Friday, August 21, 2015

What's Naughty To You?

Naughtiness is such a broad topic to cover. I wasn’t certain where to start with it, so I went back to basics.

I decided, as I often do, to look up the actual proper meaning of the word “naughty”, and discovered that the earliest recorded use of the word was to mean “possessing nothing”. Having “naught” to one’s name. Only later was it used in the sense of “wicked”. And the current meaning is essentially a vastly watered-down version. Disobedient or mildly rude behaviour.

As often happens, tweaking my knowledge got me thinking in circles.

The stories I write are all currently in the erotic romance genre. There’s often comedy thrown in. They are essentially rom-coms with the door left wide open. Naughty, right?

Yeah… about that…

Thirty years ago, or more, the stories I write could arguably have been downright wicked. I don’t hold back within my genre and things get quite fruity–and I mean that (rather euphemistically) in the sense of “sexually suggestive” rather than in the “relating to or associated with homosexuals” sense—just because I really haven’t written man-on-man yet.

But it’s more about where my genre sits in the scheme of things. It’s naughtier than most of the “…for Dummies” books, but considerably less so than most of the best-selling dark romances.

I’m in a few online groups, on Facebook and Forums (Fora?), where people are crafting some devilish and dark tales of erotic romance. Knife play, kidnap/rape fantasy, dubious consent, tentacles, dubious consent with tentacles (or “dubious consentacles” as I just decided to call it) and more. Even the current trend of step-incest is inherently naughtier than my own works, even when it’s a sweet romance. Because it’s taboo booty. Tabooty.

It’s a situation that is, and will always be, in constant flux. Some of it comes down to exposure (heehee). On Australian TV, up until a few years ago, the word “fuck” was verboten. Now, as long as it’s after 8.30pm (I believe) it’s a free-for-all. Does that reduce the naughtiness of the word? Or does it simply anaesthetise us to its shared position at the top of the cussing tree?

The massive impact of the Fifty Shades books has resulted in enormous numbers of BDSM books flooding the market. A lot of them are very good, and are quite true to the lifestyle as I understand it. With all that heavier and darker work out there, does it reduce the naughtiness of sweet erotic romance?

I’d argue it doesn’t. What can make my gentler stories naughty is the intensity I try to imbue them with. There’s a lot of talk about “vanilla” sex. That, in fact, encouraged me to write out an idea I’d had for several years, discussing how vanilla sex is still damn naughty when it’s done right. No tools, no implements, nothing but two people who can’t resist the urge to turn their mental attraction physical. Two people who stand utterly naked before each other. Who, physically and emotionally, "possess nothing".

This is an (unedited) excerpt, which follows on from the hero (Douglas) mentioning to the heroine (Isabel) that in his home country “vanilla” is essentially used as a synonym for “boring”.

* * * *

“Yeah, well, that’s the other thing. Back home people talk about vanilla sex, too.”
Looking over her shoulder, she quirked her mouth and frowned. “You are having sex with vanilla?”
“No, no, of course not. But people say it, meaning, y’know…basic sex. One man, one woman. No…other stuff.”
“Other stuff?” Isabel raised a single eyebrow, becoming even more irresistible. Damn her.
“Yeah, like…extra people. Or toys. Or…different kinds of…” I trailed off. I really didn’t know her well enough to reveal how much I knew in this area. Or maybe how little.
“So…” She turned back away from me and ran her hands over the vanilla vine. “Your ideas are very strange, white boy.”
“Again, it’s Douglas.”
“You think you are so advanced because you are making everything bigger, and more complicated. That plain things — simple things — are beneath you. You dull your senses to the richness in life. In my vanilla. And you cannot see how intense sex can be, even when it is just, as you say, vanilla sex.”
“I told you it’s not me. Not my ideas, not my argument.”
“The ignorance is yours, yes?”
I shrugged, hoping it looked dismissive. “Okay, that’s mine. But even so, getting right back to what started’s still not the same. I mean seriously, if you had to choose between sex and your precious vanilla...?”
She whirled on me with a deep fire in her eyes. “Why do you say that? Who have you been talking to?”
“What? Just you. And your brother, and Patricio.”
Her body loosened visibly and her expression softened into one of hope. “ know?”
“Know? Know what?”
“Oh!” She folded her arms and shifted her weight onto one leg, jutting her rounded hip out to the side. “No...nothing. Do not worry.”
My gaze was drawn instinctively to the curves she’d suddenly emphasized. I swallowed heavily, unsure of exactly what I was doing. How had she sucked me into this argument? I had nothing, not a single thing against Isabel’s vanilla, nor did my country or culture need me to defend it against this one irritatingly sexy woman.
More importantly, how had the argument suddenly become about sex? Domingo had painted Isabel as some kind of virgin queen, untouched and untouchable, betrothed to Patricio, head of the local chapter of the I Love Patricio club. Now she’s throwing dirty ideas and sexy hips at me? 

