When I started writing erotica, I did it as a sex-positive feminist. I wrote about women who wanted sex and who came through their sexual experiences – however initially frightening – stronger, wiser, more empowered, more self-aware, and without regrets

Now look at me: one of my most successful novels, Named and Shamed, features a heroine who is publically stripped and humiliated, verbally denigrated, gang-banged (several times), whipped, treated like an animal, loaned out to strangers, peed on … and that’s not the half of it. What’s more, she absolutely loves it. 

Do I still call myself a feminist? Hell, yes.

We all have issues with power. All of us.

Face it, everyone knows what it’s like to feel powerless. To be humiliated. To be afraid. 

Men too. There is hardly a man in our society who hasn’t spent his most formative years trying desperately to assert his individual will against an autocratic, all-powerful female figure. I’m no Freudian, but … hey.

For some people, the power issues become so embedded that it becomes a part of their sexual response. Loads of men have a kink for being punished, dominated, or humiliated. It’s certainly not as simple as “Men want power over women.” And my own introduction to erotic literature was the book Macho Sluts – an anthology of lesbian BDSM that I cannot recommend highly enough. Men are not central to those BDSM fantasies! 

But women live more intimately with fear. We exist in a worldwide rape culture. Every woman knows what it is like to carry around – at the lowest, most subliminal level, if we’re one of the lucky ones – a fear of sexual violence every day of our lives. To avoid the gaze of the stranger at the bus stop. To check there’s no one hiding in the car before we climb in. To walk down the lit side of the road. 

How do we deal with this world of grotesque power imbalances? How do we read a news website or step out of the door without breaking down in tears or going crazy? Well, lots of ways, including political activism. But one of those ways is sexual fantasy. We use fantasy and fiction to confront our deep fears and uneasiness about the world. We play with ideas and situations. We coat the grit in nacre to make a pearl. Because we have to.

Does this sound like therapy? Well, we’re all hurt by life. That is human nature.

Fantasy is Not Reality

62% of women have rape fantasies. It is normal.

Does that mean 62% of women want to be raped? For god’s sake, no. FANTASY, EVEN SEXUAL FANTASY, IS NOT NECESSARILY AN EXPRESSION OF ANY REAL-LIFE DESIRE. I wish we taught this fundamental point to every young person, but it’s so hard to grasp it’s almost a paradigm shift. 

The thing that gets you off is not “The Real You.” It’s not the start of an inevitably slippery slope into corruption. It is just a part of your larger self: a thought experiment, a game, an act of imagination. After the orgasms, we walk away with a spring in our step and a dirty smirk on our faces. Now, that’s empowerment.

I‘m with writer Alan Moore when he says:  ‘Pornographies are the enchanted parklands where the most secret and vulnerable of all our many selves can safely play.’

Psychologically, we are massively complex, many-faceted creatures. We have many worlds inside us. Through fiction and play, we can explore all the things we might never do on a mundane level, from climbing a mountain to dying in battle to bearing (or losing) a child. The journeys our imaginations take – through fiction and fantasy and art – make us more whole as individuals.

So there’s no shame in having submissive or masochistic sexual fantasies – it doesn’t mean you’re a traitor to the Sisterhood. Will enjoying fem-sub literature or kinky spanking sessions make you more submissive in the boardroom? Absolutely not. Likewise, there’s no inherent shame in having dominant or sadistic sexual fantasies – it doesn’t mean you’re a danger to society.  You can think of them, read them, and act them out responsibly with a willing adult partner. It’s alright. Because you’re an adult, adults know the difference between fiction and reality. They can tell consensual sexual fantasy/roleplay apart from what goes on out there in the real world.

Yes, be aware of the issues

Do I think sexual fantasy is entirely unproblematic from a psychological or ethical/feminist standpoint? Do I think that authors always give out the right messages? No, of course not. 

And at rock bottom, I believe that a feminism that says you can only enjoy unchallenging, egalitarian, politically correct fantasies is about as relevant and useful to real people as a feminism that says, “But you can’t fall in love with men,” or “But you can’t want babies.”

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