Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How Dirty is "Dirty"?

I've been taking a bit of a break lately ... in the last eleven months, I've released five books (Fat Chance, Prescription For Love, Wrestling Harmony, Selkie, and Fighting For Freedom), I've done a blog tour (for Fat Chance), I've written several guest posts on different blogs, and I've set up a YouTube channel. I've been active on Facebook (most of the time) and on Twitter (sometimes, but I'm still learning to like it).

It's been a busy year for me, with a lot of change, and I am feeling a bit ... tired?
So I've been reading. Books, blogs, the news, whatever I can get my hands on, really.
I've even been reading some back posts on a few blogs that I like.

One such post was this one, where author Jenny Trout (who also writes erotic fiction as Abigail Barnette) debates the current lingo attached to erotic reading. Erotic fiction is often referred to under terms like "naughty," or "raunchy," or "nasty." Then there's "sexy," or "hot," or even "dirty." For those of us who like the voyeuristic appeal of knowing everything that happens in the story - even the sexy parts - these "dirty" stories invite us into the bedroom, the bathtub, the backseat of the car, or wherever else our favorite couple is getting naked.

Now, in opposition to this type of "dirty" fiction, there's Christian romance, YA romance, and a few other forms of "clean" romantic reading. For those of us who don't need (or want) the sex to be included in the story, these "clean" stories give us the romance and the emotional connection while leaving us tactfully shut out of the bedroom. They leave us to fill in the blanks, or to ignore them at will.

But really, why is one "clean" and the other "dirty," and how does one choose which type to read (or write)? Generally, the choice is simple enough ... if you want to know all the gritty sexy details, you 're going for the "dirty" fiction, and you're often thankful to be reading it on a kindle or other e-reader so that the other people in the doctor's office waiting room can't see what you're reading. If that makes you uncomfortable, or for some reason you simply dislike the full disclosure of "dirty" reading, then you're going for something that tactfully leaves the sex out, even if you are perfectly aware that some sex in going on. There are even really extra-"clean" stories where there is simply no sex at all, not even implied.

And in such a mixed market, how does one choose what to write? On one side of things, if you're a "clean" writer, you might come off as too much of a prude for the "dirty" readers. And if you write lots of really intimate, detailed sex scenes, you might come off as a bit too open. A bit too "dirty."

Throughout Jenny's post, I kept finding myself pulling back to think on different books that I've read, both "clean" and "dirty," and how those books reflect on my personal reading (and writing) style. I've read my fair share of both styles, but in my writing, I like to think I'm somewhere in the middle. Maybe not entirely "clean" or "dirty."

But, like Jenny asked: Why do I have to identify as either?

Sure, people want to know what they're getting - a strictly "clean" reader might have been rather offended in reading something like 50 Shades of Grey. Likewise, a "dirty" reader with an affinity for BDSM, LGBT, or some other such "kink" might be highly disappointed to have picked up something decidedly "clean."

So there's that, the need to label based on the market, so that people can find what they are looking for. But there's another side of the issue, too, beautifully addressed in Jenny's post. In themselves the words "clean" or "dirty" imply that one style is good and the other is bad, respectively. One is something we can read in front of the children without answering questions about the image on the cover, and the other is something we often feel obligated to read in private, unable (or ashamed) to share good finds with friends because it's "dirty." But is it really?

I know a person who reads pretty exclusively "clean" writing. Even my occasional sex scenes are too "porny" for her, and she has told me that while she loves my stories, she skips the sex. I've even had someone tell me that those very "vanilla" sex scenes render my books no better than common "smut." On the other hand, my books really do not contain an awful lot of sex, nor is it generally very adventurous sex - I've been told that my books are a bit prudish and that while they are emotionally engaging, they leave something to be desired in that lack of frequent and detailed sex.

What do you think?


  1. Personally, I like both "dirty" books and "clean" books. It just depends on what mood I am in. I do feel that there should be some kind of label on any book that could be considered "dirty". Your books are not dirty or "porny" and nowhere near smut. A dirty book, in my opinion, is one that gives ALL of the details of the act. When I read a romance book, I do expect some act of sex at some point throughout the book, whether it be detailed or just built up to and left for the imagination.


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