the very wrongness that’s being eroticized. It’s the force, the abuse of power, that’s hot. So the question is, does eroticizing = glorifying? I don’t think it does, at least not automatically… but it’s a tricky nuance to manage.

    bcmystery @ #17: You make a really good point. People do make assumptions about the personal lives and experiences of porn writers, which they don’t about other fiction writers. And you’re also very much right about fiction being about conflict. (I think that’s why it’s boring when it’s too utopian, or too heavy-handed with the just deserts). So porn — good porn, anyway — is never going to be a depiction of sex and relationships as they ideally should be.

    And Marcus Ranum @ #15: “Smearing peanut butter on a nun” made me laugh out loud.

    If anyone has any other thoughts on this, please keep them coming. This has been really helpful so far. Thanks, everyone!

  24. billyeager says

    Drop a piano on the ‘Dom’.

    Well, not an actual piano. I meant more in terms of not allowing the ‘Top’ to simply walk away from the scene having got their jollies.

    Make something catastrophically bad happen to them. That way nobody can claim that you are glorifying the sexual abuse of another person.

  25. Greta Christina says

    Drop a piano on the ‘Dom’.

    Well, not an actual piano. I meant more in terms of not allowing the ‘Top’ to simply walk away from the scene having got their jollies.

    Make something catastrophically bad happen to them. That way nobody can claim that you are glorifying the sexual abuse of another person.

    billyeager @ #25, Unfortunately, that’s pretty much exactly what I mean by “a preachy morality play, in which the good are universally rewarded and the wicked are universally punished.” That makes for bad, boring fiction, and bad, boring porn. I don’t want to go there.

  26. says

    I love the idea of a resource guide at the end. Giving people the chance to learn more about safe, consensual kink is definitely awesome in my book.

    In regard to Fifty Shades: While I haven’t read the books, I’ve been reading recaps by an erotica author. (http://jenniferarmintrout.blogspot.com/p/jen-reads-50-shades-of-grey.html) She is hilarious and an amazing writer. She also seriously breaks down the book and points out the problems with the relationship as it’s presented by the writer of Fifty Shades. It’s one thing to have a kinky relationship and it’s another to have an abusive relationship that hides behind a kinky label. The author writing reviews has an issue with the series because the series isn’t promoting healthy, safe BDSM relationships, but instead is claiming that an abusive relationship is an erotic, normal BDSM relationship.

    I wish you well moving forward with this project. I look forward to being able to buy and enjoy the writing!

  27. says

    As an avid consumer of kinky and non-kinky fiction, I love scott1328’s idea of a framing story. I am reminded of an anthology of shorts I have read, efficiently titled “Villains”. It was a collection of sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories where the protagonists were all in league with the Dark Lord bent on world domination. (caveat: the stories were largely meant to be humourous, too). A framing story was used in that collection as a device to introduce the ideas of the forces of so-called good being potentially as harmful as their foes, and the seductive power of the dark side. It went a long way to preparing the reader for the frame of mind the editors hoped the book would be read in. Plus, as a story rather than a forward, the reader’s brain put it into the category of content that needed to be read.

  28. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    I definitely don’t think putting a warning at the beginning of every story would be a good idea. It would totally kill the mood for the reader who is ready to get hot. I like the introduction/appendix-resource idea. Maybe at the end of each story just a really short blurb (like a signature block) reminding/alerting the reader of their existence. But if you felt that that would make each story too klunky at the end or ruin the flow of the collection, I think having just the intro and resources in appendix, is more than enough on your part.

  29. says

    I like the skydiving reference.

    We fantasize about flying, but we know that if we really want to jump out of an airplane we need a parachute.

    I like play with force in it. “You’ll have sex with me whether you like it or not” is a turn on in my head. But I can’t go through with it in real life without a partner I trust and a safeword. And, in fact, having that “safety harness” lets me play closer to the fantasy than I ever could feel comfortable doing without them.

    The wonderful thing about fiction is that it lets the reader play out these fantasies in their mind with a completely different safety harness. They can imagine, with the aid of the author, all those sensations (from either side of the power struggle) without worrying that they’ll be physically hurt. They can always set the book down when it gets to be too much.

