Several months ago, I invited writers to ‘share their secrets’; just over 130 responded, writing honestly of their experiences – more about them here. It’s been a delight to see how various authors approach the writing process, and the manner in which we choose to focus our erotic lens.
As Adrea Kore reminds us, “Society is hungry for more ways to open up dialogue about sexuality – between women, and between men and women. Erotica, and the sharing and discussion that takes place around the reading of erotica, is one such conduit of dialogue.”
Erotic fiction can move us, disturb, confront and warm us. It compels an emotional, intellectual and visceral reaction.
While porn strikes a blow to the groin, erotic fiction adds an upper cut to the gut, wrenches the heart and arm-wrestles the mind. Erotic fiction follows protagonists not just in their pursuit of pleasure, but into the spaces they find fearsome. It examines our choices, and the resulting consequences.
Jonathan Kemp explains, “I don’t consciously set out to write something that will arouse eroticism, I set out to describe and represent sex, or sexual encounters. If it turns the reader on, great, and I know from some readers directly that it has; but my main consideration is the language I use, the ‘reality’ I try to convey, the experience I try to explore, the subjectivity or subjectivities I am aiming to articulate or express. I’m very interested in sexuality as a form of sociality, of bodies being together, sometimes in public spaces, sometimes private. I think there is an almost anthropological or ethnographic element to why I am drawn to these situations and encounters. I want to show erotic forcefields at work, hopefully as a way of entering the territory of what it means to be human through a different doorway.”
In exploring compulsion, and destructive relationships/liaisons, we reach into the darker corners of the human condition. It’s obvious that this constitutes intent beyond writing ‘to entertain’ or ‘to arouse’.
Shanna Germain asserts, “I write to fuck with your brain, your heart, your morals, and your sense of self, to make you question your assumptions, to unpack your moldy baggage, to open your heart with your bare hands to see what makes it beat. I open people’s minds like a sneaky spy. They come for the naked; they stay for the accidental learning. I like to give people a slant-mirror. Not a perfect reflection of themselves, but a could-be reflection. One that helps them feel less alone if they’re struggling or uncertain or scared. One that says, ‘Look, everyone’s been there. Everyone’s failed.’”
Our genre allows us to enter the psyche in unexpected ways, distilling motivations and fears. We access a realm often defying words.
Remittance Girl tells us, “I’m interested in looking at where boundaries leak and fail, where human eroticism bleeds into the non-sexual parts of our personas, our lives and our society.” She encourages readers ‘to think about how their erotic desires constitute and shape and twist the very complex individuals they are’.
As Adrea Kore underlines, “Erotica seeks to arouse, but it may also confront, provoke, and subvert. This is why I am drawn to writing in the erotic genre. It’s why I feel proud of my craft. Sexuality is such a vital part of the map of the human psyche. Sexuality reveals so much of ourselves.” (more here)
Remittance Girl comments on ‘bone-deep erotic yearning’, saying, “Erotica can be breathtakingly beautiful because it’s about us at our most naked, our most vulnerable. It is an exposure of both our passions and our hideous flaws. Our destructive jealousy, our brittle pride, our hunger for what doesn’t belong to us, our need for the strange and the transgressive.”
Exploration and Transformation
The majority of writers note the importance of ‘transformation’ within fiction. As Adrea Kore notes, “…where there is transformation, there is always a story.”
Brantwijn Serrah states that she wishes to create fiction exploring how sexuality informs the Self. Catherine Mazur echoes this, saying, “I’m interested in how sex impacts a person’s world view.”
Transformation is at the heart of every story arc, even within flash fiction. The reader should be able to feel their way into the margins, filling in the gaps, invited to create their own ‘backstory’ for protagonists, and projecting possible consequences onto unfolding events.
To engage us beyond ‘insert tab A into flap B’ we need to witness an element of transformation or growth within a story, to see how a protagonist has gained greater self-knowledge.
Nya Rawlyns asserts, “Much of what passes for erotica today feels stale, too often reflecting romance tropes. Lust and desire, needs and wants… all have consequences. I’m interested in how an individual changes under conditions of denial or when personal and other boundaries are smashed. What excites me is when a writer peels away the socially acceptable and reveals the most intimate cravings of tortured souls. I want to step far outside the boundaries of acceptable and explore the intersect of pain and pleasure, right and wrong, good and bad, need and desire.”
Sessha Batto asserts, “My goal is not to arouse the reader but rather to trace a character’s growth, as revealed through sex.” She notes that some of her sexual scenes are ‘disturbing’ rather than arousing because those situations ‘dig deeply into a character’s personality and motivations, as well as being catalysts for growth and personal discovery’.
