by Jacob Louder
Hopefully you’ve already heard about what’s happening this Thursday, March 5, and you’ve made your plans accordingly. Need a hint? Okay. It involves one of your favorite things (erotic books), offers some amazing prizes (more erotic books, sex toys, admittance to erotic events), and provides an opportunity for you to do good with your money by donating to a sexuality/sex education website for young adults (Brook if you’re in the UK, Scarleteen if you’re in the US, or both if your heart is big and wallet is thick).
We have many people to thank for this event, for assembling the great prizes, and for putting tons of creativity and effort into making Erotic World Book Day sexy, fun, and educational, but we went after the head honcho, Emily Dubberley, who has being doing great things for erotica and sexuality/sex education since 2001, when she founded the erotica website Cliterati. Busy lady that she is, Emily was kind enough to answer a few of my questions and with such gusto, I just can’t thank her enough. But I will ask you, Emily Dubberley interview reader, to help me thank her by doing this: in true spirit of Erotic World Book Day, consider changing your Facebook/Twitter profile picture to this, donate to Brook or Scarleteen, and don’t forget to pick up An Intimate Education, since all proceeds go to Brook. Also, don’t forget to show up to the Facebook party with bells on. Or with no bells on—whichever suits your mood best.
Hey Emily! Let’s cut right to it: what was the first erotic book you read, and which one’s your favorite?
Aside from Forever by Judy Blume (I was the girl who passed round the dog-eared copy at school, and will never forget Ralph), my first “adult” erotic book was Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden. While it’s not technically erotica since it’s non-fiction, the fantasies women shared in it made me realize how diverse people’s desires were, and made me feel less guilty about my own fantasies. I was a teenager when I read it, and it subsequently inspired me to research whether women wanted their sexual fantasies to come true for my Social Psychology dissertation, and write my own fantasy book 20 years later when I discovered Nancy Friday was unlikely to write another one (she wrote several follow-ups, including Men in Love, about male sexual fantasy, and Women on Top, which showed how women’s fantasies had changed since her first book.) When I wrote Garden of Desires, I was the same age Nancy Friday was when she wrote My Secret Garden, which made it feel even more of a dream come true. And it was great to be able to evolve from what she had done by actively pushing to make Garden of Desires inclusive of all women/people who identify towards female on the gender spectrum, rather than just targeting cis women.
“Women are still dying because of outdated beliefs about gender, and these so-called feminists are fueling that by perpetuating bigotry and hate.”
In 2001, Cliterati was formed with the intention of providing adult material for women in the form of both erotica and education. Feminist porn has now made its mark in the porn industry, even before all the hubbub of Fifty Shades of Grey, and erotica is selling like hot cakes, partly due to the success of E.L. James’ series. In what ways would you like to see the female-oriented erotica/adult industry grow? What changes, if any, would you implement?
I’d love it if we could actually get the idea of binary gender confined to the past: it’s one of the reasons [Cliterati] changed from being a site “for women” to a site “originally for women, now for all.” It’s hard to run a site for women once you realize gender is a construct. (Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System by Maria Lugones was a particularly world-changing academic paper for me and is well worth reading.) Research shows that gender is far from binary, and it makes me sad when women who claim to be feminist—particularly “big names”—ignore all the research—from biologists, historians, sociologists, and beyond—to repeat outdated views based on nothing more than their own ignorance, particularly when they use language that contributes to trans-stigma. To me, it puts blood on their hands. Women are still dying because of outdated beliefs about gender, and these so-called feminists are fuelling that by perpetuating bigotry and hate (often while complaining about being “bullied” after they’re pulled up on using slurs).
Similarly, it would be great if we could develop a more accurate view of sex work and sex workers by listening to what they are saying. Again and again, sex workers have said decriminalization would save lives and help minimize abuse. Again and again, they are ignored by people influenced by non-scientific research (often funded by religious groups) and so-called feminists who refuse to see sex workers as women (which doesn’t seem terribly feminist to me). I love that Belle de Jour’s popularity led to Brook Magnanti being able to release The Sex Myth, since it helped expose some of the hypocrisy/“zombie stats,” but it’d be good to see more sex workers writing erotica. Many certainly have great stories to share, and it’d be good to see something that didn’t perpetuate tired old myths. It’d also be great if women stopped slut-shaming each other whether in real life or in print (unslutproject.com is doing some amazing work around this, and I’d love to see their film released globally).
“…It would be nice if there was more mainstream erotica that reflected the rest of us who don’t fit into a narrow category that reflects the advertiser-led ideal perpetuated by many mainstream magazines.”