    And I don’t think you’ll be risking “glorifying” rape culture, because I honestly think most people who will be picking up your book will be doing so for just that reason: To explore these experiences that they know they can’t try in real life.

  30. poxyhowzes says

    • First, you write stories that you intend to have an erotic impact on their readers. Which means that you want to share your eroticism with others.
    • Second, you re-read your stories and you read feedback from others who have read your stories, and you decide that the stories have merit and are worth publishing to a larger, general, audience.
    • Third, you pretty much decide all on your own that some of these stories are not only erotic, but also “kinky,” for some definition of “kink” that is entirely your own. {I’d applaud a scholarly or even semi-scholarly article by Greta Christina defining the Venn circles between the universes of stories that are merely erotic and those that are “kinky”.}
    • In any case, stories in which any sexual activity is pleasurable to any of the participants are beyond the Augustinian/RCC/Puritan pale, and are therefore, by definition, “kinky.”
    • Ergo you, Greta Christina, at most get to test the waters about how widespread and popular your specific visions of “kink” are, and you get to test those waters with one of the best tests there is: The sacrosanct marketplace.

    What chutzpah it would be, Greta Christina, what overweening matriarchal pride you would exhibit, to imagine that you have the right or the responsibility to tell folks (including the potential readers of your FICTION): “Don’t try this at home, kiddies.”

    Isn’t the very definition of “kink” “that which we try at home to give us sexual pleasure?”

    If you wish to alert folks in general to the risks of certain “kinky” sexual practices, do so in an article based on the premise that some folks will be attracted to some kink practices without thinking them through. Write an article for those neophytes. Do not write that text as an introduction or an appendix to your collected erotic short stories.

    pH

  31. triple3a says

    I (an African-American atheist) am a recent fan of your blog and have thought for a long time about the feminist, gender, and social issues you explore. Let me start off by saying that I’m not a part of the BDSM community, not thoroughly versed in the kink culture, and am only a recent feminist ally, so please forgive me in advance if I get the proper terminology wrong.

    Since you solicited feedback with the last questions in your “On Writing Kinky Porn in Rape Culture” post (“Is there something I’m missing here? Thoughts?”), I thought I would respectfully reply.

    I, too, sometimes worry about the depictions I read and see in “rough” pornography (slapping, spitting, gagging, name calling, etc.), but then something struck me hard.

    I never (or almost never) worry about this when I imagine a scenario with male “bottoms” (submissives) and female “tops” (dominants).

    Could it really be that simple? While ethically discussing / consuming / producing pornography, am I (are we) holding onto an outmoded chivalry (never “hit” a woman, always “respect” women, etc.) that doesn’t apply to men?

    When I think of the aforementioned scenario, I think of the classic businessman hiring a female dominatrix to “whip,” “beat,” and “degrade” him, calling him names like “worm” or “bug” or “slave,” but always consensually–because, you know, testosterone and penises and stuff. ; ) Why am I not equally concerned with HIS wellbeing as much as the female submissive’s? Why don’t I assume as much autonomy for the female “bottom” that I grant the male “bottom” (because, you know, estrogen and vaginas and stuff)? ; )

    Because we still live in a very pernicious rape culture (and a gendered one, at that), I think a lot of our concern-trolling results from our inability to imagine / produce a world where women fully own themselves the way men do. Women whose desires lean toward female submissive kink probably think “Ooh, that looks fun. Can I play (imagine, write, videotape, etc.)?” But because we still live in a world where women are routinely beaten, raped, and shamed for real, maybe we get scared and sometimes turn into helicopter parents hovering over imaginary daughters.

    Maybe cultural dissonance occurs because some female characters in written erotica and some actresses in visual pornography so completely inhabit their submission while many of us still can’t fathom women inhabiting themselves as fully.

    So, a possible answer your questions, Greta (“How do you write about fantasies of non-consent in a way that doesn’t glorify actual, real-world non-consent?”), maybe as simple as including the following preface:

    “Writers can produce pornography, but only rapists can produce rape.”

    Maybe this is too simplistic and I know I have more questions than answers, but I don’t see anything in the above sentence that conflicts with feminism.

  32. Greta Christina says

    What chutzpah it would be, Greta Christina, what overweening matriarchal pride you would exhibit, to imagine that you have the right or the responsibility to tell folks (including the potential readers of your FICTION): “Don’t try this at home, kiddies.”

