Lust, Need, and Sensual Desire:Will You Set My Pants On Fire?

Lust. We all like to think we know what it is, but do we really? Do our textbook definitions encompass the depth and variety of what lust truly can be? I don’t think it does that often, and when we write or talk about lust we have to acknowledge it isn’t as simple as alarms going off in your pant regions. So let’s get down and dirty into what lust is…and yeah we’re also going to talk about pants region. This is only a little taste of this issue, but there is far more to be written about this. I’d love to know you’re opinion!

  1. Lust is more than the sum of how we usually define it…which is a strong desire for sex. You can lust for anything if the passion consumes you. You can lust for cuddling, for understanding, for someone to feel lust for you, and for anything else you are capable of yearning for.. The key to lust, to true lust, is an itching need that almost creeps up your spine like addiction.daring_love_01_00fc Oh we most often relate it to sex, but real lust goes so much  farther. That is what makes it so entrancing to me is because it is something that consumes and comes over you. Lust is a wide sea of feeling and when it comes to writing sexuality it is tied to two things…need and sensual desire. Sure you can have shallow lust. Most people see a beautiful person they’re attracted to and experience the fun shallow burst of “I want you now.” However in portraying a deeper desire you have to unpack what those feelings are. Anyone can want anyone, but there are times you need to have someone want someone, to have them be consumed by an almost compulsive need and overwhelming sensual need.
  2. I’m very…very ultra familiar with lust and need. It often trips people out when I say sex is wonderfully common, but sensuality is the goal for me. It doesn’t happen every time but damn it if isn’t fun. Sensuality is about a few things  and one is namely(but not always)…giphy. The thing that a lot of writers struggle with is conveying the slow dance of characters. Sex begins with a look. It begins with the acknowledgement all parties are geared and ready for the good times to roll. Some of the most sensual experiences a person can have occur with the absence of sex. A slow caress of the hand, a tender kiss, or that single exchange of knowing smiles all contribute to the creation of a sensual energy between people. It can build up creating the tension readers want to feel. It can be intensely sexual and mind numbingly powerful because much like sexual pleasure it simply builds and builds so the sexual act itself becomes release. I’m not only talking about in erotica, but in any genre when you create then mount that tension you instill that in your readers. So they get satisfaction from the sexual culmination of it. This may not be a sexual satisfaction. Often it is a catharsis of knowing these characters you’ve invested in finally acted on something they wanted to do, which another wonderful form of satisfaction. But a word of warning: Sometimes it goes on too long and writers mistake dragging out a romance for tension. My partner and I have thoroughly discussed the fact that CW’s The Flash spent far too long trying to drag out the titular hero’s relationship with Iris West. It felt slow, the obstacles contrived and uninteresting. Ultimately its most redeeming quality is that it reminded me why some characters and people are better starting off as dates/lovers than as “friends with sexual tension”. None of it rang true and ultimately both my partner and I were rolling our eyes by the second season. When sexual or romantic tension drags out too long without tangible and convincing justifications or insight into why the characters decide to drag things out it can drive you mad. If you write this then your characters feel lazily written and your plot hackneyed. I’m proud that I just used that word, and no one can take that away from me.
  3. Need is a key component of lust, but we often talk about it in cliches. A lot of my life has been spent figuring out what it is to “need” someone or something. Once upon a time I thought I needed many things, but now I know I need only that which makes me content. But the need we often use in writing isn’t about existential happiness. No it is about an aching feeling of not just want, but the knowledge you cannot and should not continue without that thing or person. Full disclosure, the notion of “need” is something I’ve always romanticized until recently.In theory it is so romantic, but to me it also signals an immature love. I spent 6 pining for a man I thought I needed and it took him destroying my dreams to make me see that love shouldn’t make you feel that way. You may call me a cynic, but I call it obsession. I won’t claim we didn’t need each other when we were together. In fact I know we needed each other more than anything that we had at the time, but you should be able to stand on your own even if it hurts. If you can’t please think about what you’re feeling because you should never want to stop living because of anyone leaving like that. That all being said need is absolutely beautiful in writing. fuckhard-heart-love-need-typography-favim-com-134749_large The thing about writing a character having a profound need is it can’t just be consuming…you have to make it felt. The sensation of need is one that isn’t just a character wanting strongly. But either: a character experiencing a powerful “realization”, through conscious thought, feeling, or both; a character , usually unconsciously, acting on impulses and a deep desire for someone or something whether recognized or not. Weaving a story where a character isn’t, only or even necessarily denying their need, but a character whose compulsive need/desire for is building is essentially writing about obsession. As I related in my story to have a need is to be obsessed, and that doesn’t last forever. Time doesn’t matter, but there it is most power when the obsessive need builds or when it is felt in a moment. Truthfully I believe need is often momentary, and by that I mean the need comes when you feel their is a risk. It hits you when you ,consciously or unconsciously, feel as though you need to act or cannot act but feel as though if you don’t something will slip away. There’s this weird tie between helplessness and need…and oddly hoarding, which is a common obsession. This is awesome because it gives you a thousand different ways to convey this situation because every single person has a slightly different reaction to need. Some people view it as an invasion by emotion, while others interpret it as this wonderful emotion(sweeping like a good pop song). You can go anywhere

