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After the exciting release of my 2 new books for adults late Friday night, I’ve fielded a number of questions. I’ve also been corresponding with fellow “erotica” authors for a while now as I developed my stories, and I’ve spent untold number of hours researching the current situation in (English-language) adult literature.
As such, I’d like to explain exactly what the current situation is and how exactly we came to get here in the first place.
A Brief History of Pornography
Believe it or not, pornography – as we know it today – has only existed for a couple of hundred years and is directly related to the discovery of the Roman town of Pompeii, buried under a volcanic explosion in the year 79.
When modern people began excavating the ruins of Pompeii, they found a number of pieces of art that were explicitly sexual in nature. One of the first “archaeologists” on the scene, Domenico Fontana, reported directly to the Pope and it was immediately decided to censor and hide all of this priceless Roman artwork. While the mobile pieces of artwork (such as statutes) could be locked away, other “offending” art such as frescoes (wall paintings) were covered over with plaster, some of which have only been restored in the last 15 years.
For centuries, much of this art was locked away and only men (as women were “too fragile”) given special permission were allowed to view it. Even today, if you visit the nearby museum in Naples that houses the Ancient Roman remains of Pompeii, children are forbidden from viewing the “erotic” pieces without an adult present or written permission from a guardian adult.
Practically the first piece of mobile artwork that was found in the modern era excavations was an extremely detailed statue of a man having sex with a goat. The detail is amazing and there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever as to what is going on. Any modern person viewing it would unequivocally label it sexual, and also perhaps pornographic.
Were the Ancient Romans some kind of sex maniacs?
The reason why the nature of the Ancient Roman artwork was confusing to “modern” guardians of morality is that, at the time this artwork existed, it was not considered “pornographic” at all, nor was it hidden from the sight of children. Despite its explicit sexual nature, it was not actually designed to “stimulate and arouse” people.
Some of this artwork dealt with a common Roman god named Priapus, known for his overly large male “member”, but to the Romans this was more about good luck and fertility than it was about being “turned on”.
Other “explicit” pictures were inside jokes based on Roman culture, showing improbable and fantastical couplings that in real life were considered “inconceivable” (to summarize, the Romans had very different ideas about who could and could not give/receive oral sex).
And perhaps most strangely, some of the most sexually explicit artwork was on display front and center in the public baths – not placed there to entice the naked bathers to become lusty but there to make you laugh and relax and thus ward off evil and bad luck.
Thus, these two cultures, Ancient Rome and modern Rome (and the rest of modern Western Europe) were bound to clash over these issues. Ancient Romans would’ve deemed it inconceivable that a statue of a man having sex with a goat was meant to make anyone get “turned on”, while to the prudish modern cultures this is now seen as a sexual abomination and illegal act.
To put it bluntly, the Ancient Romans had no concept of pornography, that is to say, artwork specifically designed to promote sexual arousal. To the modern Western cultures, after centuries of condemning and destroying even the most innocent images of the nude human form, it seemed “self-evident” that explicit depictions of sexual acts could serve no purpose OTHER THAN to stimulate and titillate.
And thus, pornography was born.
And Now, Back to the Future
Whatever your personal definition of pornography is (and it is infamously difficult to define), it certainly exists today in many forms, including movies, video, sculpture, paintings, photography and yes, also literature.
Some consenting adults wish to view this kind of art and others do not. Most adults feel that children (or minors, which is not the same thing) should not have access to it. But whatever pornography is, it definitely is big business. And therein lies the problem.
If a hotel chain offers movies to its customers, it makes commercial sense that some of those movies are “adult” (pornographic) in nature. But other customers, even though they have no interest in watching these types of films, find it offensive that such films are even available. And so any time a “regular” business also features some “adult” art, many of their other more prudish customers will object.
Sometimes, of course, the “adult” division of artwork can be completely separated from the “regular” division. Most major Hollywood studios produce only “regular” movies while completely separate studios produce nothing but “adult” content. And while it is impossible to know (with certainty) the numbers, it is generally estimated that the “adult” movie business makes just as much money worldwide as does the “regular” Hollywood movie business.
The “problem” is that, just as with the major hotel chains, sometimes a “clean” business also has an “adult” division. This is true for literature, as all of the major book sellers and distributors have both “regular” books as well as “adult” titles. But, just as with the hotel chains, when a prudish customer of the company’s “regular” products finds out that “adult” books are available, a scandal ensues.
