COASP # 3: The Problem With Consent

Welcome to Confessions of a Smut Peddler, a small section where I pour out confessions dealing with the process of writing erotica. Whether it be cringe-worthy, controversial or opinionated, allow me to share a piece of my mind with you. 

Click here for the full list of COASP posts.


 

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we really get started. I don’t mean consent itself is the problem. But I will be talking about consent, or lack thereof, in fictional (written) sexual situations. So if it makes you uncomfortable, here’s a handy link to a couple of free sexy stories where consent isn’t a problem at all.

That said, I want to confess something.

I sent one of my earliest smut stories and incarnations of Rubi Silvermoon through the shredder the other day.

The evolution of Rubi Silvermoon

Rubi, whose final manifestation came in The Resort, has had a long history with me. Her earliest incarnation was bizarre and sounded like a half-assed excuse to write smut. When I developed her at the young age of fourteen, that’s exactly what she was. Ruby-eyed, ruby-haired and with psychic powers for some reason, she seduced a wealthy businessman and his younger brother. There was no real explanation as to why she was psychic, except to ease the men she seduced into bed.

Her second incarnation wasn’t as terrible, but in a way it was. It recycled the billionaire plot, but replaced psychic powers with blackmail. That was the version that was eaten up by a shredder, page by page. Although the billionaire was rich and powerful, he was putty in her hands, and victim to her bizarre plot of letting her stay in his house, else she would have alerted the media of their sex-for-money transaction.

Her third incarnation removed the billionaire plot and finally put her in The Resort. She was the lead female at this point, and so focused on finding love despite the obvious problem of her profession (no spoilers I swear). With her final incarnation, she was shuffled more as a background character as Eva took the reigns, and hey, the rest is history.

For this rant though, her second incarnation is my main concern. The problem with my oldest story pieces was that, as a fourteen year old writer, I was inexperienced with sex, romance and boys (see my last COASP rant for that). My male protagonists were essentially spineless, existed mostly to have sex with my female characters, and brought up a form of consent I call, “she didn’t know she wanted it” (Or in this case, he). TV Tropes and other collective websites like it probably have their own name for it, but this is what I’m going to call it for now.

“She didn’t know she wanted it” consent, and why it was a problem

“She didn’t know she wanted it” consent was spawned from a young teenage girl who found hentai. I’m not saying all hentai (story-based or otherwise) has the same trope, but the clips I found all had the same sort of theme: some random girl is coerced into sex, but in the end she actually finds out she wants it, and is submissive and open to the man (or woman, or creature, or whatever’s) idea for sex. The entire scope of my sex education was what I learned in school, and from the media. That was a glaring contrast of abstinence-based sex ed and the “do what you want” sort of culture within pornography. Being the average teenager that I was (that is, the type that thought it was cool to rebel, so just about every teenager), I pretty much ignored the abstinence-only message school taught. Rather than doing dangerous sexual things as a young and stupid teenager though, I did the geekier thing and channeled it into my writing.

However, this is also why consent was such a problem in my earliest writing.

Here’s the basic breakdown of most of my earliest erotic writing:

  1. Establish the characters. One is usually spineless, the other oozing sexuality
  2. Some random thrown together plot to introduce the idea of sex
  3. The spineless character is beyond hot and bothered, but conflicted if they really want it. There’s a constant theme of, “I don’t want it, but I really want it.”
  4. Sex
  5. Cycle back to step 2, rinse, repeat.

Well, gee.

It works fine in some of my stories, but as I got older, there was an increasing creepy factor. An increasing rape-y factor. In my previous COASP I described Eva simply as:

So she ends up having a relationship simultaneously with six other boys – and I say boys, because everyone was underage. At the time, I didn’t know how to write adults convincingly. I was fourteen. So Eva was aged up to 16, as were her peers, and I thought that was edgy. Looking back, it’s just really creepy, as a twentysomething author.

Gif found here

Yeah. Let’s keep in mind that many of my characters were “aged up” to be edgy, but still under most erotica publishers’ bare minimum age of 21, mainstream porn’s age of 18, and probably your local area’s age of consent. Combine that with the creepy concept of “she didn’t know she wanted it,” and you’ve got a recipe for…well, I don’t know what it was, exactly. It was mind-blowingly hot for a young erotica writer who had never broached this topic before. It was cringe-worthy for the writer I grew into over time. It was just plain unacceptable for who I am now.

Second-generation Rubi, meet shredder.

Let’s make it creepier

Blatant trigger warning here.

Second-generation Rubi, the plot about blackmailing the billionaire…everything involved was rather creepy. She was creepier when she had psychic powers, but she still wins a creeper trophy for this version. The younger brother was fourteen and she seduced him (I think she was meant to be sixteen). She even told him that if he didn’t tell his brother (said blackmailed billionaire), she might come back to him again and they could enjoy their smut filled time. The story ran out of steam around the time where the billionaire left for a business trip, leaving Rubi alone with a horny fourteen year old boy.

