Monday, October 13, 2014

Discovering Yourself, Somewhere Else

By Lisabet Sarai

Anyone who has read much of my work or followed my blogs will know that I'm passionate about travel. My husband seduced me in a Burmese restaurant by telling me tales of his own international adventures. With him at my side, I've visited every continent except Australia (though I still have a long wish list of places we haven't been) as well as at least three quarters of the U.S. states. In less than two weeks, in fact, we’re leaving for ten days in a brand new country – part business, part pleasure, but I’m certain it will be fascinating.

Our topic at the Grip this fortnight is “Voyages and Quests”. I’m not the first to note that erotic novels often take the forms of a voyage of self-discovery. The protagonist begins the book unaware of his or her own needs and sexual proclivities. Over the course of the book, by participating in various erotic scenarios, the central character learns sometimes shocking truths about his or her carnal tendencies and what is required to satisfy them. Consider The Story of O, Molly Weatherfield’s Safe Word, Anneke Jacob’s As She’s Told, or Donna George Storey’s marvelous Amorous Woman. In each of these books, the heroine would never have believed, at the start of the tale, what she would be willing and eager to do by the end.

My first and second novels, Raw Silk and Incognito, definitely fit this model. In the former, the heroine Kate, though no nun, struggles to accept ongoing revelations about her sexual insatiability and her cravings for submission. In the latter, Miranda progresses from a woman so sexually damanged that she can let go of her inhibitions only in encounters with strangers to one who can integrate her prodigious appetite for sexual adventure with true emotional intimacy.

The journey in erotic fiction frequently feels like a spiralling down, a tunnelling inward toward the darkest desires buried in the core of one’s psyche. Or perhaps the process is more onion-like, peeling away the layers of self-delusion and conventional propriety to get to the juicy heart of unvarnished lust.

There’s something about physical travel that accelerates this process. We’re more open to experience when we’re away from the routine of our everyday lives, more vulnerable and also more accepting. Travelling offers a sort of freedom—freedom to be anonymous, to do things that might be a bit too outrageous in a city or a country where someone might recognize you.

I’ve explored this quite a lot in my fiction. One of the first short stories I published was “Butterfly”, in Mitzi Szereto's second volume of erotic travel tales, about an expat construction worker who falls in love with a transgendered Bangkok bar girl. Mitzi's next volume, entitled Foreign Affairs, included my M/M/F tale “Vows”, set in Luang Prabang, Laos—a story about the sexual craziness engendered by foreign climes. “Crowd Pleaser” is another example. A married couple travels to New Orleans to very publicly celebrate their anniversary. (The links above will take you to free versions of these stories on my website.)

One of my personal favourite sex and travel episodes occurs in Incognito. Most of Incognito is set in Boston, but this chapter moves to London. Miranda (a Harvard PhD student doing her dissertation on Victorian erotica) has been invited to participate in a panel discussion at a prestigious academic conference in London. She journeys there with Mark, the sexually irrepressible lover who has finally won her trust. Promising a surprise, he shows up at their hotel with bags from Harrods and enough make-up to turn Miranda into a slender, buff young man whom he christens “Randy”. 

The door was opened by a clean-shaven young man wearing a crimson bellboy’s uniform. He looked them up and down in an openly appraising manner. What he saw must have satisfied him, for he nodded and gave them a stiff little smile. “Good evening, gentlemen. Welcome to the Harkness Club.” They followed him into a modest anteroom furnished with coat hooks, an umbrella rack, and hunting prints. At the far end of the room was an arch covered with red velvet drapes. With a flourish, their guide pulled back the drapes to let them pass. “The curtain rises,” murmured Mark under his breath. Electric anticipation shot through Miranda’s body.

She was not sure what to expect, but her initial reaction was disappointment. The room on the other side of the curtains was large but remarkably ordinary. A gleaming mahogany bar ran along one wall. Brass trim and ranks of glassware suspended from the ceiling reflected the golden light of ceiling fixtures with oiled paper shades. The rest of the room contained shadowy groupings of low tables and chairs. Semicircular couches hugged the wall in the corners. The room was fairly full. People perched on bar stools, clustered around the tables, or simply stood around in tight knots with their drinks. Some violin piece played softly in the background. The swelling sound of conversation frequently overwhelmed it.

It took Miranda three breaths to realise that every one of the patrons was male.

The rich panelling, leather upholstery and old-fashioned lighting were so quintessentially traditional that Miranda expected more foxes and hounds, or perhaps flowers and fruit, to adorn the walls. When she looked closely at the many paintings, however, she saw that they were male nudes, artistic as opposed to raunchy, but undeniably erotic. She looked at Mark. “This is a gay bar,” she whispered, feeling a tiny hint of panic.

