Oct 232014
 
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By Mistress Lorelei Powers

In no genre does the admonition Write what you know apply more powerfully than in writing about sex. The average reader of a police procedural will never be involved in a murder investigation, and thus their image of the process is likely to be formed by their books, as well as other media: movies, TV shows, newspaper and internet accounts of investigations. With the help of Google, a fluent writer may be able to fake a way through and produce a story this average reader finds plausible, but the work is likely to echo every cliché of the genre.

By contrast, almost everyone has some kind of sex, and people who practice specific kinks know the difference between fantasy and reality. When Anne Rice admitted she had written the Beauty series (originally published under the name A. N. Roquelaure), she claimed she didn’t actually practice BDSM herself. Every kinkster I knew believed her. There were too many problems with the books, and not just because she portrayed some unsafe practices.

You may have been fantasizing about a particular act or orientation for years, but fantasies are an unreliable guide. So are many stories. To hear some people talk about sex between women, scissoring is the be-all and end-all. In 35 years of sex with women, I have yet to scissor. I can’t even figure out the instructions.

Trying to write about an unfamiliar sexual subculture or practice has serious pitfalls. My personal favorite is a slash fan-fiction story in which one gay man “fisted” another’s cock. I had outrageous visions of one man plunging his whole hand into the other’s urethra. The author didn’t know about anal or vaginal fisting (the practice of slowly, gently inserting the whole well-lubricated hand inside your partner); she just wanted to say that her character grabbed a cock in his fist. Oops.

So does this mean you can never use your imagination, or that you have to limit yourself to writing your own experiences? Not at all. There is a place for research in erotica, as with any other fiction.

1. Read all about it. First, check out the how-to manuals and memoirs. In the past 20 years, there has been an explosion of useful and informative books about all kinds of sex. There are superb books on the theory and practice of same-sex love, just about every form of BDSM, erotic hypnotism, enema play, fisting (both vaginal and anal), and more forms of sensation play than I can name. Now that ebooks are so common, you can download anything in peace and privacy.

Check out reviews in places like Goodreads or specialty forums before you buy; not all books are created equal. Steer toward nonfiction; many fictional depictions are inaccurate or actively unsafe. Movies can show how things work physically, but most are insanely unrealistic about the culture and feelings of participants.

Then you may want to go to the library, preferably a university library. Your local library may allow interlibrary loan from nearby academic libraries. You would be amazed what you can find in scholarly books. There are serious psychological and philosophical studies of homosexuality, transgender, transvestism, sadomasochism, and other sexual variations. Books on queer studies and gender studies may be densely written, but they can also offer insights.

Learn about safety, culture, history, and terminology. Read enough to understand how various members of the subculture relate to their sexual practices and to others who share their orientation. You’ll discover that every subculture is a cluster of micro-cultures, some of them deadly foes and others allies. Practices that seem the same to the outsider may have entirely different meanings. A drag queen and a sissy maid both dress in feminine garb, but their aims and clothing are profoundly dissimilar. And both are different from a transgender woman. Know the distinctions, or you’ll piss everybody off—including your intended audience.

2. Make friends in the community. The Internet makes this a thousand times easier than it was twenty years ago. If you’re writing about people who take on animal personas, find an online forum for furries. (And learn the difference between furries and yiffing.) Lurk first. Reading forum threads and participating in group chats are excellent ways to understand a subculture. Approach individuals with respect. Remember, they are not here as zoo displays, nor are they obliged to answer intrusive questions.

You may also find in-person meet-ups where people gather to meet others who share their tastes. Some are informal, public events (sometimes called munches) where people dress in ordinary clothes and don’t do anything more surprising than drink diet soda. Others are parties or clubs where people go to play—a word that has a much broader meaning than you may be aware of. Look for events for newbies. Not everyone is lucky enough to live in an urban area where there are plenty of venues, but even rural areas have their gatherings. I used to drive 110 miles to go to BDSM parties in a neighboring state.

3. Practice, practice, practice. When you learn specific techniques from a book—for example, how to peg your partner with a strap-on—test it out in person with a willing volunteer. When I first started pegging, I was startled and impressed at the sense of power it gave me. I was also surprised that relatively small motions could create such an intense reaction. That’s something I wouldn’t have known without doing it myself.

Now excuse me. I have a naked woman in my bed, and we’re going to try to see if we can manage to scissor without falling off or breaking an ankle.

***

Lorelei Powers, also known as Mistress Lorelei (pronounced LOR-eh-lye, and named for Germany’s famous siren of the Rhine River whose seductive music lured sailors to their doom), is the author of the BDSM how-to classics The Mistress Manual and A Charm School for Sissy Maids, as well as the short story collection On Display. She is a bisexual, polyamorous sadist and lifestyle Domme. She has started using her surname to avoid confusion with her respected colleagues, Lorelei Lee or Lorelei of BedroomBondage.com.

By profession, Lorelei Powers is a writer and editor. Under various other names she has published a number of books, articles, and stories. She also teaches writing classes, gives workshops and presentations on BDSM technique, and offers private coaching sessions by phone or in person for Dom/mes and submissives.

She blogs about BDSM at The Mistress Manual and about sex, feminism, politics, and naked men in bondage at Gallery of Dangerous Women. Follow her Twitter feed at @MsLorelei

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  One Response to “Researching Sexual Subcultures: Three Techniques”

  1. I appreciate the advice in this post. When I first started writing BDSM erotica, I had little prior experience and…oopsie…write some fairly silly things. OTOH few smart people refer to fiction for advice! Nor should they. But it’s good to avoid really bad missteps that will throw a reader out of the story.

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