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His erotica or hers: Does erotic writing change with the gender of the author?

Are the worlds created by men and women different? Do men and women approach erotica differently? Would Lady Chatterley’s Lover be more notorious had Constance Reid chosen to narrate her tale and not DH Lawrence?   

Written by Ishita Sengupta | New Delhi |
Updated: November 22, 2019 4:45:56 pm
erotica, erotic fiction, sex men and women erotic writers, female erotic writers, do women erotic writers write differently, sex, indian express, indian express news Does erotica read differently when the gender of the author changes? (Designed by Rajan Sharma/The Indian Express)

“You’ve whetted my appetite, what I want now is an opportunity to bite through your flesh, rummage through your skin,” writes Rosalyn D’mello, who refuses to view her novel A Handbook For My Lover as an erotica, at least just as an erotica. “It is a love letter addressed by a first person to another,” she says. But her novel becomes a work of erotica by virtue of an unidentified protagonist revealing and revelling in her desires. It might be intertwined with love but the language, as she says, is evocative. It arouses the reader and makes them privy to a sensuous experience. It is the protagonist, a woman, who brings it forth. She seeks, wants and ultimately, unabashedly desires. 

“I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me. I had to create a world of my own like a climate, a country, an atmosphere where I can read, breathe and recreate myself,”  Anaïs Nin, celebrated writer of erotic fiction, had said when asked why she writes. One can interpret that the worlds Nin could not “live” or “breathe” in, to be created by men. Dominated as they were by their desires, perhaps it was this that had propelled Nin to hold the pen and no longer be the ot(her) in their narrative. However, the question that arises now is: Are the worlds created by men and women different? Do men and women approach erotica differently? Would Lady Chatterley’s Lover be more notorious had Constance Reid chosen to narrate her tale and not DH Lawrence?   

The difference, Juggernaut editor Trisha Bora says, is evident. “Erotica written by men are generally raunchy in their language, while those written by women are more tender.” For G Sampath, editor of the collection, The Pleasure Principle, although there is a difference, “it is not easy to pinpoint”. “Perhaps men display more of a forward-moving, destination-orientation, while women are more inclined to dwell on the landscape – physical and emotional,” he wrote in an email to indianexpress.com. But he cautions that not all male and female writers fit into this characterisation. “In the collection of erotic stories I edited there are two stories that involve a male protagonist and a female domestic help – Rupa Bajwa’s The Last House and Tabish Khair’s The House Help. If one reads both, I think they will get a sense of the difference I am referring to.” Daniel José*, an erotica connoisseur, echoes Bora’s opinion. The difference in their styles is reflective even in the way a plot proceeds, he adds. “A male writer, more often than not, focuses on the action, while the female writer emphasises on emotion.” Perhaps this explains the yearning and longing that fills D’mello’s pages, sometimes overwhelmingly so. The desires are unhesitatingly expressed, but they are often done in isolation let out in agonised stifles while her partner lie next to her, asleep.   

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This strange confluence of the urgency to be “forward moving” and in that rush be perhaps oblivious of the partner’s needs can be read as an extension of male entitlement and their tendency to view things only from their gaze. This phallocentric narrative placing the man and his needs at the centre and necessitating actions to placate it — then provides little or no space for a woman to articulate her desires. Posited in this domain created by men and seen essentially from their lens, reading an erotic fiction written by men often times detaches a woman from her desires and experiences. “When a man writes erotica, the allusions he uses, for instance using the word ‘mound’ for vagina, distances me from the writing,” Priyanka Saha*, a reader and writer of erotic fiction says. Amrita Narayanan, author of A Pleasant Kind of Heavy and Other Erotic Stories and editor of The Parrots Of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica, echoes this opinion. “When a man writes about a woman’s body, he generally clubs it under two binaries — either the dangers of the female body is highlighted, making it an unsafe site — or it is represented as something that can be violated or appropriated for mass consumption,” she says.

It is not difficult to fathom that Narayanan is talking about the omnipresent male gaze, one that colours their narrative, makes the story revolve around their desires and often robs women of the pride they take in the bodies. In the erotic fiction written by women, this otherwise all-pervasive male gaze can — and often times is — subverted. This female gaze, that lingers not only on the act but everything that follows before and after it, is reflective in the narrative. Although Sampath feels that “such a gender differentiation seems like facile stereotyping,” some readers do not agree. “There is a stark difference in the way a man writes an erotic fiction from a woman. He spends two lines in exposition and then jumps to the act. The sex that follows is mechanically described. Whereas when a woman writes an erotica, she invests a lot in the build up till it gets to the point when it longer seems unnatural. There is less of ‘thrusting’” says Saharsh Pande*, a reader of erotica. The 34-year-old reader cites 50 Shades of Grey as an example of the instances when EL James has gone to lengths to describe feelings of the female character and has not merely described the act using “rapey adjectives”. “A woman writer is always more committed to her characters. And to read this is an extremely fulfilling experience, even as a man. But it is also true that a good erotica writer can shift their gaze accordingly”. Vikram Kapur, author of the short story, The First Kiss that deals with adolescent desires, attributes this difference in style to their dissimilar fantasies. “Male fantasies are different from female fantasies. Men tend to spend less time in seduction or foreplay,” he says.

 erotica, erotic fiction, sex men and women erotic writers, female erotic writers, do women erotic writers write differently, sex, indian express, indian express news When a woman writes an erotica, she can and often does subvert the male gaze.

When female fantasies shape the narrative and they use their own gaze to view themselves, women, more often not, cease to be docile or subservient, at least in their acknowledgement of their sexual fantasies. “The women in my novels are feisty and very sexually aware,” says Sanjana Chowhan, author of books like First Job, First Time and Office Quickies. “They might be demure but they acknowledge their carnal instincts,” she adds.  In one of the passages in D’mello’s book, the unnamed female protagonist writes, “I want. I want. I want. I want.” “The demand is ambiguous. I want. Period. It is a statement. I am a woman and I dare to want and desire,” she says, while explaining the verb she used four times to form a sentence. D’mello not only emphasises the want(s) of her protagonist, but also opens the novel with her stripping, exhibiting herself for herself. She is the advocate of her desires and also the sole witness. And ultimately, by making her protagonist train her lens on a photographer and desire him, the author quite blatantly subverts the male gaze.

Writing erotica, at least for some women, enables to make themselves an object of desire without objectifying themselves. “When a woman chooses to write erotica it makes invisible (women) bodies visible and locates private sexuality in a public space,” Narayanan says. Being the sole voice of her sexuality, it provides her with the agency to negotiate a space to articulate her desires and mull over the act long after it is over. It allows her to use words she wants to use to describe her body parts, her desires and ultimately the act itself without falling back on borrowed adjectives and verbs. “Women writing about sexuality is an empowering exercise and women do use their writing or any form of art that they practice as a way of empowering themselves,” D’mello says. The nagging question, however, remains with the shift in gaze does the narrative become less phallocentric? José, as a reader differs. “Plots of certain erotica still revolve around satiating the wants of the man.” But also adds it is not the case with all.

Sex, intrinsically being such a power-play, writing about it ought to be a constant negotiation as well. The genre of erotica, much like other genres is a dynamic space where the fixed boundaries between the powerful and powerless is constantly shifting. Irrespective of whether the writer is male or female, the negotiation seems to be more appealing when, with all her desires and words, the miss fits.

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