Majority of the erotic writing I do is nonfiction. Even when it’s not a direct transcription of “here’s the sexy thing that happened,” it’s usually based pretty strongly in something that has happened, with minor amounts of extrapolation to fill in the details. I write what I know, what I have experienced, what I can viscerally recall. The process of trying to write erotic fiction is one of the few places where I understand how non-words oriented people feel about trying to write at all: it leaves me feeling clogged up, words stuck to each other like molasses, unable to peel apart into something coherent.
I’ve struggled with this for a long time, particularly with the ethics of erotic nonfiction writing (not everyone is super-comfortable with their sexual experiences splayed out in words for all the internet to see). It also leaves me feeling… uncreative (we’ll pretend that’s an actual word). In thinking more about this lately, I realize that erotic fiction is the intersection of the convergence of several different things, and parsing them out has helped me see the ways I use nonfiction writing, in part, as a way to avoid confronting insecurities and fears.
Years ago, my partner pointed out that I need permission to want things. Not “permission” in a D/s sense, but “permission” in the sense that I don’t feel comfortable wanting things until I know that desire is reciprocated (for example, I don’t like acknowledging I have a crush on someone until I am fairly certain they have a crush on me). If you want it, then it’s ok for me to want it. It ties into my feels around wanting things in general: unless I know the other person is interested in (thing), then it feels like being service topped to ask for (thing), and if I’m not going to ask for (thing), what’s the point in wanting it?
Yeah, yeah. Self-sabotaging and busted cycle, I know.
Second, a whole lot of my memory is tied to emotional encoding. “Somatic memory” refers specifically to how traumatic memory is encoded, the sense of physically reliving and re-experiencing an event that is triggered by some stimulus. The issue is, my brain perceives things as threats that are not- including the act of desiring something. I have a feeling of desire, my amygdala freaks out and hits the panic button, and all processing is filtered through the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze). If I could just get to my prefrontal cortex, life would be grand, but no such luck.
(I will state here that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, or in any field related to brain sciences. I am, however, in therapy as well as being an extensive nerd, and I’m paraphrasing from weeks of conversations and independent research to give the tl;dr version. Brains are significantly more complicated than this, and I do not pretend to be an expert on the intricacies of socialization, hormones, and brain chemistry that go into this; I’m just trying to find some language for what happens in my head and this has helped immensely.)
Anyway, I say all this to say: my body has this sort of great, sort of problematic way of encoding memories of positive experiences because some part of my brain is perceiving them as a threat. Certain things will call up those memories, and my body begins to experience all the symptoms of sympathetic nervous activation- but for something positive. This is the long and convoluted way of saying, I experience memory as a physical thing most of the time. It’s not just the memory of someone’s hands on me; my body physically responds as though that is what is actually happening in that moment. It’s kind of cool, sometimes, except that it’s also kind of problematic because I don’t want my body to interpret physical desire as a threat.
And finally, I don’t think I fantasize the way other people do. I don’t have storylines or context or structure to fantasies. They’re flashes of images, one after another, completely disconnected from each other in many ways. And most of them draw on experiences that I can relate to or know how they feel; I don’t often fantasize about a thing I haven’t experienced.
These things combined, though, make the prospect of writing fiction a particularly daunting one. Because I experience memory so viscerally most of the time, it’s easy to access language to describe the sensations, and that’s an easy place to default to. It comes naturally. And because I don’t tend to have fantasies about things I haven’t experienced, everything is drawing on nonfiction experiences, to some degree. And even if I can get to a place where I want to write about something I haven’t experienced, I’m most often thinking of someone I know, someone I’m intimate with, and if we haven’t done The Thing, then giving myself permission to want The Thing is a whole ‘nother hurdle to overcome when, quite frankly, I usually just want to cum.
I remember a time, not that long ago, all things considered, where the question, “what do you want?” would make me panic, go non-verbal, and curl up in a ball until the flashbulb run of memories finally abated. That doesn’t happen anymore; if I can grow from that to where I am, I have some hope that I can keep growing. And I’ve found myself in this strange place of recognizing that I want things I may not have directly experienced, and trying to visualize the sensations of it feel…muted, compared to how I normally experience sensation. I can’t describe the image in my head because I can’t access the visceral sensation of what that feels like. So I find myself with writing upon writing where the words all fall flat. They’re dull and lifeless. And I want to push past it, push through it, find a way to access the idea of these sensations that are clearly doing something for me, even though I can’t describe the reality of it.
It’s easier to hide behind nonfiction, for me. It’s easier to hide behind the things I know and not press outward to write the stories other people might not want to live. But they are there. They exist in my mind somewhere; I’m just afraid of them. I’m afraid they are presumptuous to place another person in a position they may not choose to place themselves in (yes, yes, what happens in our minds is a different thing, but it’s an ethically grey area for me, personally). It’s easier- and safer- when sexting (ugh, I hate that word, but that’s a different thing) to fall back on the familiar, on what’s already happened because what if what I’m thinking about kills the mood? or something along those lines.
There’s not a neat conclusion to this one. I’m up late doing laundry, trying to stay awake and pondering how my brain works and why I am so determined to get in my own way all the damn time. I don’t have an answer here; this is just a bookmark, a note in the margins of an ongoing journey. I have positive influences in my life who tell me to get out of my head, fuck it, and just do the thing. That works, sometimes, but it’s a bandaid, not a solution. There are reasons why my brain creates these mental blocks, and grappling with my brain is a daily activity for me. So this is what it is today. Erotic fiction is immensely difficult for me to write because, at the end of the day, it feels like the most vulnerable thing I could put into language. So I sit in limbo, half-words and held-back phrases because what if…what if…? is my mind’s favorite counterargument.
I’m a constant work in progress. I want there to be an easy solution but I don’t think there is one, and I’m learning to be ok with that. This one is hard and hits something so tender and fundamental and raw in me. It’s easier to live in vague insinuations and moments that have already passed than look with something approaching hope toward the possibilities of the future- even if that’s a future than can only ever exist in my mind.