Sex Positivity Blog Hop: Why Sex Shouldn’t be a Dirty Word

spbhbadge (2)Hello and welcome to the Sex Positively Blog Hop, the brainchild of fellow author, Grace Duncan. For the next two weeks, you’ll be hearing from some of your favorite romance authors sharing their positive views on sexuality, as opposed to the negative spin we get from most lawmakers, the media, and ‘concerned citizens.’ For the entire list of participants in the hop according to dates posting, check out this link here. There is a link at the bottom of the post for the websites themselves.

I think this is a terrific idea! I believe that what two consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own home should be just that: private. And I believe we have the right to read and watch and enjoy what we like, as long as all parties involved are consenting adults as well. You like to read Dinosaur Erotic Fiction? Okay, not my thing, but I can respect that it might be yours. It’s not my place to judge you on it. It is certainly not my place to try and have it removed from Amazon. You think 50 Shades of Grey is the best book ever? Well, I disagree, but I’m not going to try and get it banned from the local library or condemn your morality because you enjoyed it. Likewise, I would not expect you to get your knickers in a twist because I write male on male romance, or because one of my friends loves what she calls ‘tentacle porn.’

Why do so many people put their noses in your private life? There’s a small business near my house that sums it up pretty well, I think. Painted on the side of their building is a picture of a large, ugly city, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. The painting quotes a Bible verse about how we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: and then goes on to state that unless we put to death the sinners, our nation will fall. Um, remind me not to take my business there, okay? But it illustrates a real problem with the viewpoints of some religions: it’s not enough to say, “My religion forbids me to eat doughnuts, therefore I won’t.” It’s the religions that state, “Doughnuts are the gateway to hell and everyone who eats doughnuts are sinners and we must BAN all doughnuts or else our mortal souls are in jeopardy, so prevent access to doughnuts NOW” that are the problem.

Daisy DukeSex is a weird beast when it comes down to it. We revere it in advertising, as long as it follows certain rules. Daisy Duke had to wear panty hose in order to get her miniscule shorts past the censors on the Dukes of Hazzard, and yet Catherine Bach’s poster of the Daisy Duke character sold over five million copies. There’s no doubt, sex sells. When it comes to products, to television series or movies, or novels, sex is often a big part of the marketing campaign, even if there is little sex in the actual item being promoted.

And yet sex is strangely taboo, as well. I’m sorry, but I think it is a bit strange that we here in the US have a high tolerance for blood and gore in action films, but showing a little bit of flesh can move a film into a restricted viewing category. It’s the push-me pull-you reaction on the part of the public to sex that is so puzzling and frustrating to me. Especially when it comes to how women are portrayed.

Redhead bondageA few months ago, I got into a discussion about tropes in traditional romantic fiction with a friend of mine, Pir8fancier, on Live Journal. I’d read a scene from a best-selling novel from a famous author, and due to an unfortunate choice of words, I’d mistakenly assumed that the new lover had handcuffed the woman to the bed when she showed signs of leaving. My misinterpretation of the scene threw me right out of the story. I was already having issues with the scene as it was: the heroine had a history of sexual abuse, and there were elements in the scene that made me very uncomfortable, as the hero refused to back off, but persisted in his pursuit of the woman. One of the things I’d been enjoying up until this point was the fact that the heroine was only interested in the man for sex. She only wanted to scratch an itch. I had found it to be a refreshing take in a story from the woman’s POV, and was pleased to see it. But then, out of nowhere, came what I perceived to be dubious consent.

Pir8’s take on this was interesting. The heroine, who’d previously shown herself to be tough and uncompromising, was having her role flipped on her. She said, “It sounds as if the author is actually punishing the heroine for wanting to be sexual and not be the submissive little sex slave that she should be. That her role is to be the woman who is enthralled with the man, NOT with his sexual organ. That sex for sex’s sake is bad and she has to be put in her place. PHYSICALLY. All of her sexual agency in this scene is taken away from her. He physically overpowers her. She cannot direct the sex. She is there for his pleasure. And naturally because this is fiction, his pleasure becomes her pleasure. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? We can’t have our own pleasure, we can’t please ourselves. We have to be passive and let the man please us.

I know that this type of scenario plays into a lot of our shame about sex, which society promotes big time, and it is no surprise that this would appeal to many women because it absolves us of the burden of enjoying sex. We are helpless! It just happened! I had nothing to do with it!

I cannot accept this sort of passivity any longer. I want my heroines to embrace their sexual selves.

THIS. I want to draw hearts and flowers around this statement and decorate it with glitter because YES.

GOP PLan for WomenThe discussion turned to the conflict between the sexualization of pre-teens, while constantly sending out messages that women need to be passive sexual partners. It was Pir8’s opinion that this conflict was possibly behind many of the self-destructive behaviors such as cutting and anorexia. And it is not just limited to women any longer, though the stigma of being a ‘slut’ is still actively being championed by the Far Right. For the heterosexual male, being sexually active is more likely to be viewed with pride than with shame or name-calling, and yet more and more we’re seeing legislation being passed to limit access to birth control measures, or as some people on the Right refer to them, “Whore Pills.” When the Hobby Lobby debacle came down, I had people on Twitter telling me they didn’t want their tax dollars going to pay for some slut’s whoring around. Funny, we don’t see any bans on insurance companies selling Viagra or performing vasectomies, now do we?

