Friday, May 3, 2019

Forbidden Pleasures #taboo #erotica #kink

Apple and Snake

Image credit: Pixabay
By Lisabet Sarai

taboo (n): A social or religious custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.

Origin: Late 18th century: from Tongan tabu ‘set apart, forbidden’; introduced into English by Captain Cook.

Every society has forbidden practices, particularly with regard to sex. Incest, bestiality, pederasty and necrophilia are among the most common sexual prohibitions. Many cultures condemn same-sex intimacy, sodomy and extra-marital sex. In some places, even today, any type of physical contact between unmarried males and females will be condemned and punished.

Humans are perverse creatures, though. We delight in breaking the rules. The more serious the taboo, the greater emotional charge associated with its violation. Fear mingles with desire to make the forbidden experience more exciting and intense than sanctioned sexual behavior.

Erotic authors are experts in exploiting taboos. We push our characters to step over the lines of propriety: to fuck strangers in a dark alley; to beg for a spanking; to watch a teenage brother jack off then slip into his room naked. Not every erotic tale depends on the flaunting of taboos, but I suspect that the majority incorporate some aspects of the forbidden, or at least, the officially frowned upon. Nice girls don’t get up on stage and take off their clothes. Proper, masculine husbands don’t get aroused watching their wives get serviced by big-cocked studs. Modern, emancipated women don’t allow themselves to be tied up and whipped by bossy dominants. In the world of erotica (though not in erotic romance), it’s rather unusual to find sex that conforms to social norms.

Some taboos are enforced by law, or by rules made because of fear of the law. In the United States (though not in some other countries), you can write about mother-son, daddy-daughter, or sister-doggy sex, but Amazon and many other outlets won’t publish or distribute your naughty tales. On the other hand, sex between teens (or heaven forbid, pre-teens) is strictly sanctioned. Porn film-makers are required to certify and document the fact that all their performers are over eighteen.

Other restrictions are based on convention. Many readers strongly reject any tale with adulterous themes, despite (or maybe because of) the large amount of cheating that goes on in the real world.

What I find most fascinating, though, is the way taboos shift. Back in Victorian times, a flash of ankle was considered terribly improper. Now tiny bikinis that cover next to nothing are perfectly acceptable on public beaches – and Victorian-style corsets are the height of sexiness!

Two or three decades ago, homoerotic activity fell into the prohibited category. Same-sex stories often focused on first-time scenarios, and included a lot of fear, shame and soul-searching. As societal attitudes have changed and become more tolerant and inclusive, LGBTQ fiction has changed as well. The conflicts tend to revolve around other aspects of the characters and their relationship.

Then there’s kink. The success of Fifty Shades of Grey brought BDSM out of the closet and into the mainstream. Before FSOG, we early practitioners of D/s felt like members of a secret society, brave pioneers, outcasts who broke the rules of vanilla sex and reaped the erotic rewards. Now leather-clad Dommes show up on daytime TV and bondage cuffs are sold in department stores.

Kink was a lot more fun when it was verboten.

On the other hand, I’ve observed a new taboo developing around sex without condoms. I subscribe to Selena Kitt’s Excite Spice newsletters, at least partly to see what other people are publishing and what sub-genres seem to be popular. At least once a week, I read a blurb about some well-endowed guy “taking” a woman “hot, hard and unprotected”. Of course, bare-back sex is fundamentally more enjoyable than sex with a condom, but it seems that to post-AIDS readers, it is also breaking the rules and thus has acquired a new erotic charge. Personally I find this emphasis a little peculiar, since almost all the sex I’ve had in my life has been “unprotected”, but for the generations who came of age in the nineties and after, unprotected sex is forbidden, risky and exciting.

This started me pondering the question of whether I could write a story about a society with taboos against using condoms. Perhaps the elders in this society believe that fertility is sacred and that women are divinely intended to bear children. In such a world view, creating a barrier between sperm and egg would be viewed as thwarting the will of the Creator, as well as offering opportunities for women to indulge in sex for pleasure rather than for procreation.

Wait a minute... this suddenly doesn’t sound so original...

I’ve penned a few pieces where I’ve played with the idea of how taboos develop. In Quarantine, after a devastating, AIDS-like plague apparently spread by gay men, M/M intimacy has become illegal and invisible. The US has succumbed to nostalgia for the fifties, heterosexual sex is the only kind that officially exists, and simply having a genetic predisposition toward homosexuality means indefinite imprisonment in a remote internment camp.

My scifi short Trespass (in the altruistic erotica collection Coming Together: By Hand) involves a society in which everyone wears gloves. Fashions display large amounts of skin, but bare-handed contact is strictly forbidden – and thus unbearably arousing.

Then there’s incest. The original prohibition against inter-familial sex supposedly derives from the dangers of inbreeding. In a world (like today’s) where fertility can effectively be controlled, is there really any reason for brothers and sisters not to get it on?

Sometimes I rage against taboos that limit what I can publish. On the other hand, if all the rules were to suddenly vanish, that might have a negative impact on my imagination. I could still write about sensual pleasure – but pleasure can be so much sweeter when it’s forbidden.


  1. This maaay not go over too
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    to wait N hope.

    Our finite existence is just that:
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    Then we have A-L-L etenity to RITE
    erotic novels... and, believe-you-me,
    baby, I wanna, am gonna.

    Howja like to RITE 999+ nonillion,
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    novels in Seventh-Heaven with
    'moi, aussi, s'il-vous plait' in a
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    all the explosive, exhilarating
    exploration AND! expectation?
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    miss gorgeous...

  2. The incest thing gets complicated by the power imbalance effect on consent. A daughter's consent to sex with her father is likely to be influenced by a lifetime of feeling that he is more powerful than she is (although that's just as likely to spark resentment as lust.) With sisters and brothers, the power balance depends more on who's older, and probably stronger. Does it matter? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, and, the taboo may even be the driving force of the whole relationship.

    1. I'm sure in the real world that power imbalance is a major issue. The erotica trope, though, has the daughter lusting after her father, or her brother, rather than the other way around. Probably this is a way to defuse the discomfort or fear.

      And of course I'm talking about adult incest, not an adult preying on a child.


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