by Johnny Murdoc
In the last part, I wrote about primary method that my partner, Evan, and I used to facilitate discussions about sex, which involved regularly reading the weekly Savage Love column to one another. Reading about the real-world sexual issues of Love’s audience provided a great framework for discussing sexuality on a regular basis. Today, I’m going to suggest something similar, but different enough that it warrants it’s own entry. Without further ado:
Recommendation Number 2: Read erotica.
I almost included “watch porn” in this category, but I actually want to make a distinction between the two. Watching porn together is a great exercise as well and one that I might go into in a later entry, but for today I want to focus on reading erotica.
For clarity’s sake, when I write “erotica” I’m referring to prose stories or novels that include, but aren’t limited to, scenes of a sexually graphic nature. I know that erotica can actually encompass so much more (I’m a huge fan of erotic comics!) and comes with a lot of the same “I know it when I see it” baggage that the “pornography” label comes with. People tend to see “erotica” as the softer, more feminine version of “pornography.” I don’t have any use for that concept here, though. There’s plenty of erotica out there that embodies that idea, but there’s just as much that shatters it. I’m going to leave you the flexibility to decide what is or isn’t erotica on your own terms, and I hope that you don’t judge an entire genre based on one or two stereotypes. For the purposes of this post I’m specifically talking about prose erotic stories because I think they provide a few unique opportunities to strengthen conversation and communication.
Like any good sexual tool, erotica is good for both solo exploration and multiple partner use. There are different things to learn from erotica when you read it by yourself or to another person, and I highly recommend you try both methods (if you don’t already.)
Reading erotica anthologies by yourself can be a great way to explore fantasies and sexual situations with startling, visceral detail. A lot of us carry around fuzzy or partially-formed fantasies in our head that we pull from when we’re trying to arouse ourselves. Erotica can give shape to those fantasies, and gives you the language to understand them.
If you’re dealing with good, quality erotica (I’m recommending some good places to start at the end of this entry), then you’re probably dealing with writers who have put a lot of thought into the language they use when they craft a story. They have, through experience or the hand of a good editor, considered and tested the best methods to elicit specific reactions with little more than words. As a reader, you can learn from these methods and find the language you need to express your own fantasies. Understanding your fantasies and urges yourself is the first, crucial step to being able to express those fantasies to someone else.
This brings us to the next step, which is reading erotica to your partner(s). Much like reading an advice column out loud, reading a story out loud can accomplish quite a bit. Unlike an advice column, though, reading erotica to your partner should be sexy. The entire point of the story is to arouse, and watching your partner react as you read can give you a unique perspective on the ways that their bodies and mind respond to certain ideas. If you’ve never watched your partner masturbate themselves, this is a great way to go about it. While you may have a hard time focusing on the story and your partner’s actions, the outcome is worth the effort.
It also gives you practice saying some fairly filthy things out loud. If you’re the type who has a hard time vocalizing lurid ideas, reading erotica out loud gives you practice doing so with well-crafted prose. You can also benefit from the “one-step-removed” excuse card because you’re merely expressing someone else’s words. However, the more you familiarize yourself with the language and the experience of saying the words out loud, you’ll find it so much easier to do so when you want to express your own feelings. (This is especially great for those who want to learn to talk dirty. It removes the pressure of having to create your dirty talk from scratch, and gives your partner the pleasure of hearing you say some particularly nasty-in-a-good-way things.)
There’s a wide world of prose erotica available to those that are interested. There are some great stories to be found for free on-line, but the sheer number of stories can be intimidating, and it’s likely that you’ll wade through a lot of crap before you find something you really enjoy. If you’re interested in finding quality erotica, I would recommend starting with print collections. Anthologies are a great place to start since a single purchase brings numerous stories from a variety of writers, so the chance that you’ll find something you like is pretty high.
A good place to start is Best American Erotica, edited by Susie Bright. While the series was discontinued in 2008, it’s easy enough to find prior volumes. Bright’s BEA collections feature stories that cover a wide spectrum of sexual orientations and encounters and include selections from writers like Stephen Elliott, Chuck Palahniuk, Olivia Butler, Chris Orfut (who now writes for True Blood) and ____ (who now writes for The United States of Tara, and wrote Susie Bright into an episode of Six Feet Under.)
Cleis Press releases quality anthologies that range from “Best of…” collections to wildly specific anthologies focusing on stories about sex in airplanes, one-night stands, voyeurism, or gays in the military. With editors like Violet Blue, Tristan Taormino, Rachel Kramer Bussels, and Richard Labonte, they cull the best stories from the best writers. (I’m not sure if this falls under “full disclosure” or “blatant self-promotion,” but I’d be remiss to mention that Best Gay Erotica 2011, edited by Labonte and Kevin Killian, is out this month and includes my story Bodies in Motion. It also includes stories from two of my favorite writers, Natty Soltesz and Rob Wolfsham. If you like dirty stories about guys doing sleazy things to other guys, you can’t go wrong with this collection.)
If you’ve used erotica to further your sexual relationship with a partner, share your story in the comments below. I’d also love to hear recommendations for some good anthologies!