Five feminist moments from Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 3
Last night the most magical time in my life as an erotica editor happened: I received a box of my latest anthology, Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 3. The official print pub date isn’t until December 12, but I order my copies directly from the printer so I can get them as fast as possible. At a time when nearly every day we are hearing accusations of sexual misconduct, abuse or assault by predatory men misusing their power such as Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K., I’m extremely proud to have my name on a book of sexy, powerful, female-driven stories by 21 women authors from around the world.
Though I don’t have a book fetish like the protagonist of “Bibliophile” by Dee Blake, one of those 21 tales, as I paged through one of these beautiful, sexy books, I was enamored and excited. [And by “sexy book,” I don’t just mean what’s inside; there’s something deeply sexy to me about touching a book’s glossy cover, about seeing pristine, hot-off-the-press pages, about admiring the design and care that went into it.] I was also thinking about feminism, and some of the standout feminist moments I’ve found between its pages. While this isn’t marketed as a book of “feminist erotica” and I can’t claim it is one because I don’t know if that’s how the authors would describe their stories, there are some timely and some timeless elements to these tales that I think will appeal to anyone looking for erotica that doesn’t speak down to women, but builds them up. Just as I believe sexual knowledge is power, I also believe that having women see their true desires reflected in erotica is also important. For me, this means that while characters can of course question themselves, their fantasies, and their bodies, they also talk back to a culture that does plenty of questioning, blaming and shaming.
In some cases, this means defying the need to categorize us as straight or gay; it could mean engaging in polyamory or other forms of non-monogamy; in others, it means defying the still-prevalent cultural taboo against mixing sex and money. While I intend my books to be erotic entertainment first and foremost, and selected the stories I think will make the hottest anthology possible, what I see when I read these tales are stories that respect women and our ability to make our own sexual choices. A year from now, Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 4, will have a theme of outsiders and risk, chosen directly because of the election of Donald Trump and my desire to capture diverse, multicultural erotica.
But right now, Volume 3 is here and while, as I said, I can’t speak for the authors as to whether they intended these tales to be “feminist erotica,” nor can I get in the minds of readers as to whether they’ll agree with my assessment, I read these as powerful feminist moments in a book already packed with bold, smart women who go after what they want regardless of what society tells them they “should” want.
1.The naked woman showing off for another woman in a Pussy Grabs Back t-shirt during a sexy photo shoot
In “Watch Me Come Undone,” August McLaughlin’s protagonist Belle recounts a life-changing photo shoot that gives her a lot more than she bargained for. One aspect I especially liked is that she weaved in the power of being an exhibitionist with Belle’s bisexual desires in a seamless way. Here she also gives a nod to the fact that while women don’t want our pussies grabbed without our consent, we are still deeply sexual beings. The key difference is that we get to decide. Here’s part of how that plays out (there’s much more after this initial encounter):
I placed my other hand in my pants, pressing a finger between my dripping, swollen lips. As I added my drenched digits to my mouth, tasting my wetness, I swore I heard Jayden stifle a moan. How hard he must be. How hungry.
Outside the window, I glimpsed a woman walking by. She was dressed casually, in jeans and a PUSSY GRABS BACK tee. The irony. She did a double take, then paused. I looked her in the eyes, encouraging her to keep watching, continuing to suck my fingers on one hand and moving the other to my protruding breasts.
2. Becoming a drag king
What drew me to “Romance and Drag” by Lyla Sage was how it utterly upends the concept of gender roles. Both main characters play with gender and, through that process, get to reclaim aspects of themselves that the culture around them had told them were incorrect or problematic. As Max Notorious, our narrator gets to live out a side of herself that fulfills here. Here’s a little more on her introduction to drag:
Ever since a former fling took me to a drag king show years ago, I’ve been mesmerized by male drag. I’d heard of drag queens before, and I’d seen some actresses and female models dress up as guys in magazine layouts, but this show was a different kind of animal altogether. These kinds served up the entire male illusion, down to the chest hairs and the bulges in their pants.
Coincidentally, when I started doing drag, I realized that I was attracted to women in addition to men. I hooked up with girls who swooned over my boy look. And I knew I was doing drag right when some men mistook me for one of their own. The bi guys in particular were intrigued by me, intrigued that I was the best of both worlds: I looked masculine enough to fulfill their male-loving side, but I also had a vagina for them to fulfill their love of women.
3. Roleplaying as a cheerleader
Kim and Jody, the lesbian couple in “After the Heist” by Aya de Leon (who can also be found in her Justice Hustlers #1 novel Uptown Thief), are thieves by profession. On their own time, they entertain each other and part of that involves roleplaying in a way that defies our cultural stereotypes of cheerleaders as straight girls. We learn later in the story that Jody’s family “had wanted her to be a cheerleader, but she wanted to date one.” Together, they queer this common image and turn it on its head.
In the center of the bed, Kim wore a yellow and green cheerleading uniform. She was posed in a half split, with pom-poms in the air.
“Go Jody! Go Jody!” she cheered.
Jody chuckled and blushed a little. “Oh goodie,” she said. “We’re playing the girl soccer star and the cheerleader.”
“You did great out there tonight,” Kim said. “I thought you deserved some appreciation on the home field.” Kim did a series of high kicks that revealed that she wasn’t wearing any underwear.
Jody grinned and walked slowly over to the bed, letting her towel drop. She lay down below Kim.
“Gimme a J!” Kim said.
“J,” Jody said.
Kim planted her feet on either side of Jody’s head and spelled out her name, while shaking her hips from side to side.
Jody grinned from beneath her. “I’m loving this half-time show,” she said.
4. Hiring a male sex worker
In making it “Making It Feel Right” by Annabel Joseph, Myra hires a man to dominate her. This act alone is something we’re not used to hearing about from women. But where things get really interesting is that he doesn’t simply arrive and perform his job in a rote way. He listens to her, and in turn, gives her space to discover an aspect of her kinky impulses and desire to dominate (without necessarily being a Domme) that she hadn’t considered before. What I particularly loved about this story is that Myra gets to discover what she truly wants at this specific moment, without labels, without pressure. That her hired guy, Daniel, makes that happen for her in a delicious way is icing on the cake.
Personally, I sometimes think there’s pressure on women to always know exactly what we want in the bedroom and if we don’t, it can feel like we’ve somehow failed to live up to a different kind of cultural ideal: the strong woman. But questioning who we may have thought we were can lead us into sexual pleasures we could never have imagined. Here’s what happens when he asks her why she wants to dominate him:
“I don’t know. I think it’s because you’re so strong and beautiful, and I want to be in control of . . . of . . . ” She waved her arms, delineating all of him, broad shoulders to manly feet. “Of all this strength and beauty, just for a while. The thing is, I don’t know how to do it.”
He refuted that statement with a tilt of his head. “I think you know. You’ve already imagined what you want, so make it happen. You’re paying for me. Use me.”
Use me. Why did those words give her such a thrill? Because you’re not submissive, sweetie, and apparently never have been.
5. Claiming a fetish after childhood abuse
In “Infused Leather” by Dr. J., Angie and Hal bond over a mutual fetish for leather, but their interest goes much deeper than simply the feel of the sensual material. For Angie, as she explains to Hal, after surviving abuse at the hands of her uncle, “When I take control, I win.” Together, the pair use their fetish to transcend their painful past. Writing about a heavy topic like sexual abuse and still crafting an erotic, arousing story is no easy feat, but Dr. J. does it marvelously. Here’s how they decide to take their relationship to a new level after a shoe-shine event:
“Hmph, we’re a pair.”
“Yeah, confirmed little leather freaks.”
For a long moment, we held each other’s gaze, locked in our own space, transported away from everything around us.
“You want to take it another step?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Yeah, let’s put pleasure into something that hurt us in the past.”
“In any way it feels right, like how we just marked our leather for each other when we shoe shined.”
“Do you think it will help us?”
“I can hope, Ang.”
And that’s how our leather sex began.
You may find other moments in the book that strike you as feminist, or you may find none. What I can promise you is that all of these stories sizzle with sexual tension, heat and realistic desires, whether the women involved are fulfilling outrageous sexual fantasies or falling in love.
Order Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 3 for Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks or Kobo, or in print from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells or find it at your local independent bookstore via IndieBound. For international orders, click here.
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1 and 2, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com. You can follow Rachel on BookBub to get notified about new releases and ebook sales.