Yesterday, Burning Book Press sent out a call for submissions for a ‘Best Male Erotica Anthology 2013‘ to be edited by Raziel Moore and Will Crimson.
Historically, pornographic (sexually explicit) writing has been almost the exclusive preserve of men, although ironically the etymology of pornography is Greek and means ‘the writing of prostitutes’. With some notable early exceptions, like the poems of Sappho and the Heptameron, attributed to Queen Marguerite de Navarre, the vast majority of erotic works well into the 20th Century were written by men and for men. With the publication of female writers of erotic fiction such as Anais Nin, Marguerite Duras and Pauline Réage, erotic fiction took an interesting turn towards being female-focused. This evolution corresponds historically to the rise in the availability of pornographic magazines, and film and video pornography. Socially, there is evidence that men were increasingly more likely to opt for visual representations of sexuality while women preferred textual ones. There have been interesting discussions as to why that is – ranging from biological differences in sexual responses between the sexes to sociological double-standards when it comes to how publicly ‘sexual’ it has been acceptable for the different genders to be in the eyes of society.
Today, however, both the market and the industry of erotica publishing are undeniably dominated by women. As consumers, writers, publishers and editors. Erotica itself has changed radically in the last 10 years, with Erotic Romance slowly eclipsing the Erotica genre.
At the same time, it is worth noting that many men express an interest in both writing and reading erotic fiction. Many have expressed their dissatisfaction with pornography as the only mediated expression of erotic narrative. And yet our culture still perpetuates the assertion that ‘real men watch porn’.
It’s fair to say that both men and women watch porn. Visual porn has its place for all genders. But one of the problems with visual porn is that it short-circuits the use of the imagination for many people who consume it. Porn SHOWS us how sex should be and it always only shows an ‘ideal’.
Even when writing is highly descriptive, it cannot tell a reader everything. It depends on the reader to ‘complete the picture’ to a certain extent. Text requires the reader to generate their own mental images and this means that these images will inevitably be more contextual to the reader’s lived experience, more personal, more intimate. Good erotic writing allows the reader space to bring their own erotic nuances to the scenes they hatch in their imaginations, prompted by the words they read on the page.
There will be a lot of men and women who are simply too mentally lazy to do that imagination work themselves. They rather have their sexual spectacle delivered to them on a plate. And the more they depend on that sort of ‘closed’ dose of mediated sex, the less workout their sexual imagination muscles get, the flabbier they become. Well, it’s pretty much like fast food. You know what you’re getting, it’s quick, and in the long run, it probably isn’t very good for you.
However, there are an increasing number of men who do want the opportunity to exercise those erotic imagination muscles, but when they go to read a piece of erotica, many times they find that either a) it’s so badly written, it jars them out of their engagement with the story or b) its so female-focused and female voiced, it is not addressing their experience of sexuality at all.
Let us dispense with the fallacy that only men are visual or that men are ONLY visual. It’s not true. The gender split for sci-fi readers is pretty much 50/50, which is another literary genre that requires a great deal of reader imagination. I think our culture has brainwashed men into believing that are more dependent on the visual when it comes to sex than they really are. And this lie has served the producers of sexually explicit visual products very well.
The erotica genre really needs to address both genders, and I believe that it can. But let us start by acknowledging that there are differences in what we seek in our textual erotic material. That those differences should not be barriers or hurdles but should make us not only feel welcome, as readers, in the work, but also encourage us to take a peek over the wall into foreign territory.
I’m hoping this anthology will do well. I suspect that many women will be keen to take a wander into the textual eroticism of the male mind. Moreover, I’m hoping it will also tempt male readers to do a little fence jumping themselves. It is fine to celebrate the themes, situations, imagery that turns us on, but it is truly both a pleasure and an adventure when we realize that we can find eroticism in what turns ‘the other’ on.
Postscript: Please note that the call for the anthology doesn’t exclude authors of any gender. The editors are looking for erotic stories from a male POV, but female & trans authors are welcome to submit so long as their story fits the bill.