The first time I wrote a story with a sex scene I was 14. It was a Full Metal Alchemist fan fiction. The first time I wrote an original piece worth a damn was at age 15. The story concerned a young unnamed woman who encounters a shape shifting wolf(original I know). The wolf isn’t some bad boy though. He’s a teenager like her, but full of cheer and hope for a better world. One moonlit night the unnamed girl kissed him and shy fumbling led to more. Now as I begin my journey as an erotica writer I’ve been forced to ask a question: is it wrong or uncomfortable for my readers if I revisit those ideas and give them a more evolved form? Is it wrong to plumb my brain for dirty fantasies I drooled over as a minor? Is it wrong to take old stories from my books and USBs and rewrite them as something new? It may seem like a stupid question, but as young people gain access to more technology and we engage in discussions over technology, sex, consent, and inevitably morality we have to begin figuring out these often arbitrary lines of legality and morality.
My natural instinct with creative works is that they are fictional and though they do impact our society we can’t and should not treat thoughts as crimes. So long as no one is hurt then regardless of our disgust no one should be penalized legally for fictional content creation…though they can be penalized socially. My litmus test has always been “Is anyone being hurt by this?” and I mean that both directly and indirectly. And take notes here because that question is going to become particularly important as we advance virtual reality and robotic technology (we often talk about robots used for sex, but a debate will be around animal like or childlike robots made for that purpose. This will soon be our reality.). Access to stories, platforms like amazon, and access to the materials necessary to create stories/comics/games/movies/etc. are already complicating our reality. Back in 2014 I remember reading a story about a man returning from Japan who was arrested on child pornography charges because of comics specifically manga as well as this. The characters were written as being the age of majority, but they said it didn’t matter because they saw what they saw on the page/screen. And I get why people reacted this way because they saw what they saw. I have no doubts that some characters are written younger despite their given ages which can be gross and uncomfortable to say the least. I have no clue what sort of manga or comics that the people prosecuted had, and I don’t know how young or realistic the characters drawn were, so it may have really been a case of “I know it when I see it” and even though that’d make me more comfortable part of me hesitates because it’d still be fiction. But I’d still be more comfortable.
But the weird part is basically the choice to prosecute these individuals penalizes artists for their style but more than that it brings up a whole lot of questions. To me this asserts if a person has a young face, or more dramatically has a youthful body and you date them you could be subject to being called a pedo. A lot of people say it is a matter of using common sense to decide what is and is not ok, but it isn’t. I wish it was that simple to separate the wheat from the grosso chaff but it isn’t.
Despite all the fan service I loved the animes pictured above…now let me tell you a secret. They are both animated versions of The Dirty Pair. One is the original show from the 1980s and the one on the right is from the fan service laden ugly 1990s reboot. The exact same characters are depicted, but the artists had very different interpretations, styles, and quite frankly most people probably wouldn’t think they were the same characters or the same ages(mid twenties). The reboot had them less mature and more cartoonish in personality, so is that enough to penalize it? I’d guess not, but still it might be. Whether right or wrong it can lead to sticky situations. But plenty of people risk arrest for creating characters who are drawn or written in a certain style. It’s arbitrary decision making based on some random person(s) comfort level, and in the case of fiction…depending on the style of the artist the only difference between a child and an adult is height and eye size…and that’s not always the case.
I point out the difficulty of this scenario because it is something we’re dealing with now that affects creators both in business and in figuring out how people see their work. The comics/manga examples are far more clean cut than me revisiting stories from my teenage years, and yet they are fraught with ethical, moral, and social questions. Do we assume that any character in a particular style is a child. In the picture about Hiei, the short black haired guy on the left, is the oldest of the core four characters if I remember correctly. He’s just short. Do we assume any character written a specific way is meant to be a kid? I think there’s a reasonable argument for that, but even then I have to admit it becomes “I’ll know it when I see it”. All of these issues of morality, technology, and creation come to the forefront of your mind as a writer, especially when you begin engaging with pieces, thoughts, and characters that have experiences with sexuality. As I said, I wrote sex as 14 year old, and though it wasn’t good…it was there depicting characters who were young and on adventures. And while their or my age was never fetishized…I cannot stop someone from sexualizing it. I can’t thought police people to not find it arousing that I was a young pervert even if I find it gross, but can people be penalized for reading those revamped old stories, fantasies, and thoughts?