I’d also love it if erotica (and the sex industry/fetish world in general) could stop being so white-centric, and women of color got more profile/support for their work. While I feel it would be inappropriate for me to claim being a womanist, as I’m white, it’s a movement that I identify with far more than feminism nowadays, and is well worth looking into, as women of color have done many amazing things that have been ignored/co-opted by “white feminists.” Womanism has a much better hold on inclusivity than the pop-culture version of feminism that we are currently bombarded with.
And it’d be great if people could be more inclusive of disability, and people of all shapes and sizes. Too many books focus on stereotypically slim, white, heteronormative, conventionally attractive heroines and similarly “handsome” billionaire heroes. While that’s fine, since there’s certainly a market for it, and there’s nothing wrong with fantasizing about “beautiful” people getting whisked away in a consumerist dream, it would be nice if there was more mainstream erotica that reflected the rest of us who don’t fit into a narrow category that reflects the advertiser-led ideal perpetuated by many mainstream magazines.
All the above feeds into why Cliterati has changed to include more news and activism. There’s still a lot of work to be done. When the site started, there was hardly any erotica online for women, and that was a need I wanted to fulfill. Now, there is lots of great erotica, but many sexualities/people are still ignored, and there’s a ton of sex stigma to fight. We want to help amplify people who are doing amazing things and would love to have as diverse a base of writers as possible. It’s something we’re constantly working on, though we still have a long way to go before it’s as diverse as I want it to be. So, get in touch if you’re in a minority who tends to be ignored (including asexuality. I see no reason why asexual erotica shouldn’t be a genre. Some asexuals enjoy self-pleasure, and I’d love us to have stories that catered to their needs without including anything triggering.)
“My ideal would be a day when no one sought advice from a ‘sexpert’ because everyone was comfortable enough with themselves to communicate with their partner(s), and there wasn’t stigma attached to sex acts that are ‘outside the norm.'”
One thing I love about Erotic World Book Day is its inclusivity. It’s not designed only to celebrate heterosexual sex, but everybody sex. Do you find that most readers are willing to explore other sexual and gender identities through erotica, or do readers mainly stick to “what they know”?
I honestly couldn’t tell you, since I deal far more with erotic writers than readers, though I do think that people are starting to get more open, and there have certainly been a fair few people admitting to discovering new desires through the conversations we’ve been having in the #EWBD discussion group.
I’d love to think it was a case of “if you build it, they will come,” but I think society has a huge effect on what people are prepared to explore—publicly, at least. Nancy Friday said in My Secret Garden that, in sharing their fantasies, women give each other permission to be sexual. The effect Fifty Shades had certainly backs that up. When Sex and the City was on, we used to find people submitting (non-fan fiction) fantasies about what had happened in the show in their droves, so I certainly think that people are prepared to explore new things, particularly when “given permission” to. It’s one of the reasons activism and erotica are so linked for me.
What’s a sex education tip you wish everyone knew?
Everyone is different, and there is no “right” way to have sex. To me, sex is a form of communication, not a series of acts. Even masturbation communicates self-love. You wouldn’t expect magazines to run articles on how to have a conversation, so why tell people how to have sex? That may sound hypocritical, since I’ve written so many sex books, but I’ve tried to carry this message through all the books as far as I could. My ideal would be a day when no one sought advice from a “sexpert” because everyone was comfortable enough with themselves to communicate with their partner(s), and there wasn’t stigma attached to sex acts that are “outside the norm” (particularly given that there hasn’t been enough research done to define a norm—and I say that as someone who tried to read every academic paper written about female sexuality over the last 40 years during my research for Garden of Desires). And it’d be nice if people could feel free not to have sex without feeling guilty or being labeled negatively, too.
If there was a brand new erotic sensation like Fifty Shades, what would you like to see explored in the plot/dynamic?
I’d like to see a book that doesn’t present “happily ever after/marriage” as the ultimate goal and avoids the heroine being “rescued” by a handsome man. There’s nothing wrong with heteronormative romantic escapism if that’s your bag, but it is far from the only way. I tried to subvert this in Blue Mondays and made every date as affordable as possible. (Almost all of them were free. The most expensive “date” was a [reverse] makeover in a Sussex Beacon charity shop!) I had to go gently, since it was an erotic romance for a mainstream publisher, and there were certain things outside my control (there had to be a man and woman romantically involved at the core), but I’m hoping I pushed the boundaries at least a little. I was very pleased that I managed to get a mention of agender in there, even though it was only glancing. Baby steps….
Find all the details of Erotic World Book Day by clicking right here, and don’t forget to purchase An Intimate Education, which will be available on Amazon this Thursday, March 5. See you at the party!