As such, in the last few years, almost all of the “regular” book sellers and distributors have clamped down hard on what kinds of Erotica (as the genre is known) they will sell. Some sexual and pornographic subjects are permissible while others are not.
Ordinarily, of course, a free market would take such things in stride. If Amazon or Barnes & Noble (or WH Smith in the UK) don’t wish to sell adult books, that’s fine. An adult only bookseller company could be created and then compete for that market, much as pornographic film studios currently compete with Hollywood blockbusters for revenue.
The real problem for authors like me (and perhaps authors like you!) is that, in the world of books, sellers specializing only in ” adult” genre literature (Erotica) are not allowed. If I filmed a pornographic movie, I’d have no trouble selling and distributing it, precisely because there are companies that specialize in only that genre. But with books, such an option doesn’t exist.
Why not? Strangely enough, it is because of credit card companies and Paypal. Collectively, Visa, Mastercard and Paypal have all recently banded together to create their own Moral Code. Any literature which they deem “unacceptable” cannot be purchased via their financial transactions. As nearly 99.9% of all online purchases involve these major credit card companies or Paypal, this effectively means that they decide what is, and what is not, acceptable.
It’s important to understand here that (almost) none of this is because of any laws, American, British or from any other country. Pornographic films cannot feature people under the age of 18 (minors) precisely because it is illegal to do so. But it is perfectly legal to sell pornographic films in a wide variety of (lawful) genres, and receive payments via major credit cards or Paypal, while some of the same acts depicted in written form (literature) would still be lawful, but impossible to sell.
In other words, if you write literature that the Morality Police forbids, you can’t sell it in a book store (or their online websites), you can’t sell it to a publisher (since they can’t sell it) and you can’t even put it on your own personal website and sell it, because the major credit card companies and Paypal won’t allow you to do that. You can give it away for free or try and manage one of these new forms of payment (like Bitcoin) but that’s about it.
So, what are “The Rules” that the Morality Police have imposed on the literature market? And why, exactly, are some authors allowed to break these rules?
Profit, Thy Name is Hypocrisy
Remember, just about every one of these “rules” is openly flouted and “broken” by novels that are openly sold by all of the respectable book sellers and distributors, payments transacted by the major credit card companies and Paypal, even in cases where the subject matter would be illegal if it were depicted on film.
Oh my gosh, a brother having sex with a sister. Pretty gross, right? And definitely something you wouldn’t want children to read. Except that one of the best-selling books of all time, still available from all major retailers, has incest as its central plot.
The book I am referring to, Flowers in the Attic, has sold over 40 million copies worldwide. Furthermore, it is part of a larger series by the same author, a series which is classified as “Young Adult” (YA), marketed and targeted towards teenagers and other minors (children).
SPOILER ALERT: the central premise of the story is that a woman’s husband dies and so she is forced to move back in with her very wealthy father. But since the father disapproved of the marriage, the four children have to be kept hidden in the attic. Despite the fact that the children are all “full” siblings (i.e. same father, same mother), the two older children have sex. Furthermore, the entire reason that the elderly grandfather disapproves of the children’s existence is precisely because their mother incestuously married her cousin.
I first read Flowers in the Attic when I was 16, and it was given to me by a 15-year-old girl, who heard about it from her friends. It was – and still remains – popular amongst teenagers and other minors, and was later turned into a Hollywood film (that removed the incestuous parts).
If you like the book, then awesome. If you don’t like it, okay too. But unequivocally there is an incestuous sexual relationship at the center of the story. If you write a similar story today, the Morality Police will censor you and you will never be able to sell it. But because V.C. Andrews wrote her story in 1979 and it became a bestseller, it’s perfectly okay.
The Morality Police will not allow you to sell any story that involves sexuality or sexual expression by any character who is under the age of 18, known by the legal term “minor”.
Certainly no one condones or encourages any real pornography involving minors, but remember we are talking here about literature, which is entirely fantastical and does not involve any real human being (of any age).
If you try to write a story wherein two 13-year-olds fall madly in love, are hounded by their parents and then commit suicide, the Morality Police would never let you sell that story. Unless, of course, your name is Bill Shakespeare and the story is entitled Romeo and Juliet. Then it is not only permissible to sell such a story, but to discuss it in your public school English class.
Other more modern examples abound, such as Belinda, written by Anne Rice, an author more famously known for her vampire novels. In Belinda, a much older man meets the titular underage girl, paints her in the nude and then graphically has multiple sexual encounters with her.
