I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day this week! So get ready for some straight talk about sex, masturbation and how to integrate this into your work. First off though I think it’s important that we have a brief lesson of sex and sexuality in literature.
Your brief history:
- Humans and animals have sex to create babies. If they didn’t we wouldn’t all be here. (If this is new information for you then I suggest you stop reading this and Google search the basics before you continue reading.)
- The problem of inheritance:
- We needed a way to pass down wealth in society. You can do this either through the father or the mother. Society went with men, generally. This led to women needing to be chaste until, and during, marriage so we can properly identify who the child’s father is.
- The Church.
- Religion steps in as a way to bring people together as society expands. They start to dictate what constitutes as good and bad moral behavior. This even extends to what happens in the bedroom.
- The results:
- Women start being repressed and pushed to the fringes of society. They’re hidden from society.
- Marriage is the only place where sex is morally acceptable. Though this doesn’t stop people from playing with others outside of their martial bed.
- Works of art and literature become more subversive with their displays of sexuality. Nudity, for the most part, is being covered up.
- Victorian Period
- Queen Victoria rose to the throne in 1837. This ended the romantic period and sex was banished from being spoken about.
- Queen Victoria was the embodiment of the perfect woman.
- All she did was for men and upholding of the family. She was the absolute lady. She never strayed and never had sex outside of her marriage. She was quite fashionable and set the clothing style for the time period, which was to show as little skin as possible.
- Writers, poets and artists got creative with how they talked about sex. They weren’t going to get published if it wasn’t hidden. Euphemisms were created in earnest!
- Second wave feminism (1960s/70s)
- Blew the lid off of sexuality and opened it up for discussion.
- Thinker Michel Foucault talks about sexual repression and what it means for society in terms of power and control. (His work is a bit hard to read, but really interesting if you ever want to give it a look.)
So that’s a very brief history of what happened to sex and literature without me going too into detail about it.
Sex in literature isn’t a new thing and it has been around for a very long time. Depending on where and time period you lived in, how it looks in literature is going to be very different. For example, in the USA, if you live above the Mason-Dixon line you’re going to have a more cavalier attitude about sex, generally speaking. While in the South, there is going to be more censure over what is being said about sex and how it is going to be presented. You’re also going to want to take into account the socio-economic status of your characters. that’s going to affect how they speak about and understand sex. A really good example of this is Kate Chopin’s short story “At the ‘Cadian Ball”. The story is an example of sex being more blatant in text and it is a regional piece. The story takes place in Louisiana and the main female character is of a lower class than the man pursuing her.
The most taboo subject in literature, unless it is presented as foreplay to sex, is masturbation. You don’t get to see this very often – even for men. A lot of that is due to the Church’s influence on making sure that pleasure remains in a marriage bed and is in the process of making babies. Masturbation is seen as a sin in the eyes of the church. Masturbation for women is a complete no go. it just doesn’t happen – unless you’re William Faulkner and you’re very sneaky about how you present it.
“Then I pass the stall. I have almost passed it. I listen to it saying for a long time before it can say the word and the listening part is afraid that there may not be time to say it. I feel my body, my bones my flesh beginning to part and open upon the alone, and the process of coming unalone is terrible. Lafe. Lafe. “Lafe.” Lafe. Lafe. I lean a little forward, one foot advanced with dead walking. I feel the darkness rushing past my breast, past the cow; I begin to rush upon the darkness but the cow stops me and the darkness rushes on upon the sweet blast of her moaning breath, filled with wood and with silence.” ~Dewey Dell, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.
The quote I just gave you is an example of how subtle Faulkner presents a scene of female masturbation. When reading the rest of the story this is easily looked over in the longer narrative of the story.
Now what does all of this mean to us here in the present day? Well it means we have a lot to explore in terms of sex and sexuality in literature. If we’re being completely honest with ourselves, sex is still a taboo subject in today’s society even though it is seemingly everywhere around us. Well as writers we have the ability to make it into a open conversation and here are some of the things that we can do:
- Write scenes of masturbation as acts of masturbation, not as foreplay. It’s explicitly stated and not subverted. This goes for men and women.
- Be realistic about sex. Sex is awkward. Things go wrong. Not everyone orgasms and rarely do people orgasm at the same time.
- We have LGTBQ+ communities. Their stories should be told as well.
- Own sexuality. If you want to do a story about foot fetishes, for instance, go for it and own that experience. There is going to be an audience for it somewhere. If you don’t know much about this fetish or what you’re writing about. DO YOUR RESEARCH! I know E.L. James got into a lot of trouble for her depiction of the BDMS community in her 50 Shades of Grey trilogy.
- Think about your characters. How they react to sex and masturbation is going to depend on a variety of factors, such as, education, location, and time period. What is the motivation behind them having sex? (You can pull out your new found knowledge of Foucault if you want.) A really interesting thing you can do here is copy the writing style used by time period you’re writing in. So Victorian England is your time period write like Charles Dickens.
- Have fun with writing it. Sex is supposed to be fun. Why not throw some humor into sexy time between characters.
- How about toy use in sex or for masturbation?
- CONSENT! This is something that should not be overlooked in our everyday lives or in literature, unless you’re writing a non-consent story.
- Babies, birth control and STIs. i know it’s not sexy, but they do come up in our lives and I think it’s a wonderful way to educate readers in some capacity about STIs and birth control. Babies can always be an interesting plot twist.
Until next week.