Men Reading the Erotic

Almost fifty male readers of erotic fiction (some wishing to remain anonymous) have shared their views on how this genre compels them, and how it has shaped their thinking. A significant number of these readers have been so stirred by what they have read that it has inspired their own writing.

You may like to visit the first article in this series, which looks at the motivations of men ‘writing the erotic’.

Erotic fiction explores human experience through the lens of sexual desire. It has the power to move us, to disturb, to confront, to inspire, and to warm us. It goes far beyond titillation. It has the power to examine the psyche in unexpected ways, allowing us to access a realm of paradoxes.

As ever, your comments are welcome.

  

Why Read?

Need a quick ‘sexy fix’? There are plenty of magazines and films to help you on your way. Seeking both a visceral and cerebral experience, of bringing your own imagination to the erotic? It’s time to explore what fiction has to offer. Words on the page urge us to bring our own interpretation.

Erotic fiction invites intimacy and, in so doing, builds a far deeper relationship than porn. Your response to the words is unique to you.

 

Owning Your Sexuality

Dayv Caraway, of the hugely popular Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica Podcast, notes that erotic fiction encourages us to feel that we have ‘permission’ to be sexual. He explains, “It’s more socially acceptable for men to have casual sex but it’s not so usual for men to be encouraged to explore the emotional aspects of sex. The reverse tends to be true for women.  Erotica gives men ‘permission’ to have an inner dialogue with themselves, and with their partner. This is something that porn does not; it doesn’t offer sexual language for dialogue. It doesn’t aid communication with a partner. If anything, porn can create barriers, as women especially sometimes feel ‘betrayed’ by their partner watching (and masturbating to) pornography.” 

Terrance Aldon Shaw emphasizes, I try to uncouple sex from shame, to demystify what has too long been unspeakable (and thus, frightening).” He adds,Porn does not teach you how to be a man. It does not even teach you how to have sex. Erotica, on the other hand, can enlighten. Anything that gets men to THINK positively about sex beyond the clinical aspects of the act ought to be welcome, especially in a time when far too many are getting their information about sex and relationships from pornography.”

 

The Echo of Self

There’s no doubt that readers seek out works with a very particular agenda, wishing to findScreen Shot 2016-06-05 at 15.23.10 copy a mirror to their own preoccupations, to find a recognisable reflection of their sexual thoughts via fiction. They seek not only self-knowledge but validation of shared ‘sexual humanity’. There is an urgent need to find a resonating truth, to read what already plays out in our imagination.

Thomas Roche mentions the work of Patrick Califia, saying, “His early writing (particularly during the time he publicly identified as female) was audaciously rough and hardcore, and I liked that.” Another reader notes, “Hardcore lesbian and gay BDSM was about as far as I could get from my upbringing, but finding those subjects within fiction profoundly affected me.”

Readers taking part in this survey cited their most common fantasies as those involving domination, submission and bondage, with just as many men seeking out fiction in which women are dominant, as tales where the male protagonist dominates.

 

Paradox and Transgression

The paradox of the illogical underlies much of the frisson in erotic literature: the desire to transgress, to overstep social norms, to act (via the safe realm of fiction) as we wouldn’t in real life.

As one reader puts it: “I’m attracted to the inherent illogicality of BDSM. The desire to be beaten, controlled, humiliated, or to do the beating for that matter, makes no logical sense—and yet it’s what has driven some of us since early childhood, before we even understood what sex was.”

Some readers mention interest in incest-themed fantasies (including the ultra-taboo mother-son scenario), or the seeking out of fiction exploring abduction, rape and torture. More than half mention interest in reading non-consent stories, and those incorporating ‘rough sex’: a statistic which echoes women’s own fantasies of being sexually overwhelmed or taken ‘against their will’ (naturally, within the confines of fantasy, where they are, ultimately, in control). Readers make a firm distinction between their ‘real life’ actions and what they pursue in fiction.

