These are not nice stories.
These are not “erotica” — except in the sense that “erotica” has become the term of art in publishing for “dirty stories with some vaguely serious literary intent.” These are not tender stories about couples in love making love. (Except for the one that is.) These are not sweet, gentle, happy stories about unicorns fucking rainbows. (Except for the one about the unicorn fucking the rainbow.)
A lot of fucked-up shit happens in a lot of these stories. Stuff happens here that is borderline consensual. Stuff happens that is not at all consensual. Stuff happens in which people manipulate other people into doing sexual things they don’t want to do. Stuff happens in which people do sexual things they’re ashamed of. Stuff happens in these stories that, if they happened in real life, I would be appalled and enraged by.
Stuff happens here that excites me to think about when I whack off.
I apparently have a very fucked-up sexual imagination.
But there is also love in these stories. Some of them, anyway. There is the love of long-term couples; there is the love of newly-discovered lovers; there is the love of friends. There is affection — between lovers, between colleagues, between strangers encountered on the street. There is respect: for love, for desire, for scars, for the complicated places where love and desire and scars overlap.
Above all, there is respect for sex itself. I think — I hope — that this respect underlies every story in this book. Beneath the excitement and the fear, the pain and the shame, the helplessness and the hunger, the danger and the love… there is always the idea that sex matters.
Since most of these stories are kinky, and since some people reading this may not be super-familiar with kink, I want to take a moment to talk about kinky porn.
Some of these stories are about consensual sadomasochism. They’re about negotiated SM scenes between consenting adults, with safewords and limits and attention to safety. There’s conflict in the stories, and mis-steps, and bad decisions… but fundamentally, what happens within those stories is consenting. They are attempts to express, in fiction, some of the things that consensual sadomasochists do.
And some of these stories aren’t. Some of these stories are about force, and violation, and abuse of power. They are attempts to describe, not what consensual sadomasochists do, but some of the things we think about. They are attempts to describe some of the images that come into our minds when we masturbate, or have sex, or engage in consensual SM. They are attempts to describe some of the activities that some of us consensually act out with each other. They are fantasies.
And every single story in this book is consensual.
They’re consensual because they’re fiction. They’re consensual because they’re made-up. I consented to write them; you’re consenting to read them. If you don’t want to read this kind of thing, this isn’t the book for you. I encourage you to put it down, and read something else.
It’s funny. When it comes to things that aren’t sex, people seem to understand this distinction. People get that enjoying spy novels doesn’t mean you want to join the CIA; that enjoying murder mysteries doesn’t mean you want to kill people; that enjoying heist thrillers doesn’t mean you want to break into Fort Knox. People understand that it’s fun and exciting to imagine things we wouldn’t actually want to do — even things we think are immoral.
But for some reason, porn often gets held to a different standard. Depicting a fantasy of a sex act is often assumed to be an endorsement of that act. So let me spell it out: I do not endorse sexual force, abuse of power, rape, or any form of violation of sexual consent. I am vehemently opposed to them.
I am, however, unapologetic about the fact that I like to fantasize about them. If we have any freedom at all, it’s the freedom between our ears: the freedom to think about whatever we like. And that includes sex.
Here’s the deal with “Bending” (the novella that’s the foundation of this collection). When I was writing it, I sent a draft to my editor, Susie Bright, who gave me this feedback (paraphrasing here):
“You have enough erotic treats for the readers. You don’t need any more sex scenes. Focus now on fleshing out the story.”
My reaction was to think, “What the fuck? This is porn. It’s supposed to be about sex. So screw you. I’m going to write more sex scenes. In fact, I’m going to write nothing but sex scenes. I’m going to make the entire novella be just sex, from beginning to end.”
So that’s what I did. With the exception of a couple/few paragraphs, every sentence in “Bending” involves people either having sex, talking about sex, or thinking about sex.
And that’s how the story gets told. Characters change, conflicts emerge, relationships develop, insights are gained, crises unfold… all through sex.
People often assume that I based the main character, Dallas, on myself. I really didn’t: I am neither that brave nor that self-involved. But in a sense, of course I did. Dallas came from inside my head. It would be absurd to deny that. I sometimes think of Dallas as both my best and my worst self: shameless about her desires, fearless about asking for them, entirely confident that they matter — and every bit as confident that they should take top priority for everyone else in her life. She’s a cautionary tale, and a heroine I aspire to be.
I’ve divided the other stories into five sections. There are stories about bad, bad ideas, people acting on impulse and letting the little head do the thinking. There are stories about force and power and the borderlands of consent, where the victims are technically free to leave but feel like they can’t. There are stories about religion, where power and shame and violated consent get tangled up with an all-powerful Judge, obsessed with our sex lives, who watches everything we do and will smack us down for it on a whim. And there are sweet stories about love and trust, intimacy and connection, people having sex that makes them entirely happy.
Oh — and then there’s the story about the unicorn and the rainbow. Which I have no fucking idea where it came from.
There’s overlap between these themes, of course. (Except the unicorn and rainbow one.) There’s even one or two stories with all four themes at once. I love the places where love and impulse meet, and where shamelessness mixes with shame, and where power turns into helplessness and back again.
I hope you do, too. Enjoy!