Because feminists can like reading erotica too
Don’t fret they’re all free of allusions to the Red Room of Pain
Every family has its black sheep, the eyebrow-raising opposite of the laadli, aadarsh beti, and for literature, that title is carried by erotica. With so many pitfalls awaiting sex in serious literature these days, you might almost excuse a writer for sticking to the simply provocative. But author Rosalyn D’Mello would beg to differ.
According to her, it is the “eroticisation of language that makes a work erotic”, not merely the humdrum description of sexual acts.
Modern erotica as we know it became a household discussion in the form of Fifty Shades of Grey, which sold 20 million copies in four months, at a rate of two copies every second at its peak. Love it or hate it, El James’ creation heavily encouraged us to browse through several hundred pages of NSFW prose without the attached feeling of log kya kahenge.
I was in high school when the Fifty Shades epidemic spread like wildfire. Sitting in the last row during Physics class, you could find me dutifully reading my copy — the cover safely hidden by my Physics book. Although this wasn’t my first brush with sex, considering I had already read the entire Twilight series and that racy scene in The Godfather multiple times, Mr. Grey’s array of whips and handcuffs were my first exploration into the world of erotica. Looking back, I wouldn’t wish that kind of buri kismat on anyone.
Imagine a young person who has fairly recently discovered their sexuality mistake the skewed power dynamic between the protagonists as love while, also undergoing the realisation that they might be into BDSM. My rebellious, feminist self was appalled at the behaviour I was displaying — whoa, why do I find that idea so hot? Do I need to be in therapy?
There are healthy, ethical methods to consensually combine sex and pain, as numerous experienced BDSM practitioners have continually stressed. To make sex safe and mutually satisfying, they all require self-awareness, communication skills, and emotional maturity. The issue is that Fifty Shades of Grey casually links passionate sex with violence without providing any of this context.
I have long since moved on from the sexcapades of Mr. and Mrs. Grey but my search for feminist erotica that doesn’t glorify abusive relationships seems to be never-ending. There aren’t many decent options out there, which is perplexing, given that feminist pornography has evolved into a well-organised movement with its own awards ceremonies. Research has shown that women tend to prefer reading erotica instead of watching porn because the former puts them in focus — unlike the one-two-hup-hup-hup gratification of mainstream adult flicks where a woman’s pleasure transpires more as an afterthought, the end-credits, if you will, than the movie itself.
We know feminists who write erotica, and we know feminists who read erotica, but where is the genre of “feminist erotica”? According to Indian journalist and author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, feminist erotica is “about strong women having dialogues with themselves, discovering who they truly are”, instead of the traditional male authors’ representation of women’s bodies and wants. Feminist erotica allows women to reclaim their space, make their characters considerably more interesting and ready to engage in sensual acts on their own terms, rather than being passive recipients of pleasure, obeying a man’s commands.
Because I refuse to get my nuts off of the Christian Greys and Massimo Torricellis of the world who thrive on controlling women, I have cobbled together a list of feminist erotica for your reading pleasure: a world where sex isn’t demeaning to women, but a tool to embrace their own sexuality as a primal being without being deemed a chaalu Charu.
9 feminist erotica reads for your pleasure
For people who have kids knocking down the door the minute you go to the loo
New Erotica for Feminists: Satirical Fantasies of Love, Lust, and Equal Pay
Had a bad day at work because the boss thinks your male colleague was better suited to a project you had been working on for months? Or got catcalled while walking to the grocery store? This is the perfect book to come home to when you’ve had a day full of patriarchy-fuelled hijinks.
Born from a lighthearted conversation between friends dreaming of an ideal feminist world, New Erotica for Feminists is jam-packed with satirical erotic vignettes and covers everything from women in pop culture to literature, dating, and modern parenting.
Written by comedians Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, and Carrie Wittmer, the book is a clever and current exploration, reconciling our urge to laugh through the pain because while the stories are delivered using wit and darkly inventive humour, the arguments the writers make about equality and inclusion are achingly real.
Is it a literary masterpiece that will turn modern feminism on its head? Probably not, but given the present context, I believe this is exactly the wind we need beneath our wings.
Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin
You’re grossly mistaken if you thought you’ll start reading this all respectably in your finest librarian’s glasses, then shift to the plush sofa couch a few stories in, and end in desperate need of a shower from the coldest waters of Antarctica.
From the beautiful — almost poetic — writing, Nin’s storylines make up a much greater arc of sexuality. Her portrayal of seductive eroticism could be considered the standard of literary black-sheep genre.
Some of you might be off-put by the many, many kinks that the book explores, and be warned, there are taboo topics that might require you to stop, take a break, and reconsider your thoughts. You might even find it revolting, because Nin transforms the reader into a voyeur, witnessing, participating passively in every manner of ‘deviant’ behaviour.
