I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey but that's not because I am snooty about my fiction. It's just that when EL James's book exploded onto the scene with tales of - shock horror - how ordinary women were suddenly sneaking off to their bedrooms for a bit of self pleasure with a book, I thought: big deal, some of us have been doing that for years.
Back in the early 90s, in my twenties, I shared a house in Shepherd's Bush with five girls and we had an entire 'porn shelf' as we'd call it, on the bookshelf in our living room. These were paperbacks mainly from the Black Lace imprint, certainly nothing high-brow, with titles like Silken Chains, Odalisque, The Blue Hotel, and my favorite, Cassandra's Conflict. They delivered the same deliciously tingly feelings we'd experienced as teenagers when reading the famous goldfish scene in Shirley Conran's Lace. But in these books there was more of it: unashamedly drawn out, detailed sex scenes in every chapter, not just on the well thumbed p292.
Later when I lived in New York, I'd often nip into to the Books Etc outlet in Terminal 4, where a row of erotic fiction books was tucked away in the corner. The hour to kill before my Virgin Atlantic flight would whizz by as I dipped in and out of each title, working out which one to take onto the plane. I found that joining my own solo version of the Mile High Club was always an excellent antidote to flying nerves. I have since discovered it's a pretty good cure for writers block, too.
Whatever we have to say about E.L James's talents or it's cheesy subject matter, we should thank Fifty Shades of Grey for catapulting erotic fiction into the mainstream. In our porn-saturated world where so much visual content leaves literally nothing to the imagination, it's important to be reminded just what an amazing sexual organ the imagination can be when we encourage it. There is a rich seam to mine out there and one that goes far beyond the cheesy exploits of Anastasia and Christian Grey.
And there is an important point to be made here too. Losing one's libido or experiencing the tailing off of sex with a long-term partner, or suffering a lack of confidence in the bedroom are all common issues. Talk to a sexologist about how to address these things and they'll say that tapping into sexual energy is vital. It's like a muscle that needs to be worked. Erotic fiction can never be a cure all for every issue in a relationship. But if it reminds us of the internal power and glow we get from feeling sexually charged, one that gives us license to let go in the safety and privacy of our own space, it could be more powerful than we think, however trashy and toe curling.
Whatever your taste in story, here, in my opinion are the elements required for good erotic fiction.
1. Back-story: The build up and the circumstances creates the charge. Straight into the sex and you might was well log on to youporn.com
2. Sex scenes that go on and on: The process of getting turned on moves in ebbs and flows, the best writers know not to rush you.
3. No cliff-hangers: Abrupt endings are like your alarm clock going off just when you are about to have sex in a dream.
4.Terminology matters: The word 'twat' is not sexy.
5. Show, don't tell: We want action and description, not a drawn out discussion about how they felt about it afterwards.
Move over Fifty Shades... Erotic literature I have read.
My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday
The seminal compendium of woman's sexual fantasies. Real women's imaginations are hard to beat, even by those who make a living in writing erotica. You may not go for them all, but from the knife wielding burglar to the neighbor with the shopping, to the encounter with a serpent there is something there everyone.
The Education of Catherine Peterson by Kurt Robard
An innocent research student is seduced by her lecherous professor before being passed on to his powerful friends. She can't help herself. With erotic illustrations to help you along the way.
A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter
Touring Paris and provincial France in a borrowed car a Yale dropout, has an affair with a young French woman named Anne-Marie. Intelligent, evocative, understated.
Confessions: A collection of Erotic Fiction by Agent Provocateur
Including a back packer in Italy who has stranger sex in the women's toilet in a bar and a woman stood up by her boyfriend outside the opera only to be invited by a doorman into a packed night club who enters her from behind while they queue at the bar.
Cassandra's Conflict by Fredrica Alleyn
A Black Lace classic in which a young governess is initiated into the world of BDSM by the Baron and his vindictive wife.
A collection of short bawdy tales that were published in a magazine in 1879 until it was shut down by the authorities for publishing obscene literature. Includes a quickie in the back of a horse drawn carriage.
To read my interview with a sexologist click here
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