Are ‘Erotica’ Writers ‘Sex Workers’?


This post discusses adult topics. If you are not old enough for that, please look at the kitten and then move on. It is also controversial— on purpose. If it makes your head explode, good. Your head probably needed it.

There is a trend these days to use the euphemism ‘sex worker’ to describe both strippers and prostitutes— which is good for the prostitutes, not so nice for the non-prostituting stripper. But what about the writer of pornographic fictional works— or ‘erotica’ as we are encouraged to call it? Aren’t they doing the same job as other sex workers— providing sexual pleasure to their clients (readers) for money?

I have a confession to make. I wrote a sex fiction book once. Or at least the beginning of one. And with my Christian upbringing and my voluntary choice of Christian colleges for my education, I surely knew better.

I was beginning to write seriously for the first time. I had read Lawrence Block’s ‘Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print’ and LB was kind of my writing mentor at the time. I knew from the book that LB had written soft-core pornographic books to make ends meet while he was learning the writer’s craft. (I also knew that LB’s first novel, published under another name, was a non-porn ‘sensitive’ novel about lesbian life, which moved me since I was coming to grips with my sexual orientation at that time.)

Even though Lawrence Block was quite clear that modern porn books, unlike the soft-core ones he wrote, were not worth doing because they paid so poorly, I was tempted. And so I bought a few porny books to learn how to describe acts I’d never experienced and set to work.

It’s not something I’m proud of. I was still a Christian at that point in my life— this was just before the personal crisis which led me to reject Christianity, and, later, to embrace Neopaganism and Leftist/Marxist politics— and I knew that pornography books were a means of leading people into sin. The sin of impure thoughts, at the least.

Later, when I became a feminist (I’ve outgrown that since) there were other reasons why I knew pornographic-book writing was the wrong thing to do. It objectifies women— that is, it makes women into mere objects for the lust of men, instead of persons in their own right. It trains men to think of sexual pleasure with women as something they can buy, the way they buy pornographic novels.  (Some modern ‘erotic romance’ turns the tables by objectifying men.)

The problem is, being a sex worker, either by writing filthy books or by the more direct physical means of prostitution, gets you no respect whatsoever. Just think— the people who make decisions on who to give book awards to are overwhelmingly leftist/progressive and fully embrace the Sexual Revolution. Yet pornographic novels never are under consideration for these awards.

Part of the problem is that sex books don’t work like novels. A novel is a vivid fictional dream— while reading, you are unaware of the outside world. A sex writer’s job is to make the reader wake up from the fictional dream often to notice his own state of sexual arousal. An erotica writer who doesn’t manage to provoke sexual arousal in the readers doesn’t get far in that field.

The thing about sex is that we are embarrassed about it, even if we believe that all sexual expression is OK and only ‘repressing’ sexual impulses is forbidden. The young man who hires a prostitute for his first sexual experience is embarrassed by it. He doesn’t introduce her to his mom and all his friends. If he meets the prostitute at a dinner party in later life, he’s STILL embarrassed and pretends he doesn’t know her.

The same thing happens when a young person reads a pornographic/erotic book. He gets a sexual thrill from it, but it’s an embarrassing sexual thrill. He doesn’t go around in his college classes talking about his ‘one-handed’ reading experience. Even if it’s the sort of classy/popular erotic book that people are discussing, he pretends he only looked at it for the literary value (if any) and that both hands remained on the book cover at all times.

He will not, at any point, have any more respect to the author of that sex book than he has for the prostitute. That author will always be connected with an embarrassing event— getting sexual pleasure from a book rather than from a real-world woman. After all, studly men don’t read porn books, they are two busy satisfying all the hot women chasing after them. Or at least, that’s the fiction.

Because writers of pornographic/erotic books (I won’t call them novels) have this sex-worker aura about them, it was once an invariable rule that writers who wrote such things used a pseudonym (pen name). You didn’t sully your real writing name with this stuff.

But today with the Indie book publishing revolution, ill-informed young persons who read little but erotica write erotica of their own, and self-publish it under their own name. This is a fatal mistake if you ever want to write anything that isn’t meant for ‘one-handed’ reading. Stay classy. Don’t do it.

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