We each draw our own lines in the sand, creating our own definition of the transgressive, as it applies to our own inner limits. It is the thought of crossing those very lines that excites us; the illicit thrill of our moral repugnance.

Naturally, transgression is a moveable feast, since what appears transgressive to one person will be ‘everyday bread and butter’ to another: among such themes, we can class desire between protagonists of widely differing ages and inter-racial sex. The latter, particularly, seems a bizarre ‘taboo’ in our 21st century world and yet, for some readers, it remains so.

 

Shaping Perceptions

Anyone who has been moved emotionally by a film, or by fiction, knows the power of storytelling. Beyond entertainment, it has the power to shape our perception of our own self, to improve our self-knowledge and to extend our empathy with others.

emmanuelle de maupassant quote porn versus erotic fictionOne reader asserts, “I’ve been able to positively enhance my pleasure by knowing myself better, through reading fiction. I’m convinced that reading erotica can bring benefits beyond the bedroom too, making us more self-aware. I still have some way to go to express my desires, being afraid of receiving an adverse response from my partner, but I’ve learnt that women possess a tremendous well of sexual desire, needs, interests and fetishes. They share the same sexual drive as men.

Thomas Roche adds,Much of the erotic fiction I enjoy is about female pleasure. I honestly believe it has made me somewhat more sympathetic to women’s concerns, especially with regard to sexism and misogyny.”

Dayv Caraway underlines, “ I’ve become more aware of women as sexual beings through reading erotica. There’s a common perception that women don’t have the same sexual drive as men. Historically, men have been freer to express their desire. Erotica shows that women do think about sex outside of monogamous relationships and ‘romance scenarios’. Reading erotic fiction has also made me more comfortable with myself sexually and it’s brought even more dialogue to my relationship with Rose. We were good before, but we’re even better now. We talk to each other more openly about everything now, not just sex.” 

 

 Male Versus Female Focus

Most male readers interested in erotic fiction mention having read variations of ‘steamy romance’ (it being most readily available). However, the vast majority express their disappointment and disinterest, finding stories repetitive and predictable. As one respondent put it, there seem to be endless variation of ‘a billionaire initiates me into the ways of the lash’.  

Even setting aside the well-worn tropes of the genre, it seems hardly surprising that romantic fiction, being largely female-oriented (and female voiced), might fail to address male sexual preoccupation.

However, there are exceptions to this ‘rule’, with some male readers noting their interest in reading ‘female focused’ fiction, written by women, with an eye to ‘learning more about female desire’.

Dennis Cardiff tells us, “I generally prefer to read erotic books written by women, even lesbian erotica, as I want to see inside a woman’s mind. It’s a path to learning how to please a woman. I find women often hard to understand and generally mysterious. 

Another reader mentions, “I prefer fiction by women, mostly because I’m curious as to what a woman chooses to write about.”

One states, “Female POV is what works for me, regardless of whether it is a male or female author. First-person, preferably, but that’s not an absolute.”

Another comments, “I’ve been reading erotica off and on for about 22 years. I was an English major in college, but I didn’t try taking stories apart and seeing how they worked until recently. I find that male writers tend to use more physical description, without much happening internally for characters.”

Dennis Cardiff adds, “Although I have enjoyed erotica written by men, I generally find it more crude, more dominant, less sensual.”

One male reader praises Kristina Lloyd for her characters’ self-examination, and lack of naivety. They also praise Tiffany Reisz, saying, “She uses wish-fulfilment tropes (mostly wealth, power, and outrageous situations) but writes with realism. Her unrepentant rebels have a lot of fun, and all the good lines.”

Will Crimson states,“What currently appeals to me is the writer’s ability to describe sex indirectly or in novel ways. Also, for me, what makes sex erotic isn’t the sex but the emotional context: Why are characters having sex? Why do they want it? What do they want from it? How do their desires compliment each other or conflict? How are they affected by it? Our bodies are our means of expression, but our minds make us erotic. Sex is always an expression of who we are and writers who capture that meeting of human desire and erotic imagination, its conflict and resolutions, are the writers I admire.”