    Isn’t the very definition of “kink” “that which we try at home to give us sexual pleasure?”

    poxyhowzes @ #1: I think you misunderstand. I’ll try to clarify.

    1: Some of the stories in my collection depict enthusiastically consensual and reasonably safe activities, in the context of more-or-less healthy relationships. But many of them do not. Many of them depict activities that are non-consenting, or borderline-consenting. They don’t depict “kink practices”: they depict highly unethical sexual practices, and in some cases they depict rape. (Also, some of the stories depict activities that are consenting, but not very safe.) They depict things that some people find fun and exciting to think about, but that any ethical person would emphatically not find fun to try at home.

    So, since some (and maybe many) of the people reading the book may not be familiar with consensual SM, and with the differences between what kinky people fantasize about and how we safely and consensually act those fantasies out in real life, I think I have something of a responsibility to do at least a little educating on that issue.

    2: Since we live in a culture where the importance of sexual consent is often trivialized and sexual force is often romanticized and glorified, totally outside the context of kinky fantasies, I think I have something of a responsibility to not perpetuate that culture if I can avoid it. So once again, I want to make the distinction between “things that are fun to fantasize about” and “things that are fun to actually do” as clear as I can, without disrupting the flow of the book.

  33. says

    I think there’s a lot to be said for the way that stories frame their themes. There’s lots of morally reprehensible crap by all sorts of characters, “good” and “bad”, all over all of George R. R. Martin’s books, for example, but I don’t tend to interpret the books as promoting or glorifying those things. At the same time, there’s reprehensible crap in modern movies and the like, such as the getting-someone-drunk-as-seduction thing, that pisses me off to no end.

    This isn’t the be-all, end-all, but I think it’s a large part of the equation: how does the story frame the things that happen in it? I’d judge an Aesop fable for portraying consequenceless bad behavior more than I’d judge a portrayal of consequenceless bad behavior in a story like Game of Thrones because Aesop’s fables are generally about how things are supposed to be, and Game of Thrones, well, isn’t. Same actions, different frame.

  34. Kengi says

    Try not to over-think this too much.

    As you pointed out, written fiction is a very different animal than television or movies. There is a high barrier to entry for mainstream television and movie media, making what does appear a very small subset of viewpoints which get a proportionality over-sized ability to make an impact on popular culture. With that disproportional extra power does come added moral responsibility to not feed harmful attitudes and behaviors.

    While I wish your books the best, realistically you won’t have the ability to impact modern culture in the same way that Peter Jackson does with the Lord of the Rings series. If we could get similar financial backing for you, then maybe…

    Simply providing the kinds of disclaimers and links to further resources, in an unobtrusive way which doesn’t detract form the stories, seems very reasonable. If your books knock Fifty Shades off the charts, then we can take a second look at the impact you are having and how to address such issues more positively. If that happens, though, I don’t think you’ll have much trouble getting the correct message out to the media and others.

    Just don’t forget us little people when you are chatting up Oprah.

  35. poxyhowzes says

    Greta @ 33

    If you somehow think that “kink” does not encompass, at least in part, the concept of “non consensual,” then please educate me on your own, peculiar, idiosyncratic definition of “kink.” As I said above, “kink” is, historically, whatever we do sexually for pleasure, rather than purely for procreative purposes. There is no bright line between erotica and “kink,” and “kink” has for generations now included the concept of non-con sensuality, end even the (I suspect apocryphal) meme of the rapee “lying back and enjoying it.

    You may indeed wish to publish kinky stories that include non-consensuality (i.e., RAPE) without “encouraging les autres,” but you can’t do that.

    Either publish your kink in all its naked glory, or don’t publish it at all. But don’t try to find a way to convince us that you are against non-consensual sex while at the same time publishing stories that indicate that you get your rocks off by fantasizing to non-consensual sex.

    pH

  36. The Mog says

    As a feminist and a lover of the kind of kinky fiction that I’d never try and reproduce in real life, I can definitely see your dilemma. On the one hand, fantasies are fantasies; on the other, nobody can control how those fantasies translate in other people’s brains, and, I think, even with the evils of our rape culture, nor should they.

