This post will examine the morality and practice of writing erotic fiction, and may touch on pornography in general.
I do not believe in good and evil. Which means that I also cannot believe in right or wrong. Or morality. I also do not believe in free will (which is connected, though that is a conversation for another topic). However, in practice I live my life as if I have free will, even if I believe it is all an illusion in theory. The same goes for morality. I may not believe in right and wrong in theory, but in practice I try to act in what I consider a moral way. So when I discuss erotica in the sense of right and wrong, it is only in the sense that I feel right and wrong in my heart, not in my brain.
“My Secret Garden” is a non-fiction book published by self-described feminist author Nancy Friday. It is a collection of women’s sexual fantasies, coupled with an attempt to understand the mentality at the roots of those fantasies. At the end a psychiatrist Martin Shepard MD makes a defence against several criticisms of the book. One of the objections he faces is that the book serves solely as pornography. Rather than just try to make the case that it has wider implications than titillation (which he also does), he simply argues that so what if it is?
“…if every purchaser of this book bought it solely to be sexually turned on – I would also say, “Well and good.”
What is wrong with healthy erotic responses? Why should anyone have to justify a desire to “turn on”? If you believe in the right to turn on to your own fantasies, don’t you also have the right to turn on to the fantasies of others? Is turning on some evil that requires a “redeeming social function” to justify it? I see more moral harm being done, not by the authors or publishers of “sexy” material, but by those censors and critics who attempt to foist and enforce their values upon others.” – Martin Shepard.
So who reads erotic fiction? Well, anyone capable of reading can read it. That includes men, women, teenagers, and some children. I have no idea what the effects of reading erotica would have on children of various ages but I imagine it is similar to the effects watching pornography would have and that it is not recommended. I do not want children to read any of those stories. Some men also read erotic fiction, but visual creatures that we are, most men tend to prefer pornographic videos and pictures. Which leaves women as the main target demographic for an erotica writer. The only difference is that it is considered more acceptable to read erotica in public. Which is why anyone who’s travelled on public transport enough will have seen at least one woman with “50 Shades of Grey” in her hand, but may not have seen a guy with his laptop open to his favourite porn scene. Depending on the area you get your public transport, in New York and London anything goes.
It has been suggested that habitual pornography viewing creates an unrealistic expectation of sex in men’s brains (and women’s), making the real life experience less meaningful and less pleasurable. But that same argument could be made of the effect of erotic fiction on a female (and male) brain. In fact that assertion has been made directly to me. Although I haven’t yet published erotica, I’ve made up a fair few stories for certain friends over the years. After one such story, which I thought was quite good, my friend said “thank you for giving me yet another unrealistic expectation of sex.” In my mind it was a romantic and passionate story, and might be considered unrealistic in terms of the average experience, but not out of the realms of possibility. So that would be the main moral objection I would have to deal with – could my writing diminish the real experience and also create an unrealistic expectation? Maybe. I can’t know. However, I do believe in freedom of expression, and the freedom to choose. I’m not going to force this writing on anyone. In fact I’m going to create a barrier, in the form of the price I will put on most of my writing. This is at a time when you can find plenty of pornography and erotic stories for free. So if it harms people in any way, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I would also feel they made their choice freely (or I would experience it that way, I still don’t believe in free will).
Speaking about cost…why do it? Well, money is the main motivator. A lot of people like to read this sort of writing (I hope). Is it the best use of my time? Maybe not, I would rather focus on my serious writing. But it’s close enough to what I want to do to be worth it. And it’s a small sacrifice to make. Just imagine the number of actors and directors making stupid films and adverts, just so they can finance their more artistic and less commercial works. Or the people who work real jobs in order to have the finances for their pet projects. I consider this a better alternative than having to become an employee again, assuming it works out.
“So would you do it if you were rich?” I- ’ve been asking myself. People are only as moral as they can afford to be. It’s easy not to steal food when you’ve just had a big meal. If you haven’t eaten in days and have no money it’s a different story. So wondering if you would do something if you were already a millionaire is a way of considering your most moral self. It doesn’t have to be a millionaire, it can be more, or less. The point is to think of yourself in a financially secure position for the rest of your life, whatever that means for you. A point where you have what you need, and don’t desire any more. That amount varies significantly between different people. But whatever amount it is, that person is you with the most integrity (in terms of what you would and wouldn’t do for money). And for me, I think I still would write these stories. I probably wouldn’t write as many as I plan to, or focus on them much, but it isn’t just the money motivating me. It is also a fun way to express myself. And to get more practice writing.
Part III will examine a difference between pornography and erotica, real world repercussions, pen-names and the information age where nothing can be hidden.