Thinking beyond ‘romantic fiction’, most male readers note no significant preference for male or female authorship, being more interested in individual style. Dayv Caraway notes, “Raziel Moore and Allen Dusk are edgy, but so are many female writers I know, such as Malin James. Knowing that they’re men may influence my perception of a story. It’s in the back of my mind.  However, I think fiction reflects the writer’s personality more than their gender. In the fiction we broadcast, which tends not to have a ‘romantic’ focus, there isn’t a great deal of difference in theme or approach between men and women writers. Good storytelling is good storytelling.” 

 

Encouraging Male Readers

Dayv Caraway comments, “Men aren’t generally reading erotica because it’s hidden in the romance section. They aren’t usually cruising that aisle, or sharing those recommendations with their friends.”

Will Crimson comments that, as far as he can gauge from readers visiting his online site, perhaps only 20% are men, but that he finds them more ‘interactive’ than his female readers. He muses,That may simply be because women feel less safe. The online experience for women can be entirely different (and more threatening).”

Dayv adds,” I enjoy so many themes and angles in this genre, but I do know that I’d like to see more Terrance Aldon Shaw quote erotic fiction pornsci-fi with erotic elements. I think there’s still some way to go before erotic elements become more visible in ‘mainstream’ fiction, and this would be great to see.” 

One reader points out that ‘though the execution may be lacking, people will crawl across the broken glass of bad prose to find that which tweaks their kinks’.

Saying this, there is an almost unanimous cry for eloquent, powerful prose, and for fiction that has the ability to engage us more deeply, through character development, so that we’re invested in the outcome of each story. Readers want to see the psychology of characters laid bare; they want to examine motivation and see protagonists dealing with the consequences of their choices. Writers take note!

What can we do to encourage men to more readily explore erotic fiction? Perhaps, foremost, we should stop making assumptions about what women or men ‘should’ be reading.

Our desire to fulfill our sexual nature shapes us as much as our need for intellectual and emotional fulfillment. Embrace it as an element of your mental and physical health. Embrace it through art, and film, through poetry and fiction.

Acquire an anthology of short stories, and read them aloud nightly, in the style of Scheherazade; seduce your partner with words. Tune in to audio readings of erotic fiction. Spread the word little by little; share recommendations, share positivity.

Above all, don’t feel shame at indulging fantasy through reading fiction. The likelihood is that you’ll gain far more than a ‘quick thrill’; be prepared to have your eyes, and your perceptions, blown wide open.

Dayv Caraway comments, “I’d like to see people become more accepting of erotic content in books. We’ve come a long way in accepting ‘nudity’ in mainstream culture, no longer equating it only with sexual intention. We need the same degree of maturity about erotic fiction.

In exploring sexual themes, our barriers are eroded. We come to recognise the breadth of sexual possibility, and how our sexual-self feeds into other facets of our psyche; in knowing ourselves, we gain better understanding of others.

Our journey continues in achieving tolerance of individual choices, including those relating to how we express our gender and sexuality. In setting aside shame, refraining from judging others, and opening ourselves to the myriad shades of the human palette, we may take real steps towards living in harmony.

 

 

Further Reading

The Male / Female Hand

The Erotic Vein: men writing erotica

Remittance Girl: on writing the taboo in erotic fiction: here and here

The Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica Podcast: for fiction and audio recordings (my thanks to Dayv and Rose Caraway, who also feature in an interview here).

 

My thanks to all readers who took part in this survey, many of whom asked to be quoted anonymously. For a full list of writers who contributed their thoughts as readers, see the foot of the page here, within the Male Writers article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peep Show: a review

The exhibitionist in us wants others to disapprove, as well as to admire, for it is in this that we find the tantalising ‘edge’.

