I'm in the UK for less than a week and it seems that every daily newspaper is having a go at erotica as a genre. The problem is, they're all reading print erotica - most of which is pretty dreadful.
The Telegraph's Bryony Gordon reviews "In Bed With...", a collection of short erotic stories penned by famous women writers using porn pseudonyms and tars all erotica with the same brush. Why anyone would expect literary writers with no experience writing erotica to do a good job of it says a lot of the stupidity of the anthology's editor and the publisher who agreed to print it.
Gordon's comment that "the people most likely to enjoy these books are dirty old men in rain macs" belies her lack of research on the subject. 80% of erotica readers are women with a post-secondary education. The fact that she mistakes erotica for porn makes it clear she hasn't bothered searching out any erotica written by well-respected erotica writers at all.
Gordon gets away with this because it seems that erotica is still a genre that can be maligned with impunity. But the fact that she digs no deeper says a great deal about her credibility as a literary critic.
Libby Brooks of the Guardian does only a little better. But she resorts to representing erotica as some sort of benignly helpful users guide.
This is not about replacing one stereotyped version of human sexuality (ie male, homogenised, fuck-centric, bad) with another (ie female, politically correct, cuddle-centric, boring) - were that even a realistic proposition. But it is about expanding the erotic menu for the benefit of both sexes.What's clear is that no one is considering erotica as literature. This doesn't say much for their capacity to really research the subject, but it isn't wholly their fault either. A perusal of the erotica shelves of most bookstores reveal spine upon spine of infantile plotting, superficial characterization and a woeful lack of depth to most of the material on the shelf. But this isn't a comment on erotica writers, it's a comment on publishers and their inability to look beyond their immediate and guaranteed profit margins by offering clones of what sold five years ago.
I'm still waiting, hoping and praying for someone to have the balls to start an imprint that deals in erotica with some iota of literary value. There are certainly many erotica writers who could provide material that was not only erotic, but also layered in meaning, with depth and breadth in characterization and with enough realism to make the reading experience arousing, memorable, and challenging.
At the moment, the occasional well put-together anthology offers this. And, from time to time, a very few brilliant erotica writers manage to publish a book of some literary worth. But these are rare exceptions.
This breaks my heart. I believe this genre holds so much potential in terms of its ability to explore identity, culture, our fears, our hopes and our perceptions of reality. In sex we are at our most vulnerable, our most raw. It is not unreasonable to believe that in this context we could produce some very powerful mirrors of who we are and how we exist in the world.
I'm crossing my fingers and waiting. I just can't see myself going through the pain of producing a novel only to have to compete with "Pony Girls in Training" or "Diary of an Internet Pornstar".
Causes Remittance Girl Supports
Coalition Against the Trafficking of Women The Pleasure Project: A sex-positive organization working in the HIV prevention field.