Sunday, August 16, 2009

Anatomically Correct?

by Lisabet Sarai

I write erotica and erotic romance at the more intense end of the heat scale. I'm not afraid to use explicit language when the story requires it. I've never had particular trouble calling a “throbbing pillar of male flesh” by one of its common names. So it may come as a surprise to readers to learn that one of my pet peeves in erotic writing is an excessive focus on body parts.

All it takes is one mention of a character's G-spot and I'm ready to throw the book across the room. (Of course, I won't really do that, as it would cause serious damage to my beloved Eee PC, but I'm speaking figuratively.) I would rather not hear about how one hunk's back entry stimulates the other hunk's prostate. I couldn't care less when a heroine's fingers tickle the hero's perineum. I even get a bit annoyed by incessant references to women's clits, grateful though I am that men finally did discover that delightful little nubbin.

My objections are not rooted in squeamishness. I've written scenes that my publishers wouldn't print because they were too extreme. My main objection to all this anatomy is that it doesn't matter. It's distracting. Especially in romance, but even in erotica, the emphasis should be on the characters' feelings – both their emotions and their sensations.

The fact is that when you are making love or even just having sex, you are typically not thinking about either yourself or your partner in terms of discrete organs or erogenous zones. Sex is an integrated experience, and sexual feelings are diffuse. I don't really know, exactly, when someone is licking my clit. The feelings ripple away from the point of stimulation and affect my whole body. I would bet a month's royalties that no man, being penetrated, thinks, “Oh God, yes, I can feel him rubbing against my prostate, and it's fantastic.” No, he's more likely thinking, “Oh yeah, give me more!”. Or perhaps not thinking at all, just reveling in the physical sensations and his own emotional reactions.

An author's goal should be to have her readers identify and empathize with her characters. In a sex scene, she wants the reader firmly ensconced in the character's head. Explicit descriptions do play a role in achieving this objective. They may arouse the reader, making it easier for her to imagine the character's experience. We're conditioned to react sexually to words like “nipple” and “cock”. Dirty words evoke sexy feelings. A skillful erotic author takes advantage of this conditioning.

Overuse, however, blunts the reaction to sexual terminology. In addition, an excess of physical details will draw the reader's attention to the characters' bodies and away from their minds and hearts. The reader becomes an observer rather than a vicarious participant in the scene.

Furthermore, it is the psychological associations of sexual acts, as much as the acts themselves, that make them exciting. Let's consider anal sex once again. (I will admit that it is a favorite literary topic of mine.) Yes, it can feel great if done correctly. But personally, I think the reason that anal entry is so exciting is because it is something of a taboo. In addition, there is a larger element of trust involved in allowing anal penetration than in other sexual acts. It is especially intimate because of the risk of injury and the element of surrender on the part of the individual being penetrated. It is special, regardless of whether the prostate is stimulated or in whether in fact any prostate is involved, because of the bond that it can create between the participants—in the case of erotic romance, the characters.

I'm particularly put off by references to the G-spot because the notion of a magic key that unlocks female ecstasy is so antithetical to the core tenets of romance. In my view, it's not what's being done to you that counts—it is who is doing it. I suppose that some people may experience sex differently, but for me at least, arousal is as much mental, even spiritual, as it is physical. I truly believe my tag-line: imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac.


  1. Lisabet,

    Excellent post! I laughed out loud with your challenge to find a man who thinks, during penetration, “Oh God, yes, I can feel him rubbing against my prostate, and it's fantastic.”

    It sounds like 'Rain Man' having an orgasm!



  2. Hi, Ash,

    You should read some of the M/M erotic romance that I have. There's practically a prostate on every page!


  3. Hi Lisabet,

    I can see that as a marketing campaign: A PROSTATE ON EVERY PAGE!

    I'm actually scared to google the phrase in case it comes up with any hits.



  4. ROFL!

    Ya'll are killing me!

    Great post, Lisabet. It really is jarring to suddenly be transported from an erotic story to an anatomy textbook, and I will be the first to admit, some time ago there was a term used in an erotic story that forced me (curiosity put a gun to my head) to put the book aside and Google the word I'd just read.

    And sadly, once out of the story, I didn't return right away. The story was all right, but those sudden stops and jolts made it a less enjoyable experience, and well, I've never had a desire to read anything else by that author. I can't say the anatomy lesson is the only reason, but it certainly didn't help my impression of the author's work.

  5. Oh my Gawd, you two are crazy.

    Lisabet, another wonderful post to our newest topic. It's going to be one very interesting week. Words are such slippery little beasties.


  6. I agree with avoidance of rote stick-tab-a-in-slot-b descriptions. This robs the reader of a much deeper, more involved experience.

    That said, I raise a brow at the idea we can't feel when a clit is being licked, et. al. That's hardly an event I can personally overlook, and my discovery of the G-spot orgasm is a red letter day in my sexual history. There's a huge difference, enough to where I appreciate seeing these distinctions made in a scene. Helps me get more closely "into" where the characters are at. They simply shouldn't take the place of fully rounded, all-senses-included writing.

  7. Hi Lisabet!

    I want to add my "Me Too!" to this. I paricularly find the expression "pre-cum" ooky, because it sounds so clinical. I forbid anyone here to use that expression in a scene.

    I've been snacking on Raw Silk lately and I'm always impressed by the internal nature of the sex scenes. Some of them last for several pages, which is amazing in itself and they never get clinical.

    Hey! Angela! I found this link to your web site where you say encouraging things about our little blog which I just want to say Hear! Hear! and thank you for.


  8. Hi, J.Rose,

    Thanks for joining us. Your point is well-taken. It is all too easy to get lazy and not describe sensual impressions. My personal sexual sensations might be more diffuse than other people's. I definitely don't think anatomically when someone is going down on me!
    Hello, Angela,

    A clinical term can be a real turn-off, though everyone differs. I use "penis" fairly frequently, getting sick of writing "cock" again and again. Some people find that unsexy. Using a term that's not only clinical but also unfamiliar as you describe can really kill the reader's involvement.

    Ashley, Jude and Garce,

    I'm dying to read what you have to say on this topic!


  9. Lisabet, interesting. And while I agree with most of what you've said, certainly keeping the focus on romance, and, actually, I only write erotic romance, I do know when my clit is being licked. It's not just a generalized sensation of pleasure. I prefer to be explicit about certain actions taking place like that, though, this stuff about the clinical terms... yeah, right, I'm thinking about vagina, etc. while in the throes of passion, please...


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