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1950 by Elliot Erwitt
Photograph by Elliot Erwitt (1950)

Here is the line in the sand, and here we are, stepping over it.
Here is my body; here is my lust.
See it in my fingers and in my eyes, and in my quickening breath.
Look away if you don’t like what you see…
Except that I know you won’t.

Peep ShowPeep Show: Tales of Voyeurs and Exhibitionists, edited by the Queen of Erotica, Rachel Kramer Bussel, is a gem of an anthology: each story perfect in its own right, original and well-crafted, surveying the paired delights of voyeurism and exhibitionism.

‘Clean and Pretty’, by Donna George Storey, is a sensual masterpiece, displaying the very paradox at the heart of the collection: that the essence of our desire to be watched, to ignite the flame of arousal in others, is based not just on the notion of seeking admiration but also on a yearning to defy boundaries, to defy the watcher’s approval, to defy commonly-held canons of ‘decency’.

Bruce Webber
Photography by Bruce Webber

Every act of exhibitionism is a performance, as in Jennifer Peters’ gloriously bold ‘People in Glass Hotels’, and in Lolita Lopez’s ‘Indecent’.

Of course, the coin’s reverse is all the more potent when illicit. Forbidden pleasures are, inevitably, the sweetest, as we see in Elizabeth Coldwell’s tantalising ‘Audience Participation’, and in Nobilis Reed’s cleverly rendered and multi-threaded ‘Glass’: both extolling the joy of watching, uninvited.

Hans Mauli
Photograph by Hans Mauli

Rachel KB’s own contribution to this treasure trove, ‘I’ve Only Got Eyes For You’, and Angela Caperton’s ‘Calendar Girl’ end the collection on a note lavender-sweet and dumpling-soft, showing that exhibitionism is not confined to the shadow-world. Every one of us can enjoy the act of display, and there are so many ways in which to do so, to the enrichment of our self-esteem, while feeding a secret desire to shock.

Perhaps the jewel in the crown is L.A. Mistral’s exploration of the relationship between the knowing performer, and the open watcher, writing in ‘The Theory of Orchids’: ‘The more we cherish something with our eyes, the more it flourishes. Our attention changes both who we are and what we look at. Our watching changes everything.’

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Maniquí tapado (Mannequin covered), 1931
Photograph by Manuel Alvarez Bravo (1931)

We read for entertainment, but also to know ourselves better, to find an echo within the pages, and to witness parallel universes. Knowledge of each ‘other life’ opens a door within our own.

Mannequins, E1 by John Claridge (1968)
Photograph by John Claridge (1968)

Reading, of course, is an act of voyeurism in itself, and this anthology, by its very nature, encourages us to embrace the process.

Read, and watch, and enjoy.

(For more voyeuristic delights, you may like to visit my Author Page on Amazon to see where my pen has been tickling…)

Relentless and Destructive: a review of Libidinous Zombie

The full version of this review appears on Cara Sutra’s Pleasure Panel, alongside others.

What is theLibidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthology nature of our erotic drive, relentless and destructive, the ‘Libidinous Zombie‘ within? This innovative collection takes up the torch, and dares to lead us down the twisting passageways of the labyrinth, each  author unravelling the threads in their own way, leaving their footprints for us to follow. As Remittance Girl describes it, here is an anthology which presents ‘the delicious marriage between horror and eroticism’.Libidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthology

From the dystopian setting of a post-apocalyptic world (Tamsin Flowers‘ poignant tale) to the confines of an early 20th century mental asylum (Malin James‘ compelling depiction of descent into the madness of sexual obsession) we are taken on a shadow journey, where nothing is quite as it seems.

Their charm lies in the unexpected, in their twists, as tLibidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthologyhey arouse and horrify, provoking both disgust and a compulsion to continue.

Libidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthologyThese tales offer not just entertainment but a deeper commentary on what we choose to conceal, or reveal. They offer insight into the voracious nature of lust, and into our darker side, into the thoughts we rarely admit to. And, they offer warning: be careful of what you wish for, and how you behave.Libidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthology

Follow the rich pathways of the maze, seek out the minotaur, and, when you find him, look deep into his eyes. There, you’ll see your own self reflected, your own image, prompted by the author’s lens. Remember that each reader brings their own interpretation to the page, and what you find in the labyrinth reveals your own preoccupations, as much as those of he or she who wrote the words.

Enjoy the feast: rich and spicy; grotesque and violent; heart-breaking and bittersweet.

Devour these dishes course by course, without rushing. Savour them to the full.

Libidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthology

 

A collection worthy of your time, featuring:

Rose Caraway, Raziel Moore,Erotic HorrorRemittance Girl, Allen Dusk, Janine Ashbless, Jade. A. Waters, Malin James and Tamsin Flowers.

The Lure of the Forbidden

‘I am a forest, and a night of dark trees.’

― Friedrich Nietzsche (Thus Spoke Zarathustra

 

I am a different person by night.

I breathe more deeply.

What I thirst for is not the reflection in the mirror but something beyond and behind, only visible when there is no light: a realisation of my shadow side.

Thoughts of revenge, debasement, danger, fear, pain and violence, is this my ‘real’ self?

It is, although other selves exist too. They have the daylight.

All are mine: dark and light.

As Jung said: ‘How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.’

My self beyond the mirror desires what cannot be spoken, and what cannot be attained. This ache may be soothed but it cannot be satisfied. Whatever I imagine, it will never be enough, for my desire is always to want more: to grasp at what is out of reach.

I walk a balancing act between light and shade, between my ‘civilised’ self and that which flickers and dissolves at the edges.

‘I am terrified by this dark thing

That sleeps in me;

All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.’

― Sylvia Plath (Ariel)

In Joseph Kessel’s Belle de Jour (1928), Séverine knows well that her indulgence of her ‘dark’ self – which wishes to lose its conventional, public identity and surrender only to desire and sensation, without thought of consequences – endangers her ‘social’ self.

Belle de Jour film poster

The story is best known through Catherine Deneuve’s portrayal of the icily beautiful housewife, in Luis Bunuel’s film (1967). Compelled by desires she cannot articulate, let alone share with her husband, Pierre, she is drawn into an alternate sexual world, choosing to spend each afternoon working at a brothel.

The greater her revulsion with her clients, the greater her satisfaction, yet she seeks continually, without finding true fulfillment. She experiences little ‘conscious’ choice, driven almost mad by her need to act out fantasies of masochism and debasement: to be forcefully subdued, to ‘lose’ her usual sense of self.

Her desires make no sense to her; she only knows that she must serve them.

The story’s tension lies not in her compulsions but in her knowledge that they are incompatible with her ‘other life’ and her love for Pierre. For him to discover the truth is inconceivable. She sends one of her lovers, Marcel, to murder the man she thinks will betray her and it is upon this moment that Fate twists the course of the story, turning the blade towards Pierre.belle de jour

The shock of almost losing him drives Séverine to renounce her sexual yearnings and devote herself to the long-term care of her terribly injured husband.

The final tragedy is that her desire, and her shame, live on sufficiently to drive her to confess all and, in so doing, bring to pass the very reaction she most feared: Pierre’s revulsion and his repudiation of her. In the closing lines of the story, we are told that he refuses ever after to speak to her.

Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut, based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story, also examines ‘unbridled’ desires, including concealment of the truth and feelings of guilt. A woman tormented by relentless dark fantasies involving a man she encounters briefly, reveals the details to her husband: a scene intimately constructed in the film, whereby Nicole Kidman whispers her confession of her ‘raw self’ to Tom Cruise.

