Monday, December 7, 2009

What I learned about Sex, I learned from books...

When I was a kid, I grew up on an isolated farm in the middle of nowhere. My nearest school friends were five or six miles away, it was before the days of the Internet and television consisted of four channels. As a teenager, I was bored and horny.

So much of my life was spent living vicariously through books. Fortunately, my family are obsessed with books. When I was a kid, we had a library of over 3,000 of them (the oldest being from the 1600s - a political tract entitled 'How to Solve the Irish Problem.' Clearly nobody read it, which is why the verminous I.R.A. still exist today.)

I learned all sorts of things from books - especially about sex.

My introduction to sex stemmed largely from raunchy paperbacks I read - like Jean M. Auel's amazing novels about prehistoric man. Her books, including The Mammoth Hunters, featured some of the most explicit, erotic sex scenes I can remember, even to this day (although now I realize they were thoroughly post-modern. I'm not sure the average hunter/gatherer caveman was quite as adept at cunnilingus as the love interest is in these books.)

I realise now that much of my sexual identity was developed from reading thoroughly the politically incorrect fiction of Harold Robbins. His books were steamy. The Betsy, about the motor industry, sticks foremost in my mind. Not only did it feature truly 'manly' men, the women were shamelessly wanton (there was nothing wrong with being a strong, promiscuous woman in the world of Harold Robbins) and there were also positively-slanted portrayals of gays and lesbians (although a lot of macho, homophobic language.)

One of the weirdest scenes I can remember from The Betsy was the hero waking up to find himself enjoying the most incredible blow-job from his sexy girlfriend - only to discover after orgasm that he'd actually just been 'blown' by his submissive gay friend.

Did he 'kick his ass' or overreact in the typical fashion expected in modern culture? No - the hero just booted him out of the bedroom and told him not to do it again. He was confident enough in his own sexuality to realise that he wouldn't 'turn gay' as a result of what happened.

Eric Van Lustbader's raunchy fiction also stands out in my memory. The Ninja contained a very sexy voyeuristic scene in which a girl watches her lover fuck another woman through the paper walls of a fusuma. Likewise, Shirley Conran's melodramatic Lace books again reiterated that promiscuous women weren't to be shamed or named, with her triumphant main character using her body and brains to haul herself from poverty and make all her dreams come true.

One of my favorite bits? An aging opera star explaining how she'd developed the perfect fellatio technique by opening her throat as if she was about to start singing a 'C' note.

Then there were other aspects of sex I learned from books - like the sadistic earlier works of Wilbur Smith. He's written a litany of novels, but his earlier stuff, like The Dark of the Sun, was what I 'grew up on.' It's pretty shocking stuff. Set in a vividly realised Africa (where what some people take for sensationalism is actually just 'real life' out there.) Soldiers were castrated by their tribal enemies. Local white farmers were raped and murdered. It was all deeply disturbing, yet grotesquely fascinating (kind of like why we watch TV shows about serial killers today.)

The opposite end of that spectrum? My father's vast collection of period science fiction novels, including the works of Edmund Cooper. He was a fascinating writer, with some kooky ideas (like a novel about scientists who create a sexually-transmitted disease that eliminates anger and aggression. They then try to 'fuck' the planet into a state of perpetual world peace.)

His most curious work was 'Who Needs Men?' which is better known in America as 'Gender Genocide.' Clearly a reaction to the feminist movement of the 1970s, the novel's set in a Utopian future in which men have been eliminated (almost.) Society consists entirely of women, who can breed thanks to scientific cloning technology. Their world is supposedly perfect - no crime, war or aggression thanks to the elimination of testosterone-filled men.

However, this image of perfection's not quite true. Pockets of 'men' still exist, like in the highlands of Scotland. Groups of female executioners (clearly modelled after the loudest, most man-hating of feminists) are sent to eliminate these pockets - slaughtering the men and the 'traitorous' women who live with them (who, ick, produce 'natural' children.)

In the novel, executioner 'Rura' is captured by the rebel men and brutally gang-raped, before being 'claimed' by the leader of the rebels (and raped once again) to replace the wife and child she murdered earlier with a flame thrower. The twist? In the ultimate demonstration of male fantasy, Rura 'enjoys' the rape and turns almost instantaneously from militant, lesbian man-killer to obedient, bare-foot baby factory.

Looking back now (the book was written almost forty years ago) it all seems horribly politically incorrect and misogynistic. You can almost feel the palpable frustration Edmund Cooper must have had with the bra-burning feminist movement of that period. This book was a shameless, aggressive (and commercially very successful) reaction to that.

But while it's easy to condemn his writing as a misogynistic projection of male fantasy (that you can rape a women into 'liking it') is it really any different to the bodice rippers that are still being written today?

Female writers still write melodramatic tosh about proud and noble women who are coerced into bed by rippling-chested he-men. It's not 'rape' - according to the publishing industry it's 'forced seduction.' Yet it still perpetuates the myth that all a women needs to 'come round' to a man's way of thinking is 'a good roll in the hay.'

And it's women who write these books - and almost exclusively women who read them (and it's a huge industry, with millions of 'bodice rippers' being sold every year.) Even books that don't feature sex (like the Twilight saga) still romanticize male behavior which borders on the sociopathic.

So what did I really learn from reading all these steamy books? That there are no rules when it comes to the world of sexual fantasy or fiction. Anything goes - and thank God for that freedom.

The only limit? That everybody's very clear on making sure that the line between fantasy and reality never becomes blurred - because what could make for a sizzling erotic fantasy has all the ingredients of most people's real-world nightmares.

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