The Erotic versus the Realistic: Sex in Slash Fiction

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Title: Did You Notice? It's Fandom, Not Wal-Mart
Creator: Morgan )0(
Date(s): September 2, 2003
Medium: online
Topic: Fanfiction, Slash
External Links: The Erotic versus the Realistic: Sex in Slash Fiction, Archived version
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The Erotic versus the Realistic: Sex in Slash Fiction is an essay by Morgan )0(.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.

For additional context, see Timeline of Slash Meta and Slash Meta.


Can someone explain to me what the big deal is about realism in slash sex? I've seen so many posts and rants on this subject lately, beating the drum of realism in slash. I have to confess, I don't get it.

I understand that there's a suspension of disbelief issue. I know that it's hard to find a sex scene sexy if the contortions are so extreme you know the plumbing couldn't possibly hook up, or if there’s some other reason you’re sitting there thinking, Nah, that’s impossible. I am aware that men don't generally have multiple orgasms and that when they do the second one ain't worth much. I know that an anus isn't a vagina and doesn't work like one, and that spit makes a lousy lubricant.

I know all that, and I respect it. But there's a difference between believable fictional sex and realistic fictional sex.

Slash is not about gay men. Most of the time, it's not even about men (which might shock the hell out of some slash writers, but it's true just the same). It's about fictional characters, fantasy figures, nominally male and nominally human, but basically non-existent. This holds true even in RPS, as the stories in RPS fandoms bear very little resemblance to the subject’s real life. This is an essential point that I think some slash fen seem to be missing. These people are not real, they don't live real lives and they don't live in the real world. In the real world Colonel Jack O'Neill wouldn't accept a civilian archaeologist who can't stop sneezing as part of his team on what was supposed to be a suicide mission. In the real world Blair Sandburg could never be partner to a real cop (a three-month ride-along, maybe, but not a four-year partnership). If Immortals existed in the real world, Methos would have taken Duncan's head under that bridge. If there were real vampires and real Slayers, Buffy would have stayed dead the first time, let alone the second. Real life works that way. It's messy, it's unpleasant and Murphy's Law is a law of nature.

Fan fiction automatically starts with an unrealistic premise (whatever the canon might be) and slash moves even further away from the land of realism by placing the characters in a homosexual relationship. With very few exceptions, these are canonically heterosexual characters. Yes, yes, I know there's rarely ultra-specific canon on sexuality and just because he’s been married or has ex-girlfriends/current female lovers in canon doesn't that doesn’t justify the automatic assumption that he's straight. Sure, and I'm Mary Whitehouse. Look, I'm willing to concede that the presence of female love interests doesn’t make these characters canonically heterosexual. But the absence of homosexuality does. At least in a TV canon set in the modern world.

Reactions and Reviews

I don't think that the concerns about squicking readers through TMI are really restricted to slash--concerns about appearance, noises, smells, and effluvia of body parts are also present in writing hetsmut. Not for nothing is the general process referred to as "bumping uglies."

I'm not familiar with slash stories with more-or-less contemporary settings (although I've read that there's a whole subgenre of Pros AIDSfics), but I'd think you could generate chapters of, e.g., Starsky and Hutch have celebration sex after Hutch's last-minute home run wins the Gay Cops v. Gay Firemen softball game; STarsky and Hutch have make-up sex after fighting about whether Starsky's Mom will have a heart attack if they come out to her; Starsky and Hutch are unable to have sex for a while because they're busy finding the evidence that convicts a homophobic politician of a series of gruesome killings of hustlers...well, you see where I'm going with this.

I'm pretty tired of coming out stories, but of course they play an important role for the real-life people who go through them, and can be just as important to fictional characters embroiled in them, and it's a valuable challenge to writers to keep them fresh. [1]

Maybe it's my different RL and fannish background but I *can* see evidence of queerness in the characters I write about. In fact if I can't see that little spark I can't write the story. I'm not at all a fan of coming out stories or even first-time stories in fanfic or other literary media - I read enough lesbian coming out stories ten years ago to know the formula off by heart - but the latter are sometimes needed at the start of a longer story if it involves a relationship because that has to have started *somewhere*.

The lack of realism in slash for me isn't anything to do with the sex (I don't like PWPs either) so much as to do with whether or not I can relate to the characters and mostly I can't. Then again this is also true of a lot of the het I've read and some of the gen, although the latter tend to be more plot-driven in a lot of cases so it's maybe not as noticeable. [2]


  1. ^ from executrix, LiveJournal comment posted to Fanfic Symposium Discussion Site community, September 2, 2003.
  2. ^ from pinkdormouse, LiveJournal comment posted to Fanfic Symposium Discussion Site community, September 2, 2003.