Eyes Wide Shut - promotional film posterAroused and resentful, he allows himself his own act of transgression by entering a twilight world: attending a secret, orgiastic gathering, at which he is an intruder. It is for this segment that the film is best known: its glitteringly dark, dream-like depiction of a sinister, masquerade sex party. Much is left unexplained, elevating the sense of danger.

What these books (and the resulting films) share is their portrayal of the lure of the forbidden. However much we experience and possess and taste, it is never quite enough, because our imagination always craves more.

We feel, almost instinctively, the seduction of what lies on the darker side of the mirror, where the norms of social behaviour no longer apply.

George Bataille (in Guilty) wrote: ‘Eroticism is the brink of the abyss. We’re brought to the edge by uncontrolled ecstasy. This is the stage of rupture, of letting go of things.’

Similarly, he said: ‘The need to go astray, to be destroyed, is an extremely private, distant, passionate, turbulent truth.’

And here it is. In fiction, we seek both to ‘escape’ and to ‘find’ ourselves. We seek an echo of our nature within the pages, while hoping also to set aside the constraints of ‘reality’: to ‘lose’ ourselves, as we do in ultimate moments of sexual arousal.

We want danger.

We want extremes.

We want the duality of pleasure and pain.

We want the forbidden.

In Japan, diners delight at the tingle of poison on their lips from the carefully prepared puffer fish, knowing how close they are to danger, to death.

So it can be with our erotic nature.

What greater triumph is there than to feel your mortality and to conquer it?

In reaching a heightened sexual state, we are of the flesh and beyond the flesh: we are corporeal and spiritual. We feel our mortality and we transcend it. At that moment of sublime ecstasy, we ‘defy’ death, becoming more than bone and blood.

We see beyond the mirror.

We see the hidden self.

 

Bibliography

Joseph Kessel: Belle de Jour (1928)

Arthur Schnitzler: Dream Story (1926)

 

To taste my own darkly erotic pen, visit my Amazon page.

 

F. Leonora Solomon kindly first hosted this article as a guest blog on her site.

Many thanks Leonora xxx

Seven Tales of Sex and Death, by Patricia Duncker: a review

 

 Hallucinating Foucault : Patricia Duncker Having adored Patricia’s ‘Hallucinating Foucault’ (1996) and enjoyed ‘The Deadly Space Between: A Novel’ (2002), I felt compelled to try this collection of her The Deadly Space Between: Patricia Duncker - a reviewshort stories.

The author writes that her intention was to ‘disturb and provoke’. To this end, I believe she is partially successful, since two of the tales, particularly, continue to haunt me.

Moreover, I’m left asking myself why, which I’m sure is what Ms. Duncker would be pleased to hear.

They highlight the erotic relationship between violence and sex, yet neither tale is arousing in the traditional sense, more inspiring horror and revulsion, and yet… there is something.
Patricia Duncker: seven tales of sex and death review‘Stalker’ is the most violent, gruesomely detailed of the seven tales, yet also manages to build a chilling atmosphere of anticipation. Reader beware.

‘Sophia Walters Shaw’ left me similarly disquieted.  Painting an alternative, yet highly recognisable dystopian future, it focuses on the dark underbelly of the sex industry and the work of hired assassins.

The last story, ‘My Emphasis’, seems an ill-fit for the theme, but that it centres on the ‘heroine’ being obliged to maintain the pretence of being a victim of domestic violence. The tale is perhaps the most well-crafted of all, engaging us in the behaviour of a great many characters and drawing out the humour of misunderstandings with a light touch – but it does not move the darker side of me.

Patricia’s ‘Seven Tales of Sex and Death’ (2004) left me wanting more: more sex, more violence, more death. These are such rich seams, enticing us to explore further: to pick apart their interwoven threads and unknot their secrets: shadowy avenues which she plumbed with such heartfelt insight in ‘Hallucinating Foucault’.

 

 

For a taste of my own writing in this genre, visit my Amazon page.