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The Ethics Of Writing Filth

Over the past few days, there has been an interesting discussion going on about whether or not, those of us who write erotic fiction should include condom use and promote safe sex, generally. It all began with this tweet from the lovely May from Sex Matters:
— May More (@more_matters) July 20, 2018

The discussions have been both illuminating and interesting, and pretty much every view has been covered. This post is where I pull my thoughts together and present them in a way that a 240 character restriction just doesn’t allow me to do.

First and foremost, as with so many things, I don’t think there is a right or a wrong answer to this particular question. I haven’t gone back through all of my stories but I’m reasonably sure that if condom use is mentioned, it will have been done so in a vanishingly small number of occasions.

Why is this?

Well, it most certainly isn’t because I am advocating unsafe sexual practices. I accept that, taken at face value, the sexual activities that my characters indulge in would be deemed to be “unsafe”; in particular casual sex where no protection is mentioned.

But is it actually necessary to mention it?

Yes, there may be instances where Safe sex and condom use are actually central to the story, but by and large they are just part of the general “background noise” that the reader can interpret, or not, depending on their own views,

If I were writing about a car journey, would I make a point of mentioning the driver was wearing a seatbelt? Would I mention every time they changed gear? Would I mention every song that played on the radio? The answer is “no”, it probably wouldn’t be interesting. If the scene I was describing involved an accident, then the absence or presence of a seatbelt may suddenly take on more relevance. If a particular song triggered a particular emotion or memory, than that would be worth weaving into the narrative. Otherwise, though, we tend to gloss over things that “just happen” and get to the point of what we are writing.

Sex scenes are no different. As writers, we tend to write an “idealised” version of sex based on the context of the scene we’re writing. In the same way that condom use may or may not be relevant, we rarely mention the colour of the bed clothes. We tend not to mention the inevitable “fails” that happen in “real” sex; those mouthfuls of hair, the elbowing your partner in a tender spot when changing position, the entangle limbs, the cat jumping on the bed just at the point of orgasm.

Some times we do include those detail, to inject some humour, or to point out that it absolutely isn’t all fireworks and waterfalls like it is in the movies.

Which, of course, is another point. Condom use doesn’t tend to feature in mainstream film sex scenes. It frequently does in porn, because of safety laws that studios have to adhere to when filming people actually having sex, but in the celluloid world of Cinema; think Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in  “Basic Instinct”, think Tom Conti and Pauline Collins in “Shirley Valentine”, think  Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson in “The Tall Guy”. All films that feature fairly explicit sex scenes, and not a condom to be seen. I mention those films in particular because of their vintage; late ’80s early ’90s when the HIV/AIDs prevention message was really at its peak, and yet, sex in films was still the same as it had been and pretty much still is depicted today.

I remember a magazine in the ’90s called “Forum” that styled itself as “the safe sex magazine”. In it’s pages it covered pretty much every aspect of sex from vanilla though to full scale BDSM, and the safety message was paramount. It also featured an item of erotic fiction in every issue. It’s probably no surprise that the fiction characters were not practising  the same safe sex that the articles in the rest of the magazine espoused. Hypocritical? No, not really. The factual articles were there to instruct and inform, the fiction was there to arouse and entertain.

And therein brings me back to my point, as writers, we are primarily writing to entertain. When I write fiction, I do it with a view to turning my readers on. I’m not doing it to enforce or inflict any view of morality (or otherwise) that I may hold on them; I’m writing, hopefully to help them get off. I write fiction, not instruction guides.

So, where does that leave us? Well, probably right back where we started. I don’t think there is any obligation on erotica writers to educate their audience any more than there is an obligation of writers of any genre. Ultimately (speaking for myself at least), we write for us. Our audience are, in the main, most likely to be people like us. The type of person that gets uptight about us not depicting condom use are probably those who would burn us for writing such disgusting filthy trash in any event. I for one, am not going to lose any sleep over what people like that happen to think. If they don’t like what I write, no one is making them read it.

So, condom use/safe sex in erotic fiction; yea or nay? I’d say go with what you’re writing and work it in if you feel it’s relevant or adds, or leave it out if it is a potential encumbrance. I’m pretty sure the fictional characters in our stories don’t mind either way. Hopefully, they just get to enjoy all the sex their having without needing to worry about it.