JoD: Essay

Why Write Sex Fiction?

by Bradley Stoke

There are two implicit questions implied by this question. Why write fiction at all? And why does anyone read sex fiction? Obviously, the answer can't really be resolved at all without addressing these other questions, but nonetheless I shall try to skirt them.

There are three main answers to the question, and they all involve muses of one kind or another:

1. Sex Fiction has a bigger readership on the net than any other kind.

My non-sexual fiction has a palfrey readership compared to that of my sex fiction, so if I want my fiction to be read, it makes sense that I write in that genre. However, I don't think that sex fiction is just normal fiction with a bit of sex in it, though it could be argued that for a lot of the most prominent authors, that is precisely what they write. I think a sex fiction story is one where sex is integral to the story and, without it, the story makes no sense.

Some writers, of course, write a sub-genre known as `stroke', which is essentially sex fiction with very little more than a depiction of sexual acts. This is a lot like porn movies, where there is very little story and a great deal of sexual intercourse. I'd never even heard of `stroke' before I discovered on-line fiction. In fact had I done so, I'd have assumed it to be about the misfortunes of stroke victim, whose distress I think has very little erotic content.

In my case, the muse that might inspire my sex fiction is pretty much indistinguishable from that which inspires any of my fiction. Indeed, I wouldn't call it a `muse' at all: more a compulsion to commit into words the story that has grown in my head. Once written, the story no longer haunts me. In fact, I often wholly forget a story once it's been written.

2. Most Sex Fiction writers are Sex Fiction readers.

One doesn't have to read a lot of sex fiction on Stories on Line, Literotica or ASSM to recognise the same themes emerging time and time again. The Naked at School series, the Asimov-inspired fembots, the post-apocalypse scenarios and those stories which read like transcripts of porn movies: these and a few others appear very often. Clearly, the writers have read other sex fiction and have been inspired by it often to the extent of blatant plagiary.

In this case, the muses might well be characterised as the authors of the original scenarios (step forward Karen Wagner, Al Steiner and Frank Downey), and I suppose it is a credit to these authors that their work has inspired so much imitation. However, sex fiction on the internet is a very poor inspiration for novelty, stylistic innovation or great insights. The bias is often towards a very narrow and very America-centric view of the world (often best characterised by the American administration and its appalling political policies).

However, it has to be said that the most popular fiction is that which best captures in style and content those same stories that are already popular, so if a writer's ambition was to maximise his or her readership, conforming to the norms has a lot to recommend it.

3. Sex is fun to write about.

In this case, the muse might just be good old sexual fantasy. We all have them (so I've heard) and some fantasies are pretty weird, if not unpalatable. I'm no psychologist, so I won't pretend to know where some of the fantasies come from, and I won't be hypocritical enough to pretend I don't have some pretty odd sexual fantasies myself which have mutated into fiction.

I also think that genre fiction is essentially fiction where the scenario and the plot structure are driven by the demands of the form. This is why so much sex fiction, like thrillers, science fiction, horror, romance, etc., is superficially so much alike. In an action movie, for instance, the plot is subsumed by the necessity for a car chase, a gun-fight or a fight. So, too, in sex fiction by the need for some rumpy-pumpy.

However, this isn't such a bad thing. Why do people read anything if it doesn't deliver what it promises? If the label says `sex fiction', then you expect fiction with sex in it. And as I said earlier, sex is fun to write, although not so often as much fun to read.

There is much crap written about `erotica' as if it were some kind of art form distinct from pornography. The only difference as far as I can see is in marketing. Calling something `erotica' makes it more acceptable, but the content and style is marked not by a huge divide, but rather by the nature of the target consumer. People write the sex fiction they do because of their own take on the product, influenced by what they like to read and what they are driven to write.

I have often had letters criticising my sex fiction for all sorts of things, and the greatest complaint is that it doesn't somehow conform to some norm as to what sex fiction should be. That is, I think, the greatest compliment anyone can pay. If sex fiction is to have any value at all, it should aspire to be something more, or at least different, to the readers' narrow expectations. It needn't be `erotic' in the comfortable, touchy-feely way of modern romance nor in the gross way of hard-core porn. It needn't have happy endings. It needn't be affirmative, positive or enlightening.

But it should at least be interesting.

The Journal of Desire Volume 3, Number 1

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