Of course this post barely scratched the surface of it all, but I wanted to begin unpacking a bit of this awesome and complex thing we call lust! What do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Tell me what’s up!

 

Daily Prompt: Banned

via Daily Prompt: Banned *Unedited as of 10/26 2016 11:46pm est.

It wasn’t the taste of blood in my mouth or the way I watched Markus crumple back onto the floor that convinced me how much he cared, but the way he refused to look at me did. For a man way older than me he seemed dreadfully uncertain of every decision and this one was no different. He glanced towards me, but quickly shied away, clutching his bleeding wrist. I turned my head towards the ceiling of the dark cave tunnel, watch the way the light poured in and cast shadows over every wall until the shadows grew large and simply became darkness. I should have been dead. I should have simply been another missing woman somewhere in the world, but this vampire chose to save me. This whole mess would have been easy to run from without me, but there I was. I wiped my hand across my mouth leaving a dark red smear over my skin before a wave of weakness came back over me.

“Crap.”

“How do you feel?” he asked softly. I heard a ripping noise, and when I looked closely at him I saw he’d begun to tie the ends of his shirt around his wrist to halt the bleeding.

“Well, I won’t be running a marathon any time soon. Not that I…I ever planned on it.” As I spoke my skin began to tingle and I suddenly became acutely aware of the blood flowing through my body. The bruises on my neck and waist throbbed in time with the deep cut on my abdomen and along my spine. Pulsing. Pulsing. Every centimeter of myself began to sing with a rush of overwhelming and awe-inspiring energy that made my heart bound so fast I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My lungs ached as though someone had beaten my chest in, and the struggle for air got more difficult. Was I turning? Was I losing the battle for life? I did not know as my hands shook and I began to squirm on that cold hard ground. As quickly as this all began Markus loomed over me. His usual cool affect evaporated as he pulled me onto his lap, cradling me as though all he wished to do was help me.

“Shh…it’ll be over soon.”

I tried to get out words, but the sounds didn’t even reach my throat as panic made me paw at my own chest. It needed to work. I needed to know what he did. I managed to mouth Did you?’ and that was enough to get him to shake his head sternly.

“No. I didn’t turn you. I…I wouldn’t do that unless you asked. You need to relax, slow your breathing, and let the blood do what it must.”He began stroking my hair, and I tried to do as he said. One breath seemed to half way work  but then it felt squeezed out of my lungs by force like someone pressed on a juice box until only air came out. “Shh, keep trying. Slowly…come on.” And I did again…and again and again. With every attempted breath that feeling hit me. Dark clouds peppered with rainbow stars began to pop before my eyes. The pain in my lungs intensified my wounds felt as though the flesh was being pulled together again. The sensation was like straining a muscle and then having someone grab onto the wounded flesh and tightly pulling it taunt until it gave a little…then a little bit more. It hurt like a mother fucker and the adrenaline rushing through me seemed to be running a race through my blood, causing my head to throb. Never in my life had I imagined such feelings to be possible all together. I once read of a condition where people could hear their internal organs and all. It was apparently a very painful and distracting thing. This was a distant cousin, but it made me understand how too much awareness didn’t just swamp your brain. It made every single thing you felt louder, more angry, and more suffocating.

“Don’t black out on me now. You can’t. Not yet,” he begged. I’d never heard him beg in the near year I’d known him. Markus had more pride than anything else and this certainly took the cake. If I died I at least got to hear something remarkable first. The heaviness of my body deepened. For a moment I imagined sinking through the wound on my back and all of me melting through the cave floor down into the warm embrace of the abyss. “Serene! You’re stubborn as hell so don’t disappoint me now.”

Another failed breath. Pressure. Pain. So tired. I did not want to die, but life had never been about what I wanted though sometimes life lined up with that. Life had been about living through pain and sorrow with all the baggage those things brought. That didn’t diminish the promise of joy! Oh I’d had such laughs with family and friends. I’d loved things with such vigor, and so much remained uneaten or untasted. Markus had been tasted, but how I wanted to love him. Just to try…just to see.

He slapped my cheeks lightly a few times sending a sting through my face.I grimaced, tossing my head, trying to grab onto his voice through the encroaching dark.

