Smut Matters: How Erotica Saved My Life

152113I’m an erotica author and publisher, but I wasn’t always this brazen. I was brought up in England in one of the country’s biggest religious cults. That’s why I was taught that sex was disgusting and that good women should only have it for their husband’s physical health. I learned that sex was painful for a good, honest woman, and that if you had sex before marriage, you’d be used and shunned. But more than that, once you did have sex with a man (and only a man, apparently!), you were morally responsible for his sexual needs from that moment onward. Once he’d had his way with you he’d also go into a state of “shock” if he didn’t get sex from you again. What’s more, if you “gave in” before marriage, that man would cast you aside. This I was told when I was young, because this is what my family were told when they were young. (I write about this in more depth in August McGlaughlin’s anthology Embraceable.)

The truth is, sexual shame is like an illness that gets passed down the ranks. For too many, talking about sex is seen as unhealthy, so it is silenced along with all its potential. And yet it seems to me that silence around sexuality can be one of the first attacks. For instance, the first man I kissed forced me into oral sex and I didn’t even struggle. It was a devastating experience. But I thought it was somehow my responsibility to carry it through. I doubt he thought he was forcing himself on me. What’s more, I never asked him for pleasure. I didn’t even know pleasure existed to be had. I let him assault me like this over and over again.

But here is the most important bit: I didn’t tell my parents about these oral assaults or the way they made me feel.

I didn’t tell anyone. I was too ashamed.

My essay "Love Will Come" appears in A Cafe in Space

My essay “Love Will Come” appears in A Cafe in Space

It would be many years before I’d walk into a bookshop and pick up a copy of Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus. And (as I write about in my essay “Love Will Come” in A Cafe In Space ed. Paul Herron), upon reading the opening pages, I suddenly felt the whole world opening up. So other women had fantasies that were as “depraved” as mine? And, in some cases, they actually wrote them down? How come these women hadn’t been shot in the street?

I’d never told anyone about my vivid sexual fantasies. In fact, since a young age, I’d considered my fantasies as proof that I was evil deep down. I faked orgasms and had extremely painful sex. I’m sad to say I hid the pain from my then partner for years. I pretended I loved to make love.

But there, in the pages of Delta of Venus, I saw my sexuality reflected back to me. It was an incredible moment.

For me, Anais Nin’s erotic writings, including her diaries such as Incest, saved my life. I was so suicidal, deep inside, before I found that book, because I thought my dreams and wishes made me sinful and wrong. Deep down, I thought myself to be irredeemable. I didn’t consider my fantasies, many of which were dark and rough, as worthy of love.

I started to write erotica and porn myself, and though it frightened me at first, it showed me who I was — a queer woman in love with her sexuality; a sexual woman who sought to shame no one. I began to see that I was powerful. That I could have said no to those oral assaults. Yet when I told people I published erotica, they’d snort-laugh or turn away. I saw that they were suffering from the same shame that I had been taught as a child. Until I moved from Britain to the USA over ten years ago now, I learned to hide how seriously I took my erotic writing — I learned to laugh it off, because others needed to laugh at it too.

Today my partner Jacob and I run Go Deeper Press, which we launched over three years ago. Our shame-fighting erotic books include the newly LAMBDA nominated College Dive Bar, 1AM, the erotic anthology Shameless Behavior, Xan West’s queer kink erotica collection Show Yourself to Me, Jacob Louder’s celebrated First series, and the Five Star Stepbrother series from Lady Luck (the first book They Only Speak French in Heaven is currently free at B&N).We founded our business because we loved sexuality and wanted to publish really page-turning books that were also powerfully hot, but unlike numerous other erotic presses of the time, we chose not to limit what authors could submit to us. Yes, we launched into a world in which erotic publishers often told authors they couldn’t submit the kinds fantasies I’d learned to cherish. Guidelines, of course, are any publisher’s rightful choice. But the language some publishers use within them can sometimes be concerning. I remember reading that if one publisher received any watersports stories they’d not only reject them straight away, but would also take such breaches extremely seriously.

Extremely seriously? Like stealing, perhaps? Or sexual assault? Or…?

Here’s what I thought the first time I saw watersports being shamed: So watersports isn’t your thing. Not a problem. Make it clear you don’t want such submissions. But surely there’s no need to shame watersports, along with all those who find pleasure in it! And there’s another side to this. When certain sex acts are shamed in sex writing, what is considered “normal” or “acceptable” by those in power becomes louder and louder, while less normative fantasies are silenced and shamed. For example, the first story in Nin’s Delta of Venus, which is my favorite from the whole collection, might find it very hard to find a publisher today — “The Hungarian Adventurer” contains non-consent, incest, underage sex, public sex, and villainy. And yet that story saved me in so many ways.

I truly believe I’d be dead right now if I hadn’t have opened that book.

The truth is, when publishers and authors say, “People shouldn’t write about incest” or “People shouldn’t write about dangerous sex” or “People shouldn’t write BDSM that doesn’t come with safe words”, they’re really saying something about every person who has ever fantasized about those things. I don’t talk about it very often, but I have a British degree in Psychology and I specialized in Psychodynamics, so here’s my read: Seeing as sex is suppressed in our society, it must be expressed in our unconscious minds because energy has to go somewhere. And you know what’s in our unconscious minds? Darkness. The Shadow. Our fears. Our woes. Everything we’ve ever been shamed about.

Shame was done to us. We had to force down the things we were taught were shameful. Yet now, the society that shamed us in the first place says we can’t express the fantasies its shame helped us form? That doesn’t seem fair to me and it doesn’t seem loving. If we just keep suppressing and shaming more and more, that is not the route to health.

In fact, when anyone shames anyone for sexual fantasy (e.g. “Oh my God! You don’t read porn, do you?” or “Erotica is so cheap,” or “Porn is gross”), in my mind, they shame and thus harm our society.

As an erotic publisher, I have a different set of guidelines when considering what to publish. Does the work itself make me feel uncomfortable inside, or does it liberate me? Does it make me feel warm? Does it turn me on and have me turning the pages? Does it bring us all something new and fresh? But the thing is, if a work doesn’t make me feel good inside, I’d never go out to shame its author.

(By the way, there’s a lot of great debate about trigger warnings in publishing, and I heartily recommend this discussion between Xan West and Oleander Plume, if you’re interested. But that’s another topic.)

The truth is, smut matters. Porn matters. Erotica matters. Writing, reading, and watching sex matters, even if it isn’t for you. I believe this is one of the reasons many erotica authors have reclaimed the term “smut,” because when we own it, it’s far harder to shame it. It’s also one of the reasons my partner Jacob Louder and I created Go Deeper — because we want to see sex being honored as important, and a great way to do that is by telling stories. See, if you have fantasies, they matter. They matter because they express what needs to be expressed, and they let us play safely with those notions. They allow those notions to live. Because if we kill sexual fantasy — if we grind it underfoot — then we create the teenager who gets orally assaulted (or maybe far worse) in her boyfriend’s car and cannot say no because she has no words.

All she’s been taught is silence.

–Lana Fox

One Response
  1. April 6, 2016