But that’s complicated…and this next part is often something we don’t like to discuss but it is true.
Quite frankly, we can’t 100% know what exactly excites someone or what role they are taking in their fantasies. Research finds time and again that some fantasy aren’t of the one traditionally considered the victimizer. Not every sexual thought is going to be safe, sane, consensual, or even possible but people have them…and there is no way to stop people from sharing them. Further why shouldn’t people profit off of fiction so long as it doesn’t give people a step by step guide to illegality? There are arguments to be made, but even still we don’t know what other people think. It isn’t my place to assume your darkest taboo fantasies place you in the role of the victimizer/power-holder/etc. because there is literally no way to know that unless you told me, and even if I did know what does that have to do with you in the real world? If its just a fantasy, a fun story to read, a fun story to write…than who is anyone to decide that makes me immortal?
Yet I can’t ignore that a large part of society disagrees. What I consider “Playing thought police” is what others call setting standards, and while I disagree with many of those standards I can’t say it is wholesale wrong. Now, this isn’t a matter of people being able to critique and turn their noses up in disgust. It is a matter of wondering what is inappropriate, not in risk of being seen as illegal, and generally pragmatic. So long as a piece isn’t harming anyone then it is generally seen as fine. The problem is deciding when something “promotes” something negative. Hundreds of thousands of people would see my BDSM erotica ,like Suffer too Good or my latest Dirty Honey, and decide I’m promoting anything from insanity to sexism. And I was once told by a room fool of people that sexual submission is an extension of sexism, so this isn’t me over reacting to nothing. Take that and add to the fact that I do have stories I wrote years ago that I find hot, erotic, and would love to rewrite, and we have some difficult questions. I’m pulling stuff from myself, but from my teenage self. Is it wrong because I should ignore who I was or ignore young people having sexuality and only write new stuff? I was a teen, a kid, and I had some of the dirtiest fucking thoughts you can imagine (pun intended), so I wrote some intensely erotic smut that would work for my business now. To some people that can be a problem.
Do young people have a right to write erotica or smut? Is there an inherent problem with anyone, especially adults, reading and enjoying it? Is there something wrong with me writing old sex stories from my teenage years into something else? These seemingly ridiculous questions have to be asked at some point and people don’t because they think the answer is obvious or the subjects make them uncomfortable. But we have to be braver. We have to be honest.
Every writer I know has at least one story or article that they’re written and put aside. I have thousands of notebooks filled with unfinished stories with some great ideas, but they were written at a point in time when I could not do them justice or give them the time they needed. Full disclosure…The Original Story that Dirty Honey was based on was a story I began at some point between the ages of 16-19. Does that make you uncomfortable? If yes…why? Because now you know I had very aggressive sexual fantasies at a younger age? If I liked the story then and I liked the story now, so what does it matter? Does the story take on added dimension with that revelation? Perhaps yes, but does that make the story disgusting in some way? So far as I can see no. The fact is I am a sexual and romantic being. I’ve always been fascinated by sex, romance, and falling in love. What is the difference between me coming up with the story now or then? Nothing practical or logical justifies a reaction.
The aversion some may feel comes from this belief that young people shouldn’t be sexual even though we know they are, and that feeling isn’t logical…but conditioned and arbitrary. I debated over using old material,but ultimately I realized it’d be more criminal to not do so and pretend something drastic happened at 18 and I realized I had girl parts that could be fun and imagine these filthy things. But no one took the adult filter off my brain like all of a sudden the kids have left home and the adult channels no longer need an adult filter. Nah. I’ve been sexual for a long time and there is no reason I should act ashamed of that or not use valuable material because someone might be uncomfortable with realizing I’ve always been me. Life is too short and I am too poor to not look to the things I like and use them in profitable ways. Bottom line: that’s their hang up not mine.
