I get an interesting reaction when I tell people what I do for a living. "Erotica author" was initially the answer. The typical response was an aghast look, pale face, and a panicked attempt to change the subject. Now, with the publication of The Girl in 6E [Redhook, $20.00], a book that hop-scotches the line between sex and suspense, I could truthfully claim the answer "suspense author." I tried that reply recently, sandwiched in a party of four, cheese-covered chip in hand, the raucous sounds of a basketball playoff game behind me. The answer earned me interested looks, a flurry of questions, and a long discussion about the life of an author and how I come up with book ideas. It was a refreshing change, but one that gave me pause.
Why is the topic of sex more uncomfortable than violence? Well, one might say indignantly, sex should be done in the privacy of one's home, isn't anyone's business to discuss out in the open. Okay... but serial killing and rape are acceptable party conversations?
Somewhere along the line, sex became more than taboo. It became unmentionable. And the reading of such content became a covert activity, hidden from all and discussed by none, until the fabulous EL James changed that world dramatically for the better. Fifty Shades of Grey improved everything, in terms of social acceptable sexual discussions. Erotica is now, for the most part, tolerated. Tolerated but still shocking. The thrust of a man into a woman is still more offensive than a knife into a body. Even then, just reading that sentence - did your jaw drop? Did you squirm slightly in your seat?
I like being uncomfortable when reading. I like my boundaries to be pushed, my thoughts and feelings and emotions to be examined, questioned, by my mind's interpretation of a page. Suspense has done it before. Has caused me to double-check my locks, not trust a strange man who approaches me in the supermarket. But erotica? It has yanked at the threads of my arousal. It has caused me to look at sexual acts and experiences in a completely different way. It has improved my marriage and opened up my thinking.
So, why is the topic of sex more uncomfortable than death? A few possibilities come to mind.
Prudes vs. Nudes. Is it still our society's opinion that sex and nudity is wrong? A throwback to the time when we were young and a pointed finger and stern look were given, alongside the proclamation that "sex is bad." Many of us are trained from birth that sex should not be discussed. Should be only between husband and wife. The beauty and variations of sex, its ability to bring pleasure... that discussion is better stuck on a dusty shelf where it will never be touched.
Have we matured as a society? Accepted that our place as independent adults allows us to throw aside our restrictions and embrace our own emotions and explorations on the subject? At a bare minimum, that we can read about sex and not be ashamed of it?
Violence, violence, everywhere. Perhaps our thick skin to literary violence is simply because we've become immune to it. Our minds don't have to wander far when we read a slasher scene. We know what that looks like, the spray of blood, the face of a woman screaming. We are used to it that it loses its shock value. Sex, due to society's restrictions on exposure, is still a coveted image. We are desensitized to the look of a scantily-clad woman, but still raw to the description of explicit sex, much more so than explicit violence.
We are who we read. Erotic fiction is designed to arouse. To allow us to put our minds into the body of another, to explore situations we ourselves might never partake in. In erotic fiction, our mind goes into overdrive. We picture the naked man standing before us, the view one that will never be shown by Hollywood. We put ourselves in the character's skin, imagine ourselves as the one being touched, seduced, pleasured. It is a much more invasive read, one that, if correctly done, transports us into another world during the time in which the pages flip. Maybe that is why it is more shocking. Because it is, in some ways, a first-person experience rather than the less-immediate reading experience of a violent scene.
Why do we find sex more shocking than violence? I don't know the certain answer to that question, I think it varies for every person. But I'll still hold my head high when asked 'what I do for a living'. I have reverted to my previous answer. I am an erotica author. And I absolutely love my job. One day, that will be embraced. And if it's not? I'll look on the bright side: maybe the forbiddance is what makes this genre so enjoyable.