You CAN have lots of sex and no regrets.

regrets, erotica, bad sex

lonely, regret, self-hating. promiscuityThis Guardian piece about the way women, in particular, are always portrayed as miserable, messed up and self-hating if they have a lot of casual sex  reminds me of the other tiresome old concept – that erotic fiction is only perceived as having real literary merit if the outwardly hedonist characters are in anguish by the end of the story – or, at least, have worked out that What Really Matters is abandoning their fun times in favour of longterm monogamy, having found the One.

Sometimes a sidekick or contrast-to-the-heroine character is allowed to continue pursuing unrepentant pleasure, but she’s usually got to have at least one paragraph’s worth of listing her regrets, even if she doesn’t get murdered or humiliated. A variation on the pleasure-leads-to-anguish/sluts-hate-themselves stuff is, in longer books or those where the story spans a fair few years, having the Bad Girl become a figure of fun who doesn’t realise that she’s too old for her sexual desire to be anything other than disgusting. (OK, we know that getting older doesn’t mean sex is off-limits.)regrets, sex, women

Of course, pretty much the whole of human culture is based on men’s determination to own and control women, and endless morality tales involving the punishment of the woman who demands autonomy and sexual pleasure for herself are all about reinforcing that. One of the things that distinguishes avowedly erotic fiction from great-literature-about-the-human-condition is that erotic stories generally reward the desire-driven female characters rather than killing them. Fanny Hill ends her days wealthy and contented: Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary both top themselves.

A lot of contemporary erotica ignores the convention of the HEA (Happy Ever After) ending in favour of HFN (Happy For Now) at the close of a story; some editors and imprints don’t even request that. There’s certainly much less emphasis on the importance of ‘love’ (or marriage) as the core motivation, and those characters who have a lot of partners very, very rarely suffer purely because of their promiscuity.

regrets, erotica, bad sexInterestingly, some erotica even features actual bad sex (as distinct from badly-written sex), whether that’s an encounter which is disappointing or some frankly dubious, non-consensual action which functions as a contrast to the good sex with others. (How far a reader or a writer is comfortable with the inclusion of frankly abusive scenes is… let’s say it’s up for debate on the erotica scene at present.) At least the majority of erotica writers see sexual activity in their stories as something characters are entitled to enjoy rather than something which will only lead to misery and sorrow which serves them right.

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