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My experience tells me that a disproportionate number of wannabe writers are prudes. I recently wrote a scene where a female character is watching TV. The build up is complicated so I'll have to explain: a traumatic event has eviscerated character's libido. After 'dirty dancing' with a girlfriend in a night-club, that 'loving feeling' is coming back.

She finds herself home alone watching TV. The scene shows her reaction and thoughts as to what she's seeing on the screen.

Finally home, after an awkward, perplexing day. Cindy won't be home for a while yet. She said she had a thing. Me time is something that's been missing in my life. I take advantage of the opportunity of being home alone. I'm relaxing on the sofa, tucked under my duvet, watching a movie. Normally I skip the sex scenes but today my interest is super-piqued. OMG! These two aren't even going to make to the bedroom. "Hell yeah!" I pump a fist. My girl's ripped his shirt off, buttons flying everywhere. "Woah!" He's hoisted her up onto the kitchen counter. Oh my. She's gone straight for the belt buckle. You go, Girlfriend, you goin' git it now! C'mon hit that bitch hard - give her some what for! My appetite has returned - with interest. I know my body. I'm certain Aunt Flo will be here by the morning, and a little Piggly Wiggly before she gets here will tide me over until the coast is clear. It's been a while. Just when I've slipped my hand into my panties and I'm thinking about slamming my cl*t raw, I hear a key in the door.
Dammit. She's early. I quickly reach for the remote with my free hand and turn off the TV.

"Hi," Cindy says, stepping into the lounge.

"Hi," I squeak, stilling my middle finger. "You're home early. I thought you had a thing?"

"I did, and it was to say the least – enlightening."

"Is that so?"

"Are you okay?" she asks, removing her coat. "You look kinda flushed."

Two minutes. I just needed two minutes! With her back turned to me I reluctantly pull my finger out of my pussy. "I'm fine."

"Did you feed the fish?" she asks, hovering by the tank.

"I was just about to," I reply.

So that's what I wrote . . . People lost their minds! In my defence, the scene she's watching can be seen in any RomCom and her thoughts and actions are not out of place on any popular TV show.

Why the outrage?

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    Is there a reason "clit" is censored when "pussy" or "bitch" isn't? – AmiralPatate Oct 11 at 7:13
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    @AmiralPatate Not really. In the original nothing is censored. If I analyse the possible reasoning behind my largely subconscious decision: "pussy" and "bitch" are both commonplace and ambiguous, "clit" is not. – Surtsey Oct 11 at 7:42
  • I've reread this question several times and I'm still puzzled by the title. In what way do you think the definition or categorization of erotica should be revised? – Llewellyn Oct 11 at 21:15
  • Simply because western society's attitude toward sex has changed (particularly amongst women) has changed. The fact is: people think and talk about sex all the time. In real world stories if a healthy character is not sexually active I begin to worry about them. – Surtsey Oct 11 at 21:46
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In this day and age should the definition / categorisation of erotica be revised?

No. Erotica is a story intended to titillate, it is intended to aid imagination for the purpose of masturbation. Or more generally, for the primary purpose of creating sexual excitement.

If a story contains elements like that, it is probably erotica, even if there is a story line. If the story line is subordinate to creating sexual excitement, it is erotica.

But if sex serves a purpose (marking a transition state for your character) then the sex is an actual turning point, and in a story about real adults is merely realistic. Real people have sex, they masturbate, they engage in kinky stuff. There is nothing wrong with describing it (although some legal restrictions may apply in some jurisdictions; like not depicting child porn, or in some countries not depicting homosexuality).

Like all writing (including battles, torture, etc) it can be overblown, purple, or otherwise badly written, but depicting sex is not the issue.

I certainly don't think erotica needs a redefinition, I also don't find anything wrong with writing it. Sex is definitely a form of entertainment, whether the erotica is used for masturbatory fantasy or role playing or whatever. It can make both men and women feel powerful, loved, accomplished, joyful and the release of sex can, for some time, make them feel happy, content and connected.

Those can be strong story elements in a longer story. Sex can lead to love. Sex can lead to break ups. It is a tool you can use, and describing what was felt can be important, the moment that somebody's character actually changed. Pretending people are mindless in sex and only come to realizations afterward, when their clothes are back on, is unrealistic; leave it to censored TV, where women have sex with their bra on, or everybody has sex under the covers, and after sex (apparently, from the jump cuts used) everybody puts their underwear back on before cuddling. (Honestly I'd rather they just change the camera angle while people get out of bed and get dressed enough to film).

