Sex, and slash sex scenes

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Title: sex, and slash sex scenes
Creator: Shoshanna
Date(s): April 5, 2011
Medium: Dreamwidth post
Fandom:
Topic:
External Links: page 1; archive for page 1; page 2; archive for page 2
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sex, and slash sex scenes is a 2011 post by Shoshanna.

It is an essay on the writer's initial discovery of and views on slash as the (sole) genre that integrates people's lives in the bedroom with their lives outside it.

"And you (and anyone) are welcome to quote any unlocked post of mine; just please credit or link back, so that people who may be interested can see the whole thing."

There are 102 comments at the post.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts from the Post

I said in the panel on slash and sexuality that slash had been the first literature I ever saw that integrated people's (characters') sex lives with their lives outside of bed. And that was true, and it was incredibly important to me in my first few years in fandom. In most literature, most genres of fiction, people maybe had sex, but the narrative never showed exactly how they carried themselves, how they interacted with their partners, how they conceived of what they were doing as they were doing it. They had sex, with a brief summary or a discreet fade-out, "that night they were not divided," and then it was the next morning and they were back in their regular lives.

That was one genre of writing. On the other side there was porn, in which the characters had no regular lives; they pretty much just had sex.

And then there was slash. Slash was the only genre of literature I had ever found that followed the characters into bed and back out of it; that investigated and demonstrated how the people they were outside of bed were connected to the people they were in bed; that modeled how to be with someone in everyday life, go to bed with them, and then wake up next to them and continue everyday life with them. In slash, "everyday life" wasn't differentiated from "sex life." Who people were outside of bed and during the day critically, obviously, demonstrably influenced how they behaved in bed with each other, and vice versa; but the characters never lost themselves or turned into different (wimpy wispy sappy) people because they had fucked. (Okay, sometimes they did, but those were the bad stories, the ones we mocked.) The two parts of life weren't disjunct; indeed, they were crucially connected, mutually influential, even indivisible. In fact, that indivisibility was often the whole point.

Of course, not every story did or does all of this. I got very very tired of first-time stories in which the characters had sex for the first time and fell asleep together, and then the story ended; for me, that left unanswered the crucial question of how they went on from the moment that next morning when they woke up together! The story doesn't end when they have sex; it ends (reaches a satisfactory closure) when they find a way to integrate both the old and the new aspects of their relationship. (And like many another fan, of course, I wrote my own story to investigate how my characters would face that next-morning moment.)

I found slash in my early twenties, at a time when I was a lot younger and a lot less secure than I am now (and I'm no model of glorious self-assured stability now). I was still trying to feel my way into integrating the sexual and nonsexual parts of my own life, trying to figure out how having sex with someone changed, or didn't change, the ways I related to them in other contexts, daytime contexts. I was desperately glad to find a genre of literature that addressed that question front and center.
These aspects of slash fiction are less emotionally important to me now than they were twenty years ago; not because I like them less, but because I have learned and internalized so many of the things that were revelations to me in my twenties. And slash is a broader genre these days than it was then, and it addresses a wider variety of possibilities and dilemmas (and it has also left some of the old standbys by the roadside; it's been a long time since I've seen a story spend ten thousand words explaining to readers how Macho Cocksman Hero can possibly be Queer). But these are still among the reasons that I like slash as a genre, and among the reasons that I was able to learn important things from it that I never learned in other places.

