I'm editing another book!
It's going to be called Coming Together: Positively Sexy, and it's an anthology of erotica focused on characters living and loving while STI-positive. All proceeds will benefit the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, a sexuality education and training organization that works to reduce sexual shame, challenge misinformation, and advance the field of sexuality.
For so many reasons, I'm thrilled that this project is happening.
I love the CSPH deeply as an organization—it is not an exaggeration to say it has changed my life and given me much-needed sanctuary.
And I think this is a subject that needs to be explored. I have read so much erotica, and I can't recall ever seeing a character who was STI-positive. (If you have run across this, I am really interested to know where. Leave a comment or email me!)
Once I realized this lack, it became incredibly glaring to me. I got into writing erotica because I wanted to speak about the unspoken. There is so much revealed in people's sex lives. I am fascinated by the vulnerability and exposure. And yet, in the years I've been writing erotica, I've become disheartened by what I tend to hide. By typically presenting a fantasyland in which STIs don't exist, I have missed out on a huge part of what I think it is our calling as erotica writers to explore.
I want and have always wanted to write about sex, in all its strangeness and beauty and difficulty. I enjoy fantasies, and I am also interested in realities. By picking up on unspoken "rules," and shying away from portraying STIs, I have turned away from writing about the world I actually know.
I remember being diagnosed with HPV when I was in my early 20s and plunging into a morass of shame and confusion. I honestly didn't really know what HPV was or meant—and it felt like I couldn't get the information I needed, no matter how many questions I asked or how many things I looked up. I had such a poor understanding of STIs that I truly believed for a while that being diagnosed with it meant I would have to be celibate for the rest of my life. It is only in the past few years that I have become able to talk about parts of my history like this in a matter-of-fact way, informed by medically accurate information, not overshadowed by crushing shame and a sense of dirtiness.
I got pretty spotty education about STIs in the first place—and I recognize I was lucky to have avoided the abstinence-only approach that passes for "education" in many American schools. I remember most vividly the scare tactics that were used in my health class—the giant pictures of warts and lesions that made them look like dangerous space anomalies. I remember being told to use condoms, but not being told anything about what one might do if one ended up getting an STI or wanting to sleep with someone who had one.
I have cried with shame while disclosing my sexual history with a new partner. I have cringed at the sight of the capital letters HPV highlighted in pink on a form at the doctor's office.
When I was younger (before my HPV diagnosis), I had partners ask (while trying to convince me not to use a condom), "You're a clean girl, aren't you?" As if that was due diligence for STI prevention. As if there was any way to answer that question well or honestly. As if I hadn't already asked to use a condom.
There are also stories that aren't mine to tell, about people I've known who have lived with shame and judgement when I don't think they should have to.
The point of all this is that I'm a person who has lived and loved after an STI diagnosis, and I know plenty of other people who have, too. And I've never seen myself represented in the genre I have worked in since 2008. I have never represented myself in my own genre.
I say that knowing that HPV is common, an STI that is sometimes dismissed as something "everybody" has. What does it say that I've felt so much shame and hesitation about something so common? What does it say that I've never felt safe writing about it?
I came up with the idea for this book late last year, in the midst of some feelings of burnout. For several years, I had been writing as hard and fast as I could, pouring my soul into my stories and also constantly producing them. There were things going on in the erotica industry that were messing with my livelihood and breaking my heart. I found that a lot of my work seemed to be too weird or too queer or too dark or too something. Untouched had come out, and I never anticipated how naked and exposed that book would make me feel.
When I began writing, I believed I had things to say that were important, things that only I could say. Increasingly, though, I found myself abandoning stories, questioning whether they mattered at all.
I took a step back and began to ask myself if I had anything still to say, if I thought I still could do things in this field that needed to be done. After a period of soul searching, the idea for this book came to me. I couldn't convince myself that the world cared about or needed a lot of things I could choose to work on—this, though, was different. I believe that Coming Together: Positively Sexy could make a real difference to its readers, to its writers, and to me, as editor.
Any time my will as an artist has flagged, the answer has always been to go harder, go deeper, expose more. That is all that feels true to me, the only thing I have in the end.
I need and want this book to exist. But I can't make it happen on my own. I need more perspectives than the one I've got. I need a lot of different stories. Maybe what I need is your voice.
You can find the full call for submissions here.
If you have any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Also, many thanks to Melanie at the CSPH, who helped me come up with the name for this book!)