* * * *

Surely naughtiness is still something we each decide for ourselves. It’s a willingness to step over a border, or taste something (or someone) forbidden, or the breaking of a personal rule. In our society, there’s a perennial sense that morals are eroding and standards are lowering and noboddie kan spel n e mor.

It hurt me so hard to write that last part of that last sentence. I had to break my own unwritten writing laws. Guess how that felt?


  1. I love the dialogue, Willsin, especially since the vanilla (beans?) seems to be growing freely, & probably smelling delicious. A good way to show that "naughty" is in the eyes (or nose, tastebuds, etc.) of the beholder.

  2. Oh, it makes its way into several senses throughout the course of the story! Vanilla has always been my favourite spice (or herb?). I completely agree with my Isabel. It is definitely not boring!

  3. Maybe vanilla's reputation for being boring is all the fault of vanilla ice cream being a wishy-washy white color. And of it being on of the very first popular ice cream flavors, making it seem old-fashioned, even though it was originally used for it's exotic appeal.

    1. Quite possibly. Also, the prevalence of vanilla growing all over the tropical world now has made it seem less exotic. In my research for the story I was fascinated to find out that for many years/decades/centuries, the pods only grew in one tiny part of Mexico.

  4. Vanilla, chocolate or tutti-fucking-fruitti, it's all good. Sex writing encompasses such a range of squicks and turn-ons, who's to say which is which? There will always be (some) room for all levels of naughty. Fear not!

    The definition 'naughty' bounces around in deference to the times.

    Perhaps 'vanilla' refers to the virtually ubiquitous nature of vanilla in western culture, mostly in sweet foods. Heheh. I had a chef who called garlic "Italian vanilla". Yum.

    1. Definitely, that's an aspect I brought into the story – the prevalence of vanilla all over the place in western food, and also the fact it's used so much in sweet dishes, whereas it has its place in all manner of savoury dishes as well.

  5. Now she’s throwing dirty ideas and sexy hips at me? Love that visual. Naughty enough.

  6. BTW - I can't get the whole taboo bit about step brothers and sisters that's going around. If they're not related by blood there ain't no incest!

    1. Heh. Yeah. I think a lot of folks would readily write them without the "step", but they just struggle for places to publish them. I believe Excitica is the only place around which will allow you to distribute your blood-incest smut.

  7. My own brother and his wife dismissed my writing after the first 2 books, telling me with a derisive sniff that what I write "isn't erotic, it's just vanilla." That was the first time I'd heard the term used that way, but I immediately knew what they meant. And also that I wasn't going to give them any more free copies of books I had to pay for. So there!

    Incest is exciting as a fantasy because it's taboo. Everything forbidden becomes more attractive. Like I often say, it's human nature. Tell a 2-year old not to touch the stove, and what is that child LIVING to do from then on? Yup, touch that damn stove. Only when it causes pain, do they realize why they're not supposed to do it. We have to learn some things by doing, I guess.

  8. Hi, Willsin!

    I think vanilla can be very naughty indeed. In fact, for me the essence of naughtiness (as opposed to other shades of eroticism) is the element of lightness, playfulness, being "dirty" for the pure fun of it. I wouldn't use the word naughty for most serious BDSM erotica or erotic romance (including much of my own) because the emotional stakes are too high.

    For some reason, it seems Brit authors do "naughty" better than Americans. I think it may be because of the Puritan shame issue, or something. I love the word "shag" because it just drips with naughtiness, in a way that "fuck" or "screw" do not.

    And I agree, btw, your dialogue is fabulous! Especially interspersed with the confused musing of your protagonist.


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