All of that forbidden and illicit content acts splendidly as the mirchi, jolting us out of the familiar and unleashing the primal parts of us that crave shock.
Sex and Sushi by Tassa Desalada
Sex and Sushi is the book for you if you’re looking for a short read with humour, sex, and a little sushi tossed in for good measure.
An earnest sex diary turned into an erotic novel, these incredibly detailed, to-the-point stories chronicle a married couple’s real sex sessions as documented by the author Tessa Desalada. They can’t seem to keep their hands off one other no matter what setting they’re in, which makes this book a captivatingly sensual read.
Mummy porn at its sizzling best, these stories are laugh-out-loud sexy — in the ‘OMG-I’m-going-red-in-the-face’ way.
Buy the online version here.
For the seekers of queer intimacy and love
Pandora: An American in Prague by Zoë Myonas
You’ll feel like you’re zooming through this book by Zoë Myonas, which has just under 200 pages.
It is essentially female-voiced erotica, focusing on a woman’s (Pandora’s) journey of tapping into her wild side. Enter the sexually omnivorous and carefree Cerise, a character who sometimes stole the show from Pandora and her husband Ty.
There are overlays of having open and non-judgemental communication in a relationship, especially a marriage, but it displays, in no ways, intentions of being relationship therapy. Pandora, the main protagonist, delves deep into her husband’s fantasies, and not only Ty but you, the reader, get to reap the benefits of her labours.
This is the ideal book for someone who is just dipping their toes in the world of erotica.
Buy the online version here.
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
If you’re searching for a refresher on lesbian love stories, Sarah Waters is at the top of the list. Her books are not only intriguing and well-written, but the relationships are some of the greatest I’ve ever read.
Tipping the Velvet is the queer Victorian epic you didn’t know you needed. This is Charles Dickens with a twist, from the unsubtle introductory come-on to the sort-of pedantic finale.
Think Pip from Great Expectations, except Pip is a headstrong lesbian who gives up his family, and Magwitch is a wealthy widow looking for a cross-dressing sex slave.
Reading Tipping the Velvet, with its unique take on traditional themes like betrayal, love, and lust, is like eating a donut you didn’t know had a central filling of cream.
Valencia by Michelle Tea
This semi-autobiographical novel by Michelle Tea chronicles the lesbian subculture of grimy, drug-saturated early ’90s San Francisco.
Tea chronicles a year spent in a world of women through a series of narrative memories: there’s knife-wielding Marta, who introduces her to a different world of revolutionary sex; Tea’s troubled poet-girlfriend, Willa; Iris, the gorgeous boy-dyke who ran away from the South in a dust cloud of drama; and Iris’s ex, Magdalena Squalor, to whom Tea turns when Iris shatters her heart.
The sex sessions are all steamy, but my favourites are the ones between Tea and Iris, who crave one other in a passionate and torturous way that can only be experienced when you’re younger; when you want someone so much, your heart feels heavy for it.
The book may have very little in terms of plot, but what makes it captivating is the brutal honesty with which Tea has written it.
For people who need pictures in their books to read
Sex Criminals series by Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky
Suzie finds out that she can stop time…with her orgasms. With the naïveté of a teenage girl, she thought this is what happened to everyone when they rub one out.
Floating into adulthood, confused how to delicately ask someone how the time-stopping thing works is when she bumps into Jon who — wait for it — also has the same power.
No brownie points for guessing what happens next (hint: it involves a lot of time-stopping).
Read this book to know how they go from being time-stoppers to sex criminals, but we advise you not to do it in public unless you don’t mind coming off as the latter to people.
The Sunstone volume by Stjepan Sejic
If Fifty Shades of Grey was the tubelight moment when you discovered you were into BDSM, Sunstone is what will solidify this belief — and rightly so.
An unexpectedly sweet story about two women who, after months of online flirtation, eventually meet and explore their shared passion for BDSM.
But, unlike Fifty Shades, the essential to BDSM is something Sunstone makes very clear: consent and trust.
Yes, this novel has a significant amount of eroticism, but it is also about very human individuals who deal with friendship, relationships, and that butterflies-in-the-stomach (and elsewhere) feeling you’re bound to get when you fall in love.
Lost Girls by Alan Moore
In a Vienna hotel in 1914, three girls from iconic children’s books — Wendy from Peter Pan, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Alice from Alice in Wonderland – meet by coincidence as adult women. Their past escapades are re-imagined as erotic coming-of-age experiences as they share their stories, which all three of them discover they have to still come to grips with.
Sex acts in every conceivable configuration are depicted in technicolour across a long narrative that is sure to jar the reader’s knowledge of at least a few great classical works.
You can hear the sound of your childhood getting ruined as you start reading this book but as they say kuch paane ke liye kuch khona padta hai.
Buy the online version here.