Saturday, February 16, 2019

Where Are the Limits?

by Jean Roberta

Thinking of going beyond limits, I had some thoughts about this post several days ago, but life got in the way, so I’m late again. I hope I’m not trespassing on someone else’s time-slot.

The word “transgressive” has been slung about excessively to tempt readers to buy erotic stories. Every sexually-explicit narrative could be considered boundary-breaking because some conservatives still think sex should not be openly described at all, especially if it feels good for everyone involved. In that sense, erotica involving married and/or procreative heterosexual couples could be considered transgressive. (I’ve written that kind of erotica, and it doesn’t seem more acceptable to conservative types than the most elaborate BDSM scenes.)

Actually, I’m not sure my real life would shock more people nowadays than any of my erotic stories. I’m in a long-term lesbian relationship for almost thirty years, and we’ve been legally married since 2010. Anyone who finds my lifestyle perverse and unnatural would probably go into a swoon if forced to read any of my descriptions of sex, including the most traditional.

Among other pieces, I wrote about the conception of King Arthur in “Under the Sign of the Dragon,” available on Excessica, and a thorny but ultimately satisfying relationship between a man and woman with competing claims to the same plot of land in “The Way to a Man’s Heart,” in Like a Sword, a collection of “high fantasy” stories from Circlet Press. But I digress.

I believe that writers and fans of erotica should support each other, regardless of the diverse pairings and genres we write or prefer to read. There is M/M erotica, there is F/F erotica, there is M/f, F/m, various multiple arrangements, and various types of power exchange. It’s all too much for those who would like to silence us all.

Years ago, I taught Lysistrata (in a modern English translation) to first-year university students. This work is an ancient Greek comedy by a one-name playwright, Aristophanes, who imagined an ingenious way of ending the war between Athens and Sparta: the married women of both city-states go on a sex strike until the men declare a truce. In the fantasy world of the play, this works, and the grand finale is a feast and an orgy to celebrate peace. In effect, this play predates the 1960s slogan “Make love, not war,” by over 24 centuries.

A young male student spoke to me after class. He was clearly in distress, and he told me he was offended by the assigned text because he was a Christian. He then said that he thought sex should only take place between a man and a woman in holy matrimony. I reminded him that the numerous raunchy references to sex in this play are surprisingly marital as well as heterosexual. It’s all about sex between a man and a woman in a long-term relationship as a mutual source of pleasure and bonding, and a metaphor of union between different entities.

I suspect that young men like my former student are less offended by graphic descriptions of slaughter in battle than by descriptions of sex. Bring on the spears, the blades, the catapults, the burning destruction of buildings, crops, livestock and humans! (And while we’re in imaginary ancient Greece, I could mention a substance that sticks to clothing and burns the wearer alive, which is sent as a gift by Medea to her faithless husband’s new bride, and which sounds uncannily similar to napalm.)

Never mind the Song of Solomon, or any other evidence that sexual love and mutual pleasure are not opposed to Christian ethics. Conservative Christian parents don’t want their offspring to be seduced or corrupted by subversive types like us. Some of them would like their sons to be encouraged to voluntarily join the military so they can fight in the latest war.

The boundary between me and the Anti-Sex League (to borrow a term from the dystopian post-WW2 novel 1984) seems much bigger than any limits between different types of consensual sex.



  1. What about the other members of your class? What did they think of Lysistrata?

    I do find that some erotica readers are ridiculously picky about keeping their kink "pure". I was once ripped by a well-known reviewer of MM erotic romance because my novel contained half a page of heterosexual phone sex.

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. First-year students tend to be quiet in class, so I don't usually know what they think about the subject-matter unless they speak to me outside of class or comment on the anonymous evaluation forms that are given out at the end of a semester. Several students laughed in class at the funny parts of Lysistrata, which seemed like a good sign. Several complained anonymously that this play was not appropriate for an English class.

    Oh yes, the kink purity. I remember a comment from James Buchanan (was it here at the Grip?) that even within the M/M erotic romance community, which she inhabits, there are different factions that disagree on the unwritten rules of the genre. I worry that these skirmishes might be preventing sex-writers in general from uniting to push back against the official (legal) and unofficial censorship that send us all to the dungeon (not for fun and games).

  3. In the community of female writers and fans of gay romance and erotica (if the term community can even be applied) there seems to be a strong aversion to having any females whatsoever in their books, whether or not sex with them is involved. I can't get my head around that mind set, but there it is. And I must be old and set in my ways, because I can't get my head around the whole mpreg deal, either, even though it seems to be quite popular. I mean, I could understand one or two stories about pregnant males with the purpose of showing men how difficult childbirth can be, but the mpreg fans just seem to want to deny the existence of women entirely, even though they're women themselves.


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