It’s time for wine! But grab a big glass, because we’re going to talk serious. We’re going to talk about consent. Whether you’re writing Chick Lit, Young Adult, New Adult, Contemporary, Erotica, Paranormal, Multi-cultural, LGBT, (and so on), your relationships all come down to one thing: Consent.
Why do we need to talk consent? Straight up fact: In 130 scenes in 34 popular movies, only 19% of the female characters verbalized any desire for the sexual activity that took place.
Tori is here to teach us to do a better job at writing consent and even teaching us a little something about ourselves…
Let me introduce my special guest, Tori Lynne! I’ve known Tori for over a decade. We’ve worked on everything from films, to shows, weddings, and even a kitchen remodel together. Tori is not only one of my closest friends, but also an invaluable tool in my strive to create diverse, consensual romance.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got interested in being a Sex Educator!
Hello everyone! My name is Tori Lynne and I like defying social scripts and finding a path that feels most authentic to me. I’m a Sex Educator and Little Black Box Intimacy Consultant in Southeast Michigan. I am also an emissary for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti hub of Sex Geekdom. I teach about intimacy, pleasure, empathy, and communication all from a from a Sex-Positive viewpoint.
Sex-Positive means that any sex (that is consensual), genders, and sexual orientations are awesome, healthy, and deserving of respect; for a more detailed description of Sex-Positive check out this great article from Dr. Carol Queen.
In addition to all of the above, I have a background in video production and I’m currently studying Human Resources and working as a teaching and research assistant for a Human Resources Professor. I have big plans to take all these skills and squish them together–I hope to one day do HR consulting and help companies create inclusive work environments where people can be their authentic selves.
Last November, I was admiring the life Kate McCombs, and I asked her if she would be my mentor. She lit up, smiled and said, “ABSOLUTELY,” that’s when I knew I was going to get serious about this. Kate has been super supportive and she is an awesome resource to have on call, she’s the founder of Sex Geekdom and a sex educator based in New York City, her work is all about feelings, communication, providing accurate information.
Let’s get down to the question everyone is wondering about: Why is writing consent so important in romance and does this relate to the real world? Does it really matter?
Our culture has a lot of misguided ideas about how women “should” act. There’s this strange expectation for women and girls to be meek and nice. We are taught speaking up is not lady-like and saying “no” isn’t nice. This becomes extremely problematic when it comes to consent.
Our culture dictates that nice girls don’t speak about sex in any way. In a 2012 article by Sarah H. Smith, titled Scripting Sexual Desire:
Smith analyzed 130 scenes in 34 popular movies and found that only 19% of the female characters verbalized any desire for the sexual activity that took place.
Further, of these scenes where there was spoken desire the characters expressing the desire were portrayed as “bad girls”– they showed poor judgement, a lack of morals, or psycho-emotional instability. This is unsettling.
To me this very clearly sends the message that women and girls in our society shouldn’t speak of sex. If they can’t talk about it, how can they be consenting to it?
In books and movies the scene always plays out as everyone “just knows.” In reality, we can’t know what our partner wants unless we have a conversation about it. Then we compound the problem by having the expectation that nice girls don’t say “no.” If it is expected that females don’t say “no” and they don’t talk about sex or sexual desire, how can anyone be sure if the activity is wanted or consensual?
If more authors start writing scenes where there is explicit consent we can start to shift the cultural expectations.
Much of our cultural norms come directly from the media we consume, and then are reinforced by media. Society is impressionable. Authors, of all genres, are in a position to influence things in a positive way; that’s great deal of power, whether the consent is for just a kiss, or something more intimate.
It won’t happen overnight, but we can start to shift the perception of what romance can look like.
Dominate male characters are very popular. Do you have suggestions on how to bring verbal consent into these books while keeping the dominating edge?
Consent is sexy.
We have some extremely strange views of consent as a society in regards to sex. We need to start showing how sexy consent is. Yeah, we are accustomed to seeing the aggressive, possessive, predatory male character just taking what he wants while the lady is just enthralled with him and everything he does, but in real life that guy is creepy and sometimes downright frightening.
Why can’t he tell her what he wants to do to her with a sexy growly whisper into her ear and ask her what she wants? Wouldn’t that be sexy too? Why can’t our leading lady express how she wants to be dominated and how she wants to submit control to him in the bedroom?
There’s also plenty of creative freedom in writing the inner dialog of a character. The male can express in his thoughts how he wants to just take her, and how he doesn’t want to ask. He can think about the scene in graphic detail then reason with himself and express how much he cares about her and how he must exercise restraint because he doesn’t want to scare or hurt his love interest.