    I suspect that if the fantasy-fantasies are alternating with fiction which does explore consent thoughtfully and fully, then the contrast will make itself clear without you needing to do much authorial busybodying; in fact the presence of the consent fiction may well make the contrast more marked, and the healthy relationship dynamics more ‘realistic’ without further comment being needed. Though perhaps that’s idealistic of me and the ‘wrong’ kind of reader will be glad to get through all that tedious considering of other people’s needs and onto the proper stuff?

    I do have one suggestion, though it’s perhaps a bit of an oddball one. Use an italic typeface for the more rapey stories. I’ve read a fair bit of fiction which uses italics as a signifier of thoughts or memories or fantasies, and this adds an extra subconscious reminder that this is a fantasy?

  37. gordonmacginitie says

    I liked ‘Lesbian Sheep’ very much!
    .
    The introduction that you give at the beginning of the post seems quite adequate to me.
    .
    I subscribe to a BDSM video site, ‘Bound Gods’. They prefix every story with an interview with the participants discussing the plot of the action to come and append an interview with the participants telling how much fun they had. There is also a mention of consensual on the front page. This is quite enough for them.
    .
    I would hope that you minimize the words regarding consent and keep them away from the action.

  38. Greta Christina says

    But don’t try to find a way to convince us that you are against non-consensual sex while at the same time publishing stories that indicate that you get your rocks off by fantasizing to non-consensual sex.

    poxyhowzes @ #36: ?????

    Do you really not understand that people have fantasies about things — sexual or otherwise — that they oppose in real life? Do you really think everyone who enjoys murder mysteries wants to commit murder and is in favor of it, or that everyone who enjoys heist movies thinks theft should be legal and really wants to rob Fort Knox?

    I can, and do, vehemently oppose non-consensual sex in real life, while getting my rocks off by fantasizing about it. So do thousands upon thousands of other people. Millions, probably. It is flatly absurd to deny this reality. And there is no ethical inconsistency to it. Fantasies, by their very nature, are consensual.

    The comment policy of this post specifically states that anti-SM comments are not welcomed here. You have violated that policy. I don’t know whether you’re an anti-SM feminist trolling about how horrible kinky people are, or if you’re an anti-feminist trolling about how hypocritical kinky feminists are (btw, I’m using the word “kinky” as a rough synonym for “consensually sadomasochistic”, as is common), or if you’re some Randian who thinks all ethics are for the weak, or what your deal is. And I don’t much care. (Although if you’re an anti-SM feminist, then it’s kind of sad that you would violate someone’s clearly stated boundaries in order to preach about how bad SM is.) You are in violation of my clearly stated comment policy. Get the hell out of my blog.

  39. says

    Pablo

    The Stereotype is of a quiet passive woman who doesn’t want to argue or cause any trouble that kind of thing is man stuff. The problem with Shermer’s quote is that it suggest that this is a innate thing and isn’t affected by the skeptic community in general. The host of the point said she couldn’t find a woman to be on the panel and later that she tried a whole 2 women. Where as at least 3 men were contacted cause 3 men were on the panel. It also completely misses the kind of abuse and harassment that gets sent at women for speaking out that can cause them to be quiet. Shermer has had several posts now to clarify any of this but he hasn’t.

  40. nonnie says

    I think it really comes through in writing whether an author is aware of who the characters really are and what the situation really is. From what I’ve read of 50 shades, the author seems mostly unaware that the characters are in an unhealthy relationship and unaware of what makes it unhealthy. Instead of an unreliable narrator, it seems more like an unreliable author, if that makes sense. But I imagine there are loads of people who would still be bothered if the author knew exactly what she’s doing.

    (And I second timid atheist- those reviews are hilarious! until they’re depressing. I’ve no problem with fantasy either, but I like at least an attempt at coherent and believable characterization, along with a basic facility for the english language.)

    This reminds me- I’ve always wondered what you think of twilight? and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality?

  41. Greta Christina says

    She also seriously breaks down the book and points out the problems with the relationship as it’s presented by the writer of Fifty Shades. It’s one thing to have a kinky relationship and it’s another to have an abusive relationship that hides behind a kinky label. The author writing reviews has an issue with the series because the series isn’t promoting healthy, safe BDSM relationships, but instead is claiming that an abusive relationship is an erotic, normal BDSM relationship.