Save me, Castiel… Gif found here

Another early work of mine was a short story about this guy who has unrequited feelings for a pretty woman. He desperately tries to keep her in his apartment, and somewhere in the conflict of not wanting her to leave, she gets knocked out and wakes up tied to the guy’s bed. It almost devolves into something rape-y, but the “she didn’t know she wanted it” type of consent comes in, and de-escalates the creep factor, if only slightly. That was also a theme in the earliest versions of Eva’s story, when she ends up with a few of those six guys, and one of them seduced her when she was trying to stay faithful to a boyfriend (his best friend, I think).

“Go big or go home” has always been an adage of mine, but holy crap. Say it again for the people in the back, Cas.

Trashing the trope

Throughout my writing career, my tastes have changed, as well as my sensibilities and ethics. After a while, I started noticing how creepy some of my old writing was. The above stories I’ve mentioned are eternally shelved on my hard drive as a reminder of what not to do. The latter will probably meet my recycling bin at some point, similar to second-generation Rubi and the shredder.

What really brought it home for me was dealing with consent issues in developing The Lady in the Velvet Collar. My first COASP dealt with how it was developed, out of frustration with EL James’s 50 Shades of Grey. There was a point where I started reading about how domestic abuse survivors called the book, and its lead male Christian Grey out. When I started seeing the comparisons of excerpts from 50 Shades to common abuser mechanisms, it made me stop and think about how my writing would also be interpreted.

It made me think of Madison, who was built to be a strong woman: how would she react if she was thrown into similar situations that Anastasia Steel had been thrown into? How would Prince Damien react to Madison? BDSM can blur the lines of consent sometimes, especially with the concept of implied consent. There’s a difference with implied consent where two partners have already discussed what their limits are and what they’re okay with – and just plain assuming one has the consent of the other, when they really don’t.

Looking back at my earliest writings, consent was always implied, because of the concept of “she didn’t know she wanted it.” But that was a concept built on the back of observing porn, which of course, is meant to get the viewer off and that’s about it. Most of my stories didn’t address a larger concern, of how readers would interpret it, or any long-lasting impact.

If the backlash against 50 Shades has taught me anything, it’s that readers will look for long-lasting impact, either on the characters or within themselves. We as writers might toe the line of edgy, risky, and dangerous, but we as writers need to understand how our writing affects readers, how they interpret it and how it might have a lasting impact on them.

Many erotica publishers have strict guidelines for any work that comes in, regarding age and limits on sexual violence or fetish. Yes, I am very much aware that there is such thing as rape fantasy and more violent fetishes that are a little too hardcore for me. Some of those types of play might turn readers’ stomachs if they’re not prepared – while it might be the thing to get other readers off. In real life, if those situations are set up, there is usually always consent behind it in advance, with people at least knowing that it will happen, if not when or where. And yes, I am all too aware that real sexual violence happens, and there is nothing fun or erotic about it.

I have a few friends who are outspoken about sexual violence in general, or sexual violence towards women. Some are survivors, others are close friends and family of survivors. Someone close to me couldn’t finish the advanced copy of Velvet Collar because the ending was upsetting for them (no spoilers). I toe the line, but I never want to trigger. Looking back at my older work, there are so many triggers and warnings and spots where people will say, “That’s not okay.” That was the bulk of my reaction when reading through my old, hand-written second-generation Rubi.

As much as I try to hold onto the writing from my youth so I can look back and see how much I’ve grown, there’s a point where I can’t hang onto something any longer. Some of my old work has already been trashed (my first-ever erotica work was deleted out of embarrassment, when I was a teen), some I’ve held onto out of nostalgia, like Eva. I knew that with my husband and I going through our belongings to downsize how much we actually owned that I’d run into my handwritten copy of Rubi’s story again. When I found it, the story actually broke my heart, in that I thought that what I wrote was okay at the time.

There is a time, a place, and an audience for the “she didn’t know she wanted it” consent that I played with in my youth. With the way I am now, I am not the kind of writer to put that concept into play. For all of my preachiness, I believe that there is power in sex. Sex should never be coerced, shamed, or forcibly taken. I believe that erotica writers hold a certain responsibility to our readers. We take our readers down an erotic, sometimes dark path where sex can play nicely with other desires for a while. However, as for the “she didn’t know she wanted it” concept…it’s something that is permanently shelved for me. It’s not a concept I’m comfortable playing with anymore. For those who are into it, there are plenty of writers and other visual media that makes use of this concept.

I think I’ll keep Rubi the way she is now though, in her final incarnation in The Resort. She’s a character who’s existed for a long time, for me. I feel like she can be put to rest properly now, without some dark incarnation of who she once was floating around.