But I digress.

I agree with Pir8fancier. We have a heavy media presence pushing sexuality on one hand, and a social presence condemning it on the other. Yes, the message is definitely be sexual and get punished for it–or don’t be sexual and be ostracized and turned into a pariah. I can remember driving up to pick up my younger sister from her high school and being treated to a gauntlet of stares, nasty comments, and laughter as I waited for her. When I mentioned the reactions I’d received while simply waiting to pick her up, she looked me up and down and said, “Well, if you’d bothered to do your hair and wear nice clothes, they’d be the ones jealous of you.”

I stared at my then 15-year-old sister and asked, “Why would I give a rat’s ass about what some teenagers think of me?”

She didn’t get it. That was the message she’d gotten from her peers and from society around her was, “Look the part but don’t act the part.”

Which is sad. It’s sadder, too, that online misogyny and slut-shaming seems to be growing in strength rather than diminishing.

What can we do about it? Well, for one, we can stop buying into society’s playbook. We need to teach our kids not to be ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. We need to do away with the ineffective (and largely American religious-based groups) abstinence only programs and teach proper sex education in schools again. We need to talk to our teenagers about consent (an excellent open letter written here–but be prepared, the comments are just as ugly and inflammatory as you could expect). We need to talk to our kids about protecting themselves from inappropriate sexual contact without making them fear and revile ALL sexual contact. We need to stop making sex a selling point in advertising.

ink pen_wikipedia_orgI think the biggest task, however, lies in the hands of the writers. Yes, we writers. The pen is mightier than the sword, after all. 🙂 The writers are always on the forefront of changing society’s perception of accepted mores. It’s writers telling stories about same-sex couples finding their happily-ever-after or introducing GLBTQ characters into television shows that has been instrumental in increasing both the visibility and acceptance of this community, as well as championing their rights. Star Trek put a black woman in an officer’s position on the bridge of a spaceship, taking her out of the traditional role of a maid for the first time ever. Star Trek also gave us the first interracial kiss (even if it was The Aliens Made Them Do It) and then decades later on Deep Space Nine, the franchise gave us this scene, in which Jadzia Dax is faced with the woman she was once married to–but as a man.

 

 

One of the things I love about this scene is that the love is between two characters–not their external bodies. Not who they are on the outside, but who they are on the inside. The taboo in the relationship is not that they are both women now, but that Trill society forbids romantic relationships between former hosts from past lives.

We need to keep breaking the ground on what is ‘acceptable’ in terms of romantic fiction and refuse to play into the old tropes where a woman had to be forcibly overcome during sex so that she wouldn’t come across as a slut, or that a man had to come over all alpha and dominate his partner in order to be seen as a ‘proper’ romantic lead.

It’s up to you readers as well. In many cases, you hold the most power. Vote with your purchases and your reviews. Don’t accept the tired old tropes (unless of course, you like them). Tell authors what you love about their stories. Tell your friends about the books they must read. Leave reviews on the stories that touched your heart and why. Share. Promote. Talk about it. It’s time to embrace your own sexuality as well. Yesterday I tried on a pair of ridiculously inappropriate shoes. Inappropriate because my life is filled with mud and animal hair, with horses, dogs, and cats. Inappropriate because I nearly killed myself trying to walk down a short flight of stairs in them.

My Frozen ShoesBut damn, they looked good. And that’s reason enough to have them. I feel like a princess when I put them on, and I’m learning to embrace my Inner Princess. She’s the one who dresses up simply because it pleases her, and she’s not afraid to ask for what she wants–and take it when it is offered.

Like Pir8 said, I cannot accept this sort of passivity any longer. I want my heroines and heroes to embrace their sexual selves. And that means starting with myself.

Here’s the link to the rest of the blog hop! Do join in the fun!

My latest release is Walk a Mile, the second installment in the bestselling Sixth Sense series from Dreamspinner Press. FBI agents John Flynn and Jerry Parker are struggling to keep their evolving relationship together while on hunt for a murderer. Do check it out!

UnspeakableWordscoverWalkAMile

Image is everything–or is it?

You guys may or may not have seen this TED talk by Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell. I though it was worth sharing today, on this day in which we celebrate all things Romantic because Valentine’s Day is all about the image, isn’t it?

 

For me, the part that had the most impact here was the conversation she had with the beautiful woman in the elevator–who on being complimented, immediately began detailing her flaws.

I can tell you most women I know do not know how to handle a compliment, and that many of us automatically take refuge in a deprecatory stance if we are presented with one. That’s a whole other topic of conversation for another day. What impressed me about this story was that even the most beautiful of people can only see their own flaws–they come with their own set of insecurities. It doesn’t matter that to us that Facebook friend seems like the most successful author/actress/mother/CEO or whatever. To her, she is conscious of her too-wide nose or the fact that her son is struggling in school or that try as she might, there is no way she is going to fit into that size 2 dress by her class reunion. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never worn a size two unless it was part of a double digit size number–the fact that *she* can’t fit into the size two anymore means she’s fat, ugly, old, and worthless.

