When I was working with my publisher on the novel Enemy Queen, people at the press seemed pleased that my book included a murder mystery, and had a few erotic episodes as well. Evidently, mystery and erotica are both very popular among readers.
The penchant for mystery is understandable, and fairly straightforward. A recent survey found that “mystery, thriller, and crime” was the most popular genre in the US—cornering 47% of the market. And, I suppose, for good reason. We all enjoy suspense, we can’t resist trying to solve a puzzle as we go, and (other than the few sociopaths among us) we take visceral pleasure in seeing the bad guy get his due.
Erotica though, is a good deal trickier. Most of us (once we’re past adolescence) have grown quite tired of pure, full-out pornography. Yes, we occasionally enjoy content that titillates, but we’d prefer to be stimulated psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally at the same time. It actually makes the whole thing a lot sexier.
But erotica comes with all sorts of potential twists and variations. What exactly do readers prefer? What is acceptable?
It turns out that the publishing industry has statistics for that as well.
Threesomes and group-sex are our most popular sexual fantasies, with over 33% of Americans reporting having had them. The more popular configuration traditionally has been a man and two women. But the threesome featured in Enemy Queen was comprised of a woman and two men. My pre-publication readers seemed to really like that—women especially. Which is understandable. And the publishing industry knows full well that women read far more novels than do men.
Bondage and BDSM fantasies were the second most popular fantasy among Americans. Over 25% of people reported having had those—and these sorts of fantasies were enjoyed pretty equally among both women and men.
Frankly, both these statistics surprised me. I’m a baby boomer—I was born in the early 1950s. When I was growing up, these sorts of activities were not things that proper people spoke about. Threesomes were considered diversions solely for the delinquent and the degenerate. Even worse was sadomasochistic play. It was regarded as reprehensibly depraved—people doing that sort of thing were dangerous, and sorely in need of psychiatric help.
Now, understand that I never personally felt that way. Even at a young age, these sorts of things were fascinating to me and were often on my mind. I just never thought that other people were pondering these tantalizing taboos as well. I’m sure many people my age were thinking about them the same way I was—we all just kept such things to ourselves.
Now though, these sorts of fantasies make for enchanting dinner conversation at upscale restaurants. Playful bondage gear can be had on Amazon without the slightest glimmer of guilt or shame—in black leather for the traditionalists, and pink or red satin for the more impish and giggly.
I’m quite happy to know all this now. It turned out that in addition to the threesome featured in Enemy Queen, there were a few mischievous episodes of BDSM play, with what I’d like to think was somewhat witty dialogue accompanying the titillating amusements. I was completely unaware of the popularity of these sorts of fantasies when I was writing the story—in fact I feared that their inclusion in the story might dissuade a publisher from picking up the book. But these events seemed to me to be integral to the story and the growth of the characters, so there they stayed.
So, are there still sexual taboos? Or are all such things now seen as harmless diversions?
I’m afraid there are still things we haven’t yet managed to come to grips with.
Few of you have probably ever heard of the word acrotomophilia. It’s a real thing. It is defined as strong sexual interest in amputees, or people missing limbs for any reason. I only learned about this when I did some research for a specific incident that occurred in Enemy Queen. I found my reaction to it interesting. Whereas threesomes and light SM held an innate appeal for me, I have to confess that I didn’t respond positively to acrotomophilia on any sort of visceral or instinctual level. Still though, I didn’t see anything wrong with it intellectually. All of us want to find a partner who views our body as a turn-on. If I were an amputee, I’d love to have a paramour who didn’t just overlook my physical appearance, but who actually embraced it and was aroused by it. It’s a win-win. So no problem here for me.
But let’s take it one step further. There is a related sexual fetish called apotemnophilia, also known as body integrity dysphoria. If you find yourself researching acrotomophilia, as I was, you can’t help coming across this as well. Brace yourself here, for some this will be hard to comprehend. Apotemnophilia is a rare condition where a person has the desire to become an amputee. Some people actually find a way to go through with it. I’m sure that most of us would immediately term this a serious psychological disorder—dangerous, scary, and something we should most certainly try to reverse or eradicate should we come across it.
But is it really as simple as that?
Just a few decades ago, transsexuals were viewed with equal condemnation. A person of one gender who wanted to become the other—outrageous and unacceptable we all said. Now, just a short time later, transsexualism is looked upon by most people quite sympathetically. If you identify as the opposite gender from which you were born, and feel you are living a lie, and medicine can help you fix that, why would we deny someone that gift? Yes, it involves altering a person’s body—but doing so to make that person a happier and more fulfilled human being.
So, let me play devil’s advocate here. How different is it if a person sees themselves as an amputee, and experiences that identity deep down in their core? If they look in the mirror and feel that, as currently configured, they are ugly and wrong? And medicine has a fix. But we deny it to them because we consider their inherent proposition to be flawed, dangerous, and unacceptable.
Isn’t that exactly what we said to transgender people not that long ago? Do we not now regret having done so?
I don’t know the answer to this one. But clearly, not all taboos are gone. And we need to think a lot more about all this.