    Timid Atheist @ #27: But a lot of my stories are about bad relationships, too. They’re not about healthy, safe BDSM relationships. They’re about seriously fucked-up shit. And that’s true for a lot of SM porn, not just 50 Shades. In fact, as The Mellow Monkey said @ #9, in a lot of kinky porn and kinky fantasies, it’s the very wrongness that’s being eroticized. It’s the force and the abuse of power that’s hot. A lot of kinky people, myself included, enjoy fantasizing about seriously fucked-up shit… even though we don’t want that in real life, and oppose it vehemently in the culture at large.

    It could well be that nonnie @ #42 is right: that in 50 Shades, the author herself seems unaware of these distinctions, and genuinely does find the abusive nature of the relationship glamorous and romantic. (BTW, I like the phrase “unreliable author” — I’m going to have to use that.) So maybe you’re right: if the author is clear about these distinctions, that’ll come through to the audience. I hope so. (I am going to spell it out in the intro material and the resource guide, though.) Thanks!

  42. rrede says

    All of my (starting late in life) experience with erotica/porn (as opposed to to my life long experience with my own rape fantasies which began at some point during the airing of TOS of Trek) is situated in slash fandom–and parts of this discussion remind me very much of a brilliant essay by Joanna Russ on slash, and pornography, and erotica, and all the cultural contexts surrounding them (and the judgements of them, in the context of the Feminist Sex Wars of the 80s: here’s a link to a great review of Russ’ collection which, yay, has the quote I am reminded of:

    http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/02/reading-joanna-russ-magic-mommas-trembling-sisters-puritans-a-perverts-1985

    Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts by Joanna Russ, review by Brit Mandelo

    “I’m convinced, after reading more than fifty volumes of K/S material (most of it ‘X Rated’) that only those for whom a sexual fantasy ‘works,’ that is, those who are aroused by it, have a chance of telling us to what particular set of conditions that fantasy speaks, and can analyze how and why it works and for whom.” (89)

    I am cheering wildly for you with regard to this comment: I am entirely comfortable with these fantasies. I am entirely comfortable with the fact that I fantasize about things I would find morally repugnant in real life. I have no more problem with these fantasies than I do with fantasies about robbing casinos, or slaughtering Orcs. And I’m not willing to debate that.

    It’s taken me years in fandom to stop being ashamed about rape fantasies, and yet I’m still not sure I’d say what you did aloud! I need to work on that (I’d say I’d buy your book but I’ve discovered I only like my erotica and or porn via fanfiction–I did buy the e-book of Why Are You Atheists so Angry, and loved it!)

    In terms of the specific question of your post: I like the idea of basic disclaimers and educational resources–but more and more and more and more as I teach literature (and I do not teach the canon or traditional literature–my field is marginalized literatures–this spring, for example, I’m teaching a cultural historical approach to women and sf using Helen Merrick’s The Secret Feminist Cabal, with novels by Joanna Russ, Melissa Scott, Octavia Butler, and Nalo Hopkinson), the more and more I see the absolute impossibility of an author ever being able to completely…..dang I don’t want to use the word control but I cannot get anything else in my mind….shape?…affect how readers approach their work. The power of reader response in no way means the writer should not think hard and long about the ethics of what they’re doing and how their work is represented.

    Oh, and as an English teacher: I’d say 99.99% don’t read introductions or prologues or epilogues: I specifically assign them these days, and assign discussions, and most of my students say, wow, I never read these things, and they’re useful.

    And my desk acquires a few more dents…..

  43. great1american1satan says

    Wow, this topic is a good one…. I have the same damn conundrum in my head, almost as annoying to me as “How do I deal with genuinely nice theists?” … I’ll have to check back in when I can read all the comments, but I’ll toss this in the stream:

    I’m not glued to morally repugnant fantasies, though I’ve dabbled in them. Some people, though, are glued to them. What if someone can only get off on morally repugnant scenarios? It’s a sticky wicket. Racially charged stuff and rape scenarios are the obvious ones, though I’m sure there’s others.

    I’d like to be able to defend any kinkster that can ethically conduct any kink they have, but some are trickier to justify than others. I’d like help with my rationale. Maybe I’ll find it when I have time to read the above in greater depth.