Be realistic. The notion that kids don't see Internet porn and know how it works is ludicrous; the moment they wonder they will find out. Not that Internet porn is realistic, but the mechanics and results are pretty obvious for anybody that wants to find them. I don't know who the outraged think they are protecting by censoring books, when straight-up real-life video filmed by amateurs of nearly everything can be found in a few minutes.

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    Purple? I have never heard that term before. Could you elaborate - for some reason my google-fu is failing me today and I can't find a meaning for this context. – J Crosby Oct 10 at 16:50
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    @JCrosby Purple in this context means "purple prose" - prose that's unnecessarily elaborate, full of flowery metaphors. It's quite common in cheap erotica. – F1Krazy Oct 10 at 16:53
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    @JCrosby Yes, as F1Krazy says, "purple prose". Basically when the sex becomes mythical, mind-shattering, soul-rending, etc. Over-the-top, as if sex has to be the most unbelievable thing that ever happened to anyone ever, in order to be worth having. Writing so florid and embellished it calls attention to itself; the reader realizes they are reading and there is an author that chose this convoluted description, so it breaks the reader's immersion in the story because logic kicks in to analyze the words and structure. Sometimes it is laughable. This has the opposite effect of what was intended. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 10 at 17:13
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    @JCrosby re Purple Prose: see here. writing.stackexchange.com/questions/1152/… – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Oct 10 at 17:25
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    @JCrosby It's not limited to erotica. For example, have the first two sentences of The Eye of Argon: "The weather beaten trail wound ahead into the dust racked climes of the baren land which dominates large portions of the Norgolian empire. Age worn hoof prints smothered by the sifting sands of time shone dully against the dust splattered crust of earth." There are nine adjectives there (most of them two+ words!) and the story hasn't storied yet. Its called "purple" because its like the story got bruised after taking a beating. – Draco18s Oct 11 at 17:32
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You didn't say who lost their minds, but your question implies that it was wannabe writers. Did you read this to a writers' group? It is quite explicit erotically, and it's not right to assume that everybody should be comfortable reading it or hearing about it. Labeling them "prudes" says that there's something wrong with their attitude. It would show respect for others to preface such material with an announcement that it contains vivid sexual content and give people a chance to opt out.

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    This is the key point to the outrage, Consent is important when it comes to sexual acts, You (hopefully) wouldn't call someone a prude for not wanting to watch a porn video and you would hopefully respect that consent. by taking a piece of reading like this to a regular book meet and not giving people a significant heads up (e.g. explaining you have pretty explicit scenes) you are skipping the consent step and people are rightfully going to feel hurt/distrustful/upset by this. – J.Doe Oct 11 at 15:37
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Why the outrage?

Well, first off, I think you overestimate the acceptability of showing masturbation in a TV show. Even showing a character going through the motions of it is fairly crass, and something I would expect from an It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-type show. Still, I doubt you'd get the reaction you're describing from a scene where a woman starts to put her hand down her pants. The real issue is lines like these

Just when I've slipped my hand into my panties and I'm thinking about slamming my cl*t raw

With her back turned to me I reluctantly pull my finger out of my pussy.

No TV show would ever show either of these things. Yes, those actions would be implied by a depiction of a woman masturbating, but you're not implying it. You're showing it directly to the reader. Explicitly showing a woman rubbing her clitoris or putting her fingers in her vagina is already pushing it for something like Starz or Showtime. It would absolutely be outrageous on network TV.

tl;dr: How you show something is as important as what you're showing, if not more so.

  • I beg to differ. (a) I've seen a hundred scenes where suburban mom walks into teen son's bedroom to get him up for school and is forced to make a u-turn. (b) TV and literature are different mediums. As a visual scene on TV this is nothing on account of she's under her duvet! – Surtsey Oct 10 at 23:04
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    @Surtsey, that's eyeballfrog's point. It's nothing on TV because they can't show those details, so they just flirt with the idea. The audience gets titillated by the dirty humor of the scene without anything graphic. You have gone far past the metaphorical flirting all the way to metaphorical and literal penetration, so the impact on your audience is quite different. – wordsworth Oct 11 at 4:09
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    @Surtsey You're not gonna see a woman masturbating on TV in a normal show. You're not even gonna see a man masturbate on TV in a normal show. The only variety of movie that shows scenes like that and isn't straight-up porn is sex comedies like There's Something about Mary, American Pie, The 40yo Virgin and other Judd Atapow flicks. And even those scenes don't show nudity. Your excerpt explicitly mentions digital penetration and sexual frustration about interruption, topics you're not gonna see outside of actual porn. – Nzall Oct 11 at 13:42
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Some background. Erotica, as a genre, means that mind-blowing sex is the point of the story. If you take away the sex and the story just isn't interesting, or no longer has a point, then it's erotica. Otherwise it just has erotic themes.