Comments at the Post

[kass]:
Thank you for making this post! This is awesome. I too find that over time I have less "need" for these aspects of slash fiction, in the sense that I think I've already internalized some of this stuff after, oh, a dozen years of reading slash avidly -- but I still think this stuff is part of what makes slash so grand.
[the shoshanna]:
I'm glad it speaks to you! And yeah, just 'cause we "need" something less at this point in our lives doesn't make it any less awesome in general.
[epershand]:
I just came across this post via network, and it gave me an immediate "yes, THIS" feeling. I feel weird a lot of the time when I feel cheated by stories that don't have sex in them, and I hadn't been able to figure out why, since it didn't feel like a purile impulse. It's this - I feel like I'm missing an important part of the character development when I don't get to see that part of their lives.
[sphinxfictorian]:
Well said! I agree with you about slash being one of the only places where one can explore relationships, around and containing the sexual component, and yet beyond it as well. I for one find the exploration of how one deals with the morning after, or the ongoing relationship very satisfying, both as a reader and a writer.
[cesperanza]:
STANDS ON CHAIR AND APPLAUDS.
[sherrold]:
Made me think, and reminded me in a lot of ways of when I first found slash. (Um...twenty-seven years ago...) This is a keeper.
[illarity]:
Great insights. You put your finger on a big part of what draws me to slash fic. It goes hand in hand with slash fic often but not always having less pre-written roles than conventional romance stories. Reading it feels so freeing. Hm, now I'm off to ponder what this post's insights might mean for my future relationships... ;-)
[copracat]:
This is such a lovely post. I had a similar but different because one of the things I found most intriguing in first time stories was that often every part of the relationship except sex was in place before the sex. These dear friends who worked together and lived together and suffered and achieved together, who had come to accommodation and understanding in so much of their lives: sex was the last piece, the final part of the puzzle of them, fitting together. It was for me the natural and satisfying end to many stories. I too, believe I've learned a lot about making good relationships from fan fiction, but I saw that in the whole relationship of the characters, not just the post-sex activity.
[the shoshanna]:
It may be relevant that a lot of what I was reading during this time was Blake's 7, Blake/Avon stories: not quite enemyfic, but sometimes close. Conflicted!resentful!allies fic. So that whereas for some other slash couples becoming lovers is the finishing piece of a dear friendship, for Blake and Avon it -- well, it might be part of creating a dear friendship, but it's definitely not the final satisfying piece. Some stories and some pairings do leave me with the feeling that I can tell how the couple will be together on the morning after! I don't mean to say that post-sex activity is always more revealing than any other. But sometimes it really felt as though the author had decided that having sex solved the couple's problems, and I Begged to Differ. (It sure wasn't solving mine...)
[elynross]:
Very, very interesting! I share with you the reaction to women having sex in het stories, although I additionally feel locked in to the women's reactions in a way I don't with slash. It's not so much that I identify with them personally, but as a woman, somehow I end up feeling more limited in my emotional reactions with het pairings, particularly (of course) if she's the PoV character, but even when she's not.

But the most fascinating bit for me, I think, is your comment about getting tired of stories that end with the first time, because for you that left "the" crucial question unanswered. For me, often the rhythm of the story naturally ends with the first time; the waking up together, if there is one, is the start of a new story, or a new chapter. Hmmm. Well, and it's not particularly something I sought after, but that may be linked to my own personal disinterest in established relationship stories, as well. IDIC! *g*

Thank you for expanding on this.
[applegeuse]:
And then there was slash. Slash was the only genre of literature I had ever found that followed the characters into bed and back out of it; that investigated and demonstrated how the people they were outside of bed were connected to the people they were in bed; that modeled how to be with someone in everyday life, go to bed with them, and then wake up next to them and continue everyday life with them. In slash, "everyday life" wasn't differentiated from "sex life." Who people were outside of bed and during the day critically, obviously, demonstrably influenced how they behaved in bed with each other, and vice versa; but the characters never lost themselves or turned into different (wimpy wispy sappy) people because they had fucked. (Okay, sometimes they did, but those were the bad stories, the ones we mocked.) The two parts of life weren't disjunct; indeed, they were crucially connected, mutually influential, even indivisible. In fact, that indivisibility was often the whole point.

YES. This is one of the things that attracted me to slash (and fanfiction generally) in the first place, and has kept me coming back for more. I don't think I quite put words to it until rather recently (or, a few years ago). And ever since, "fade to black" scenes in regular fiction have frustrated me endlessly. It's to the point that I think of them as lazy and bad writing, as being omitted because it makes the author uncomfortable to write about (etc.). Stories and characters can be so much more enhanced and rich if sex is dealt with more openly, you know? Again--it just seems like lazy writing.

