erotica writing, essays, kink

Do rough sex fantasies compromise your sex-positive ethics?

This new essay is also the introduction to my new book, Sweet & Rough: Sixteen Stories of Queer Smut, available September 15th. Preorder it on Smashwords now!

I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with my personal rough sex fantasies, nor is there anything wrong with your dirtiest fantasies. I believe that because I trust that you and I are adults who understand that fantasy is different from reality, and while we may think one thing to get ourselves off, we probably conduct our sex lives slightly differently.

Erotic stories are fantasies, yes, but they can be more than just that—they can show us a piece of the path, and encourage our erotic selves to blossom. So what’s my responsibility as an erotica writer to make the stories that I write down ethical and responsible?

I am both a sex educator and a smut writer, and sometimes those worlds seem to conflict. For example, in the BDSM and sex education worlds, educators and advanced practitioners stress consent in play scenes. And not just consent—we stress enthusiastic consent, not just an absence of “no” but a ready joyous abundance of informed and eager “yes.” We also stress safer sex practices, barriers, knowing your status, and sexual health and wellness. We stress responsible scenes, and warn about playing while intoxicated.

In some of my erotic fiction stories, these practices that are deeply held values in my personal life aren’t readily apparent. That’s because my stories are fantasies—you know, the things you close your eyes and think about when you’re getting off all by yourself, not necessarily (though perhaps sometimes!) the things you do with lovers. The characters in my stories sometimes don’t negotiate or have a conversation about safer sex, not because things like safer sex or negotiation are unimportant, but because the main purpose of the story is to turn you, the reader, on.

Frequently, in the sexuality education communities and conversations, we talk about how porn and erotica are different from sex education. I discourage people from learning how to give or receive a blow job from porn videos, for example, where deep throating and playing with ejaculate are overly common. (See Cindy Gallop’s online project Make Love, Not Porn for a variety of other examples of the difference.) Similarly, I discourage people from learning about power dynamics from Laura Antoniou’s book The Marketplace (though I happen to love the whole series), and would never suggest recreating a scene from 50 Shades of Grey (don’t even get me started). Both of these books are worlds away from the people who pursue and practice power dynamics, ownership, dominance, and submission in their personal relationships.

But the fantasies? We, as readers, love devouring them. We love the fantasies even more than we love the reality. The reality is messy, with STI scares and condoms breaking. The fantasies are escapist, sensual, and by definition not real.

I think when we start coming into our own sexually, when we start realizing that there’s more to sex than what our completely antiquated and puritanical sex education system taught us as kids, we start familiarizing ourselves with some of the most basic topics in sex positive communities. We learn about consent, agency, negotiations, communication, and safer sex. When we don’t see that reflected in the erotica or porn that we are consuming, sometimes it can seem like the erotica or porn fantasy is discouraging that kind of sex positive responsibility.

I am explaining all of this to you because I don’t want my erotic fantasies to discourage you from being responsible in reality.

I know that the educational workshops I teach encourage sex positive responsibility. But in my erotica? That issue becomes a little more nuanced and complicated, because of the aspects of art and fantasy. For example, I am aware that there are some points in the Sweet & Rough collection of stories where characters protest or resist or drink a lot of whiskey. I think there is nothing wrong with playing with resistance and force, consensually and carefully, but I also think that requires a lot of negotiation, a lot of trust, and safewords, in order to be done responsibly in the real world. That part of the story often isn’t revealed. Like the porn scene that cuts out the part where the fluffer comes on stage and someone else adds more lube, the erotic story often excludes the getting-to-know-you, the subtle body language communication, the character’s histories with each other, and what they have negotiated “off screen.”

I deeply believe that the personal is political and that being transparent about one’s life is a spiritual path. Since writing Sweet & Rough, I have shifted some of my erotica writing to be much more consciously inclusive of things like negotiations and safer sex. Most definitely because that stuff is hot, but also because I want to show more of the reality and less of the fantasy.

However, those things are frequently excluded from Sweet & Rough. And here’s why: These stories are collaborations. Most of the stories in this collection were written and published on Sugarbutch between 2007-2009. Many of them came out of the “Sugarbutch Star Contest” where readers sent in some basics about a scene (who, where, what the characters did) and I wrote up the story.

It was a huge period of growth for my writing, and I pushed myself hard to write the fantasies that were outlined for me. Sometimes, they were much more forceful than I’d usually write, although they more closely resembled my own private fantasies. I am aware of my access to privilege and unconscious entitlement as a masculine person and as a dominant, and it is important for me to stay conscious in my sex play, especially when it comes to gender or power dynamics.

Often, my early drafts of these stories included a lot of internal processing and negotiations, but the fantasies of my collaborators challenged me. I remember when writing “The Houseboy’s Rebellion” (which is a b-side story included on the USB version of Sweet & Rough), when the collaborator read the draft of it, she said, “No way. Make my character more mean. Take out all this negotiation. Just take me.”

Because of how strong the service top in me is, and because I liked it, I followed her desire. And I believe that story—and others, when I received similar feedback—are stronger for it.

The stories in Sweet & Rough are fantasies. I know fantasy erotic writing still greatly influences our real sexualities, and I don’t dismiss that connection. But these fictions are not necessarily models of sexual responsibility. Some of it is “problematic,” and I wouldn’t claim otherwise—but they still have so much value, and can jump-start our erotic engines or show us how much more can be incorporated into our erotic lives.

I encourage you to continue practicing being a responsible, ethical, sex-positive kinkster who operates from integrity. And I encourage you to read erotica stories that are edgy, full of force and lust, from authors whose ethics you trust, and to believe that the responsibilities are filled in behind the scenes, just off the page, stripped out so you can enjoy even more of the sweet sex and rough play that gets you going and gets you off.

Sweet & RoughYou have just read the introduction to my new book of erotica short stories, Sweet & Rough: Sixteen Stories of Queer Smut. It is all ready to go and will be released on Monday, September 15th! Preorder your copy on Smashwords, or if you are attending the Catalyst Conference in LA this weekend, I’ll have special pre-release copies on a USB drive (which will have a special, USB-only b-side story included!)

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

2 thoughts on “Do rough sex fantasies compromise your sex-positive ethics?”

  1. Eva G says:

    First of all, many congratulations on your upcoming release!

    Fantasy & consent is something I think about all the time, especially in regards to erotic literature. My partner actually had a really interesting idea about this:

    “I still think we just need, like, a sticker that goes on fantasy and fiction that reminds people that it’s not the real world. Like when car commercials say ‘Professional driver. Closed course. Do not attempt.'”

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s like how alcohol companies put “drink responsibly” in their commercials and on their products. This is just fantasy – it isn’t divorced from the larger cultural context, but it also doesn’t have to be perfectly realistic in terms of consent and negotiation in order to be consensual.

    I love the idea of a “play responsibly” sticker!

  2. L says:

    This is so, so timely for me it’s almost psychic (like I literally logged on here to see if I could post an “Ask Sinclair” about this very thing). I am not an experienced fiction writer; my style is memoir and essay based, and I’m almost not experienced with writing erotica that’s not a 1st person, sexy letters to lovers type thing. But right now I’m slowly working on a story that feels like it NEEDS to come out, and it’s a super fucked up non-consensual revenge fuck rape fantasy that is absolutely based on my real life and real feelings. I’m so enjoying the writing process, and noticing how this thing in me just knows exactly when it needs to put it down for awhile, and to pick it back up again, very naturally. And for the moment I’m just writing it for me. But…if I ends up feeling like something I’m proud of, something that’s really hot, I know I’ll want to show it to people. And so I’m just letting that idea linger, with the knowledge that I may have some decisions to make when its over about what I do with it and whether I change it to more closely reflect my real morals and politics, or leave it as is.

    I am reminded of that story in Patrick Califia’s Macho Sluts about the cop kidnapping; the first time I read that story I almost couldn’t finish it, it was so traumatizing and I was brand new to bdsm and completely inexperienced with the idea of eroticizing along lines of oppression/marginalization. I felt scandalized and kind of sick. And then I got to the end, and it was all “Psych! Fooled you! It was consensual and they were lesbians all along!!!” And I felt relieved…But now? That kind of thing feels like a cop out. And part of what is hot for me in my (and others’) stories like this IS that they are fucked up, not play fucked up but really for reals fucked up, and the discomfort of sitting with that, that your desires have a real sharp edge to them and they can cut you, is hot. And interesting. And for someone who is really beyond all the usual societal internalized sex shaming, someone who isn’t really affected by most of the typical JudeoChristian taboos anymore, someone who has normalized kink and buttsex and blood play and con/noncon and all that other stuff…my own scary dark places really are kind of the last frontier. I don’t want to water them down.

    And as far as things like misogyny and patriarchy and rape culture go, I think being honest and empowered about desire and the ways desire merges with anger, power, fear, and all those other sizzling and potentially harmful emotions is a step in the right direction, not the wrong one.

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