on erotica


“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” ~ Roland Barthes

I was talking with a friend recently about sex and society and art. I told him that one of my erotic stories is going to be published soon, and I have been exploring my reasons for writing erotica. This particular story, Wolf Moon, is the most beautiful story I have written to date. I am so proud of this story and what I have done with language while exploring sexuality on various levels through storytelling.

However, not only is this the most beautiful story I’ve written, it is also the most sexually explicit and “hardcore” story I’ve written to date. I’m aware that these components will limit some of my audience. This was something I was aware of when I first began publishing erotica, and had to choose whether to use my own name or a pseudonym. I chose to use my name because I could never write something that I would not stand behind.

But I knew that there would be a consequence. Certain doors would close, some would open. Even though some of the most talented writers I know write erotica, and in recent years more and more literary writers and poets write erotica, many people still consider erotica “dirty”, going so far to say that it is not a respectable literary pursuit.

I find this strange, especially living in a state and country which sensationalizes sex. The media is a veritable blitzkrieg of sexual messages, and sex is used to sell everything from cars to food. Sex has become confusing territory for both women and men, and there is no real dialogue on what sex means, what it is beyond the strictly physical, and why it is such an important and necessary part of our lives.

The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, and plasticized sensation. For this reason, we have turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information. ~ Audre Lorde, “The Uses of the Erotic”

I believe that erotica is a place of power and information. It is a safe place to explore and confront sexuality, for both the reader and the writer – because it is based in fantasy and imagination. Being based in a fictional context does not detract from the power of erotic literature.

In fact, I think there lies the amazing potential of the genre itself, because it holds a mirror to our sexual behaviors, longings, and desires. It is not a confessional, not a porno; it is storytelling. Erotica is, above all else, a modern metaphorical discourse on the role of sexuality and sex and love in our lives.

In her essay, “The Uses of the Erotic”, Audre Lorde explores the implications of owning and being empowered by the erotic. It is a thoughtful and articulate essay, important and necessary. I’m going to excerpt some of the text here:

The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects – born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives…

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy, in the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, harkening to its deepest rhythms so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, or examining and idea.

That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.

This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of.

Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But, once recognized, those which do not enhance our future lose their power and can be altered. The fear of our deepest cravins keeps them suspect and indiscrimainately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our own oppression.

For the full text of Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Uses of the Erotic”, click here. You can also hear Audre Lorde reading this essay on youtube.


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