Examining trends in fanfiction.
This month, Amanda welcomes a guest writer, Ailuridae.
Fanfiction may contain elements that can give you an inaccurate idea of how real life sex works: there are no tentacles, vampires, werewolves, dragons and mermaids. Alpha/beta/omega dynamics are not real. Some fanfiction is written by people who have not had a lot of sex, or may not have had the type of sex that they’re writing about (50 Shades, I’m looking at your wildly inaccurate portrayal of BDSM). A lot of it is set in alternate realities, histories, planets, timelines, cultures where sexual norms, anatomy, safety and pregnancy work differently than they do in the real world.
I am not the smut police, and if you write about two vampire aliens having tentacle sex in space, I am not going to comment “BUT WHERE’S THE CONDOM?” or “ACTUALLY ONLY ONE OF THESE GENDERS WOULD HAVE A CLOACA.” The sexual education and sexual culture of your characters matters for fanfiction! However, if you’re writing a story about gay men in New York City in the 80s and no one is talking about safe sex or AIDS, then it makes your story inaccurate to the point of potentially being offensive – because there is a specific, political and socially charged sexual climate around that setting that you should address, if you’re going to use that setting to its fullest potential. If your characters are lovesick teenagers who are awkwardly learning about pleasure with each other in the back of a car, it’s extremely realistic that they don’t stop to think about protection, STDs or pregnancy.
But there are a few garden-variety fanfic mistakes that will immediately scream to the experienced reader that I Do Not Know What I Am Talking About! And this, friends, is what I want to help you avoid.
If you have two cisgendered, heterosexual male/female identifying people having vaginal penetrative intercourse and you mention a woman’s prostate, I will put my head in my hands and softly cry for you. Public education, sex education, fanfiction and the internet have failed you, my friend.
And because I’m a medical professional, I can’t write about sex ed without at least making sure your eyeballs fall upon some cisgendered genital anatomy diagrams:
I won’t go into a full homologous genitourinary anatomy lecture here. But now you’ve seen a clitoris (which also enlarges with blood flow, like the glans of the penis) and you know where the prostate is. (Also this midsagittal cut doesn’t really get into the lateral crura of the clitoris, which also contribute significantly to arousal and pleasure, but know that the clitoris is larger than this picture would make you believe.) If you were my medical students, I would tell that if you’re asking for a sexual history on any person with a vagina, ask a) do you have sex with men, women, or both? and b) oral, vaginal, anal? Some orifices are innervated to be more pleasurable than others, but as my favorite neurologist says, the largest sexual organ is the brain. Any act can be sexy if you write it well.
I, like many of my friends, and like (I suspect) many more people than we want to admit, had a lackluster sex education that left out a lot of important things. The first time I and many of my friends learned about sex and specific sexual acts was in fanfiction. Many of these turned out to be wrong.
If you’re writing about people on Earth in 2020, you have a pretty good knowledge of how reproduction works, what organs people find pleasurable and the physical hazards of having sex, like STDs and pregnancy. If you’re writing A/B/O, there’s a rich world of charged social sexual dynamics that you can play with with different aspects of safe or unsafe sex (heat blockers, collars to prevent bonding bites, etc). I’m not here to tell you that you have to have someone stop and put on a condom every time, but you should think about consequences of sex. How does reproduction work in the world of your story? Are there any sexual norms characters are reinforcing or violating? How does gender of these characters work and how do they feel about their gender? Are there STDs? Having sexual consequences, as well as pleasure, make your characters’ interactions more meaningful.
Writing Outside Your Experience
If you’re a cisgendered female, you don’t have firsthand knowledge of many things, including gender dysphoria and the transgender experience, male puberty or what it’s like for two cisgendered men to have sex, among others. But that shouldn’t stop you from writing about it. If it did, no one would ever write A/B/O. The “tentacle porn” tag on AO3 would melt away into nothing. What would happen to my interspecies Star Trek AUs?? We’re not giving up on pon farr!
If you want to write about gay men having sex, talk to your gay friends. Ask them about Grindr. If you’ve never been pregnant but your character is, talk to someone who has and Google it. Figure out what happens to bodies that gestate. If you’ve never done a scene but you want to explore characters doing BDSM, then you should do some research on safety in scenes, safewords and aftercare. Browse through FetLife, go to a munch. If you want to write about a type of sex you’ve never had, then do some research! Read some books about it. Listen to a podcast. Watch a show.
All of these things may seem stifling, but they are not. Thinking about sex in your fanfic beyond *smash genitals together* they are in love will give you ideas, inspiration and make your writing richer and better. Why is A/B/O the only type of weird sex we write about when there’s a whole world full of sexual possibilities? Getting more experience with sex – whether it is having more sex, reading about sex in different communities and contexts, thinking about sexual intercourse and gender, or even reading about how other species have sex – will make you better at writing smut. And all I want to do, my friends, is improve the quantity and quality of smut on AO3 for my own personal reasons.
Ailuridae is an anonymous gynecologist. She tweets at @ailuridaen