Sunday, April 29, 2012

Disclaimers Matter

Several erotica publishers I have encountered require writers to have characters use condoms whenever it's at all reasonable for them to do so. Others include disclaimers warning that characters may not practice safe sex, but that this is not an endorsement of their behavior. It might seem like it's not a big deal (don't we all know about safe sex?), but I think it is.

One of the big moments of sexual maturity for me came when I learned to draw a line between fantasies I want to enact in real life and fantasies I only want to read about. This sort of disclaimer helps create that distinction.

It's occurred to me recently that such disclaimers are even more necessary when an author is writing about BDSM or various extreme acts. Fantasy BDSM is often quite different from the reality. There are obvious distinctions, like whether or not safe words are being used. But there are deeper ones that may only be clear to people with actual experience with BDSM. For example, I find that many authors don't depict emotional effects in a way I find accurate. I often don't see aftercare (for sub or dom or both). And the list goes on.

Given the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, this has been on my mind a lot. I read an interesting post by avflox on how the book portrays BDSM:

I wasn't far into the story when I realized that Fifty Shades of Grey not only sets people who live a BDSM lifestyle back decades in terms of being understood by society, but that it eroticizes dangerous practices as well, especially for those who are new to this aspect of sexuality and looking to incorporate it into their lives.

The post's author goes on to provide an in-depth analysis that's well worth reading.

But I think such problems aren't only present in Fifty Shades of Grey. I've read plenty of erotica that created similar misconceptions. I think that a disclaimer would be a nice start -- and, ironically, it's often the sort of thing I see from people who have more familiarity with the actual practice of BDSM, and might be inclined to write more realistically in the first place.

Here's some language from the disclaimer before Deliver Us, an m/m BDSM novel by Lynn Kelling:

This story depicts fictional BDSM. The characters are not models for the Safe, Sane, and Consensual forms embraced by most current practitioners of BDSM. The author takes license with the use of BDSM for dramatic effect. It is not recommended as a manual for how to practice BDSM.

I think this kind of thing is necessary -- perhaps even more necessary than having characters use condoms. Many of us were taught to use condoms in school, but many of us have never been taught much about BDSM. What I like about this disclaimer is that it might make someone Google "Safe, Sane, and Consensual" (the capital letters help there).

Kelling's novel is full of hot scenes that I wouldn't actually want to see happening in real life. That's fine -- the book makes clear that they're fantasy, and that they're not to be emulated.

Like it or not, erotica is the main kind of sex education a lot of people are getting -- I know it was for me. It's nice to see a dose of reality.

(For the record, Kelling's book is published by Forbidden Fiction, which has also published several stories of mine.)

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