“No. You do not get to leave me now. You and I have things to work out…I want to figure us out so you damn well better stay with me!” He pressed his lips to my forehead and a small smile came on my face. “I want more of those cupcakes, I want more time, and I want more of you and I trying to figure this out ok?”

One more breath. The air rushed my lungs and I felt them fill as though all the crud and gunk in my slightly asthmatic self was obliterated. My eyes widened as every single ache and pain climaxed into this magnificent yet horrid pop, forcing my back to arch and every muscle to tense until they hurt. After what felt like all too long the sensation left and my body plopped prone onto him as I began to gasp for air. Markus began to laugh running his fingers through his dark hair with a grin that I’d never seen.

“Don’t scare me like that!” he said with a relieved laugh.

“Don’t scare you like that? I thought I was done!” I tried to sit forward, and he took my hand to help keep me steady. As he did the thuds of many feet filled my ears and I heard pebbles being kicked around. Markus’s attention turned toward the tunnel as he scowled, and I tried to stand only to fall down. My wounds may have healed, but somewhere between them and the healing I got a nasty case of vertigo that left me a bit weak and nauseous. He looked down quickly, shaking his head before standing in front me as though he planned to protect me.

“Those must be her guards,” he said.

“Why don’t they just give up and let us leave!?”

Markus pulled his switchblade from his pocket and with a slight movement of his thumb the sharp blade sprung to life. That was all we had left besides ourselves. It wouldn’t end well. I couldn’t stand needless to say throw a punch, and he half drained himself feeding me his blood to save my life. Most wouldn’t have noticed how it affected him. The slight stagger, the slight unease in his stance, and the tiredness in his eyes were subtle things, but undeniable. We couldn’t fight, but we sure as hell would try.

But as the footsteps grew closer they grew softer and less numerous.We may have had a bit more of a fighting chance than I thought. I sat forward, cracking my knuckles, and told myself that shit would be just fine. I didn’t believe it, but I tried. The long shadows of the case drew towards us turning into approaching figures. They stopped in the shadows, whispering far too quiet for me to hear. One tall figure stepped forward, motioning for the others to remain still. The light was just enough that I could see his eyes reflected a dull glow almost like a panthers or a cat at night. He stepped forward again and Markus raised his knife to attack

“Show yourself!”

“It is I.”

That voice must have been familiar, and I had a small guess as to who it was when Markus lowered his hands. The figures drew forward again and the leader instantly reminded me of the man I saw in the portrait hung in Malika’s private office. She, Desaad, Markus, and their Sire. The older man with the silver hair dressed in the latest fashions of 1879. That man whose eyes told of tremendous horrors and wisdom I’d love to pull apart stood there, tall and smiling at us. His trousers were more than bloody, his undershirt torn in several places, and his shoes were as scuffed and dirty as his skin. How long had this man been a prisoner? Still he looked remarkably aged and remarkably as powerful as he looked in that portrait.

“Master…I thought you were-”

“Malika’s goons? Yes, I figured. I’m glad you escaped with your life.” He looked down at me and gave an almost grandfatherly smile. It made me like him a bit more than I probably should have. “And I am glad you escaped with your friend as well. I know how terribly attached you can get.”

“Don’t speak of my relationships like they’re child’s toys or my friends and…her as though they were pets.”

“Ha we’re all someone’s pet something.” The man laughed, nodding his head as he tucked his hands behind his back. He glanced towards a bronze skinned handsome gentlemen that had moved close behind him. “So she is the stranger?”

“What?” Markus said.

I looked up at Markus and nodded.

“That was an old name for what some called…what I am.” It didn’t shock me that their Sire already knew what I was…what I could do. Things like that were juicy if not important details when it came to this strange situation. The elder vampire was kidnapped, tortured, used to take every ounce of rage he inspired in his once treasured adoptive daughter, Malika. He probably asked for an update before he’d even been unchained.

“So you are one of The Empty?”

“Yes, and may I say it is a pleasure to finally meet you, sir.” I had always been taught to respect my elders. Didn’t see why I should stop there. I rose to my feet slowly, doing my best to shake off the vertigo lingering in my mind.

“Ah!” He beamed as though thoroughly pleased with this development. “It is so rare to find a young person with good proper manners! It is nice to meet you as well. However, I wish it were under normal circumstances…and that I must not give such bad news.”

“News?” Markus said. He looked as though something sour had fallen into his mouth, and his brow furrowed.

“You are, so long as you remain with this girl and unaffiliated with any known coven you are hereby banned from doing any significant business with those under my protection.”

The nerve of this man! After all we did to save his triphlin’ ass the first thing he spits out was that garbage. Exiled? “Banned”? For me? Markus never got too into details about how much influence his Sire wielded, but from what she recalled from their interviews the man had considerable power among those who made being an immortal creature in the world of Social Security Numbers, open public records, and google a hell of a lot easier. He protected many, and plenty who Markus on occasion admitted he called friends. They were loyal, or tried to be…and more than that something told me that the man could be far more fierce than he initially seemed. Hell what Malika told me…the murders, the burning, the tortures…all pointed to him being far more cruel than he appeared.

I had to ask. I needed to know. “Why? Because of me-”

“Oh no. Trust me you are not that important though you are most curious,” Their Sire ignored my scowl and just kept going. Yeah, I liked him a bit too soon. “It is you in conjunction with the fact that he has no allegiance. Not to me. Malika shows I can’t trust that now.”

“That is paranoia at its finest,” I said.

“Do you know who you’re speaking to, girl?” The bronze vampire growled, but their Sire just raised a hand to signal him to back down. The handsome asshole did as told, adjusting his coat and looking away.

“What do you mean by significant?” Markus asked. Not a hint of shock or malice hung on his voice. Did he expect that to happen? He remained as still as stone, unmoved by everything, and meanwhile everything he and I did got thrown out the goddamn window. Moments ago I was bleeding out and preparing to meet my maker, and now this? Vampire crap. No. Human crap enhanced like vampirism enhanced everything else.I crossed my arms wishing Markus would just say something, protest, but he said nothing else.

“Well…it is whatever I decide, yeah?” The man laughed and Markus just bobbed his head a slow smirk came on his lips that said he had expected this somewhere in the back of his mind. “We will gladly assist you for the remainder of the week before you leave”

“We need a change of clothes. One or two meals, and then a nice plane ride back home. I’m done with all this.” Markus sighed, looking around the caves slowly. “I’m done with Istanbul…Desaad and Malika loved it here, but…well it is appropriate they are here now.”

“They always deserved each other. He was too afraid to return and she was too afraid to leave. They were rather pathetic really.”

A silence far colder than the caves around us settled over me. Once upon a time Malika called him her father and far more recent than that…Desaad fought tooth and nail to rescue him. Within the grey storm of that man’s eyes none of that mattered. Worse, I sensed he appreciated it all very deeply. He respected their choices, their loyalty, and enjoyed their service whole heartedly. Something about how he said their names told me that much, but none of that changed how he felt or affected him in the slightest. Maybe the elder vampire needed to act that heartless in order to cope, but all I heard was sincere feeling. In his ancient eyes, in the eyes of their creator, they were truly pathetic in ways I could not understand. It made me feel sick again as though a stranger tied a knot in my stomach.

From the corner of my eye I saw Markus ball his hand into a tight fist. “We will leave the day after tomorrow.” His voice did not waver or shift. Not a single note of anger clung to it. “Banished…yes, I can make that work.” He sounded almost hopeful in some twisted way. That made a light bulb go off in my head. Malika did horrendous things in the name of putting the past behind her. But Markus? No, he did a good and loyal thing…and the result ended up the same way. Banned from those who most reminded him of his past. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and I could see the gear turning away in his mind.

“Well, shall we go?” The elder vampire cheerfully asked.

We followed those seven vampires out along the hillside and down the cliffs to their cars. Markus held my hand for the whole way, but besides asking me how I felt he remained lost in the web of his mind. As we sat in a jet black SUV behind two vampires who preferred not to acknowledge us at all a gruesome thought crossed my mind. What if…Markus had some how foresaw all of this in the beginning? What if this was his ultimate plan? What if he had learned far more from his Sire than Desaad or Malika, or even the vampires that followed the man now? How would I know? The answer did not exist as I knew it. It troubled me and followed me through that whole long drive. As much as it did I could not bring myself to truly justify how much it mattered. I could only say…there was far more to learn from my das vampyre…and I hope banishment treated him far better than his Sire.

 

 

*This is based on my vampire action+romance series that has yet to be titled starring Serene and Markus.

