Sunday, 22 January 2012

Hitting the Right Keys: Writing Sex

Yes, I'm going to talk about sex. In detail. If you're prudish, I suggest you click here instead: Fluffy Kittens. (Actually it's worth clicking for a giggle).

In specific, I want to talk about the different ways that men and women write about sex. I write m/m romance, and I read that genre an awful lot. Purely for research purposes, you understand... Now this is an odd genre to be in, both as a reader and a writer, because straight women just love, love, love to read and write this stuff. M/M is not the domain of gay men. Not for the most part, anyway.

That I'm a dyke writing in the genre is, for the moment, irrelevant. Just chalk it up to another of my oddities.

Now I can read any book in the genre and I guarantee you that by the sex scene I will know if the author is a man or a woman. Why? Completely different style of narrative, so different that it overarches any differences in authorial voice. The individual is subsumed by their gender when they get down to the knitty-gritty. These differences are obvious in several areas:

1. Measurements
If a man is writing about dick, I guarantee he'll give you a measurement. A women, conversely, will not. It's a fact. Somewhere in a book written by a man will be a mention of someone's "eight-inch rod" or some-such. Women will use descriptors such as long and thick, but they won't put a number on it. I've read books written by men that will give you both the length and the girth, in inches and centimetres. The old joke is true, size matters to men. For women it's almost an irrelevance. It ain't the size of the boat, it's the motion of the ocean, no doubt.

2. Foreskins
What are they? What are they for? The extent of my experience with this strange appendage is discovering one very, very drunken night that they will stretch for an awfully long way, and then make a very satisfying snap when they're released and they ping back into position. But men seem to think that they're very, very important. When the author is female, there will be little to no mention of foreskins at all. If a man is writing you'll know in a second if a man is cut or uncut, and if uncut, how it moves, how it feels, at what point it rolls back, everything.

3. Euphemisms
You'd expect these to be the domain of the women, right? Wrong. Most women will stick to pretty basic terms - cock, dick, even penis. If you're reading a book with a "mammoth dong" in it, then I bet you anything a man wrote it. Personally I couldn't bring myself to use an expression like that without dying laughing, but men have no such qualms. Sometimes I think euphemisms can work brilliantly -  one of my favourites described one man's member as a "beer can". Instantly you know exactly what the author means: bloody thick. Men are much more in-your-face with the whole penis thing all over: women will focus much more readily on the body as a whole, rather than individual parts. Men like to (forgive me) slap you in the face with it, but they'll manage to be both coarser and less offensive with their language.

4. Hook-Ups
Generally speaking, women like their romance. They want to see a relationship, or at least the potential for one, between the two (or three, or four...) characters who are getting it on. This can backfire into the dreaded insta-love, but the other option is unthinkable: brainless animal sex. As a rule, if you're reading a story where two guys go at it in an alleyway thirty seconds after meeting each other for the first time, it's a male fantasy. If afterwards they kiss passionately, exchange numbers, and declare that they've been searching for each other all their lives, it's female.

Why does any of this actually matter? Well as an author, it means I need to be sensitive to what my demographic wants to read. For every man who buys a book in this genre, I bet there's ten women. Certainly the women are more vocal members of forums, and leave more reviews in any case. So as an author, trying to sell as many books as I can and get as many good reviews to boot, I need to please the women. (And suddenly the reason why a dyke might write in this genre becomes obvious...this stuff is a bona fide chick magnet). That there are more women than men makes sense, if you think about it. The men can go out there and actually do it: the women just want the fantasy.

 So to keep the ladies happy all I need to do is get two guys together in as mushy and then as erotic as way as possible, keeping my vocabulary simple and a little bit vague, right? Wrong again. Because the rules of what does and doesn't go in gay sex in this genre are pretty strict. As in I've seen a book get absolutely decimated in reviews purely because the two characters do it without lube. Seriously. Here's how it goes down:

Instant and permanent hard-on
Lots of foreplay
More pre-cum than you would imagine it was possible for one man to produce (although I'm no expert...)
Optional (brief) reference to foreskin here
Lots of lubricant
Introduction of digits into anal passage: commencing with one and working up to three - no more, no less
The main event
Hard-on remains
Ability to shoot again almost immediately mandatory

These aren't men, they're supermen. Even I know that a lot of what I've just listed is minimally unlikely, if not impossible. At least, after the age of twenty. This ain't gay sex, it's a fantasy of gay sex. A bit like how straight men imagine two women go at it.