You know. Okay, I will tell this story, but you must not judge me! :) I once read a an interview with V.C. Andrews (because she is my guilty-pleasure author, no judging!) wherein she said that you have to write like your mother is never going to read your writing. No lies, this is probably one of the best pieces of writing advice I've come across. It is so true, and I think the concepts behind it are what make sex scenes so stilted sometimes. If you think about it, it could account for why fanfiction is a space where writing about sex and relationships can be more open. (Whose mother is going to read one's internet fanfic?)
[wordplay]:
My latest drug of choice has been the Glee fandom, and I'm sort of gob-smacked by what's going on over there among the slash shippers because it's evolved into something of a struggle over canon status, at least in some quarters. This has me rethinking slash as a genre, and wondering how het/slash and canon/non-canon are crossing the streams as dominant ways of carving up how we think about fandom. And after reading this, I'm now wondering just how much of what you're describing is doing the work of slash and how much is doing the work of non-canon-shipping.

Particularly this: Who people were outside of bed and during the day critically, obviously, demonstrably influenced how they behaved in bed with each other, and vice versa; but the characters never lost themselves or turned into different (wimpy wispy sappy) people because they had fucked.

I mean, SO MUCH of that work is at least in part because there's just a lot to be done to get these two people together, to sell the reader on how they work both in bed and out of it, to make the pairing really click together. And as we have more and more out gay characters, I actually DO think this is something that's beginning to fall a little bit more to the side, so that every time I (or any of the writers who have been doing this for a while - I agree that it's definitely part of what we do, as a community) put something into a story that hints at this, people take a moment to comment on it, because it's really no longer necessary and is becoming something of a bonus.

I don't know. I think that's what I'm thinking - it's still early, both in the "OMG Sunday morning" sense and the "hmmm, I really need to develop my thinking on this" sense. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on that, if you have any. :)

(And thanks - this really gave me a push on the thinking here, and I really enjoyed reading this for other reasons. The stuff on the sexual politics of penetration, in particular, is really powerful, and is highly relevant to my interests. :D)
[the shoshanna]:
I'm glad my thoughts helped spark yours! I suppose fan fiction that is dealing with a canon couple has to spend a lot less time motivating the relationship than does a story trying to sell its readers on something they haven't presumably already bought into, just by virtue of watching the show; is that part of what you mean? It's certainly true that at the time I'm primarily thinking of, twenty years ago when I was first working this out, all slash was "non-canon shipping," because there were no canon gay characters or canon same-sex relationships (no matter what we read into Starsky and Hutch, or how tightly we snugged the strap on our slash goggles). And it's also true that I vastly prefer stories that indicate to me the reasons why two (or more) people are attracted to each other, what each gets from the other(s), what the relationship is grounded on. Stories that seem based on the premise that two penises within a certain critical distance of each other must naturally be drawn to each other as if by gravity, or that start from the assumption that the characters are somehow foreordained to be together, generally annoy me. But that is a different thing, for me, than investigating how the characters relate in bed, and how their sexual relationship influences and is influenced by (I'm trying not to use the word "interpenetrates"!) their relationship in other contexts. I think the two things are fairly independent of each other, actually; and a really good story IMNSHO will address both. Even if a story is about a canon couple, I'd like it to illustrate to me how they fit together (or how they in fact don't, if that's the author's opinion).
[venivincere]:
You've clearly conceptualized one of the very things that I never knew I was starved for, when I first discovered slash fandom. The same need that was answered for you, was answered for me, too. It think it is not uncommon.
[spiced wine]:
Although I invest a great deal of emotion when I read good slash stories, I feel disconnected from the physical aspects of the sex, naturally, and you know, I love that. It's liberating, because reading thousands and thousands of bodice rippers, soft-porn historical o-fic when I was a girl/young woman did nothing for me save instil a belief in me that only slim, stunningly beautiful woman could be desirable, and that I should reach orgasm by penetration alone. Unfortunately that kind of het sex is still rife both in fanfic and o-fic.

