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Chicks can't write sex

June 23, 2009 | 11:14 am


The new owner of the British magazine Erotic Review has declared that it'll be seeking male contributors to prevent the magazine from being "drowned in estrogen." On a show on BBC Radio 4, the editor said that women "have an agenda, they complicate sex, they make layers, it’s conditional."

The editor? Her name is Kate Copstick.

While some have noted that this may simply be a successful publicity ploy, Copstick's statements can't help but get people a bit worked up. Take what she told Reuters:

I think women, too many of them, whether it's nature or nurture or politics, they're not straightforward about sex.... It's almost like writing about food ... Ladies who lunch should not really write about food because they don't really love food. They don't salivate at the thought of a great steak.

"Firstly, Copstick is working from a false assumption," Rachel Kramer Bussel told Jacket Copy. "Women DO salivate at the thought of steaks, and sex." Bussel, a former Village Voice sex columnist, writes about sex (and also, unrelatedly, cupcakes) and has edited several erotica anthologies. When asked whether she finds Copstick's interpretations accurate, she responded:

"What I find odd about her argument is that I am constantly asked why there are so many more women writing and publishing erotica than men. Of course it’s her prerogative to edit the Erotic Review however she sees fit, but it’s ironic considering that she’s a former writer for them and that there are all kinds of women’s erotic writing coming out now. It’s not just about Charlotte Roche; in the U.K., there’s Black Lace, here we have the Best Women’s Erotica series, and mainstream romance has gotten decidedly more dirty. Maybe that’s not what Copstick wants to read, but that doesn’t mean she should discount women entirely … or assume that men have a specifically 'male' way of writing about sex. I think if there were a blind submission process, while some pieces would be easy to pick out as gendered, many would not."

Bussel notes that writing erotic fiction -- and nonfiction -- is nothing new for women. "Anaïs Nin wrote about sex, Erica Jong and Gael Greene wrote groundbreaking erotic novels. Male versus female just isn’t a valid dichotomy," she says. These days, "women’s erotic writing is just as explicit, detailed and dirty as men’s."

What's more, male writing about sex isn't necessarily what you'd call good. "So many contemporary sex scenes -- the Bad Sex Award-winning 'Charlotte Grey' by Sebastian Faulks, for example, or the later work of John Updike -- read like a hard day’s work at the orifice," author Kathy Lette wrote in the Times of London. "When scribes from Philip Roth to the scriptwriters of 'American Pie' have entrenched the idea that men will have sex with anything with a hole and a heartbeat, and then count the legs afterwards (not just tethered, reasonably domesticated livestock are in demand, but even room temperature pies) -- it doesn’t take much to make women look over-emotional."

That's right -- pies. Writing about sex seems, suddenly, very hard. Some tips on how to do it right after the jump.

Jacket Copy asked Bussel what she things are some of the criitical elements of writing erotica. She replied:

I think the number one critical element is honesty, meaning using your most natural voice to write about sex. Trying to make it sound more 'porn-like' by deliberately using words that you wouldn’t normally use almost always reads in a stilted, clichéd way. Honesty, too, about sexual desire; I think part of why so many writers, male and female, use pseudonyms (approximately half of the authors in my erotica anthologies) is because it allows them more freedom to go to the often dark, disturbing, odd, etc. places their sexual imagination takes them.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write erotica, and I think men can write as women and vice versa (I’ve written lesbian erotica, straight erotica, gay male erotica, and from male and female voices/viewpoints). It’s not that authors have to literally “write what they know” when it comes to sex, but they have to find a way to tap into something authentic about the desire and eroticism of their characters, figure out what turns them on and why, not just how that gets manifested bodily.

Best of luck to the Erotic Review; perhaps it'll wind up with a lot of pie stories.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: masochismtango via Flickr