One of my dirty little secrets is that I’ve actually read very little classic erotica. I have some Nin on my bookshelf, and I checked out the rude bits in Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a horny 16 year old, but for the most part my tastes have always been pretty lowbrow: I like smut that will get me off, first and foremost, and that drives most of my reading choices toward the functional and direct, rather than the flowery or subtle. As long as the writing isn’t actively bad, I don’t need it to do much more than just carry the action along (though that is, of course, a skill in itself).
It also means that once I find something I like, I return to it over and over again. At university, I used to print out my favourite Literotica stories in the college computer room and keep them on the table next to my bed. Before that, it was “readers’ letters” dog-eared (and carefully not spunked over) in the porn mags I nicked from the local newsagent as a teenager; or steamy scenes in mainstream novels (Birdsong, Disclosure, the Jean Auel series) that I could borrow from the school library and wank to in the toilets.
If a story or scenario turns me on once, I know it will probably do so on a regular basis – and that the more I read it, the more vivid the accompanying mental images will become, till I reach a point where my eyes only really have to skim across the words themselves.
All that said, the first erotica for which I actually paid good money was an anthology that wore its literary credentials with pride. The Erotic Review’s Bedside Companion, edited by Rowan Pelling, was published in 2000, and contains contributions from Alain de Botton, India Knight, Auberon Waugh, and David Aaronovitch, among others. Of course I didn’t cotton on to the implications of that until it was too late: never one to heed conventional wisdom, I’d completely ignored the rather daunting list of authors and judged the book purely by its cover.
The initial result of my oversight was disappointment. As I lay in bed and flicked through the first few stories, my pulse failed to quicken and my cock resolutely refused to stir. I was entertained and amused, but in no way aroused, and it felt like I’d been tricked somehow as a result. I persevered nevertheless, determined both to find something better suited to my tastes, and to tease out the erotic potential that I’d clearly missed in the stories I’d already read.
Eventually, 75 pages and 18 stories in, I came across The Swimming Pool, by Justine Dubois. To this day I couldn’t tell you why it hooked me, but I do know for a fact that it was the first time I was conscious of being turned on by something I could clearly identify as erotica, rather than ‘just’ sex. It’s only a short piece – no more than 1200 words – but the author uses sex to tell a story and to draw her characters. There is a symbiotic relationship between the dynamic they have and the way they fuck: each feeds into and reinforces the other.
It’s also pretty filthy.
“He again lifts the black elastic to one side to reveal the pink honey moisture glistening between her flurry of pubic hair. As he does so, he also lifts the long loose leg of his swimming trunks and, taking his erection firmly in hand, strokes it up and down the length of her groin, up and down, a melting lubrication between them. But he does not enter.”
At that stage I’d never felt that ‘melting lubrication’ between my body and someone else’s. I’d never allowed my finger to “delve between the corrugated folds of [her] flesh”, as the male character does in the next paragraph, or entered a woman “unhesitantly, following through in one swift movement to the core of her.” For some reason though, the writing was evocative enough that I could shut my eyes and imagine each of those things. It made me hot and shivery, no matter how many times I read it, and without fail it made me come.
My reading tastes and habits have evolved and expanded over the years, and that anthology has gathered dust on various bookshelves as a result, but I thought about it for the first time in a long while on holiday the other week. My last three nights were spent in a gite about 30km east of Bordeaux. It was part of a converted farm, and was surrounded by hot, dusty fields and vineyards, as far as the eye could see. My apartment (one of three) had a lovely little terrace, but the main relief from the soporific heat came in the form of the swimming pool, available for all guests to use and surrounded by wooden decking and a handful of sun loungers.
The woman who runs the place is Australian and in her early 40s. She’s been living in France for 16 years, but still had that air of someone who’s conscious of being an outsider. I chatted to her a few times over the course of the three days, and she was perfectly friendly in the sort of slightly detached way that people often are when talking to paying guests, but I didn’t really notice her until my final afternoon, when she walked out from the house to the pool area as I prepared to enter the water.
“They sit on a low stone wall by a swimming pool. Music filters through the stillness around them, emanating from the kitchens of the big house. Their hostess approaches, crossing the lawn, her body at a slight tilt as she weaves her way amongst the miniature army of sun loungers . . . She takes off her dress, a simple construction, much like an old-fashioned pinafore, made more elegant by the delicate printed silk of its gauze-like texture. Beneath it she wears a black swimsuit, cut high at the legs. She is tall and slim of build, with high rounded breasts, her legs long. Her figure is that rarity, it looks better undressed than dressed. Had her face not worn such a look of anxiety, she, too, would be beautiful.”
From behind my shades, I watched Simone peel off her summer dress and stretch out on a lounger. I took in the simple, elegant lines of her swimsuit and of her long, slim body underneath it. She applied sunscreen slowly, methodically, a frown of concentration on her face as her skin glistened in the afternoon light.
I waded slowly into the water and immersed myself fully, conscious of the way my cock was starting to thicken and throb inside my trunks. That whole scene came back to me with startling clarity. I remembered not just the words themselves, but the feelings they evoked in me and the things they made me want.
I resurfaced on the other side of the pool and basked in the shimmering heat for a few seconds. I felt sun-kissed and horny, but I didn’t look back over to Simone for further inspiration – instead I focused on details I thought I’d long forgotten. The way “he raises her onto his now-kneeling lap, wrapping her legs around his waist like a scarf.” Or how “he takes off her glasses, exposing her pale blue eyes, and almost without preamble places his tongue in her mouth.”
My thighs were tense and a bit shaky as I hauled myself up onto the decking. I turned as I did so, to make sure she couldn’t see my erection, and hurriedly wrapped a towel around my waist. After a final glance over my shoulder, I dashed across the grassy lawn and gravel drive, back to the cool, dark safety of my apartment. I felt like I was 19 all over again, desperate for something I still needed other people to describe to me. I didn’t even make it to the bedroom before yanking down my shorts and wrapping my hand around my cock.
In the end, it’s that loosening of self-control that I crave when I read erotica – or smut of any kind. I want to feel it in my stomach, as well as between my legs, and I want to be halfway to orgasm before I give in and actually touch myself. With Eroticon now just a week away, it was good to be reminded of what that feels like – and of the impact it can have.