By Winter Saebeorn
I’m going to be honest, straight-to-the-sex erotica bores me. While the main characters are lubed up and fucking, I’m distracted by the author’s unintentional use of post modern art as a metaphor. What I want is twelve chapters of lead up, to build an emotional connection to the characters, before things steam up.
I want my slow burn.
What I don’t want is the will-they-won’t-they trope. It sounds similar to slow burn, yes, but the difference lies in the motivations. Not the character’s motivation, the writer’s. The will-they-won’t-they method of writing is the disaster movie of relationships. This happens when the powers that be have determined that two characters can’t hook up yet. Maybe they’re worried about ratings? Maybe they decided a particular pairing would cause too many complications? Whatever the motive, everything that can go wrong, will go wrong to keep the characters apart, again and again. A little bit of this can be fun but often turns frustrating.
In a slow burn, unlike the hot mess above, the motivations for not hooking up lay with the characters. They decide when it is time for them to take that step. And they go through an emotional arc to get themselves there. The classic story has one character learning to open themselves up to loving another, and being loved in return. Sometimes it’s a literal, physical journey where characters have to find themselves together at the same place at the right time. The end game is always the same-the reader gets to know the characters as well as they know each other.
When the deed is finally done, it’s not just about the act of sex. It’s about the emotional connection the characters have with each other and the reader has with the characters.
This is a demisexual view of erotica. A demisexual is a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection first. The thought of just sex with no context is about as sexually stimulating as jogging. The characters are participating in mutual physical stimulation, and if that sounded clinical and boring, then you understand the demisexual’s problem with erotica. Regardless of the quality of the writing, it might as well be insert tab A into slot B. It’s not that we don’t want the hardcore descriptions, we simply want them wrapped up in an emotional candy shell.
And let’s be fair, sex is a rather subjective thing. So is its place in literature. You can’t really say that slow burn is better than erotica, in general. Readers tend to bring their own preferences, prejudices, and peculiarities to what they read. When they pick up a book, they may be looking for something that echoes their own experiences. They could be searching for secret desires sweet or dark. Whatever it is, no two individuals will be looking for the exact same thing.
The industry however, tends to only take two paths: 1) hard on the sex but soft on plot; or 2) here is your emotional buildup, now fade to black. This frustration has led a lot of readers into the world of fan fiction.
Fan fiction is rife with erotica known as Porn Without Plot, or PWP as it’s tagged. Favorite couples are thrown together, have hardcore sex, and… that’s pretty much it. This is often in response to the PG-13 nature of the foundation work, or born from the frustration of a will-they-won’t-they plot arc. The unintentional consequence of this is the creation of a demisexual’s playground.
The original literature is the slow burn and the emotional connection has already been made. A demisexual can go into a PWP and have all the background they need to find the hardcore sex as titillating as it was meant to be. If they stumble onto a slow burn that also has hardcore sex in it, it’s demisexual Christmas.
But demisexuals don’t have a monopoly on the slow burn. There are plenty of reasons why someone may prefer to see an emotional connection built between characters before sex is brought into the mix. Perhaps they need to have clear pictures in their head of the characters and their personalities before they can imagine them together. Or perhaps they do or do not want their literature to mimic their real life. Regardless of the reasoning, the reader knows what they like and what they look for in literature.
Whether we’re talking about a story, or sex, the goal is the same: satisfaction. To that end, it’s all about having a good grasp on the situation and finding the right tools for the job.