I am, however, living in this world so I do stumble across it. And I am a sexual woman who's had reactions that tickle and sometimes ignite certain senses, usually unexpectedly and with a blush of titillation and surprise.
Sometimes, admittedly, I've looked furtively and cautiously around to check the absolute status of my privacy and have allowed that titillation to mature into the commanding pleasure it hints at, and we've worked together to grow that potential into promise. But, usually, I giggle and tickle and walk away.
Yet, even without any immersion or innate interest in erotica, I have noticed a couple things.
Firstly, I am affected by it. Not only in the moment of meeting it, but in my moments of intimacy – both alone and with a partner – as well. In my mind I've played images I've seen, read or heard about. I've imagined I look different, more like the desirable women described or pictured. I've hoped I was making the right sounds and movements so my partner would be as pleased as he would be if having an encounter with women in stories and sexy films.
Secondly, I don't see a lot of variety. Sure, there are smaller, bigger, a few different colours and a sampling of different preferences. If you're looking for taboo encounters between able-bodied fairly attractive not too old adults, I dare you to avoid it for any real length of time. As I mentioned, I don't seek erotica or porn, but it happens to me. (To be clear: I don't mostly mind.)
These two things are different issues that might have one solution. The way I'm affected by erotica is personal, I know that. I have my own insecurities and interpretations. Also, I don't actually watch, read, or listen to much erotica so I'm limited in how I understand it. But still, I feel confident that if there were more variety, more types of bodies and the inclusion of sensory challenges creating stories that illuminate needs we often think are limited to us alone, that leave us out of the sexy narrative – more of us would feel comfortable sexually. When we cannot see ourselves in these erotic scenarios that bring millions of people to websites and channels around the world, it most often plants the feeling that we are not desirable or worth the work.
I am not an expert, obviously, in erotica, porn, or the culture of it. I have admitted more than once already that I don't seek it and rarely take the time to enjoy it. Yet I know it's a real issue. Because, clearly, if I want to see disability explored graciously in erotica it's clear I'd have to work to find it. And according to disabled friends, I'd have to work especially hard to find erotica that stars disabled roles exhibiting agency and desire rather than just as a fetish or novelty.
I am a straight, able-bodied, unremarkable looking white woman in her 40s. It's not a challenge to see myself represented, and yet even I struggle to feel desirable and intuitive in the bedroom. Again, this is common but personal. Yet I truly believe it would be easier for me to feel free to explore my personal sexual side if there was more variety in the representation of sex, desirability, and bedroom moves.
A part of my personal issue has to do with how almost like the sexy ladies in literature and on screen I am. The seed has been planted that if I try I can be like them. And because they are the ones people seem to want to see, well, clearly I ought to give it a go. (It's tempting to add a few paragraphs about how I don't like being seen because I'm shy, and how it's important that we don't sculpt ourselves into something to be seen but rather create ourselves based on who we are and who we are proud of being, but that takes us too far away from the truth that these are common things to remind ourselves of because we're contending with a common desire to be seek-ed and seen. Even the shy among us.)
Interestingly, I often feel more deeply understood and comfortable with my vulnerabilities when I read, watch, or listen to something written by someone drastically different from myself. Someone with disabilities, a boy deciding what it is to be a man, someone growing up in a vastly different culture than my own, these are a few examples of protagonists who have illuminated me to myself. By having such unique experiences from my own they are able to reveal things in ways I was too close-in to realize.
Less surprisingly, they have helped me see people other than myself clearer, too. They have helped me notice others differently. They have helped me understand my brothers (my mom adopted four boys with autism and various other diagnosis) when they want to talk to me, their big sister, about the unique challenges they face, and interests they have, in the world of romance and sex. By representing themselves and the way they experience the world, they have given me the gift of seeing and of trying to understand.
They have given me a feeling of kinship with, and interest in, differences.
If I saw more of that in stories about sex and sexuality, I couldn't help but be more comfortable exploring my own differences. My own uniqueness. My own desires and pleasure points. I'd be more comfortable asking for and seeking my partner's uniqueness, desires, and pleasure points. I'd probably be better at recognizing them, too.
The only way to authentically shift the genre of erotica into a more diverse and inclusive place is to include diverse artists. My guess is these artists are more likely to create erotic art when they see themselves represented in it.
Luckily, there are always a few outliers and brave creatives doing what needs to be done.
So for those of you that seek and see erotica, those of you who like to listen to or read sexy stories, I hope you'll take the extra time to find something different. Something that explores a body you are unused to seeing. Not every time, of course. But now and then.
Perhaps you'll find something surprisingly sexy! And even if that isn't your experience, at least you'll know you're giving some – ahem – exposure to people who are publicly exploring their intimate selves in hopes of being experienced.
Opinion Piece by Tsara Shelton
Tsara Shelton is a writer of musings, a sipper of coffee, and an addict of stories. Having learned life exploring the edges of society she finds her footing in the world through intentional storytelling.
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