On Ethics: Response to “Sex in YA[…]”

**Warning: Discussions of assault, abuse, and rape mentions**

Tonight I read this fascinating article. and I found myself really revisiting an old conundrum that has plagued me before. Ok, let me just say I obviously am not for abuse, but I am for having rational ethical discussions of how simply saying legality is enough when addressing creative fiction or non-fiction. Let’s broaden that actually: Legality and morality are not absolutes strong enough to address the reality of fantasy and fiction being things anyone can make for any reason, from any prospective, and to any purpose. We simply cannot control what others are aroused by, but we can mitigate the sexualizing and fetishizing elements of what we create in order to avoid the promotion of harmful norms, mores, and values. This does not only apply to age in writing about sex(not just erotica), but in writing that can promote harmful views of vulnerable groups, minorities, and practices. The difficulty we face in all these things as writers is the differences between people, being misunderstood, evaluating our personal positions on our creative social obligations(if any), and simply writing what we feel we must. While I obviously have my personal beliefs, as do you…we all have to question what we consider absolutely true otherwise we can end up establishing beliefs, mores, and norms that prevent open discussion and can ultimately hurt those we try to protect. Without further ado…

Sex is very complicated and our relationship to sex, society, and medical science is all very complicated. For instance: if there was a book you read at 15 with very steamy scenes involving the also 15 year old protagonists that arouses you for the rest of your life are you a pedophile? If you fantasize about your first sexual encounter at age 16 are you a pedophile? If you turn 18 and don’t have sex with your still underage partner are you still a pedophile? If you’re 26, don’t have sex with a person you are in love with, don’t ever plan on it, but still have feelings for them are you a pedophile? If you’re a writer and you describe a character as a teenager with incredibly sexually attractive looks to your main teenage character are you engaging with pedophillic practices?
A lot of arguments logically follow through to “yes”.
As a sociologist, I can’t help but acknowledge that so much of this is culturally informed and that setting any moral absolutes on this subject and related ones outside of legal law may be pointless. Law is easy and we can base it on real world harms that are tangible to people and society. Harms we can measure. Harms require us to seek understanding, do research, and then say the goal is to do as little harm as possible while preventing as much harm as possible. That doesn’t require moral  absolutism. That can be applied on a case by case basis. Figuring out what harms is easier than the changing norms between societies. That can motivate law and more easily be digested as a writer picks up his or her pen. Still when it comes to pure fiction the harms become difficult to process broadly. Chances are, no living existing creature is being harmed, and more so…we have to decide what harm even is. Is harm showing teenagers ever have sex? How are we measuring harm, does the intention of the artist matter, and that intention isn’t to arouse but someone is aroused how do we address that and should we even try? The law can refer to medicine, the supposed necessity of actions that would otherwise be considered harmful, etc. with ethics at the core of it, but not necessarily what you and I may deem tasteful. However what you and I deem tasteful is tied to valid points of free will, consent, psychological readiness, and appropriateness. Fact is Age and sexuality are not so much regulated by logic as by emotion and morality after a certain point. For good reason in many cases, but I often wonder whether this is a subject we can ever make piece with as people let alone as writers.

It isn’t just about writing young people engaging with older people, and I think that’s a mistake people often make when talking about this. Writers have characters who are both the same age who have sex. Where it isn’t smut, erotica, or designed to titillate on a sexual level but on an emotional one, to demonstrate to love and wonder of discovery. Where everything is in flowy flowery metaphor. It is about writing and about our beliefs about young people and our beliefs about sexuality. Some of it is about power. Some of it is related to how expressions of adulthood and/or sexuality have moral and social implications…

One can make a very strong class and race argument that the stigma associated with teenage pregnancy, for instance, developed in response to those with power who had the assets to postpone adulthood without reputation harms (Girl vanishes for a year…comes back “thinner”and no one is the wiser. Other girl can’t go anywhere and everyone knows). So aspects of “adulthood” and “sexuality” become tied together and the ability to postpone them or put a happy “high school sweetheart” bow on it becomes tied to the powerful and thus to positive behaviors. So to ignore young people’s sexuality, to hide the fact that many (but not all) teens may engage in sexual behaviors becomes tied to our perceptions of what is “good” or “bad”. Then  you think about a hundred plus years ago and…by definition many people were, under modern standards, marrying children who grew into productive members of society more or less. People didn’t live long. People didn’t and still don’t in many places have the luxury of choice. So many westerners turn their noses up at those cultures when we were there not even a hundred years ago. The lack of freedom a specific time and place gave to individuals, to young people, deeply affects how we value freedom and the very concept of love not to mention sexuality. Those are all things we have to acknowledge when talking about sexuality, age, and fiction because writers can write stories in any era with people of any age. We have to acknowledge them because they inform how we validate individual stories and how/what we decide to write. If I write a story in 1500 about a 16 year old girl marrying a 22 year old does that have moral implications? Does it have moral implications only if I don’t spend a large portion of time writing about it being wrong? Does it make me a bad person for acknowledging this once common practice? Some may argue yes, but to me regardless if I write sex or not the story isn’t based on ideas of abuse, but on the emotional implications of a once common emotionally harmful practice. Teenage is a recent invention, a luxury, but back then young people were adults as soon as they were married off or on their own. In a world like that, a place like that, how harms are concieved of become very different things…and the harms this caused to many who became productive members of society we can say were present, but manifest in a different way perhaps to a different degree due to the day to day struggles of the period. If I’m writing all of that must I write at length about the 22 year old as a monster and the 16 year old a victim when for them, this was normal (though very upsetting) practice and normal life because it is mortifying to me in 2016?

Then if you think about brain development alone…most brains finish developing only around the age 25, so is anyone under 25 fully capable of consent? Recently a lot of people have been struggling with this in relation to Monica Lewinsky again, but she wasn’t the first person to have consensual, non-coercive, sex with their superior or someone powerful. If there is ever a age or experience inequality is sex fair? I’ve been hearing arguments that lean no. Something about that seems like it suggests adults aren’t capable of consent, but then again should anyone below 25 be considered an adult if brain development can take that long? Can we be adults if our reasoning may be affected by incomplete development? Is any opposition to that idea just self-serving and not based on logic? I don’t know. I do know children can’t consent. They’re young. They don’t know about the world. They don’t fully grasp sex, and  while children can experience sexual pleasure like all humans they can’t truly ever consent. Consent requires a level of understanding that a child cannot have not just  in mental knowledge but in emotional knowledge. But when you talk about young people over the age of 14, people with knowledge, sexual drives, and urges how do we thread the needle when depicting their lives?

At the end of the day all we can do is try not to glorify harmful practices.

To me the most useful question in regards to that is: How do we negate harm that can be done to young people as an aggregate?  The best argument I subscribe to is that how an author depicts certain subjects, their intent, and the perspective therein have an obligation to avoid normalizing harmful attitudes, practices, and behaviors. You can write the development of a relationship that ends in two 17 year olds having intercourse. You can write it with the purpose of showing them as a loving couple without sexualizing it. When you sexualize it, when you fetishize their youth, then you are engaging in harmful unethical practices. But then again someone can reasonably argue the point that we have to define what “normalizes”, which could be anything from “ever writing the concept of young people having sexual interactions” to “the only normalizing thing would be something akin to a NAMBLA pamphlet” depending on who you speak to. I believe it is wholly unnecessary to get into the nitty gritty of young people having sexual interactions for the sake of arousal. I believe normalizing harms is as I said, turning youth and being young and those who are young into objects of fetish.

For me, I loved steamy YA as a young teen and I see nothing inherently wrong with it. I think it helped me come to grips with being a highly sexual person in a world where I by virtue of my gender and my appearance were supposed to be essentially sex-less. Now erotica in YA doesn’t work. It just does not. But depicting sexual discovery, sexual characters, differing views on sexuality is not making erotica. Does that mean sex should be everywhere? No. The question to me is always “What is the purpose of this in this story?” To me, fetishizing youth and characteristics associated with youth of younger characters in their sexual encounters is a huge no, no.

I wrote an erotica story where the main character has a flash back to being a teenager, being home alone, and masturbating all weekend. You don’t “see” it so to speak, but she recalls it with a desire to feel that excited about sexual things again. I wrote it not to sexualize a teenager, and I edited it to cut back on the sexualizing elements there in order  to focus on the purpose: to convey how thrilling sexual discovery fueled her first desires, but became something embarrassing and alienating over the last several years…because the story is about her exploring, discovering, and reconnecting with individual moments of embodiment via sexual bdsm encounters.

There is a way to communicate sexual experiences with tact, love, and without sexualizing people of almost any age. There is a right way and wrong way to write sexuality, and with young people you have to understand that the story can’t be erotica. It can be full of sexual experiences, but it can’t be erotica. It has to be a story about young people being people, and yes people, real live teenagers, engage in sexual actions. Yes, sometimes a story heads into or towards that direction. That isn’t erotica. That can’t be it for the story and that can’t be carried out to be “sexy”. Truthfully young adults of all ages have so much to think about with sex it simply is impossible for it to be erotica. It just isn’t realistic or really right. Regardless it does really becomes a grey area because of the one thing: “It is still fiction”. On one hand it bothers me to think that we writers have to tip toe around sexuality, and how experiences felt or feel to characters because of something our society is struggling with for both sound and unsound reasons. On the other hand I don’t want people peddling gross stuff that fetishizes kids. I don’t want a piece of writing that glorifies the youthfulness of a teenage or younger character as sexually appealing with a tone of seriousness and genuine belief for the sake of sexualizing the character. To an extent I can even take a character that is a disgusting monster giving his perspective so long as it is overtly reflecting his or her sick twisted mind. I just don’t want gross lusting over children played straight to be portrayed as serious and normal without any context. Luckily YA doesn’t go there.

The question is what can we even do and why do we want to try to do something about this? Can we really regulate the world of fantasy because of our chosen morality across the board? Can we really arbitrarily decide we know the reason and motivation without question in all situations with X or Y element? More importantly how far do we go with this?

We should always question motives and reasons, but we can’t assume them. We can’t assume every dominant wants to assault people, we can’t assume all rape fantasies mean the author and reader believe rape is good or justified. I know of a woman writer who doesn’t write erotica at all, but is sex positive and has described to me how she has these fantasies of being a child who is molested and seduced. What can I tell her? I don’t know. These fantasies are disturbing, completely unrelated to her feelings outside of her head, and ultimately the reality disgusts her on a level she’s conveyed whenever we have discussed the matter. She doesn’t take abuse lightly. She doesn’t take abuses of power lightly. She doesn’t take consent lightly. This is a woman I’ve marched with at rallies, whose escorted women to clinics, whose beliefs go into highlighting the erasure of male abuse victims. And these are just fantasies that came to her. She’s never the predator. She is the prey, the victim, and that is the sexual interest. Is she an inherently bad person for conceiving of those thoughts as sexually exciting…even if she is essentially the “willing” victim in those fantasies? Fuck. I’d say no, but you could make several convincing arguments for yes if you really tried. Is this a form of “thought crime”? If we say that thinking of any situation makes you as guilty as doing it or at the least as gross as participating, and normalizing the harm…what do we do about those scenarios? Is the problem only a problem if she shares these fantasies with others? She’s not mentally ill. She’s not “broken” or some sort of monster. She simply has these fantasies of complete and utter powerlessness, and I honestly feel bad for her because she seems troubled by them. The problem of harms is when you decide to include fictional characters as being harmed, or say “the category of young people is being harmed by this fiction whether it be produced or imagined” you overlook the complexities of human sexual thought and action. You make a blanket statement instead of getting to the source of what makes the harm so harmful

The realms of fantasy and sexuality are incredibly complicated when they’re theoretical thoughts…but then they’re still just thoughts…what happens when they appear in art?

A few years ago a man who sells different Japanese Manga was arrested in Canada for having”child pornography” based on how the characters were drawn. The styles weren’t realistic, the characters were said be the age of majority in the stories, and ultimately they were works of fiction. He was shocked as were others because essentially the arrest wasn’t made to protect anyone and was based on “The characters look young”. Ultimately, the court and prosecutors contended that the characters were “drawn to depict children as sexual”. Let’s be honest that very well may have been the case, but we can’t say that with any absolutes? Complicating things is…can we assume everyone read them for that purpose, that they were drawn with that intention, or??  Now shit gets complicated. Some anime and manga artist draw their characters to look young not intentionally, but that is there style. The only difference between how they draw one age group after a certain point and another may be height, or muscles, or breast size. If that is the case for a certain artist do we end up inadvertently implying that the body is what differentiates what is and is not appropriate, and suggest that, for example, anyone involved with a flat chested woman or an androgynous man is secretly attracted to or enjoys sexualizing children? And by that same token are we not saying certain body traits make someone more or less equivalent to a child regardless of age That isn’t overthinking. That is the unfortunate implication. Even then if characters are said to be of legal age or just turned that age, but we still take issue with it how can we justify saying the legal ages of sexual majority are based on fairness and not doing harm, or that they even really matter? I know a 27 year old who has been mistaken for a 12 or 13 year old on a nearly regular basis because of her size and voice. If someone is attracted to her…how do we interpret that?

Is the problem that these works exist or is the problem that monsters exist?

Is the problem that a piece for one reason or another might appeal to those monsters, or is it that we feel these pieces push uncomfortable situations for most of us?

Is the problem people thinking about teens having sex even if it isn’t fetishy or gross?

I would argue the difference is in the depiction, in the writing and art. I would argue that plenty of people in this world look younger than they are and even act that way or dress that way. I myself like Japanese lolita and ganguro fashion which is basically what happens when victorian dolls meet Lisa Frank. However, differences in how characters are depicted, obvious descrepensies in their supposedly being of sound and legal mind to consent versus their language, and other story by story contexts are what make all the difference in the world. I still don’t think you can legally penalize it with ease, but I do think you can see the intentions of who something is for, why it was written, and its purpose if you look closely. You can’t lump a story about a petite girl who looks younger than she is and has sex into the same category as a story about a petite girl who looks, acts, and thinks like a little kid across the board who has sex. You can explore the dd/lg lifestyle, with the former, but if the latter is literally all but calling the girl a child or a teenager that will be obvious. Once again context is everything.