Mark grinned ever so slightly. “Well, you might call it that. I prefer to think of it as a gentleman’s club.”

As they walked into the room, Miranda felt the eyes of the patrons, discreetly surveying the new arrivals. She was suddenly, intensely, aware of the sock distending her trousers. Mark steered them to a table near one corner. A waiter appeared immediately. Mark ordered whisky for both of them.

“We can leave at any time,” he told her. “However, I thought that you might find this scene interesting. It's considerably more tasteful than most gay bars back in the States. There are no chaps showing bare butts, no tattoos, no strategically torn jeans. The only leather you’ll see is three-hundred quid custom-made suits. Even in this environment, the Brits are restrained. Personally, I find the additional social constraints heighten the erotic tension.”

“You think that everything heightens erotic tension!” commented Miranda, sipping her drink.

Before he could answer, she noticed a man approaching their table. He was medium height, trimly built, with salt and pepper hair and a small moustache. His clothing was well-tailored but conservative. He favoured them with a slightly nervous smile as he reached them.

“Good evening,” he said. “Do you mind if I join you?” He had a cultured voice. His accent reminded Miranda suddenly of Geoffrey. The memory made her sex heavy and wet.

“Please do,” said Mark, standing up to allow the other man access to the empty chair on the other side of the table. And to show off his physique, Miranda suddenly realised. There was just a hint of swish in Mark’s manner, a roll of the hips and a tilt of the chin that were not typical of his usual movement. As soon as their guest was seated, Mark held out a friendly hand. “I’m Marcus,” he said, “and this is my friend Randy.”

“Peter,” responded their guest. “I’m pleased to meet you both.”

“Likewise, Peter.”

“You’re American, aren’t you?” Mark nodded. “In London on business?”

“A bit of business, a bit of pleasure, you might say.”

There was general laughter. Miranda thus far had not dared say a word. She was fascinated, watching Mark flirt with their companion. Peter was attractive for a mature man. He had a ready smile and graceful, well-groomed hands. He and Mark chatted about London sights, shopping, entertainment. To Miranda, it seemed like every comment Mark made was a double entendre. Peter leaned forward, his lips slightly parted, his pale blue eyes gleaming, attention totally focused on her lover. Miranda felt slightly invisible. She didn’t mind.

They finished their drinks. Mark was about to order another round, but Peter held up his hand. “Excuse me, but I’ve got to visit the loo.” He strode across the room and disappeared through a doorway on the far side.

“Come on,” said Mark, grabbing Miranda’s hand and pulling her in the same direction.


“It’s a signal,” whispered Mark. “Come on.”

She followed him, a bit reluctantly, into the brightly-lit lavatory. It was immaculately clean. A vase of purple carnations sat on the sink.

Peter stood at a urinal along one side. She could hear the sound of his piss pouring into the porcelain fixture. Without hesitation, Mark took up position beside the older man, unzipped his fly, and extricated his penis. It was half-erect. His own cock still hanging out, Peter watched, fascinated, as Mark handled himself. Miranda hung back, her hands in her pockets. From where she stood, she could see both of their organs. After a few minutes of stroking, Mark began to pee. A queasy excitement settled in Miranda’s stomach as she watched the yellow stream arching through the air. Without realising it, she took a few steps closer, her eyes glued to the two men.

“So, Marcus, I’d like to give you a taste of how we entertain ourselves here in jolly old England,” said Peter softly. “Would you like that?”

Mark was stroking his cock again, making it swell to full tumescence. “I would, Peter,” he said with one of his angelic smiles. Peter reached out a hand, but instead of touching Mark’s cock as Miranda expected, he laid his palm on the black fabric stretched across Mark’s buttocks. “I’d like to give it to you here,” he said, almost in a whisper.

“Sounds good to me,” said Mark. He led the way toward one of the stalls. Suddenly Peter turned his eyes on Miranda. She saw, reflected in his blue eyes, the lust her boyish form inspired.

“And what about you, Randy? What would you like?” He licked his lips.

Miranda was speechless. Fortunately Mark stepped into the breach. “Randy’s a bit shy,” he said with a smile. “He just came out of the closet. I’m showing him the ropes, so to speak.” Peter half-smiled, half-leered at Miranda. Mark lowered his voice. “So far, he’s a virgin. But I suspect that he would not be adverse to giving you a blow job. Would you, Randy?”

Miranda swallowed hard. She tried to deepen her voice. “No, I’d like to do that,” she said. Then she realised that she meant it.