Truth: despite popular preconceptions, most men do not get hard every time the wind changes.
Truth: foreplay is for pussies. Literally.
Truth: there isn't always lube. Spit works perfectly well, and sometimes it's fun to just go at it and ride the burn.
Truth: a lot of this prep work is nonsense, unless you're dealing with a tight-assed virgin. Plus, who set the rule that says three fingers is the right amount? Why not two, or four?

Suddenly what is possible in this genre - and will be popular - is restricted to a pretty narrow premise.

This does raise some interesting ideas about men and women. These days it's popular to imagine that modern, liberated women enjoy pornography and sex as much as men. In their own way, they do. But it's far from the same way. Romance is as much the modern woman's porn as it was the Victorian woman's. The descriptions of the act itself are far more graphic, but all the fluff around it is the same. Ultimately women crave a connection, they want love, not just sex. Maybe we haven't evolved that far after all.

That doesn't mean that men don't want love. Of course they do, and they enjoy the stories written by and for women just as much as women enjoy the stories written by and for men. What this comes down to is the age-old truth that all romance is fantasy. In real life the cowboy who's been in love with his best friend since, like, for ever is just as likely to get his ass kicked as licked if he confesses his feelings. Probably more likely. In real life, the best sex you've ever had is just as likely to come from a one-night-stand who'll never call you back as with someone you're going to spend the rest of eternity with. Actually one of my favourite one-liners has more than a little truth in it: Why are the best lays always the biggest dicks?

 Of course, not every book in this genre is a formulaic cliche. There are some outstanding works out there, stuff that will genuinely move you, will change the way you think about love and relationships. And there is never a right or wrong way to enjoy sex - providing all parties are consenting adults, of course! What works for one person won't work for another, and that's the way it should be. Diversity is everything, it's what makes us human, and nowhere are we more diverse than in bed. I just think it's interesting to see the ways the two sexes think about and react to sex and relationships, and to realise that we're not always as liberated and evolved as we like to think we are.


  1. Interesting and funny ^.^

    The thing is, though, that if there's no "love" it's not m/m *romance*. It's gay fiction. M/M romance is a genre within the m/m genre, and there are certain things that are expected from romance novels (of any sexuality). No, I'm not talking about mushy "I love you"'s, but it's basically two people in love, or falling in love and have to walk through some hurdles. That's why there's not very many hook ups with strangers (I think it's realistic that people stray - or have sex with others if they're on breaks, but a LOT of readers disagree here! Probably because to them, m/m is - and should remain - escapism).

    I like writing rough sex scenes, but I get cyber-whacked over the head for some of it. Even by a guy once who said he wished the character's first time had been more gentle (it was gentle - just not one tiny part of it). Then I know another gay guy who always writes lubes in his scenes, because for him anal without lube just plainly hurts - and this other who says that spit-sex is usually used in desperate times, like in public bathroom scenes, but he always prefers lube. I also know gay men who are very much in touch with their feelings and they "make love" when they're having sex - very gentle and thoughtful and sweet words whispered. All I'm saying that it hardly matters how you write it, someone will jump out and accuse you of writing a stereotype. It's annoying as hell. I get smacked back and forth for writing sensitive guys - because apparently that's stereotyping gay men. But I *know* gay (and het) men who are sensitive and I like writing sensitive characters in some of my stories. When I write one, I'm told he's "weak" and "immature" and it annoys the hell out of me because sensitive men are not weak.

    Er, got carried away there. But good post!

  2. lol carried away is good! I'm always getting carried away... and I agree with what you're saying, anything and everything can be a stereotype, or if not then a reaction to it, which is a stereotype in itself :-)


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