Jade A Waters adds, “Sex is transformative. I tend to take my characters on journeys of discovery, often as an echo of something I’ve learned in my own life.”
LN Bey notes the attraction of accompanying characters on a journey, saying, “They change, but not always for the better. They’re exhausted. Maybe they failed. Maybe they failed gloriously, or succeeded but had to make sacrifices. These are elements I enjoy exploring in my erotica.”
In reaching into ourselves, through fiction, we cannot but emerge changed, better understanding the light and dark of our nature.
Adrea (whose last name ‘Kore’ is another Greek name for Persephone, meaning ‘maiden’) explains this through the metaphor of entering, and emerging from, ‘the Underworld’. She explains, “I resonate with the idea that writing about sex and sexuality is akin to going down into the Underworld of our bodies, and of society; sometimes speaking the taboo; sometimes bringing things up and out into the light so they can be seen more clearly.” She imagines Persephone rising up from her subconscious, bursting onto the bright white page to spill over with insights and stories. Adrea stresses that, like Persephone, she feels ‘deepened and transformed’ by her time in darkness. (more here)
Engaging Mind and Body
Some authors note that they began writing erotic elements into fiction from a young age, while a far greater share turned to these themes later in life. As to what keeps us writing in this sphere, authors repeatedly underline a feeling of ‘addiction’, asserting that writing ‘the erotic’ allows deeper exploration of the human psyche and that, once accessed, this cannot be put aside.
As Zander Vyne asserts, “Few other genres allow such creativity and freedom.” Catherine Mazur muses on how far ‘sexual arousal produces an altered state of consciousness not unlike intoxication or a dream state’ while Madeline Moore is intrigued by the shifting sands of our sexual preferences. She notes our fundamental sexual nature, saying, “Even the absence of sex is sexual. How long can you miss kisses? It fascinates me.”
Susan St. Aubin tells us, “I’m interested in the mystery of human life, and sex is a big part of that, perhaps the thing that most illuminates the mystery.”
Erotic fiction invites intimacy with readers on a level unseen across other genres, emotionally and physically. Most authors feed on the positive energy of feedback, and it drives them to write on, probing deeper into ‘fearsome’ spaces. We may write ‘for ourselves’ but there is an electrifying thrill in the knowledge of touching readers, moving them at the most profound level.
As Kathe Koja puts it, she seeks ‘connection’: the ‘profoundly human action of mind speaking to mind’. Malin James notes her desire to reach ‘under a reader’s skin and make them feel something’. She stresses, “I want to bypass the intellect and connect with the reader in an emotional or experiential way.”
Erotica lends itself well to exploration of ‘grey areas of morality’, as Tobsha Learner calls them: to the small lies we tell ourselves, to our unspoken motivations, to the ways in which we manipulate or make use of others.
Adrea Kore emphasizes, “Erotica writes into areas of the human sexual psyche and behavior that some genres gloss over or shy away from. Erotica brings into the light contradictions between our inner sexual desires and our outward behaviour. What do we secretly long for, and to attain that, what lengths would we go to?” (more here)
Shanna Germain adds that ‘sex and death’ are recurring themes in her work, having the potential to show us at ‘our most human and naked’. She notes, “How we react in those moments is something I’m fascinated by. I want to break those moments open in my characters and ask, ‘How are you going to handle this? Will you grow and change? Will you show your true self? Or will you hide?’”
Adrea Kore emphasizes the power of words to change us at a physical level: a truth we can attest to. Certain images, painted in words, once read, refuse to let us go. She advocates, “The ideas we consume contribute to our growth or our atrophy. Language and ideas, once encountered, live inside you, and can effect changes, both subtle and catalytic. Words endure. And the feelings they conjure up in the body can endure too, leaving traces, imprints in the cells, the memory.” (more here)
Fear and Arousal
Several writers mention the connection between fear and arousal, drawing direct inspiration from film and books in the horror genre. In fact, almost 20% of writers within this survey also write ‘horror’ (under alternative pen names) or blend horror elements with the erotic.
We are drawn to what terrifies us: not just the gore-taloned goblins of childhood nightmares but the horror of our mortality, and the transience of all we care for, the destructive, selfish impulses we battle to control.
Raziel Moore notes, “I like to write people encountering their monsters – interior or exterior, and being devoured by them, or not.”
What horrifies us invites investigation; it’s here, where we are most unsettled, that we find insight, that we learn more fully who we are.
Kathleen Bradean asserts, “Horror and erotica both seek to evoke a physical reaction; they’re the most closely linked genres. There’s a Venn diagram where they intersect. That’s where I like to hang out. Erotica teaches you how to evoke the senses as no other genre can.” She adds, “I’ve been drawing on that heavily of late, to convey the heat and humidity of a tropical island.”