What follows is one of the raunchiest scenes in an admittedly explicit novel.

I had a wonderful time writing this chapter, because it let me explore cross-dressing fantasies of my own that I’d never previously articulated. I don’t know if I’d dare follow in Miranda’s footsteps – short and zaftig as I am, I probably couldn’t succeed in doing so – but imagining the situation aroused me deeply. Indeed, writing erotica can be a voyage of self-discovery, as much as reading it, if we’re willing to allow our subconscious to lead the way. 


  1. Lisabet:
    Have you ever considered writing a memoire?

    Yes, now that you mention it, every story is a journey or quest of some kind.

    And there is something about a 'moral holiday' that is brought on by travel. Years ago I worked with a delightful old lush who said that ship travel was a great way to hook-up. The moment the boat reached international waters rings were off and vows forgotten.

    Happy travels.

    1. "Moral holiday"! That's a great phrase, and describes it exactly. Of course, I've never really subscribed to the theory that there's anything immoral about sex, per se. In fact, trying to deny people the satisfaction they deserve is far more so.

  2. Great excerpt! If only Victor, Victoria had taken things that far.

    1. Quite true!

      Have you ever read Remittance Girl's "The Night I was Mel Torme"? One of my absolute favorites of her stories, although in this case it's F/F rather than M/M.

  3. Lisabet says-

    [Indeed, writing erotica can be a voyage of self-discovery, as much as reading it, if we’re willing to allow our subconscious to lead the way. ]

    That's essentially why I started writing in the genre. At this stage, what I have in my sexual repertoire is a limited experience. Although we've been lucky to come up in times of expanding sexual mores, I must say most of our fantasies are still within us.

    Let 'em roll...

    The clip is yet another example of your sense of atmospherics. Foreign lands--exotic backgrounds--combine to put us right there with characters we care about.

    It strikes me that most of the locales you mention-- Laos, Bangkok, New Orleans. Seems (ski-lodge fucks notwithstanding) we associate the sexy with the hot, humid and sultry. Could it be because that's the nature of sex? It's humidity? It's closeness. Certainly its heat. We breathe each other's air, our combined sweat releases pheromones that further motivate our emotions.

    1. Hello, Daddy,

      Thanks for your kind words. As for your comment about hot climates - well, there's the practical issue that one is usually wearing fewer clothes!

      On the other hand, London is hardly steamy!

    2. Great read, Lisabet. I particularly liked your expression of the idea of the "journey in erotic ficion" being a "spiralling down "or" tunnelling inward".

      Who would have thought that erotic fiction could have so much in common with classic quest literature such as Homer's "Odyssey". ;) Or Persephone's journey from sexually innocent maiden to Queen of the Underworld. In fact many of my favourite erotic stories have that theme (Story of O & Nin's young artist model character in Delta of Venus")

      I, too, write erotica at least in part to articulate and explore my own sexual journey and interests. It's an intriguing parallel that as we engage our characters in a "spiralling down" to their true sexual nature, we too as the writers, are "tunnelling inward" to our own core desires.

      I look forward to reading some of your short story links...

    3. Thanks, Adrea,

      From what I've seen, many erotic novels fall into the quest category. Even something like Anne Rice's Beauty trilogy can be read that way, as a series of trials or adventures leading to a clearer understanding of her submissive nature.

      I've come to dismiss erotic stories that do nothing more than play on the surface. When transient mutual pleasure is all a tale offers, I find it too shallow to be interesting.

  4. Hi Lisabet!

    That IS a great read. It reminds me that I need to read more as well. i miss a lot by not reading your stuff as much as I used to, because you have always had that original approach to your characters and their emotional problems.

    It would have been fun to have had someone like you as a good traveling companion, I can only imagine. Did you and your husband ever try out the nude beaches in some of these countries?


    1. Hi, Garce,

      If only I had more fans like you LOL.

      We've been to nude beaches in various parts of the U.S., but not overseas. We actually considered going to Isle de Levant, a nudist island off the coast of the French Riviera. However, we didn't have the time - not to mention that we often travel in the spring or fall and it was a bit chilly!

  5. This is an awesome post, Lisabet, and thanks, as always for the kick-off. I'm going to appropriate Spencer's "moral holiday" phrase, I think—very amusing. Also, I agree with Adrea that your language about "spiraling down" was very intriguing.

    Too often, I've seen erotic journeys presented as a "spiraling down" journey into depravity. What I like about the sort of quest you describe here is that it's a "spiraling down" into a deeper self. That's something I can really get behind.

    1. I think of it more as spiraling inward, toward the heart of who we are.

      Our true sexual selves reside at the very core of our being.


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