The take home message for me from this TED Talk is that everyone is insecure. No one every reaches a point where they sigh with relief and say, “That’s it. I’m perfect and I’m safe now. I have not only achieved everything I desire, but no one can take it away from me, either.”

This message can be especially hard to assimilate when the very industry that Cameron Russell works in spends a lot of time telling us if we just adopt certain images, we will be perfect. We will achieve our life goals and dreams. From about two days after New Year’s until today, the television stations have been blanketing us with advertising to this effect: to make us feel bad about ourselves and to ensure that retail therapy is the way we try to make ourselves feel better. Alone? Man, how depressing! Don’t be sad, though–join the millions who have found true love on Match Up in Harmony Little Fishes dot com! Ladies, if you don’t get a diamond *something* from that high end jewelery store that is so exclusive there is one in every shopping mall, then my dears, he doesn’t really love you.

Don’t get me wrong. I love getting dressed up for a special night out. I enjoy getting flowers (though I have to put them somewhere where the cats won’t eat them). I will never turn down fine chocolate. I like being acknowledged on Valentine’s Day. But it’s what happens every day that’s more important to me. It’s like the difference between someone saying “I love you” one day a year and someone showing me that I’m loved every single day.

I recently had a conversation with some readers/fellow authors and we talked about the ‘money shot’ of romance stories–the Grand Declaration. I seldom have my characters declare their undying love for each other. Most of my characters have been burned before. Anyone can say the words: living them is another matter. Apparently some readers feel cheated because of this lack of declaration. Well, I get that. It’s part of the formula. It’s the payoff for the reader–to know that the two characters survived the tumultuous situation I threw them in and came out on the other end bonded to each other. But if it doesn’t fit the characters, I’m not going to make them say it. I’d rather spend half the story showing how the two lovers changed for the better and for each other than to slap an “I love you” like a Band-Aid on their trials and ‘make it all better.’ Sometimes to me, the declaration is nothing more than a diamond commercial. A flashy statement meant to do all the work for you.

I’m currently reading a book called Big Butts, Fat Thighs, And Other Secrets to Success: Empowering Women to be Real in Business and in Life by Laura Black. I admit, I wasn’t all that impressed at first. It seemed to me to be a case of someone advising women to bond with other women in positions of power by confessing your personal weakness for Twinkies. It felt contradictory to what I feel is a big problem for me–like the woman in the elevator, I am always the first to belittle myself or make light of a compliment. I’m already the woman who bonds easily with others over my weaknesses–give me five minutes and I will roll over and show you my soft underbelly. It is my first reaction in most situations–to appear as non-threatening as possible. How can that possibly be a business tactic? Who could possibly respect a tubby little spaniel rolled over on her back, furiously wagging her  nubbin of a tail in hopes that no one bites her?

I think the real answer lies in the fact that every person has his or her ‘big butt’. Something about themselves that they are unhappy about, uncomfortable with, that they use as an excuse to hold themselves back. Some of the most talented writers I know will never get published because they lack the self-belief to send a story in for submission. Or because they hold to the idea that only a traditional publishing company can convey the title of ‘real writer’ on them. I have six or seven titles to my name, and yet I don’t consider myself a ‘real’ writer in the sense of someone who is burning up the ranks on Amazon. Another writer, a best seller on Amazon, considers himself a failure because no one is beating down his door begging for the movie rights to his novels–and so on.

The only one holding you back is you. If you get nothing else out of this post, remember that. My first major story, Unspeakable Words, was sent in to Dreamspinner on a whim. Never in a million years did I think they’d accept it–I’d heard all the rumors of rejection notices and so forth. Not only did Dreamspinner accept the story, but it went on to remain on their best seller list for over a month. Why haven’t I written the intended sequels? Because I let one lukewarm review shut me down. It didn’t matter that fans were emailing me telling me how much they loved the story and asking me when the sequel would be out. I let that one lukewarm review send me ducking for cover and the sequel is languishing on the hard drive. The characters deserve better than that. The readers deserve better than that. And one day, I do plan to write the sequels, I swear.

I just finished watching a hilarious video on Cracked.com about why Romantic Comedies are Secretly Bad for You. I think they made some really good points. Love–true sustainable love–is hard work. Meeting someone and falling in love–that’s the easy part. Funny that we as romance writers focus on the origins and leave out the hard part–the day to day making it work with conflicting schedules and exes and keeping things fresh and interesting when you know someone a little too well.

What Rom Coms can’t show us is the deep satisfaction that comes from sleeping beside someone you know that well, the way your body conforms to theirs, the way breathing slows and becomes one. The way you know their idiosyncrasies and the fact that they amuse instead of irritate you. Yeah, Rom Coms are diamond commercials too.

Well, keep your diamonds. Keep your Facebook success. Keep your supermodel looks, and your night being wined and dined out on the town. Give me your silly texts, the curled next to one another to watch the favorite television show, the full body hug that makes something deep inside you sigh and say, “I’m home” every single time.

Valentine’s Day is just a single day. Love is all year long.