So why the outrage?

Well. I have only theories, but here they are all the same.

First. 'traumatic event eviscerated character's libido', then brought back by 'dirty dancing'. This is a problematic approach. For two reasons. One, it can be taken to perpetuate that asexuality is the result of 'traumatic event'. Two, it can be taken to mean that therapy doesn't help, you just need to get over it.

Whether that was your intent is irrelevant. What little you said can be taken out of context and understood this way. It's why 'traumatic event' (heedless of what you mean by this) is hard to write well.

Second. It could be a simple case of sexualizing women, and/or sexualizing lesbians. Don't get me wrong, I love me some smut. I love me lesfic, and I love F/F romance. In fact, it's almost exclusively what I write these days (though less so for the smut).

But. It's possible that people can get a bit touchy if a non-lesbian writes lesbian fiction. Not because it's hard, but because it's hard to write a lesbian's life experience if you're a straight woman (I've dated straight women, they're usually clueless about lesbian experiences). It's made worse if you're perceived as a man. And it only adds insult to injury if you're perceived as a straight man writing women-loving-women fiction.

Is everything you wrote realistic? From what little I've seen, no. Not really. The events themselves are fine, it's the context of 'traumatic event' not once crossing the character's mind. Sexuality (and sex drive) aren't switches that can be flicked on and off. And furthermore, there are few women I know that dive straight in when they know they have time (your mileage may vary).

A more natural progression (which is super dependant on the type of woman, but generally speaking) would be something along the lines of:

  • character (she) sees sexy-time scene on tv
  • she isn't bothered (it doesn't trigger her)
  • she starts to question why she isn't bothered
  • she figures it doesn't matter (tells herself, "she keeps telling me to live in the moment")
  • can she imagine herself in scene? if yes, she imagines herself and love interest acting out scene. if no, changes channel
  • cuddle hormones are released (arousal point in women) she wants to touch and be touched, skin starts feeling soft, every move on couch highlights her body feels different
  • starts to affect breathing, 'the itch' starts up and wants to scratch it
  • depending on what she's into, she might then go in for the kill, but again that isn't common. this is where most (if not all) women enjoy being teased, temporarily being denied what they want/need, with the promise they'll get it and more if they're patient.

Do you see how different my progression is from yours?

  • Just for clarification, "figures it doesn't matter": Figures what doesn't matter? Who is "she" in "she keeps telling me"? I don't understand this step; do you mean "it doesn't matter" that she isn't bothered, or it doesn't matter if she feels interested in the scene, or is aroused by it? – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 10 at 18:09
  • @Faith85. A hard no on so many levels. – Surtsey Oct 10 at 22:55
  • @Amadeus Is it clearer now? – Fayth85 Oct 11 at 0:23
  • @Surtsey No on...which levels? No that isn't why people are upset? I admitted from the start of my answer that it's theories. Frankly, I speak to a lot of lesbians, and these are the common complaints I hear from them. If I am being inaccurate, where? If I am portraying you inaccurately, where? How exactly would you like me to improve my answer to better address your original question? – Fayth85 Oct 11 at 0:25
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    @Surtsey I see. Well, that would explain a lot. You might want to be explicit, or you'll get interpretations that do not align with your intentions. – Fayth85 Oct 11 at 17:00
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It seems this is less a question of being prude and more a question of mismatched expectations.

Erotica comes in different forms - same as porn - as soft romantic form and hard pornographic form. If your book mixes extremes of both forms that easily triggers frustrations in either target group.

If you even go so far to put explicit scenes into otherwise non-erotic genres this can be even more surprising and shock an audience. That has nothing to do with being prude, and everything to do with expectations. If you read a novel, sci-fi or fantasy you typically do not expect explicit (hard) sex scenes (unless perhaps it is a fanfiction or a book of a particular mixed sub-genre).

Sex happening can in principle be an important element of a story, but then it mostly suffices to know that it happened. Scenes that illicit arousal serve a different more self-serving function of sexual fantasizing and masturbation inspiration. If placed in the middle of a book that otherwise is driven by story telling, deep characters, intellectual challenges etc. then for most people who like to read such books, this is an annoying distraction at best and likely offensive. Sex is still an intimate topic, even if it were not - most delicacies are way more enjoyable when they are properly introduced and not stuffed into your head when you least expect it. Too much erotic writing in an otherwise dry intellectual story can be like a fat soaked big burger presented as the desert of an exquisite five course menu in a five-star restaurant.

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