Spoiler Alert: This is a Myth
I had a man tell me the other day that “writing about sex is easier for a woman than for a man.” He continued by saying women get a free pass to say whatever they want whereas men are not able to have a voice. Apparently, woman have a unique “privilege that we are not even remotely aware of.” He boasted that he has done years of research on the subject of writing, and that I should just believe him. Oh, did I mention that this guy was using this little dialogue as an introduction to me on an online dating site? At this point, I went ahead and poured myself a drink. As I sipped my scotch slowly, I let myself wonder why this person felt this way, what research he could have possibly done, and why I was drinking to prevent me from writing him an actual research-based essay in response. So, let me share a few thoughts I have on this whole “free pass” notion and the realities about writing about sex as a woman.
First: Free Pass
There is no free pass for anyone when it comes to writing about sex. Our society has deemed conversations about sex to be taboo. So much so, that the ability to monetize or profit from words about sex becomes increasingly difficult. Take Amazon for example. They are constantly amending their algorithms to prevent graphic cover art, strong sexualized language, or anything lewd from being advertised or even searchable on their site. Thus, authors are left with no choice but to mute their images, words, or just forgo using them as an available revenue stream altogether. If you read the policies of any major publishing or blogging medium the avenues for advertising or earning even the most basic of wages is almost nil. The choice often comes down to share your work for free, or don’t share your work at all.
This is currently true regardless of gender. Writing about sex offers no magical free pass. In fact, writing about sex actually closes opportunities for many, including myself. I cannot include my decades of non-monogamous blog writing, or my erotica fantasy shorts on my resume. And the risk of being caught sharing my sex life via my words, has resulted in a direct loss of friends, family, and stable careers. Because my body of work does not lead to mainstream, sustainable income, I have to do what so many sex writers do and diversify beyond the taboo. To build a portfolio on subjects I am not passionate about, just to pay the bills. Or in my case, just get a day job whereby I keep silent about my passion. Does this really seem like a free pass to you?
Second: Unique Female Privilege
While the perception may be that the current sex writer’s market is dominated by the female voice, the reality is this is a very recent development and therefor not even close to what one would call privilege. For centuries women were not even allowed a basic education, let alone the access to read or write their thoughts about sex. A few eye opening reads include “Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners” by Therese O’Neill, or “Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Woman” by Geraldine Brooks. Both of these books actively illustrate that there is zero truth to having unique female privilege. In fact, we have fought tooth and nail to even get our voices heard, let alone published. We still quote “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich written in 1976; as fuel motivating us to getting our voices out there, and our stories told. If we had privilege this whole time, what use would we have for this anthem?
Now, in fairness to the male who originally got me fired up about this whole article, I have seen a growing trend of erotica male authors using female pseudonyms to grow their readership, which on the surface could substantiate his claim. However, the reality is the men that I see doing this have ulterior motives. Such as trying to prove they can write a sex scene with as much passion as a female, or in order to seduce females by posing as lesbian women (when in fact they are men with families and a strict Christian code). The use of pseudonyms has been universally recognized as a respectable way to get published, but take a look at this very telling article about Ten Women Using Pseudonyms and One Man The math historically is not in the favour of the whole unique female privilege claim.
Third: The Comments and Replies
Any female who has written about sex has encountered one universal constant, lewd replies and comments. These range from slut shaming, to harassment, to dick pictures, and of course the scariest for me, the manipulator who utilizes fan status to get close and creepy. These reactions are not one offs, or even occasional. In fact, at this point in time, if you write about sex publicly it is a guarantee. I subscribed to the notion for years, that any publicity is good publicity, and if someone takes the time to comment on a body of work I have created then I owe them a reply.
I have learned the hard way, that what was a fundamental part of being grateful, has contributed to this rampant problem. Men in particular seem to thrive off of negative reactions just as earnestly as positive ones. And the thing about it is, the more sexual harassment you get, the angrier you get, and the more creative you become trying to combat it, which of course just adds fuel to the fire. A vicious cycle is created. As a result, the only real tool at a sex writers disposal is the block button. And for the newest writers out there especially, losing even one reader can be detrimental to building an audience. It truly is the rock and the hard place scenario.
So Why Write About Sex?
I believe the takeaway that the guy in question was trying to present to me was that writing about sex is just easier for a woman than it is for a man. He was speaking from his own writing and editorial experience with obvious lament that he was struggling to break into this industry and looking for blame. As he searched the web, he was confronted with female after female who appeared to have succeeded where he had failed. The only logical conclusion was that woman have a far easier time than men at writing about sex. But, as we see time after time, this is based on confirmation bias. If you go looking for female sex writers you will find them, but only as prominent figures in the last 40 or so years. Prior to that, the female voice was pretty scarce. And what was written by women was done anonymously or with pseudonyms.
I write about my experiences with sex, relationships, and non-monogamy because I love doing it. And I am humbled to be able to add my voice to what it becoming a rich tapestry of information. Watching writers of all sexualities, and races add their unique experiences in print and online has directly impacted my sex life and knowledge for the better. We need more voices, not less. We need to lift writers up, and not shame them in fits of jealousy. We need to continually build the sex writers community up by creating more content, not by tearing individuals down. And we cannot fall prey to the myth that writing about sex is easy or that certain writers have a free pass.