This is an article I wrote for Voracitybeat.com, but since the site is now defunct, I'm reissuing it here for the occasion of the upcoming broadcast in a few weeks' time of Nigel Beale's interview with me about my erotica.
Tell Me Your Stories and I’ll Tell You Mine: Freeing The Erotic Writer Within
© Amanda Earl, 2004
“Write your self, your body must be heard.” Hélène Cixous [Gayle Bradeis, “Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, Harper San Francisco, 2002]
I am new to sharing my erotic stories publicly. Up until recently I have been a writer of poetry, some of it sexual, but none of it particularly explicit. My published erotic poems hide my delight in sex within the seeds of lush apples and underneath the rind of ripe watermelons. Now I write fiction, and I can no longer avoid going into exquisite detail about sex and the feeling of joy and memories of pain and sadness evoked. I am amazed at what a freeing experience it is to share fantasies and fictionalized truths with friends, kindred spirits, and even complete strangers.
In March 2004, I joined an online writing group called the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. Writers share and critique one another’s stories and poems. Editors choose from the submitted work, picking well-crafted and original tales to publish on the public web site for anyone to see. I chose to join the group because I have always written stories, but have never really worked at my craft. At the age of 40, it was time I brought these stories into the light. Turning 40 has caused me to speak my mind. Apparently this is not an unusual transformation for women.
Story telling is in my blood. Even as a child I told my friends steamy tales of pirates kidnapping helpless young maidens and torturing their bountiful breasts. I have always wanted to give voice to the fantasies and memories jumbling around inside my brain and heart in effective and poignant prose, but I’ve been too shy and too concerned about what others may think of my kinky self. Now I can no longer hold back. There is a greater need at work: the need to share my stories, to reach out to other kindred spirits who understand and have experienced the joys and pains that I have gone through, and who can communicate some of their own wondrous and terrible tales.
As women, we learn to be careful about discussing sex in public. You only have to attend the brilliant and hilarious play, The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler to get an idea about just how indirectly we females refer to our own bodies. How many of us still refer to our cunts as “down below” or some other euphemism?
Yet these days, many women are ending that silence, and communicating their thoughts and fantasies about sex through the writing of erotica. Go to your local female friendly sex store and take a look at the number of volumes of female erotica ranging on every subject from lesbian sex to fantasies of sensual magic for dominants and submissives. There is an explosion of excellent writing out there. Women are getting published.
Women did not always feel comfortable discussing their sexuality, nor did the general public accept such writing. In her 1925 diary, Virginia Woolf discusses the difficulties of erotic self-expression for the women of her day:
"Her imagination had rushed away. It had sought the pools, the depths, the dark places, where the largest fish slumber. And then there was a smash. There was an explosion. There was foam and confusion. The imagination had dashed itself against something hard. The girl was roused from her dream. She was indeed in a state of the most acute and difficult distress. To speak without figure she had thought of something, something about the body, about the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say. Men, her reason told her, would be shocked. The consciousness of what men will say of a woman who speaks the truth about her passions had roused her from her artist's state of unconsciousness." [Virginia Woolf, The Waves, Edited with an introduction by Gillian Beer, Oxford University Press, 1992 p. xiii-xiv. Cited from ‘Professions for Women’, in The Death of the Moth (London: Hogarth Press, 1942), 152.]
Imagine how Anais Nin must have felt when she tried to publish her erotica in the 30s. No publisher would touch her lyrical and honest writing. The only way Nin could get published was to establish her own publishing house, Siana Editions, in France in 1935. On top of that, most of her intended audience would not even hear of her work until 30 years later. She was obscure until the 60s when her journals written over many years were published. She believed that “self-knowledge through journaling was the source of personal liberation.”
My main goal here is to encourage you to tell your own stories. It is not essential that you share them with others, but it is key that you share them with yourself. Journals are one way of unloading all that hidden baggage, but stories are also magical tools to help you express yourself.
You can relate your own personal history, and fictionalize it to change details. It’s like being able to manipulate your past. Remember playing barbies as a kid? It’s just like that, except now you know just what to do with your Ken doll.
Imagine you see a very hot construction worker, all sweaty in the sun. He takes off his shirt and pours water from his bottle of Evian onto well-developed pectoral muscles. You can go home and write all about it. In your version, you aren’t wearing old sweatpants with your greasy hair tied up in a hideous bun. Nooo you are poured into a sexy mini skirt, which follows the outline of your smooth curves. You bend over and he gives you a wolf whistle because your legs are shapely in stockings and high stilettos. Never mind that if you actually wore such high heels for real, you’d keel over and fall in a pothole.
Then you can share these fantasies with loving partners who will get turned on and take you to bed. Think of the possibilities.
In one week alone on ERWA, my fellow writers bravely shared beautiful stories involving the poignant rekindling of an old high school reunion flame, the erotic nature of yoga and its potential for sexual healing, and a gloriously sensual fantasy fairy tale co-written by a married couple. Imagine the fun they must have had writing that story together. Better yet, write a story about it!
The poet Muriel Rukeyser asked the question: "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open."
It is therapeutic and empowering to be able to share stories. There's an explosive joy in being able to tell your truth about sex. Writing and sharing stories means accepting yourself and your sexuality, not denying or living in a closet because some will think you are a slut. You aren’t a slut to have sexual feelings. [Or even if you are, so what?]
It is true that some people won’t like your writing, and may even criticize you for writing it. Lately when people ask me what I do, one of the things I mention is that I write erotica. Some want to read my stories, while others just change the subject. One casual friend asked for the link to some of my stories published online, and he has barely spoken to me since. People are still embarrassed about sex, but I am not, and other erotica writers are not. We celebrate it. And people do care about what you have to say. There’s even a decent market for women’s erotica today, so they say. So go on and share your stories. You might be surprised at what comes out.
As my mentor, SARK says in her book, Succulent Wild Woman, “I believe we must live untamed, juicy and abundantly as women. If we share our stories, we will have many telepathic companions for the journey.”
Tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine. Even a flower needs to turn toward the sun and to unfurl in the rain in order to grow. And if anyone doesn’t like it, tell them to kiss your petunia.
“Let your writing ooze with sensuality rich as custard fruit. Give your fruitflesh the chance to express itself, reclaim yourself, honour and celebrate itself over and over again, both in your body and on the page. You are your own source of creative renewal. May your path be a juicy one.” [Fruitflesh, p. 198]