Madeline Moore echoes this, saying, “Many of my ideas could be erotica or horror, depending on the way I twist the tale. I find it interesting that it’s so easy to see a concept going in either direction. I wonder if there’s always a horrifying aspect to sex; or a sexual aspect to horror. Adrenalin is adrenalin, after all; same physical experience interpreted in different ways. It’s all in the mind.”
Adrea Kore tells us,“I believe an audience comes to any art form wanting to be shown the known in the unknown, or the unknown in the known. Even if this desire is in the subconscious, even if the audience is only partially aware of this desire, it is present. Erotica as a fiction genre plays constantly on this tension between the known and the unknown, between concealing and revealing.”
Remittance Girl explains that we, as writers, can manipulate the mind of our readers. She believes that the better we know someone’s psyche, the better we penetrate their vulnerabilities. She states, “What do you fear? What do you fear you are? What do you fear someone sees in you or believes you to be? What turns you on and turns your stomach at the same time? For me, good mindfucks are really about the dark recesses where you fear to go, and yet they have an irresistible allure.” (more here)
As in any genre, authors note their desire to engage readers emotionally and intellectually, exploring our vulnerabilities, insecurities and anxieties, addressing universal human experience..
In examining the choices we make in pursuit of sexual pleasure, we unpick the threads of our compulsions, the dichotomy of pain versus pleasure, and the enigma of sexual connection as the route to ‘loss of self’.
Remittance Girl writes, “There is a unique exposure that occurs in authentic moments of erotic desire that can strip away all our contrivances, our courtesy, our sophistications. I write with the intention to arouse, but not at a specifically genital level. My aim is to prompt the reader into what I would call an aroused state of self-reflection.” (more here)
It’s evident that the fist of ‘the erotic’ has the power to reach far beyond a punch to the genitalia. And yet, such arousal is part of the recipe.
Authors consistently note pleasure in engaging readers viscerally. Moreover, a significant number of authors state that they view a piece of writing to be a success specifically if it arouses them while writing it.
Adrea Kore explains how she views the dynamic between sense-memory and the writing mind, and between the author and the reader. “In my erotica writing, I reach for a tryst between the truth of sensation and the tease of imagination. I’m engaged in translating the sensations of sex into imagery, in a way which will transmute back through the body of the reader into arousal. In this way, erotica is a kind of sex. This, I believe, is what all effective erotica does. It’s also a core part of what makes the act of writing pleasurable for me.” (more here)
Devi Ansevi calls herself ‘a narcissistic authorial voyeur’. Rachel de Vine admits, “I just enjoy sex – reading about it, writing about it, doing it. What can I say…?” Allen Dusk notes that, while writing, he often needs to ‘stop and take care of matters’ to allow him to return to the page with ‘a fresh perspective’. Aubrey Cara describes her short stories as ‘up to thirty pages of a specific kink, gratuitously dished out’. Sylvia Storm states, “I write to turn myself on. Arousal has to be there when I write erotic scenes, and it has to transfer to the page. I have to be able to come back to a scene later and have it turn me on when I read it again.”
Does every piece of erotic fiction have the power to arouse every reader? Surely not, since we each display our own preferred palette. It would thereby seem unfair to judge the ‘value‘ of a piece of erotica only by its sway in physically arousing us, in being able to ‘twang our personal kinks’.
Promoting Ownership of Sexuality
Most authors note some desire to battle ‘sex shaming’, wishing to promote open-minded attitudes and tolerance, to raise awareness of the breadth of sexuality, and encourage acceptance and ‘ownership’.
Adrea Kore affirms this, saying, “There’s more than enough shaming around sexuality in the world. Erotica as a genre can contribute to the dialogue of ideas around sexuality… It has the power to allow people to claim their kinks, predilections and desires more confidently in their actual lives, and also to transform negative or misinformed attitudes towards certain aspects of sexuality.”
Rose Caraway, speaking of her narration of audio erotica, sees it as an ‘antidote to the sleeping potion we’ve been under‘. She explains, “With every story I narrate, that spell begins to lift; lust is no longer a hidden dark secret within us. The moment I speak the words, I’m removing another layer of shame. The author begins this process when they put pen to paper. Together, we’re helping people awaken, at their own pace. Each story narrated acknowledges sexuality, our own and others’, because it’s being read aloud. Those words want to be heard, making us stronger, so that we can better express and own our sexuality.” (more from Rose here)
Frank Lee comments, “Erotica has the potential to empower people, women especially, to help us stop stigmatizing sex and view it rather as a vital, healthy force.” Terrance Aldon Shaw echoes this, saying, “Sex is neither dirty nor shameful. Ignorance and innocence are not the same thing, and society needs desperately to grow up.”