  44. Harrison Reiss says

    Hi there! I stumbled upon this insightful page upon searching google for pointers in my Pro debate for Porn in my human sexuality club.

    I apologize for cutting in, but I haven’t been able to find a good response anywhere after googling for a good hour, and there seems to be an educated lot of people here! I am wondering: does filmed/recorded rape categorize as pornography? Why / why not? You will be cited for your response, unless otherwise requested to be anonymous.

    Thank you!

  45. says

    Mellow Monkey #3;
    I would LOVE to see your stuff; can we get a link?

    I hear from anyone and everyone about how to eroticize negotiation, yet every time I have seen it done, Iknow from long and frustrating experience that none of the bottoms I’ve been with would sit through that; They’ll even “I want thus-and-such” and any kind of clarification takes too long; I’ve knocked people clean out of state that way. I’m WAY more interested in safety and consent, leaving me usually going half as far as they want. Trying to get sufficient clarity seems to be a trust issue from my side.

  46. anyone says

    I’ve been kind of torn about speaking to this one, but for what it’s worth, here goes:

    I agree that it’s wrong to say something’s wrong just because it’s kinky, but I think it’s also wrong to defend something purely on the “it’s a kink” basis, too.

    I discovered yaoi a while back, and initially, it was just “OMG guy-on-guy so hot” territory. And then it got to me, more and more, how rapey and heteronormative it was. And I found any kind of expression of that unease was met with accusations of kink-shaming, or variations on the theme of “most yaoi writers are female, therefore it’s okay and also any opposition to it is misogyny” etc. etc., including, not least, “But I’m a lesbian/asexual/transperson therefore my yaoi must be fine, and any and all objections are oppressive” or “women are more likely to be raped, so therefore rapeyness towards men is not a problem”.

    The thing is, it’s perfectly possible for people’s kinks to be problematic. A turn-on is not like a knee-jerk reflex: it means something. The turn-on from something like “mistress abuses maid” or “bigger guy takes smaller guy against his will” is related to social meanings of status. And once you’re into meaning, you’re into a space where assent to fucked-upness is an issue, too. Especially when it’s not explicitly SSC play.

    I get the “it’s hot cause it’s wrong”, I do, though it always makes me feel more in touch with my inner five-year old than I think entirely necessary. I mean, “hot because someone doesn’t want it to be”? To be honest, that feels a bit icky. And I don’t see why some fiction wouldn’t need a “why it’s wrong IRL” bracketing, at least to make a separation against people who think “The Night Porter”, let alone “Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS” don’t raise any problems at all.

    I’m not sure this is helpful, in terms of your actual “what to do” question. But your blog’s been a help to me on a number of issues, and I guess I just wanted to speak in response. Even if it might not be the most welcome.

    I’ll go hide now, I think.

  47. says

    “Do you really not understand that people have fantasies about things — sexual or otherwise — that they oppose in real life? Do you really think everyone who enjoys murder mysteries wants to commit murder and is in favor of it, or that everyone who enjoys heist movies thinks theft should be legal and really wants to rob Fort Knox?”

    There might be a slight difference here in that most people who read detective stories etc don’t sympathize with the murderer and are happy when he is caught. Yes, murder plays a role, but usually a negative role and the reader doesn’t identify with the murderer. With much of kinky fiction, the reader probably does identify with a role which in the real world would be both illegal and morally wrong.

  48. Greta Christina says

    There might be a slight difference here in that most people who read detective stories etc don’t sympathize with the murderer and are happy when he is caught. Yes, murder plays a role, but usually a negative role and the reader doesn’t identify with the murderer. With much of kinky fiction, the reader probably does identify with a role which in the real world would be both illegal and morally wrong.

    Phillip Helbig @ #48: I’m not sure that’s the case. As a fan of heist movies, I definitely identify with the thieves, and often want them to get away with it. I’m not a fan of murder mysteries, so I can’t speak to that as well from personal experience… but doesn’t part of the enjoyment of them, at least for many people, come from the exciting frisson of imagining the wicked and the forbidden? They’re not just morality plays, where the pleasure comes from imagining wickedness being punished. The pleasure comes, at least sometimes, from imagining the wickendness itself.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply