Pushing the Erotic Edge: Truth in Labeling

Sex is simple.  Insert Tab P into Slot V.  Plunge.  Retreat.  Repeat.

Though we erotic authors are always trying to find new ways to describe the basic act – new positions, new kinks, new fetishes – the underlying mechanics are the same.

Doesn’t matter.  As a sub-species, erotic authors are positively obsessed with coitus.  We can’t get enough of it.  We imagine it, research it, and write about it over and over and over.  If you’re like me, you push yourself to envision, invent, and experiment with new and ever more creative methods of seasoning that simple act; with ropes, whips, handcuffs, paddles, and such.

With my series, “The Chronicles of Staffordshire,” I push the kinky edge about as far as I feel comfortable, not because I set out to shock people, but because that was where the story took me.  At times I tiptoe at the precipice of the taboo, not because I have a penchant for taboo-busting, but because that was where the story took me. In the penultimate conflict in my fourth book, I fell over the edge of that precipice and dangled from the taboo cliff by my finely manicured digits.

But my favorite erotic author raised a good point recently as we were discussing “Staffordshire.”  What she said as we dished about our erotic writings made me pause and reflect about some of the sex scenes I wrote.

Have I gone to far?  Have I adequately warned the reader that my books push the edge?

Many of the sexual encounters in “Staffordshire” series are tainted by a single character’s youthful indiscretion, a secret she has kept from everyone for decades.  That single secret impacts her lovers and her offspring over and over and over again.  Her secret finally comes full circle in the fourth book in the form of a dungeon conflict.  It is a sexual conflagration that for some readers might feel a little too taboo.  Although I believe the scene resolves in a redemptive, loving way – (I love happy endings!) – the journey might be a little dark – perhaps disturbing – even for some aficionados of dark erotica.

My friend’s squeamishness when she heard about the scene gave me pause.  When she shared her heart and why even imagining that scene made her cringe, I took a long, deep breath.  No matter how redemptive or healing the outcome, I can see why the subject matter might be a little too tender for her tastes, even though she otherwise likes her erotica dark and dominant.

As erotic authors we use the grand genre of “erotica” to cover a multitude of pursuits, ranging from the hopelessly romantic to the endlessly debauched.  The way-stations we visit as we sojourn through books labeled “erotica” can range from the mildly titillating to the graphically excessive, covering everything from vampires to gender swaps to Sci/Fi to S&M to D/s and everything in between.  

Including the taboo.

But with so many niches in the genre, if a person picks up your book, first seeing the “erotica” label, what do they really expect to see?  The cover might give a hint, but not enough of one.  After all, one person’s Japanese Kinbaku rope fetish is another’s bondage nightmare.  One person’s “innocent,” consensual sex between non-blood step-siblings might be another’s reanimated horror of a childhood abuse.

I suppose I am just now realizing, after thinking about my friend’s reaction, that it is important to do a better job of forewarning our readers of the minefields ahead.  Is it sufficient to disclaim, “M/F/M sex, Group Sex, BDSM themes, Profanity, and such” at the end of the jacket, pat our hands clean, and just walk away?  Or do we owe the reader a better form of spoiler-free warning, something that does a more effective job of hinting at the journey without giving away the itinerary?

I now know that I will do better next time, with some non-spoiling language that does a better job of warning the reader that the journey may take them to some disturbing places, perhaps even places known as, “The Taboo.”  I’ll do it because even though we’re all big boys and girls, I still want to respect the reader and be certain they are adequately prepared for the journey ahead.

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