Friday 21 December 2012

Realism in Erotica

Oh mah gawd the world is ending! There are Mayan robots EVERYWHERE!

No not really. I think we're all safe from those kinds of jokes for the time being, until the next apocalypse prediction appears.
So! On to today's blog.

Realism, whether in erotica or any other genre, is always a subject an author has to have in the back of their mind. You need to sell your story as something that makes sense to the reader, with some basic foundations they can latch on to for security and stability. Without these foundations it's very hard to engage with what's going on, as it throws our expectations and frame of reference out the window, creating a strange and uncanny experience for the reader. Even fantasy and sci-fi has to have some sort of baseline established pretty early on, some kind of internal logic to let you know whether to expect wizards and dragons or swords and beards.
The Matrix set this up with beautiful simplicity when Laurence Fishburne explained how "some rules can be bent, others can be broken". Then the terrible sequels went ahead and threw all the rules out the window by giving Keanu Reeves magical powers.

So realism's important. Not necessarily real-world realism, but some kind of internal logic that makes sense within whatever setting you're working with.
How much does this matter in erotica though? I've read plenty of stories that throw me out of the steamy action because of some minor detail, and plenty of others I've loved where anatomical limits are pushed to the point of absurdity. As with any story, I think it really depends on the tone you establish and the genre you're working in. With something like BDSM a lot of the appeal can be in the kinky details. A lot of people are familiar with the ideas of whipping or wearing latex or being tied up, but I'd venture to guess that not a lot of readers have extensive first-hand experience with those things. Describing something like the texture of a whip, the feeling of the marks it leaves on the character's back, or the sexual thrill of pain blurring over into pleasure, can add a sense of realism that enriches and adds some extra spice to a story. Even if it isn't something you as a writer have experience with yourself, a little research can heighten the sensual detail of sex scenes to a whole new level.

Conversely, if you're writing about something like, say, fantasy monster sex, it's a safe bet that you can push the boundaries of reality a little further. In my recent short Mated by the Minotaur I pretty much hand-waved the realism of the petite princess taking a monster who was described as being hung quite literally like a horse. That story wasn't focused on graphic realism and detail though. It was a simple, hammy romp all about the fantasy of a princess being taken by a powerful beast. It was more about the overall tone than the nitty-gritty. Besides which, few readers were going to be thrown out of that experience by the omission of details. Not many of us have had lots of sex with fantasy monsters for reference.

Given the choice though, my personal preference is to add in as much sensual detail as I can manage most of the time. I adore things like describing the sensations of anal or oral sex in great detail, and I sometimes get thrown out of other stories when they handle these things in an offhand or unrealistic way (if the rest of the story expects you to take it seriously). That being said though, sometimes tone is more important than realism. It doesn't always matter if your virgin college student takes to rough anal sex like a duck to water. Sometimes that's just a heck of a lot hotter than having her slap the professor in the face and ask him what the heck he thinks he's doing.


  1. When I did Nanowrimo this year I saw a lot of people on the forums wanting to write erotica. Their questions made me wonder if they'd ever had sex or even had an erotic thought! If you can't put yourself in the moment, how are you going to put a reader there?

    1. Those poor writers!
      I think a lot of it is down to experience though. The mental block of "oh gawd, I'm writing about really naughty stuff" is probably the biggest obstacle to getting started with erotica, let alone adding in a ton of sordid, sticky details to really bring it to life!
      It definitely helps if you're in touch with your sexual side, I think. :)