Then when we cut back to real life, if the dude we are on a date with asks, we have a way out if the feeling isn’t mutual because life doesn’t always go as fiction and sometimes feeling aren’t shared, we have more liberty to say, “no thank you.” If he doesn’t ask, we can now find power in the expectation that he should have. We need reference of what the scene should look like, incorporating those reference points into our entertainment is a seamless way to provide them.
You’ve mentioned Sex Geekdom several times. How is this a positive resources for romance authors?
Sex Geekdom is an international community of people that like to have nuanced conversations about sex. It is a NON-hookup space, sex-positive, inclusive, and respectful of boundaries. Everyone tends to be open-minded; this open-mindedness leads to practicing empathy and being Beacons of Permission (read about Being a Beacon of Permission HERE).
I have seen a fair number of works of fiction that are obviously about a topic that the author is unfamiliar with; while fantasy can take many paths, if you are writing about an existing community of people it is advisable to research it and write about those folks in an accurate way — romance related or not.
Sex Geekdom could be excellent resource in helping authors learn about things they haven’t experienced or for finding the appropriate resources. There is a growing call for more diverse books, whether it’s regarding culture, race, sexual orientation, etc. For authors who want to write diverse stories but don’t know where to start, Sex Geekdom could be invaluable.
Recently, I’ve read several books where characters had backgrounds with sexual abuse/assault. Do you have suggestions on how to make sure the character’s trauma is truly represented?
Research! Research some more. Then do a bit more research. After you are done researching, look for some more resources and do some more research!
Find some experts, reach out to people that are doing community work in related fields, they will be more likely to have an interest in talking to you because they are already active in a community and they would welcome an opportunity to have a positive influence on an audience that they may not normally reach. When researching a topic involving trauma talking to a psychologist or therapist that specializes in treating people with those experiences can be helpful; they can offer insight into the lasting effects of the experience.
Talk to people from multiple backgrounds. Be sensitive to triggers and boundaries when talking to victims. Offer them your questions prior to meeting with them, or give them an overview of topics so they aren’t traumatized by your questions. One interview is not enough to gain understanding of all experiences. You need multiple sources to get an accurate picture.
Try to avoid making broad generalizations about groups of people and their experiences. When writing about a specific reaction, behavior, or tendency personalize it to your character. Write about how your character reacted and felt rather than writing how most people with an experience do this thing or reacts this way.
Finally there are a couple of dangers in writing content that falsely represents a community of people. First you run the risk of perpetuating stereotypes about people; this can lead to marginalized communities being further discriminated against. Secondly it can give those that are curious about something false information. People tend to have difficulty separating the smaller details of story into fact and fiction–they know the characters and the storyline are fictional, but unless the story is set in the future or an alternate universe they may not link that the practices and communities are fictional. While it is not an author’s responsibility remind the reader of that, it is best to for them to at least be cognizant of it.
And of course, my usual questions: Beer or wine? Hockey or soccer?
Wine. Specifically, sweet wines. I may not always be sweet, but I like my wine to be. I’ve never been a beer drinker, I honestly don’t understand the appeal.
Hockey! Hands down, Hockey! I’m a Michigan girl. The Red Wings are a way of life around here. Honestly, hockey is the only sport I have ever put any effort into following. Most other sports can’t seem to hold my attention. Hockey is fast-paced, takes a level of skill and coordination I could never dream of obtaining, and has the added bonus of fights to watch!
Can authors contact you with questions? And/or Any suggestions for other sex positive people that authors can connect to?
Yes! Reach out to me via my website ToriLynne.com, or via twitter @ToriLynneTweets. For products check out Tori.ShopLBB.com. You can also find me on Facebook www.facebook.com/LittleBlackBoxTori and instagram @ToriLynneGram
There is also a list of Sex-Positive Resources on my website, I am always gathering resources to publish there and it can be searched by tags listed with each resource.
Here are a few additional resources:
“Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski. It is “an essential exploration of why and how women’s sexuality works—based on groundbreaking research and brain science.”
“Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown is also a must read for anyone looking to understand communication, vulnerability, and shame.
Thank you so much for your knowledge! I know I will be practicing using even more consent in my next story. If you have any questions for Tori, make sure to leave them below or use any of the above links!
Wishing You Laughter & Good Books,
Bold. Bewitching. Breathtaking.
Author of Hunting Witch Hazel featured in Falling Hard (A New Adult Anthology).