If I have a teenage character who is insanely sexual, would realistically describe sex with relish, do I just skip over it and sacrifice what that scene reveals about them, their sexuality, and their relation to their body? I don’t think I know. Regardless of the book, too much sex can be a bad thing either way, and the goal wouldn’t be to sex up this teen in a pornographic way so it wouldn’t read like erotica in the slightest. The purpose of the scene would be to show this teenager’s fictional life, their active sexual life informs that life and “this is what that means to the story”. So a scene like that wouldn’t even include the sex so much as it would include the emotions, the mental state, the character’s feelings in the moment over any sexual acts. In fact I know I could write the scene without describing more than a kiss directly, but to some people even having the obvious implications would make me part of a large social problem.

With porn they used to say I’ll know it when I see it, but that can only go so far when talking about art. Full disclosure us westerners also have a nasty habit of deciding what is sexual for other societies so we really can’t be trusted. Just last week I read an article arguing that traditional dress in some South African groups that have women bare breasted are somehow exploitative based on the western author’s discomfort and own social, culture, and moral education in a completely foreign land. Essentially the argument was “We think its sexual. You cover up”, which I find racist, ethnocentric, imperialist, and incredibly unethical. This is the world we live in and all of these things come down to us as writers of fiction or non-fiction, as artists, as people who try to engage the variety of human experience in a fair, enjoyable, and purposeful way.

What are our ethical and moral obligations here? I believe that they are to do no harm. I believe they are to motivate thought. I believe we mustn’t treat the vulnerable as sexual objects just because we can. But ethically how do we go after those who may not always live up to my or your standards? How do we do that when we aren’t actually protecting real young people? How do we do that when we can’t and should not have “thought crimes” like in a dystopian novel?

I’m constantly wondering what to do about this because I am still close enough to teenage where I remember exactly how I thought, where I was sexual from a young age even without sexual experience, and I struggle with that greatly because I turned 18 and I did the things I couldn’t have before. My mind didn’t magically change. I just was legally able to do these things with people I was attracted to, and so I did with abandon. At the same time for someone else that difference between 17 and 18 is a vast chasm. At the same time I knew people who had kids at 13. Then again I knew people who didn’t even really know about anything beyond the mechanics of sex until their mid twenties or early thirties who feel the better for it. I know people who are 100% aesxual who support being open and frank about sexuality and those who never want it discussed around them. I know people who want their kids to read everything…and those who want their kids to read what is appropriate to their age group and then one day read everything.

There is an obvious line in western culture of what is not ok. I agree with and believe with that line whole heartedly. It is based on psychology, sociology, and the traumatic experiences far too many face. Kids and young people must be protected from predatory beasts in any and every way possible. But when we talk about young people, when we talk about the reality of young people being willing sexual participants with partners they choose, when we talk about writing in the minds of characters, when we talk about writing for the story, when we talk about avoiding turning our works into flashy inauthentic gross poop….we walk a fine invisible line. We must do no harm. We must be aware of how our writing reads so our intentions are not misunderstood. We must be aware of the difference between sex and sexualizing individuals no matter the age. As writers we must write honestly to tell the tales we want to convey in the way that best suits those stories. With care, gentle crafting, and understanding a writer can engage with human sexuality without ever crossing that line. It isn’t censorship to write smart, to understand how your writing will be seen, and to understand what makes you cross that line or not. You can write from the perspective and beliefs of a horrible person without glorifying that horror seriously in a persuasive way. So I will say to you once again…

At the end of the day all we can do is try not to glorify harmful practices.

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I don’t believe I said anything insulting or radical here. I don’t believe I said anything gravely inappropriate. I tried to be very even handed in regards to censorship, morality, and ethics of this very sensitive situation. The truth is there are no easy answers. I wish there were, but we live in a world where terrible things happen, where consent isn’t always valued(and that goes both ways). I’m an adult and I still have to explain that adults can consent to bdsm. I still have to explain that saying any sexual practice that is consensual, but doesn’t fit someone’s views is just reestablishing gender norms…is like saying because men have more power in society straight sex can never be fully consensual. I still have to explain to people that saying “no” means “no”. I still have to explain to people that assuming one gender is inherently the victim is why a lot of male abuse victims end up in jail, being harassed/stalked, and ultimately suffering in silence. So with all that in mind how do we even get to the issue of actually protecting those who need it…and acknowledging that there are complexities in fiction. Sex is very complicated, but it is also part of most people’s lives. To pretend no teen has sex is ignorance, but to glorify the sexuality of children, of teens, of those without sound mind to consent is to glorify the abuse of the vulnerable. Do not mistake that for conveying the sexuality of all people, of all characters. But do not confuse that last part for ok’ing fetishizing those vulnerable people. We truly walk the invisible line as writers…but if you cross it intentionally you risk your career, your life, and your reputation. All we can do is protect each other, and those who most need protection due to lack of lived experience, mental or emotional maturity, knowledge, and power.