I always said if I wrote het fanfic or o-fic now, it would never *take* because I would write sex as it is. not glazed with romantical glacé cherries. (I know people say that a lot of slash sex is unrealistic, however it's the relationship which creates the massive dynamism good slash possesses.)

However, I am a slash writer/reader now, and frankly I love to *unplug*. It was the most wonderfully freeing experience, reading slash for the first time, and remains so.

Thank-you so much for posting this.
[ ellieh]:
Thank you for posting this! I agree with so much of it, it really helped me think through one of the reasons I like slash above all else: the integration of the character's whole lives.

I remember reading romances which had relationships and sex, but skimped on showing the characters' real lives, and then moving into cop-romances or supernatural-romances, because then you'd get a bit more backstory about jobs and characters' history, but they still annoyed me by ending at 'I love you' and not showiing the actual *life* people had to live after that. (And then there were the heteronormative, rape-culture aspects, which I didn't have words for at the time, but I always knew I didn't like it.)

I was just thinking about the absence of sex and relationships in most shows, and I realised that the same is often true of friendship and family, especially in genre and action shows. I mean, we're often told that these people are friends, and we often see them making great sacrfices for each other, but we're rarely shown them hanging out together or doing the sorts of everyday things that normal friends do, like going to the cinema together, or hanging out having a beer. You see that in sitcoms and soaps, but much less frequently in, say, cop shows or sci-fi.

I think this is improving, by the way -- I think we're seeing more roundedness in characters, and in all kinds of their relationships -- but it's still not completely there. It's especially annoying when you're shown 'affectionate friendly teasing' or 'banter' that reads more like borderline-criminal bullying, and then TOLD that this is a sign of great affection.

It seems like the genre divisions may have gone too far -- porn for sex; soap operas for angsty long-lasting relationship dynamics and human psychology; sitcoms for humour about family relationships and friendships; cop-shows and sci-fi for action-adventure with lots of guns and explosions; issue-shows and worthy books for stories that combat discrimination; etc. etc. etc. If I want all of that, slash stories are pretty much the only place I can find it.
[seraphtrevs]:
This was a fantastic post! It articulated something that I've always felt but was never quite able to put my finger on, but yeah, fic often does a really good job of portraying sex as it would be between particular characters rather than just two generic people. I'm sure it exists in published fiction, but it doesn't seem to be the norm the same way as it is in fic.
[ nagasvoice]:
Joining everybody else saying how articulate and awesome this understanding is.

I've said for years that m/m pairings change the power relations to more equal; a lot of women want to see various situations and emotions play out in an equal context without all the conventional unequality happening. (If only salary, but there's so many other things...) But the mutual cooperative aspect to sex is even more important, possibly at a deep enough level that when trying to explain I was waving my whole arm, unable to actually, like, point at anything. Thank you.

The other point you made, that slash follows how the sex integrates into their lives--after a big event like first time sex, when you get the integration "what next" stuff, what else could be more important? And so many conventional stories blink it away, so there's a serious market gap there. "They lived happily ever after." Whut? I mean, if relationships really matter to you? Dividing it all up into *censored* pron and *not censored* giggle hee-hee "nudge is as good as a wink" stuff, does very strange things to the characters and the plotline, if the writer is even bothering to try implying things that they can't show. I've actually read stories recently where it crosses some horndawg's mind that he's got to look some partner in the eye next day, and the day after that--and he takes the risks of proceeding with the buddy-sex anyway, making it clear that it isn't just a situation where he's shrugging, "Oh well, drunk now, worry about it later." IT's somebody really young and silly who believes that one, and my buddies and me have got a little too long in the tooth to buy into that one.

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