Does Erotica Encourage Casual Sex?

In an article in the Daily Mail U.K., Rowan Pelling, a former editor of the Erotic Review, writes that modern erotica being published by women encourages casual sex and is a betrayal to women and feminism. I’m not up on the latest in erotica themes and trends — Pelling references books with titles like Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity and Confessions Of A Working Girl — so I decided to pick the brain of someone who is. Frisky writer Rachel Kramer Bussel is herself a successful erotica writer and editor and I suspected she’d have some thoughts on the subject. Her response, after the jump…

“The problem with Rowan Pelling argument is not that she’s criticizing some of the books in this genre of erotic tell-all; I haven’t read them all, but they can’t all be of the same quality as the pioneers, like Tracy Quan’s ‘Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl’ and the like. The problem with her piece is the push to equate what’s happening on the bookstore shelves with yet another dire warning that women are all turning into whores…and let’s blame pop culture! It’s insulting and infantilizing to assume that women, young or not-so-young, are making their decisions about sex simply from what they see around them.

Conversely, I think it’s a falsehood to read too much into notions of ‘empowerment’ from this new wave of women’s writing, fiction or not. I am going to read ‘Wetlands’ soon, and from the peek I’ve taken, I’m sure it’ll probably gross me out, and only possibly arouse me—but so what? Not every book by a woman needs to be ‘a statement’ and Pelling not only assumes there’s something wrong with experimenting with casual sex for the sake of experimenting, but that these books are to blame. Of course, media is powerful, but not that powerful, and to say otherwise implies women can’t think and act on our own volition. Shockingly, perhaps, we are capable of looking at these books as entertainment, or escapism, or in any number of ways. The same argument was made about ‘Sex and the City’ —that it made us more slutty—and it’s false here too.”

I also think Pelling ignores the fact that erotica is fantasy — what turns people on is often not what they actually want in real life. For example, in the post about “Secret Sexual Fantasies” from the other day, one woman said that she enjoys anal porn, but doesn’t enjoy anal sex. As discussed in the rape fantasy post, also from the other day, the vast majority of women who have rape fantasies don’t actually have a desire to be raped in real life. But honestly, all that is irrelevant when it comes to Pelling’s thesis — because if someone enjoys reading erotica about casual sex, and also enjoys casual sex in real life, so long as they are safe, who gives a crap?