Now I’ll admit I am a bit on the prudish side. Not in any fire and brimstone kind of way, I don’t care what other people do in the privacy of their own homes but, frankly, I don’t want to know about it. I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to watch it and I don’t want to read about it. There I’ve said it and I know in this day and age that makes me a bit of an oddity.
The reason I’m sharing this seemingly random piece of information with you is because I had a bit of an incident in my local Waterstones this morning. It’s a shop I often frequent and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty much perfect; books, stationary (it has a Paperchase) and a cafe. What more could you ask for? I could and often do idle my time away in there for hours.
This morning was slightly different, however, and not in a good way. All was as it should be until I made my way, like a homing pigeon, to the new fiction section only to find it wasn’t there. It had been replaced by a whopping great collection of erotic fiction. I suppose it was only a matter of time given the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey series but I was horrified. I mutated into Mrs Angry and traumatised the poor boy who works there almost to death.
In the end, reflecting over a latte, I think what shocked me more than coming face to face with soft porn in my local bookshop, was my own reaction to it. Judging by the current obsession with the E.L. James books, I’m clearly the one with a problem; the one at odds with the rest of the world.
I grew up believing that porn dehumanises women and desensitises men to the point where rape and violence are acceptable. I still believe this to be the case. I was working in a comprehensive school at the time of the recent rape trial involving a footballer
and the prevailing attitude to rape made me feel uncomfortable and depressed. Even the girls had little sympathy for a victim, who they believed had no right to justice, because she was drunk. Ironically those very girls spend their weekends putting themselves in similar danger, staggering around town inebriated in their skimpy clothing.
I’m not for one moment equating erotic novels with porn and the main reason they are being pushed towards women is because they are written by other women. There has always been a gender difference in what is perceived as erotica. And so we now have a generation of women who are claiming to have reclaimed porn and are alleging they are being empowered by sex.
It’s just not working for me though. I’m not interested and I find it hard to believe that so many other women are. I don’t mean to sound judgemental and good luck all those women who are riding the crest of the erotica wave but when did women become so obsessed by sex? When my friends and I get together, be it for evenings out or weekends away, we talk about a whole range of topics but we hardly ever talk about sex. There could be two reasons for this, maybe they know that I am a closet prude and save their saucy conversation for when I’m not there or maybe, for most women, sex is just not that interesting a topic.
When I watch a film, I more often than not, find the sex scenes to be the most boring bits and likewise with books. Sometimes they are necessary to further the story but I have never found myself hoping that the scene will be prolonged. In my own writing, I have to say, sex does not really feature in a big way. I can recall a particularly raucous lunch with friends where I discussed my attempts to spice up my stories. All we could come up with were ridiculous clichés and I was left with the conclusion that less is probably more.
It seems to me that my problem with erotica is the way it de-contextualises sex just as porn always has. I view sex as an emotional act rather than a physical one and I can’t help thinking that erotic fiction is the equivalent of a one night stand. Drunken, random sex with a stranger invariably leaves most women feeling dissatisfied and full of regrets so how can erotica be anything other than cold, clinical and desensitising. It doesn’t really matter that it’s female driven if the outcome is the same.
Maybe I’m an out of touch old fuddy duddy who needs to move with the times but I can’t help thinking that this preoccupation with sex is a step backwards. I don’t think it’s empowering women, it’s just encouraging them to see sex in the same way that we
have complained men do for years. I fear it could be more ammunition for men who commit acts of violence against women in their justification that women are asking for it. There’s no denying it’s a complex subject, however, and if the size of that erotica section in Waterstones is anything to go by, I’m probably on my own here.