Thursday, February 23, 2012

Old School SmexyTimes

by Allison Pang

I didn't really read romance books growing up. I'm sure I stumbled across a few of my mother's books here and there, but for the most part the stories I read (mostly of the epic fantasy variety) either had very little by way of sex or it was glossed over.

Of course, the majority of the books I was reading were also by men, so maybe that had something to do with it. Come to think of it, there wasn't much by way of romance in most of those books either. Not that people didn't have relationships, but it certainly wasn't the focus in the all-consuming war/defeating the dragon/rescuing the princess/trope trope trope.

In short, sex was mostly an afterthought.

At least until I turned 12 (1986 time frame for those of you keeping track) and stumbled over a certain Piers Anthony anthology, which had a story that dealt with a planet who kept supermodel-looking women as...cows. Milkcows. Bred them. Kept them in barns. Didn't feed them enough protein as babies so their brains were sorta stupid and didn't develop right. Cut out their tongues so they couldn't talk.

And had tits the size of watermelons. Which they milked. With big machines.

Also? They were naked. All the time.

To be honest, I can't even remember what the premise was for the main character, except he was looking for someone and ended up in one of these barns, pretending to be a stableman.

At which point he  fucked the hell out of one of the "maiden" cows. And then took her to one of the "bulls" and let *him* fuck the hell out of her. (And by fuck, I mean punch her in the stomach until she doubled over and he then assaulted her.  Also? The cow *really* enjoyed it. Of course she did.)

As a first sex story experience it definitely blew my mind a bit. I look back on it now and I know it was really nothing more than a misogynistic rape fantasy. (And a horrifying one, at that. Although rape and odd sex did seem to happen more often in these old school sorts of books than romance - a la White Gold Wielder  or the Cenotaph Road series which I think had some chick rubbing up against a giant spider to get off. And hump a sword pommel. And watch a big robot orgy. And sit on a bucking unicorn animal. The horn part. Oh Christ, *this* is where Phin came from, maybe? Sad thing was this *wasn't* a porn book - it was an honest-to-god sci-fi/fantasy series.)

I also find it ironic that my mother wouldn't let me read those "trashy" romance novels - the ones that actually had characters that cared about each other - but bought me the anthology, because I was reading the Xanth novels at the time and oh, hey, I'll bet she'll like this one too.

And of course, I never told her.

I don't know if things were written that way simply due to an issue of story/plot priority  (NO TIME FOR SEX, MUST SLAY DRAGON) or specific to the genre (eww, we don't want VAGINAS IN OUR SCI-FI) or just the whole male vs female gaze issue. (BEWBS)

What I *do* know is that I enjoy writing sex scenes, but if the above story hammered anything home in my pre-teen state, it was that the sex has to mean something. I cannot write sex for sex's sake. (And I've tried. I can't really read it either.) If I don't have an emotional connection to the characters...if the characters don't have at least something that makes me care about their relationship, then I just can't get into it. Even when I try to write something short and smutty for fun...I end up adding pages of setup, just so I can get into the characters' heads. Just can't do it any other way.

For writing purposes, I know that if I'm not emotionally invested in the scene, the writing comes out flat. Which is probably true for just about any type of scene, honestly - action, dialogue, whatever. But sex is one of those things that really needs to be done right.  Word choice and "camera" angles, dialogue and tension - it can be a fine line between sizzle...and ridiculous.

I know plenty of readers who skip the sex scenes completely when they come across them. They find them boring, or unnecessary and that's their prerogative. But I think that does the story a disservice sometimes, because how characters react to each other in bed often can give the reader greater insight to who they are as a whole.

I've been known to take completely random characters that I don't know all that well (from a new story, for example) and throw them into bed together and write out a scene. Even if it's never used, from my own perspective it definitely opens up a new window in how I view them, and also sometimes helps me determine their own motivation. People blurt out and think the oddest things sometimes when they're feeling vulnerable, and characters aren't much different.


  1. I never read that particular story or anthology (thank goodness), but I read all the Xanth books and I remember being shocked by the constant misogyny. Recall Chameleon? She was either beautiful and stupid or ugly and smart. The eternal pigeonhole. Anthony was at RT in Orlando that first year we went and I said hello to him. I kind of wanted to say something, but he looked old and really out of it. Probably not worth it. I don't think it occurred to him that little girls would read his books. Maybe he didn't know we could read?

    1. Yeah, I remember Chameleon. I was in 2nd grade when I read that one, I think. And of course, a lot of that sort of misogyny went over my head at the time...but I do think years of reading books with that overall "male gaze" definitely affected me over the long run.

      I've been accused have having a more masculine writing voice at times and maybe this is why.

      As far as that anthology goes - PA used to write for Playboy or Hustler I think, so I'm pretty sure a lot of those stories were from that timeframe - the publisher was just trying to cash in on his name and rounded up the old stories and put them out in book form.

      I can't blame him for not thinking little girls were going to read it since that wasn't the audience he was writing for, but maybe the publisher was a bit negligent in that respect?

  2. whoa, never came across anything like that! I did find my aunt's Playgirl magazine as a preteen and read those fantasy stories. My eyes were opened!
    I don't like erotica mainly because the language used. There are certain words for peoples naughty bits I just don't like. I have to have the romance/feeling aspect like you. I think they are now calling that romantic erotica to differentiate.
    My favorite genre is UF (the darker the better) and romance tends to be light in those. If characters are passionate, intense and dark edged in all areas of their lives, then it only makes sense that they are that way in the bed too.

  3. I remember that Piers Anthony story... and some of his multiple-gender-alien-rape-scenes... yeah, those will leave a scar.

  4. Sounds similar to my first "sex" book I read. The Fan Club by Irving Wallace. '

    4 losers decide they hate their lives and to make it better they kidnap a hot young starlet and have their way with her. It was a literary book, not a trashy romance novel but it was still graphic. Overly so.

    I was 12. lol.

    No formative stuff at that age. No not at all.

  5. OMG, I remember that story. The MC was a scout with some kind of organization that slipped between alternate realities (in a kind of Quantum Leap thing) looking for realities they could communicate with or trade with or something. I remember him having sex with her and it being totally unsatisfying for him. But I don't remember the whole taking her to the bull scene, so it didn't have as horrifying an effect on me. I do remember he saved one of the babies and took her back with him, after which they declared that particular reality off-limits (or not viable or something).

    I had a horrible experience with a series of books (can't remember the titles - I'm repressing) that were rife with rape and subjugation and general nastiness. I think I was 12 or 13 at the time. If I knew then what I know now, I would never have read them. This is why I've always told my daughter to be careful what she reads - because once it's in your head you can never get it out again.

  6. My first read sex scene was in the White Dragon. Nothing so wild as this stuff, whew!!!