This week I’m posting a dialogue between the Australian writer of erotic fiction Linda Jaivin (Eat Me, A most Immoral woman) and myself, which is a humorous, but not outraged response to the statement released a few weeks ago by Kate Copstick, the new female editor of the Erotic Review (UK) in which she claims women cannot write erotic literature.
TL: I have to say that I found Kate Copstick’s statement about how women can’t write good erotica more than a little extraordinary –
LJ: I’d call it more than a little ordinary myself. Gordon Ramsey said ‘British women can’t cook to save their lives’. Then hired Clare Smyth to be the head chef at his flagship restaurant in Chelsea.
TL: What’s more, she’s not just talking from the perspective of a writer of erotica but also as a reader of such materials. It seems a regressive and strangely dated argument, a rehashing of that old chestnut of what is the difference between pornography and erotica? For me it has always been that pornography was objective and that erotica was subjective. What do you think, Linda?
LJ: I’m with Woody Allen, who said the difference was that with erotica, you use a feather and with porn, the whole chicken. There are dozens of theories. Some people say that erotica is literary and porn visual. But really, it comes down to semantics, an attempt to valorise one’s own preferences as classier: what I like is erotica, what you like is porn.
TL: The extension of this debate is the widely held belief that women, being the emotional soft creatures that they are, are incapable of having sex for the sake of having sex, do not enjoy visual depictions of sex and now – thanks to Ms Copstick’s declaration – now incapable of writing good sex without letting the soft focus of romance get in the way. What a load of c—, or should I say -what a load of ‘I felt his manhood hardening like a defiant iron rod against my belly, swooning I….
LJ: Stop, Tobsha, you’re making me faint. But seriously, I’ve never understood that whole automatic pairing of women and romance and men and sex. Or the related notion that women prefer chocolate to sex – I’ve always found chocolate a lot harder to wash out of the sheets the next morning. Some of the biggest romantics are men and there are loads of women who enjoy no-strings sex. It’s curious that the editor of the Erotic Review holds such clichéd views of sexuality and gender.
TL: Apart from the plethora of great female writers of erotica I would argue that social/sexual morales are evolving faster than the time it would take Ms Copstick to reach for her Rabbit.
LJ: Perhaps we should challenge her to a duel. Or a tri-el. Rabbits at twenty paces. One, two, three, bzzzzz. Do you think she’d come at that idea?
TL: And most of this is directly linked to the economic independence of women, a phenomena that is increasingly taken for granted by many women under the age of forty and their behaviour reflects this. In fact there have been several recent editorials as sensationalist as Ms Copstick’s, which have argued that women are the new men; vicarious in our sexual appetites, wavering in our fidelity and newly fickle in our aesthete demands of muscular gender. How else do you explain the Coyote, David Beckham’s Versace ads and Madonna’s barely legal boy toys? Maybe now that we are the new men we have all, as a collective gender, suddenly forgotten how to engage in foreplay? Didn’t women invent foreplay? Are we not the seductive sex?
LJ: The sexual monoculture first popularised by Hugh Hefner and Playboy in the 1950s, with its predatory ethos, has become mainstream. Except where Hefner posited men as the desiring sex and women as objects to be desired, now women flip the idea on its head to do the same thing to men – and other women. But it’s all about physical stereotypes of sexiness, and rarely about the expression or fulfilment of female desire. I thought Ariel Levy nailed it in Female Chauvinist Pigs. There’s little difference between men drooling over big breasts and women salivating over a washboard stomach. That said, at least a girl can launder her chocolate-stained sheets on perfect abs… sorry, where were we?
TL: Of course, in the real world, gender difference and taste in erotica, pornography and whatever turns you on is never that polarised. I know women who watch and enjoy pornography and men who find it too psychologically cold. And you’d been amazed how many closet male Anais Nin readers there are – Personally I always found Nin too vague in her descriptions of the actual act and, as an erotic writer, I’ve always tried to walk a line between her and Henry Miller.
LJ: I like different models and writers of erotica depending on my mood: Anais Nin, John Cleland, Pat(rick) Califia to name a few… Califia rather confounds the question of which gender writes better erotica as he has been both.
TL: As for the actual writing process and the visualisation involved in the creation of good sex writing it’s really a question of imagination, research and practise.
LJ: You can never do enough research, I find.
TL: You have to emotionally engage the reader enough so that he or she wants to climax with the characters – the nuts and bolts of this should be explicit enough so that the least imaginative reader can put her or himself into the bed, swimming pool, elevator or, in the case of one of my stories, deep freeze, and still track what piston is pumping and if the engine is dripping with the right amount of lubrication. But, car mechanic metaphors aside, I remain utterly unconvinced that this craft is gender specific.
LJ: Deep freeze?
TL: I had the honour of meeting with the legendary Pauline Regan (real name Dominic Aury) a few years before her death. Interestingly when her novel, The Story of O, was published anonymously many people assumed it must have been a male writing because there was no way a woman could envisage such sexual explicitness.
LJ: At least she’d get a gig with Copstick’s Erotic Review.
TL: Admittedly this was in the 1950’s before the clitoris, G spot and the Bermuda triangle had been officially discovered (and endorsed by the sexual revolution). But in some ways Ms Copstick’s declamatory spin is a continuation of the same regressive thinking. But then again she is in the unenviable position of running a paper that has to compete with free Internet porn, the massive acceleration of literary sexy novels and raunchy Mills and Boons. I guess she had to think of something to get a rise.
LJ: Well, she got one out of us, didn’t she? I suspect that despite her fear of being ‘drowned in estrogen’ she’ll be gagging on a flood of testosterone before too long. If she’s not, her