Sexual Pleasure in Fiction

What would happen if novels were rewritten with the sexual stories included? Not just included as an afterthought, but as important narrative devices. Having sex or BDSM play is typically a crucial component to developing romantic intimacy. If we want to see our characters fall in love or lust, let’s see it all. Show us flesh, skin, sensation, and heart. What day of the week was it? How did their skin taste? Where did this happen? And let’s just call it fiction, rather than compartmentalize get it by naming it smut.

What would the iconic dyke coming out novel, Rubyfruit Jungle, have looked like if detailed, lascivious sex was included? What if Molly and Loeta’s night together didn’t end teasingly with “And I soon found out”? In Molly’s torrid affair with Alice, sex was described as, “Alice steamed and shook and sighed…she loved being touched and she loved touching back”, but I longed for a more visceral description of sexual pleasure and bodies, instead of this delicate hint. Sensuous yet explicit sexual guidance would have soothed many a baby dyke’s nerves and provided affirmation of her sexual self-worth. Internalized homophobia would begin to dissipate.

Fiction that includes explicit sex is categorized in several ways, and the major ones are erotica, pornography, artsy, and erotic romance. With the possible exception of artsy, none of these categories are viewed as having any literary merit and are often scorned. The exclusion of sexuality and bodies in fiction perpetrates sexual shame and leaves us without fully realized literary role models. Although this lack of modeling in fiction is problematic for all people, it is particularly problematic for anyone struggling with their gender identity or their sexual orientation.

At what point does fiction cross the line from fiction to erotica, pornography, or erotic romance? How many explicit sexual acts, say blowjobs, are permitted per book? Does it make a difference if the blowjob is mentioned fleetingly, or if it is described graphically? What if it is described sensually or using metaphors? Does it make a difference who is sucking who? Do silicone or trans cocks automatically make it a sort of situational smut, even if the blowjob is the smallest fraction of the story? Is smut the narrative of sex without life, making fiction the narrative of life without sex? Why do we compartmentalize our lives, subtracting such a primal and basic pleasure from art? I believe that we censor pleasure from fiction due to a conglomeration of religion, shame, and power. If the power of sexual pleasure were shown and was culturally acknowledged without shaming, the world would change.

What would happen if sex was not compartmentalized in art or life? What if it wasn’t the dirty, private, faintly shameful function that it so often becomes? Could novels include realistic depictions of sex, side-by-side with the rest of the storytelling narrative? I long for that expansion of fiction, the inclusion of sexual pleasure.

Sex and sexual attraction are powerfully primal. Is that why we are reluctant to depict it? Romance novels sometimes depict sexuality in all its fleshy glory, but I am not interested their narrative tropes. I found such tropes as the powerful hero, the inexperienced younger woman, the millionaire, broken birds, and the rescue a turn-off at worst, and uninteresting at best. Then there’s bad boy fiction such as Henry Miller’s, but that sex was too misogynistic and gloomy.

These are some of the questions that I asked myself before writing Behrouz Gets Lucky. Like most of us, sexual pleasure is crucial in my life. I start many days with masturbation and an orgasm, have ended romantic relationships when the sex didn’t work, and stayed in relationships past their natural expiration date because of amazing sex. I’m 61 years old and hope to be having orgasms until I die.

I knew that I wanted to treat sex with as much importance as any other action in my book; a blowjob had to include as much detail as morning coffee and conversation. I wrote a list of sexual and BDSM situations that I wanted to include in the book, making a sex storyline. Then I added a nonsexual storyline to the sex storyline. Behrouz Gets Lucky was the story of a kinky, sensual couple’s courtship, from their first date onwards; if I glossed over the sex, it would not be realistic.

It is important to tell our stories, the ones that we hold in our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. This is how we know that we aren’t alone, and how we build a world where sexual pleasure is given the dignity and respect that it deserves. Silence and shame do not beget sexual healing. As writers, we need to begin the habit of incorporating sex into our fiction. As readers, we need to ask for it! Ask our favorite authors where they’ve hidden the sex, ask librarians and bookstore owners for fiction with depictions of sexual pleasure in their plots, write reviews on Amazon and Good Reads commending books that are inclusive of sexual pleasure and asking for it in books where it is missing. This is how we change the world, orgasms flanked by grocery shopping, walking the dog, and grousing about the rising cost of living, one book at a time.

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About Avery Cassell

Avery Cassell is a genderqueer San Francisco writer, poet, cartoonist, and artist who grew up in Iran. They live with their Maine Coon cat, Lulu, and bake yeasted waffles every Sunday morning. Behrouz Gets Lucky is their first novel. You can find their erotic short stories sprinkled in various anthologies, including Best Lesbian Erotica 2015 and Sex Still Spoken Here. Avery is currently working on a book of more of Behrouz and Lucky's shenanigans, a memoir, and an illustrated early reader children's book about a eight year old transgender boy and his family.
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