But remember, Anne Rice is a famous best-selling author, and you are not, so the Morality Police will not allow you to sell such a book today (unless, of course, you become famous first).
Similarly, you can write a story about a 12-year-old prostitute, then turn it into a Hollywood movie featuring nude scenes with a 15-year-old actress, and that’s all perfectly okay, but if you’re “nobody” and write a story like that today, the Morality Police will not let you sell it.
Furthermore, in real life (and not the fantastical world of literature), the vast majority of flesh-and-blood adults have their first sexual encounter before they are 18. In some cases, this may violate certain laws. But I used to live in a state where girls as young as 12 could get married (and yes, have legal sex with their husbands). Think about that for a minute – it’s perfectly lawful to get married and have sex at age 12 but you can’t write a fictional story that has a plot about a 12-year-old girl getting married and having sex.
Likewise, you are forbidden to write about two consenting people both aged 17 years and 364 days having sex even though, of course, the entire thing is just words on a paper and doesn’t involve any real people at all.
I’ve already written about the Morality Police’s rules on incest, but it’s not enough to ban descriptions of actual father-child sexual encounters. All personages deemed “similar” to a father, including stepfathers, adult friends who “are like a father” or even just any male asking a woman to call her “Daddy” is also forbidden.
Ridiculous, right? Even something as thrice removed as a stepfather dying and coming back as a ghost and then having some kind of paranormal erotic encounter with a woman is also banned, even though of course we are still talking about entirely fictional events between adults.
A real adult man and a real adult woman can meet in bar and agree to retire to a private location and the woman can call the man “Daddy” during sex, but if you try to sell a fictional story with a plot like this, the Morality Police won’t let you sell it.
Rape is pretty bad, right? It’s a very serious crime in most countries and offenders are rightly punished accordingly. But you simply are not permitted to write a fictional story, even involving adults, where one of the characters is raped.
Except, of course, if you’re a famous best-selling author. Probably the most egregious violator of the Morality Police’s rules is the author Vladimir Nabokov and his book Lolita. In fact, almost no book for sale today violates more of the Morality Police’s rules than Lolita, but it is permitted because he is famous while you are not.
SPOILER ALERT: The plot of Lolita really could not be more creepy. A lecherous old man is looking for an apartment to rent when he meets the landlady’s 12-year-old girl daughter. He instantly “falls in love” with the girl (Lolita) and later decides to marry her mother, just so he can be close to her. After the mother conveniently dies, the protagonist assumes the role of her Daddy, then later drugs Lolita and rapes her. Nice, eh?
Later this book too was turned into a major Hollywood movie, and both the book and movie continue to be sold by respectable outlets all around the world. But if you decide to write a story featuring even a fraction of the plot of Lolita, the Morality Police will not let you sell it.
The term “scat” may be unfamiliar to some readers but generally it refers to any mention or use of feces (“shit”) being used in some kind of “pornographic” way. Does it turn me on to write about scat? Not really. But if it is something someone else enjoys, what exactly is the problem?
I really have no idea why the Morality Police are so worried about this very minor genre, but you will never ever be able to sell a story if it involves any “scat”.
I also can’t think of any famous novel that includes a plot involving “scat”, but I am sure if you get famous enough via other channels and then decide to write such a story, the Morality Police will let you get away with it.
Real vs. Fiction
What makes all of these rules even more hypocritical is that you are allowed to write (and sell) a story about any of the above topics, so long as it is a true story and not fiction.
In other words, you can write a story where an underage girl is raped, shit on, drugged and impregnated by her father as long as it actually happened to some poor soul somewhere. I know an author who wrote a story about a woman who was kidnapped as a girl, kept imprisoned for years in a sick pervert’s basement, and she was repeatedly raped until she gave birth to several of his children. Sick, right? But it’s perfectly possible to sell such a story because it actually happened to that poor woman (whose name I won’t use, because I hate to exploit her further).
That’s right – the Morality Police believe it is perfectly ethical and proper to sell stories about horrific, brutal things happening to real people, but not fictional encounters between imaginary people. A fictional story where an underage person actually enjoys a sexual encounter with an older person is forbidden, but a nightmare ordeal of being raped is perfectly okay as long as a flesh and blood person suffered.
Got it? Fictional pleasure = forbidden. Real suffering = no problem.
And last, but definitely not least, is the strange hypocrisy on the part of the Morality Police when it comes to violence. You’re not allowed to write a fictional story about a 15-year-old’s budding sexuality but you CAN write a fictional story about a 15-year-old being shot, stabbed, assaulted and then bludgeoned to death.
