Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pussies are Juicy, and Smell Like the Sea

I just finished the final round of edits on my most recent novel. The editor has a sharp eye, especially for confusing conversation and impossible sex positions. However, she and I locked horns again and again on issues of vocabulary.

She was quite insistent that readers would find my descriptions of vaginal lubrication "unerotic". Whenever I referred to the heroine's being really wet from excitement, I was asked to  modify the reference. When I described the heroine's juices coating the cheeks of the man who'd just been giving her oral sex, the editor asked me to excise that detail. Meanwhile, when I talked about the scent of female arousal as "tidal" or "oceany", I met with serious objections.

I guess she believed this sort of language was inappropriate for the imprint, which admittedly is supposed to be light and humorous rather than raw. And I know that my erotic romance tends to stray into territory more commonly associated with erotica. Still, I find this level of coyness a bit irritating.

My readers are mostly women. They're obviously aware of the physical effects of sexual excitement, from personal experience. A pussy that's sufficiently well-soaked to leave olfactory traces is a sign that its owner is really turned on. Isn't that supposed to be the point in erotic romance?

Furthermore, I know that the scent of a woman's sex can be highly arousing for many men. So why pretend that we're in some deodorant commercial, dry as a bone and smelling like flowers?

Mostly I gave in, because I dislike conflict and I didn't consider the issue to be a matter of principle. Still, it left me feeling uncomfortable. Are readers really so squeamish? Or is this a case where the publisher is going overboard not to offend?

What do you think? Are juicy pussies a turn-off? Or the opposite?


Roger said...

Hello, Lis,

For the record (my record) I have to say I find the smell, the texture, the taste, the "funk", the slick, all absolutely arousing. The earthiness of the thing is the center of life, of lovemaking, of sweat and abandon and emotion. It's natural and fecund and sucks me in with all my senses. (This is a hetro (mostly) male talking.)

I'm going to hazard a guess it was more for the imprint's standards; I've encountered this before and you have to play by the rules of the playground you're in. But the tidal, earthy, thick spoiling hot dank language has a place elsewhere.

Keep up the good work,

Roger L

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Roger,

I don't know - I've used similar language in other books for this publisher, though not for this imprint. I have to wonder whether this is the editor's personal feelings showing through, a bit.

Fiona McGier said...

I love sensory details that let the reader know how aroused the lovers are. The only thing that pulls me out of any scene is the word "cunt". I know it's a personal thing. The amusing part is that I'm one of the only women I know who actually use the word, out loud, but it's an ultimate insult to me, so not arousing at all. Sometimes I substitute "pandejo", which is Spanish for "cunt-hair".
Bring on the juices and the slippery imagery!

Annabeth Leong said...

This is an interesting question. It's totally arousing to me to realize how wet I am (on top of whatever produced that). And I've had lovers who clearly went wild for the smell of cunt. I think you might be right that you're up against the editor's personal feelings.

I think because many women have been raised with some sense of sexual shame, we've all got phrasings that work for us and others that make us squirm. I've seen long comment threads discussing terminology and what interests me is how much it conflicts. For example, I react to "cunt" completely oppositely from Fiona. It's the only word that doesn't pull me out at all (pussy is fine for me sometimes and sometimes not).

I will say I'm puzzled about objections to ocean-related words. Not only do I find that imagery pleasant personally, I see it quite commonly.

I wish there was a good solution. As a reader, I try to go with whatever the writer is doing and examine any squick reactions I have. The earthiness of your descriptions is, in my opinion, one of your major strengths as a writer. I love the way you write with no apparent sense of embarrassment, and I appreciate your exuberant celebrations of, say, hairy pussies.

This gets back to what I see as the political role of erotica writers--maybe part of what we're doing is pushing people to think about the smell of pussy (and its other features).

EM Lynley said...

Since I write gay romance, this isn't something I've faced, but it bothers me all the same. I think that it's great to offer readers new, positive, and accurate descriptions of women's bodies, oral sex, and the results of great sex.

There seems to be a lot of attention given to the smell and taste of a man's cock and and where the semen ends up after ejaculation (as well as its taste). Why not give pussies the same attention?

I do agree with the comment that women are socialized to some degree of shame or shyness about our bodies, but how else will some of them learn to love themselves if they can't read sexy descriptions of their bodies?

Lisabet Sarai said...

I have no problem at all with a woman using the word "cunt" to refer to her own (or another woman's) sex. Being called a "cunt" is a totally different thing.

However, in my stories, I'll adjust my vocabulary to fit the character. Many women wouldn't ever even think "cunt".

Lisabet Sarai said...

One thing I really don't have much of, Annabeth, is a sense of sexual shame. As I've related at the Grip, I was lucky enough to grow up in a pretty liberal family where sex was not demonized. Furthermore, my mom could be very sexy and seductive at times. So I never really internalized the fear of my body or the sense of transgression that some people suffer.

I adore women with pubic hair. It's probably at least partly a generational issue, but I find the current fashions a bit repulsive much of the time. (Though it does depend on the individual and the scenario.)

One thing that drives me crazy (in a bad way) in erotic romance is descriptions of women running out to get a waxing when they're about to have a hot date. As if being hairy were some kind of social faux pas! Ugh!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, EM,

Thanks for your comments. You've pointed out a truly puzzling dichotomy. Female readers of M/M erotica don't seem to mind the messiness of semen at all.

What I'd really like to know is how the typical reader of M/F erotic romance feels about this. But if they're reading this, they're leaving comments!

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