Kristina Lloyd relates this to her own journey, saying, “Through writing, I’ve learned so much about my own sexuality and desire. Writing has given me an understanding; it has allowed me to own a sexuality I’d been conflicted about and confused by when I was younger.”
Nicolette Hugo states, “I write about domination/submission and sadism/masochism in a way that is accessible, to show that a woman in a BDSM relationship can also be a feminist, empowered and fulfilled.”
Elizabeth Safleur adds her desire ‘to help other women be brave, to discover and be true to themselves’.
Patrick Califia states, “I always thought sex was one of the most important aspects of the human condition and deserved its own celebration and interrogation. I also wrote as an act of political outrage, to rebel against standard heterosexuality and push back against repression of queer and female-bodied pleasure.” However, he adds that people ‘are so obsessed with the indecency of my topics that most seem unable to assess whether I have said anything new or moving about human nature, or if I’ve described people’s emotions and behaviour in a striking way’. He continues, “Few seem to understand how much I care about the quality of the writing itself. I feel that I’ve always pushed myself as a writer [having been published since the 1970s] though critics would have it that the only thing I’ve cared about is shocking people and attacking mainstream feminism.”
Adrea Kore also views her writing, particularly as a female author, as a political act and a creative one. She underlines, “Women writing and speaking about their own desire, being openwith what gives them pleasure and turns them on … even finding the words for that is something that is still seen as taboo in corners of Western culture, let alone in comparison to cultures where women are more repressed ideologically, and socially. I think this applies to all women’s stories, but particularly those around sexuality. The political aspect of it, the desire to confront and subvert, is a strong motivation for me – as strong as the desire to seduce and arouse.”
Tobsha Learner has written of the fates of minorities under political regimes, ‘illuminating stories yet to be told’. Jonathan Kemp cites similar motivation, noting a desire to ‘give voice to the voiceless’. Krissy Kneen adds, “I’ve pushed towards exploring marginalised sexualities, from the viewpoint of older people, disabled people, people with obscure fetishes. It’s an unending quest to express sex as a growing changing thing.” Charlie Powell also writes on themes of disability, body confidence and feminism.
A Larger Universe
Jonathan Kemp tells us, “For me, one of the tasks of the writer is to push boundaries, explore the unexplored… to speculate, experiment, challenge readers in subtle ways, have them consider something new, or consider something in a new way, visit places they have never been, take them into worlds that are foreign and slightly magical or dangerous, or squalid… I don’t look for identification in the fiction I read, I look for difference…”
Laura Antoniou voices a dominant motivation for authors exploring ‘the erotic’: the desire to write beyond what is expected, beyond the familiar, beyond what we find comfortable. In her mind’s eye, “Trying to write a heterosexual, male dominant, eventually monogamous story? That’s just too weird for me. My world is so much bigger. I keep writing for my small but supportive readership: those who like a larger universe to play in.”
Further Reading in this series
- Authors’ Recommended Reads
- Writing Craft
- You may like to view this post, on the Male/Female Hand, in which readers are challenged to identify writers’ gender.
- Men Reading Erotic Fiction – looking at why men seek out fiction in this genre, and their preferences for style and content.
- The Erotic Vein: the male pen – on trends in men’s authorship of erotic fiction.
Articles by Adrea Kore: here and here and here and here
Articles by Remittance Girl: here and here and here and here
My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.
Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou, Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea Kore, Kristina Lloyd, Jonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George Storey, Kathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Will Crimson, Raziel Moore, Sorcha Black, Cari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. Bey, Zander Vane, Tamsin Flowers, Krissy Kneen, Zak Jane Keir, Jade A Waters, Ashley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya Rawlyns, Terrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose Caraway, Allen Dusk, Tabitha Rayne, Marc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi Ansevi, Nicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina Morata, Finn Marlowe, Elsa Holland, Elizabeth Schechter, Aleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis Alvarez, R.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily Harlem, Thomas Roche, Madeline Moore, Ria Restrepo, Scarlet Darkwood, Wade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane Gilbert, Jim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee Savino, C.P. McClennan, Elizabeth Black, C.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette Hugo, Frank Noir, Amelia Smarts, Nobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra Shaw, Ardent Rose, Sylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Charlie Bee, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Jay Willowbay, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young, Vinnie Tesla, Emma Jaye, Dennis Cardiff, Dee Maselle, Frank Lee, Christina Mandara, Big Ed Magussun, Sue Lyndon, T.J. Vermillion, David Flint, Delores Swallows, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca Branch, Jaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.