From A to Zoe: Shades of erotica

Erotic-Statue-From-A-to-ZoeBY ZOE AMOS

As I prepared for teaching a course on how to write a sex scene for the upcoming Southern California Writers’ Conference in Irvine, it seemed an oversight that I had not read Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James. Since its debut, many people have asked me whether I had read the book—a reasonable question given my interest in erotica. I had not heard great things about the writing and BDSM isn’t my thing, so it was easy to pass. It was a bestseller, however; and to speak intelligently about it during the class, I read it for academic purposes (wink, wink).

The storyline is not unique: pair an inexperienced young woman with a slightly older, experienced man for bouts of instructive lovemaking that lead to the woman’s sexual awakening. How lovely! In James’s book, her heroine, Anastasia, (Ana) age 21, has not so much as touched herself. Really? Well, the story works better that way. The book desperately needs editing, but that only made it easier to skim the irrelevant and repetitive passages.

Honestly, the writing wasn’t as bad as I feared, despite the few times I rolled my eyes, also one of Ana’s annoying habits though not as annoying as the many times she bites her lip. Her slightly older, handsome, wealthy boyfriend introduces her to sex via BDSM, which if nothing else, provides a new perspective to the ongoing problem of women in desperate need of education about their own bodies and how to properly make love by pleasing their man.

What I didn’t expect, was how similar it was to another book I reread for the same class, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. This book, banned as obscene until the late 1950s, explores the blooming sexuality of a young woman. In this case, a well-bred woman trapped in a sexless marriage takes a lower class groundskeeper as her lover. Their sex scenes explore her emotional and physical feelings as he introduces her to creative ways to make love. Sound familiar? When this was written in 1928 the subject was presented in a new, bold and daring way. Interestingly, there is a small discussion regarding the ill-advised bedding of lesbians by men.

It has long been the norm of novel-length erotica that a woman’s sexuality—especially when she explores dark corners or ventures into unseemly behavior, e.g., adultery or BDSM—is not looked upon kindly by writers who in requisite fashion make sure the woman character suffers at the end. Fifty Shades is no different. There could be no good outcome for a virgin who steps into the morass of BDSM other than the one provided, so I don’t fault the story for its logical ending.

I find it odd and a bit exasperating that in the years passed between Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Fifty Shades of Grey, a woman’s sexuality is still prime fodder for a morality tale. James reminds us that Mrs. Robinson can be the seductress, but she will pay a price for her actions. So-called “chic lit” and “mommy porn” have given modern women a chance to be sexual without being vilified, but I’m told the genres are losing steam.

Fortunately, there are countless tales in modern literature and trade fiction that celebrate woman’s sexuality. A book of erotica is different than a short story—my usual playground, as writing lesbian erotic short fiction is one of my niches. I do it partly because I like to write the kind of stories I like to read, where strong women are able to explore their sexuality and feelings with positive outcomes.

Zoe Amos brings her lesbian point of view to articles and stories on diverse topics. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Read her stories on Kindle and Nook. Check out her other life at

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