Thursday, October 1, 2015

What Is Too Taboo?

When sex deviates from societal norms or has been deemed improper it's taboo. What is deemed a forbidden taboo in one culture may be completely acceptable in another. As society becomes less sensitized over time those taboos change. 

In erotic fiction taboos have changed drastically over the past decade. When I was first published in 2005, erotic stories with M/M sex scenes were just gaining acceptance in the genre but still cutting-edge taboo, along with BDSM, voyeurism, exhibitionism. older woman/younger man. 

Today when you look at erotic book titles you'll find lots of taboo relationships like billionaire boss and employee, teacher and student, nurse and patient, parent and child's friend, step-parent and stepchild, step-siblings, priest and parishioner, shape-shifter and human, lesbians, transgender, group sex, strange fetishes... The list goes on and on.

We keep pushing boundaries, taking the extremes further, surrendering to the allure of the forbidden, exploring what society deems inappropriate. Have we taken things too far? Is there such a thing as too far? Is it wrong to be titillated by erotic stories of taboo relationships such as daughter and stepfather? When the sex is happening between consenting adults does it matter what society thinks? 

As an author I am asking you the reader for your thoughts on this subject. Does anything go between consenting adults? Are authors taking things too far? Do you secretly read taboo stories?


  1. No family sex. No Animal sex. No stuff involving bodily functions. Yuck!
    Not into pain = pleasure, but some enjoy that.

  2. Funny you should mention this. Only yesterday, I finished the first draft of a story involving some of this. Two family members run into each other at a kink club. Since one doesn't recognize the other, there's an inappropriate proposition, complete with grope. Naturally, nothing else happens, because the other party DOES know who that is. I'm playing it up as a screwball comedy, though. She's aghast, he's oblivious, and her date finds the whole situation hilarious. That's about as close as I'd get to that particular taboo.

    I have some other stuff in the pipeline that has had to be edited because of age restrictions. I understand that - you don't want people writing dirty stories about kids - but... teenagers think about sex all the time. Over half of them HAVE it before they turn 18. YA books can talk about those feelings and put such an encounter behind a fade-to-black to deal with them. Erotica - nope, totally off limits. I've even been told by a major indie publishing platform that I can't show any characters under the age of 18 in a smutty book *in any context whatsoever*. I guess that means no stories about a married couple who have sex after putting their kids to bed? No sweet scenes about how the hot boyfriend deals with your ten-year-old sister when he comes by to pick you up for a date? I suppose the whole "dad and the babysitter" idea goes out the window, too; you can't have a babysitter without a kid who needs watched...

    I mean, come on. "No kid stuff" is one thing. "No kids exist" is nuts.

    Erotica is - or should be - about looking at the boundaries between people, the way we relate to each other. Not just in bed, but in life. That can mean dancing on a knife's edge once in a while, and playing with taboos comes with the territory. If it makes for a better story, and the taboo is handled well, I'd rather judge it for myself than have gatekeepers telling me I can't read that.

    1. I hear you on the gatekeepers, J.B. I've been censored by publishers before on scenes that push the boundaries a bit but were happening between two non-related adults and completely consensual. It's beyond frustrating.

      I have started dabbling in the step sibling arena, which has become an extremely popular taboo that is gaining greater acceptance, Even though a step relationship is by marriage, not blood, I still worry that it might be pushing the boundaries too far for my readers.

    2. One of my concerns is that I think "taboo stories" can be a crutch. Take a rather ordinary story, change the older man/babysitter into a stepfather/stepdaughter, and away you go. It's lazy, and we should aim higher. Authors should demand more of themselves, and readers should be pickier.

      I see a kind of "trope stew" happening now, where I swear some writers are trying to check off as many boxes as possible in hopes of appealing to several different sets of smut fans. I've seen plenty of "alpha billionaire step-brother" fiction, for example - why settle for the incest OR "Fifty Shades" audience when you can appeal to both? (And what's wrong with "settling" for a mere millionaire, anyway? How about someone who merely makes a good living?) Make him a shifter, too; there's another market segment... Where does "tell a compelling story" or "make interesting characters" or even "learn to spell and punctuate" enter the picture? Shouldn't those come first?

      I reached the point some time ago where certain words became instant Do Not Buy signals, and both "alpha" and "billionaire" are on that list. They're overdone; the "dominant alpha billionaire" is 2015's "pizza delivery boy." I don't mind using those stereotypes as springboards, but they should be a starting point, not the goal.

      Don't forget plausibility, either. I got three words into one blurb before deciding to pass on the book, and two of them were "black billionaire." There just aren't many of those, certainly not enough to be anonymous, so treating that as commonplace didn't work for me. It made me think that this was an author cooking trope stew without considering how it would taste. Big black guys are popular, alpha billionaires are popular, so just throw 'em together and watch the money roll in from all the people whose itches get scratched by any part of that. (Are there any billionaires in Smutland who AREN'T dominating trembling secretaries?)

      Or, well, not. I may decide to pick up a freebie because it scratches an itch, but I want a solid story and a basic grasp of the English language before I'll pay for a new book. Give me a corporate nobody and his would-be socialite wife exploring the boundaries of their marriage; that's ten times more interesting to me than yet another Innocent Submissive Secretary and Black Alpha Billionaire Cowboy Shifter Boss matchup. Show me what happens when a safeword comes out of nowhere, or one of the partners gets cold feet right as things heat up. Let me see what happens when somebody messes up. Do something different!

      If a story is interesting, I'm much more willing to trust the author with a taboo subject. If it's not... well, there's really no point, is there? With so much bad stuff out there, there are loads of excellent books I could be reading. I don't want to waste time with something that bores me just because it uses one titillating detail.

      Sorry for the semi-tangent, but that's pretty much where I'm at. Tell me a good story, whether it's transgressive or not. Push some boundaries, try new things. Maybe I won't like the result, but I'll at least give you credit for the attempt.

    3. "Yet another Innocent Submissive Secretary and Black Alpha Billionaire Cowboy Shifter Boss matchup." You nailed it. The whole thing reminds me of the current trend in remaking old movies. Where are all the original ideas?

    4. Since you asked... :)

      The corporate/socialite story is on my list of things to write, but there's other stuff ahead of it. The sudden cold feet and unexpected safeword happen - in different scenes - in the novel I'm editing.

      Then there's this, if you don't object to a little self-promotion in the service of the topic: