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In fiction, why is sex so often scary? Isn’t it supposed to be fun, the most beautiful, life-affirming thing around? Yet in book after book, and in movies, too, sex is chillingly portrayed as being a tool of the Powers of Darkness. Far from being the source of life, it is presented as an expressway to death and a shortcut to hell.
By way of answer, let me talk about one of my books that deals with erotic horror. In Steam Heat, available from MuseItUp Publishing at http://tinyurl.com/7muafug, Chad Benson enters a steam room and lies down:
Ah, the heat felt good! He'd sweat a bit and decide who he'd see this weekend. Maybe
someone kinky like Michelle.
Lying down, he covered his eyes with his towel. His chest rose and fell in the hot, humid air.
The door opened and closed. Listening, he could hear no footsteps. How odd. Was the person simply standing there? As he started to remove his towel, a hand caught his.
"I don't want you to see," a soft voice said.
"No, Chad. It spoils the fun."
It was the redhead! Obviously, she'd seen him watching her and had dumped her loser before finding out his name. He grinned.
"Can't I even peek?"
"No, it could prove dangerous. After all, I might be Medusa."
He laughed, imagining her lovely face. "Hey, come on. If you looked at Medusa—"
"Shhh. Don't even say it." Fingers slid behind his head, tying his towel securely so he couldn't pull it off. A moment later, he felt sharp nails glide down his chest and stomach and start to remove his trunks.
"What's the matter? Don't you like to live dangerously?"
What was with this girl? Having her strip him while he was blindfolded put him at a decided disadvantage, put her in control. What’s more, they were practically in plain sight! Any moment someone could come in.
Something in her voice stilled his protest, soothed it away. "Okay," he shrugged. "Only you get to peek and I don't. It hardly seems fair."
Her hand took his and glided it along a smooth, bare thigh, up her stomach to her breasts.
He caught his breath. She was naked!
Okay, cool off. The first thing this scene suggests is that when we have sex (or make love, if you prefer), we put ourselves potentially at a great disadvantage. We have decided to trust somebody in the most vulnerable experience of our lives, and all our defenses are down. This is scary and horrific. At best, our partner may be displeased by our body and our performance and even snicker, thereby shredding our self-esteem. At worst, well, I’ll leave that to your imagination. In the scene from Steam Heat, the hero has been stripped and blindfolded, submitting passively while his unknown partner has assumed control. What’s more, as he notes, they are “practically in plain sight!” At any moment, others might walk in and not only witness his humiliation but contribute to it.
So, one reason sex is scary is that so often, it is both dangerous and a dangerous leap of faith. We never know when we might be embarrassed or worse, even destroyed. Yes, sex can be the greatest and most loving way to connect with someone, but it can also be the most terrifying way to have that connection destroyed forever.
Ask yourself this: Do any of us ever really know the person or persons we make love to? As in my story, how do we know the person we desire isn’t really a “Medusa” or monster guilty of unmentionable sins? How do we know that person won’t betray us?
Well, that may be laying it on a bit thick, but just think how closely love and hate are connected and how quickly and completely the former often turns into the latter. Think of America’s soaring divorce rate, or the feuding couple in The War of the Roses.
A second reason sex is often tied to horror is thanatos, or the death wish or death drive. In Elizabethan literature, the verb “die” was a common euphemism for having an orgasm. Put another way, why are the “Twilight” books and movies so popular? Fall in love with a vampire, and you can become one of the Undead forever. Or get raped by Satan as in Rosemary’s Baby, and you can become Satan Jr.’s mother. Yes, indeed, having sex means that you skate on very thin ice, especially if you’re ambivalent and part of you wishes to crack it and fall through—to spiritual death. Want to take chances and walk on the dark side? It’s easy, wrap your limbs and soul around a vampire. Or use sex in a hundred different ways to hurt someone, including yourself. Bondage and whips, sadism and masochism, here I come!
I don’t want to give away any secrets, but the fear of and desire for death is also a part of my story Steam Heat. Is not embracing death and oblivion the most frightening experience of all? Doesn’t it turn folks on?
I’m sure there are other reasons why sex is often portrayed as horrifying. On a positive note, sex is also shown as funny, glorious, and loving, the most important thing that makes us human. It’s just that like so much else in human life, sex can be twisted and misused. Ultimately, it can be a force of transcendence or of pain.
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Don't want to cool down? You can buy Steam Heat here.
You can visit John Rosenman on his website.