True confession: I started this blog in part as a platform from which to sell erotic fiction. Fed up reading about 22-year-old virgins who started fucking like porn stars immediately upon deflowerment, I longed to read a sizzling slice of smut featuring a protagonist I could actually relate to.
An older broad, with pronounced smile lines and breasts that have lost some of their fullness, and many miles of life experience.
Since I couldn’t find a book like that, I decided maybe I should write it myself. If I wanted to read about an older woman’s sexual awakening, surely others would as well?
Around this time, I happened upon a thread in my Facebook feed debating the appeal of just such a book. The consensus was that NO ONE would want to read about a mature woman having hot sex. Or any sex at all.
The reasons? Older women would feel envious reading about a contemporary who was perhaps more comfortable with her body, and shared said body with men who were perhaps younger and Chippendale-y. Older women would feel envious reading about a contemporary who did more wining, dining, and 69-ing. And while no one came out and said it, there was an ominous cloud of ageism hanging over the thread.
No one gets turned on by mature sex.
No one gets turned on by mature bodies.
Mature readers don’t bother with erotic fiction.
I stared at my laptop and tried to make sense of what I was reading, especially since most of the comments were from women. What was it about the concept of mature sex that people found unappealing? If the dominant paradigm privileged older women over younger women, would erotic fiction with 50-year-old protagonists be lining Amazon’s virtual shelves? And was I the only mid-life woman who wanted to fantasize about someone just like me having turbo-charged sex?
* * *
Arlene Schindler, a friend who writes about dating and relationships, suggested I read erotic romance novelist C.D. Reiss — n0t because her books feature midlife women, but because her writing is several notches above the typical romance fiction fare.
So I downloaded Reiss’s trilogy, Songs of Submission, onto my iPad and — to my surprise — was riveted, both by the train-on-the-tracks writing style and the self-love inducing sex scenes.
In a classic six-degrees-of-separation Los Angeles moment, I found myself sitting next to Reiss at a mutual friend’s birthday dinner last week. I told her I wanted to write erotic fiction featuring mid-life women — but I also wanted to sell erotic fiction featuring mid-life women, and did she think anyone would buy it?
When she confirmed the consensus from that Facebook thread — that middle-aged women don’t want to read about other middle-aged women having sex — I asked her why. This is what she told me:
I love to imagine I’d be able to handle a man like Jonathan [the sex god in her book series] at 25, but the fact is, he would have terrified me. I would have run for the hills. Imagine if I had been mature enough, though? I could have rewritten my life.
At least, that’s the fantasy, but then I’d have to give up a man I love, and my children, and all the accomplishments I’ve earned. I wouldn’t want to redo 25 any more than I’d want to be immature at 47.
So, I just put it in the books. It’s fantasy, and what I fantasize about is making better, more mature choices. I fantasize about using my youth for something other than taking the tough, boring slog to adulthood. I also fantasize about being 5’10.” Tough.”
Erotic fiction featuring dewy-skinned heroines consistently tops the book charts, and Reiss has gold-mined the fantasy into bestseller-dom. But when I reflect on why I find her books so compelling, it has nothing to do with youth — which, in fact, for me, is a detractor because, at this point in my life, I don’t find 25-year-olds that intriguing.
What I love is the writing in Songs of Submission, which hurtles along, eschewing the meandering expository passages common to this genre for rat-a-tat-tat descriptions of frantic, kinky sex. She nails the consuming intensity of being ravaged — constantly — by a dominant lover, and the addictive, altered reality this experience creates.
In his post Sex Fantasies Make For Better Sex Lives, sex blogger William Quincey Belle explains why submissive fantasies are so potent:
A submissive fantasy is actually a fantasy about sexual power rather than weakness; the woman perceives herself to be so desirable that the man cannot resist or help himself. In the fantasy, the woman imagines enjoying submitting to the man’s force, so it is done for her pleasure.”
And that’s why I think erotic romance captures the minds and groins of women — of all ages. It’s intoxicating to feel that powerful, that desired, that adored. It’s the ultimate head trip (yes, I said that) to be a five-star vessel of pleasure.
* * *
I know of only two books of erotica that feature women over 30. One is Joan Price’s Ageless Erotica, an anthology of sexy stories penned by male and female writers to the right of fifty. It’s a fantastic collection that conveys the changing nature of sexuality as we age.
The other, The Pearl Series, was recommended to me by Reiss. On her website, author Arianne Richmonde explains: “I wanted to write a romance about a real woman who’d had some knocks and bruises.” So she created a main character who’s a 40-year-old divorcee. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t vouch for it. While I’m glad the heroine’s age begins with “4,” 40 actually seems pretty young.
My own take on the dearth of erotic novels featuring midlife women is that the demographic is smaller. Middle-aged women read 50 Shades of Grey because they remember being twenty-two. But women in their 20s are less likely to read about a 50-year-old heroine because they’re convinced they’ll never be fifty.
Given the size of the boomer population, I’d like to think that boomer erotica will join the elite club of Amazon top-sellers. I’d like to disprove the notion that no one wants to read about midlife women having torrid sex — women who, after all, have a few decades of experience on the typical romantic heroine. I’d like to read about a 51-year-old divorcee who’s having the best sex of her life.
Although that’s more memoir than fiction.