I received a letter the other day from an older woman, a mother and grandmother, expressing her disappointment at the ‘explicit descriptions of sensual activities’ in my book, The Yearning. Apparently she had picked it up in a library and was surprised at how a book with such sexual content got into a public arena where young ones could read it. She likened the sexual chapters to porn and appealed to me as a mother, earnestly begging me to ‘write something that could inspire young ones and not embarrass your child.’
The letter closed on a positive note, she wished me well and hoped I would consider her views so I could be a writer young people could look up to. Unfortunately she left no return address, so I couldn’t respond. But it was the second time that week my writing had been labeled ‘porn’ (the other was by a reviewer who described Being Jade as ‘soft porn’ – frankly I think she needs to get out more).
There’s an awful lot of talk about sex in Western culture. And very little of it is respectful or positive. Sex writing tends to be lumped in one big shameful basket, but there is a big difference between pornographic writing and erotic writing in the context of a larger story. It saddens me that our culture is so sex-negative that any sexual writing can so easily be dismissed as inappropriate, trashy or even dangerous.
Sex, as a whole, isn’t dangerous – particularly if one is well informed enough to make healthy choices about it. Sex writing is even less so.
To a degree I agree with my correspondent, young children are at risk of being overexposed to the adult world and that’s our fault. We are the ones who let eight year olds watch M rated films. We sexualise everything from reality TV (Get your sexy back) to icecreams. In the context of a world where googling music delivers raunchy video clips and seven year olds are going to Pink concerts and Target sells sexy big girl clothes in tiny sizes, The Yearning is a mere drop in a tidal wave of Western bent-out-of-shape notions of sexuality.
My not writing about sex won’t make an iota of difference to this cultural detritus. (And let’s be honest, The Yearning isn’t the only book in the library with sex in it!) But, my writing positively about women and sex might.
The sex I write in my books is based on empowerment and our human need to connect deeply with another human being. We all want to feel loved through deep pleasure and intimacy with a partner and sharing our sexuality is a pathway to experiencing that. But most of us have no idea how to do it. We all make loads of mistakes: we choose the wrong partners, we humiliate ourselves, or we close ourselves off from pleasure through ignorance or fear.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
We are all sexual beings, no matter our gender, ability, age, beliefs. We are born with a sexual Self that is unique to each of us. Sharing that Self is a powerful experience and it should be a positive one. That can only happen if we as individuals shake off our negativity toward sex and our unacknowledged need to control our own and each other’s sexuality.
Understanding sex well will lead us into richer relationships, more fulfilling sexual experiences and a greater understanding of who we are. It requires practice, openness, trust and honesty and it takes a long time. Sexually empowered people are happy people. They are tolerant and loving and empathetic. Why wouldn’t we want a better understanding of our sexuality when that’s what we can gain from it?
I do protect my daughter from explicit sexual content (in any form) because she isn’t mature enough to understand it yet. However, I do want her to grow up with a positive view of sex and an accepting attitude to her own sexuality. If people like me don’t write sex-positive books, if I can’t show empowered female characters unlocking their sexual potential, if everyone else censors any kind of sex writing as porn, we close off an important avenue for change.
We live in a world where women are still told to be careful walking the streets at night, instead of men being told it’s not acceptable to stalk or prey on lone women; where the word ‘slut’ still applies almost exclusively to women; where the mention of sex conjures negative connotations like dirty, lewd, unsavoury, cheap, scandalous and dangerous.
This isn’t the world I want my daughter to live in. We need to change the way we think. All sex writing isn’t the same. And I wish people would stop trying to make it so.
The Yearning ebook will be on sale for $3.99 from mid-September. Read a free chapter of The Yearning here.