But I want to throw a wrench in here…what about teenage writers?
Fanfiction.net, live journal, Gaiaonline, myspace, Xenga, IMVU, and ,hell, even Neopets were spaces where I found sexual young people who were writing flat out smut if not erotic romances. Anyone of any age could read them. Once upon a time I was one of those teens, and writing was so much happier than my reality. Writing those sexy, romantic, and angst filled stories helped me develop as a person. Getting feedback helped me develop as a writer. Some people would look at those places and see corruption. I have no doubt there are predators on those sites because there are predators everywhere, but that isn’t what this article is about. This article is about navigating artistic boundaries, and what I’m asking is does age negate the right to certain types of art, to profit from that art, and/or affect those creating it?
There’s a difference between sexualization and writing sex, which I believe in. However I acknowledge that it is difficult to navigate. I know a woman who published her first book at 17 to rave reviews, she sold the rights while maintaining royalties, and generally could stand to make millions from that still popular book. As I began writing Dirty Honey, I found myself thinking what if that author had written a sex scene in her book? What if there is a book written by a brilliant 16 year old who is able to write with the sort of maturity and care that most adults can’t even do, but they’re story has been hurt by sex?
While plenty of YA books contain elements of groping or “fades to black” or references to candles burning all night…what happens when 15 year old Rosie D. writes sex that is inherently different from 20 something year old Rosie D. ? Content wise I’m a better writer and I write better stories. There is no moral imperative here. Nothing changes, and yet so often we use age to determine what is appropriate not because it works, but because why not. We have to do something to protect those who aren’t mentally matured enough for the sexual world, but even the more tangible aspects of sex and age and consent still have muddied waters. A number of gay kids have been charged with statutory rape because they turned 18 and their current or former girlfriend or boyfriend was a pinch younger with parents who blamed the now-18 year old for “making their kid” gay and forcing them to acknowledge their kids as sexual/romantic beings. It is an unfortunate reality that the laws just can’t cope with, and I don’t know if they ever will be. So how do authors especially young authors navigate this moral mind field?
If a 15 year old was revealed to be a top selling erotica author how would the world react? Probably with calling the kid’s parents perverts, suggestions of child protective services, investigations of abuse, laughter, derision, suddenly rave reviews are redone to point out “childish” aspects of the writing they once praised. It has a sense, but it isn’t logical or reasonable. Yet people would feel dirty, but if that 15 year old held back that book and then published it five years later? Their reputation would be un-compromised and the readers would feel less upset and bothered. That 15 year old might be harassed as well, and perhaps sexually harassed by not only old perverts but classmates and others. But I don’t know how we would handle that. I don’t know how we would make peace with the fact that a 15 year old wrote a mature, sensual, erotic, and emotional sex scene that excited adults, teens, and anyone who got their hands on a copy. I do believe we’d struggle. So often we pretend young people are sexual or capable of sexual thought with any weight to them.
But if that kid waited five years…what would we do? Praise them, share their works, whisper about them in coffee shops, and then see them on Oprah’s Book Club. And then what would happen if that now-20 writer went on TV said “I wrote the story when I was 15. I fully edited it by the time I was 16, but didn’t get the courage to send it out until I was 19”? Once again people wouldn’t know what to think. They wouldn’t know what to say, or how to feel about reading sex by the author’s younger self, but I’d imagine they might excuse in five seconds if the author was charismatic enough. I hope that’s what will happen with my writing.
For me…I have lived a life as a teenage wasteland of sex, and now as a young adult obsessed with sex and candy and whips and things I find the best policy is to look at the piece as what it is before doing anything else before moving to where the piece came from and who wrote it. In erotica the best way to examine our works and to enjoy them is to just accept them and the creativity that birthed them then we can evaluate what they are, how they work, and if they really do promote dangerous ideas for someone to follow through on to hurt people/creatures.