Fictional violence of all kinds, even towards children, is generally permitted by the Morality Police while several categories of sexual encounters are not. A fictional sicko can torture a young boy and cut off his hands and feet but if he accidentally touches his penis, then that is not permitted.
The Final Analysis
If someone, somewhere, is really worried about some pervert becoming “aroused” by a taboo sexual encounter, then surely that pervert would become as aroused by reading lurid True Crime fiction as he would be by reading fiction involving completely imaginary characters.
Not all fiction is appealing to all people – I think that’s axiomatically true, but merits being said. I personally find the Twilight series of books to be boring, mundane and trite. Yet I would never try to block books like those from being sold or marketed. Likewise, I also find 50 Shades of Gray to be boring and not something I want to read, but if another adult out there wants to read it, so be it.
But the issue at hand isn’t vampire/werewolf stories or BDSM romance stories but sexual stories that violate many people’s taboos. The problem is that one kind of story (50 Shades, Lolita) is permitted and legal to sell, and another kind is not.
I certainly understand parents and other adults wanting to shield children from certain adult-themed works of art, including both film and books. But is there no compromise? Can there not be a single bookseller allowed to receive payments from credit card companies and/or Paypal as long as they are carefully marketed to adult customers?
I personally know one woman in Canada who really likes stories about young boys (around age 7 or so) being spanked and otherwise humiliated in public. But because there is a sexual element to some of these tales, she cannot sell these stories anywhere, even from her own website, because the credit card companies and Paypal refuse to allow it. As a result, she is forced to rely on people sending in cash donations via the mail.
That is ridiculous. I don’t find tales of spanking children to be “erotic” or stimulating at all. But clearly some people do. The Morality Police won’t let authors who write these stories make a living, but they’ll let famous authors make millions of dollars writing stories of incest, rape and other equally taboo sexual acts.
My Middle Finger’s Up
In a capitalist society, consenting adults should be allowed to do business between each other so long as neither they, nor society at large, is harmed. Furthermore, in a capitalist democracy, it is the will of the people that should be expressed when it comes to making important decisions.
We know that Paypal and the major credit companies decided to take on the role of the Morality Police and decide which fictional stories involving imaginary people are okay to sell and which ones are “too taboo” to sell. And if you’re famous enough, or wrote your book at the right time (one hell of a lot of Hollywood movies involving nude underaged girls got made in 1979), then the rules can be bent. But if you’re “no one”, we can effectively ban you from the entire English-speaking world.
But who exactly made this decision? What is their name? Who are they? We say Paypal, and know it is a huge corporation, but who are the men and/or women who decided all of this? Almost no one even knows who these people are, or how they arrived at their decision to ban one thing but permit another.
We’re not talking about laws here, debated on by politicians, whose votes we can see, men and women whose name we know. We’re talking about faceless, corporate, anonymous profiteers who essentially looked at a few stories, felt “icky” about them, and then decided to ban them on the premise that if they don’t like it, you won’t either.
Well maybe you do get turned on by scat. So what? You’re an adult. It’s not like you’re running around in real life, throwing buckets of feces on people. You are looking at symbols on a piece of paper, turned into comprehensive images in your mind, that are clearly labeled as fiction precisely because fiction = not real.
Don’t believe me? Watch this:
Sam Cel Roman used his superpowers to leap to the top of the building. His cape flapping in the wind, he puffed up his mighty chest and shouted out to the people of Romania Town:
Good work was done this day, fine people of Romania! I hereby declare this town free of corruption, once and for all!
See what I did there? It’s called fiction. It didn’t happen. And so if thinking about a pink zebra chasing down and penetrating a gorilla is sexually exciting for you, and you want to read a fine story about that, what’s the problem?
And what’s the problem with paying the author who wrote it?
If you want to make money, don’t disobey the Morality Police!
And if you want to stay warm this winter, why not read one of my steamy Morality Police-approved adult stories for free today?
2 thoughts on “A Brief Guide to What the Morality Police Will and Will Not Let You Write”
I was not aware that PayPal and credit card companies are now the censorship and morality enforcing entities. There should not be any taboo subject except the one you, your self decided to be. Interesting info regarding the roman culture. Good writing. Keep them coming.
You lost me on this topic. Morality or not, sex, or salaciousness, seems to be the destination of all media when everything else fails. I really enjoyed your writings on politics, culture, people, and public life in general. I hope you bring your focus back to these things.