On Reading and Sex

“In life there are two things which are dependable. The pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of literature.” – Sei Shōnagon

2020 was a year of no kink and not much sex. Perhaps it would be better to say a year of not much sex with partners. For I had plenty of solo sex, more than I thought I would.  And that solo pleasure fitted I nicely with the other solo pleasure to which I devoted much of my free time last year. Reading.

I have always been a voracious reader of fiction. I love being transported to other times, other places, using my mind to explore physicality, my physicality, my sexuality. This is true of all literature, not just genre fiction, although I love that too. And on the subject, my new reading is Venus in Furs, one of those books I always think I should have read but never quite got round to. It being a book club selection has given me the discipline (no pun intended!) to pick it up.  

Words exist in the mind, they shape our thoughts even as we use them to express those thoughts. But words have physicality, we utter them, feel them in our mouths, we hear them, soft harsh, beautiful, ugly. They sit on the page, we can feel the paper, smell the ink. Book are sensual on more than one level. I do not have a Kindle. All my books are paper. This is a vital part of the experience of reading.   

My favourite books of 2020 were these:

Quiet Flows The Don by Mikhail Sholokov – a story of war and revolution in Russia seen from the perspective of a Cossack village.  

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – a surreal and sensual story of the Devil coming to Moscow.  

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk – an exploration of the metaphysics of travel, conceptualising travel as movements in time as well as space, set against the background of an exploration of the frozen moment of plastination.  

Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh – the story of a woman in an unnamed authoritarian and dystopian society who wants to have a baby when the state has decreed that she may not. The book is a wider consideration of societal control of women’s bodies and the role of the medical profession in that control.     

And, yes, writing too. It is said that reading literary fiction is a means of self understanding. So is writing and my reading and writing feed off each other. In 2020 in particular much of my fiction had a strongly autobiographical element as I processed a range of life experiences and made my peace with people, places, events, that had left raw edges exposed. Reading and writing as therapy too then.

Reading has been so important to me in 2020. It has kept me alive. It had affirmed me as a sexual person even as circumstances have denied me sex. In 2021 I will continue to read voraciously. But I long for the dungeon, the bedroom.      

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It’s Therapy But Is It Art?

I have a friend who has recently started reading erotica. This began out of curiosity specifically that she wanted to read my published work, But she read the other stories in the books I lent her, enjoyed those and asked me to lend her some more books. I went for a coffee with her recently to talk about her experiences. Anna is in her early 30s, she identifies as straight and vanilla, and on her own admission had never thought much about her sexuality and the ways in which she lived it.  Bur she had fund much to enjoy in the erotica she had read. She had gained insights into her own life, and understanding of herself as a sexual being, even from stories about gay sex or even BDSM that were far removed from her own experience.

As the conversation continued Anna opened up more and confided that she had had some bad experiences sexually and that she had issues with low self esteem specifically related to sex. And reading smut had helped to come to terms with this, to see that really there is nothing wrong with her.  In short, reading smut had been therapeutic.

Some years ago I did some work with  a Community Interest Company that was commissioned bt local Mental Health trusts to run reading therapy sessions often with people who had had limited educational opportunities and presumably found   reading literary fiction daunting. But it was fascinating to sit in on a session and see how the act of reading helped the self esteem of these people and also served as a medium for self understanding as they brought their own life experiences to bear on the text, commenting with insight on the issues raised.

It is a commonplace that there is no right or wrong way to read a text, everyone brings something different to that text. This is true of literary fiction. It is also true of erotica. In fact I would go further and say that the distinction between literary fiction and niche fiction, be it erotica, crime fiction or whatever. Good writing can open doors, whatever the subject matter I am grateful to Anna for providing evidence of that.