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Eden Bradley Erotica

Monday, February 18, 2008
You say vagina, I say...
...almost anything else.
One of my books, EXOTICA: SEVEN DAYS OF KAMA SUTRA, NINE DAYS OF ARABIAN NIGHTS, was reviewed recently on a blog which states they do book reviews from a feminist viewpoint. The reviewer complimented my writing and seemed to like my book in general, but had a few issues, one of which was that I failed to use the term 'vagina' in describing female genitalia. The message I got was that I was letting down feminists, and women in general, because I did not 'reclaim' this word.
Yaknow, I write erotica, It's supposed to be hot, sexy, titillating. The word 'vagina' is none of these things to me. It's clinical. It's like saying 'he stroked her epidermis' instead of 'he stroked her skin'. Or 'he kissed her cervical vertebrae' rather than 'he kissed the back of her neck'. A perfectly acceptable word, but it is just not sexy.
This reviewer said she understood why I had refrained, for the most part, from using words like 'pussy' very often, because they are a bit vulgar (actually, I like that word but my editor at Bantam prefers I limit my use of it), but she didn't like that the term I used most often was 'her sex'. Well, there are only so many words available, frankly, unless you want to revert to purple prose, but in contemporary erotic fiction, I'm not going to call it her 'tunnel o' love' or her 'blushing rosebud' or even her 'cunny'.
And it's not my job to reclaim anything for women. I don't have a political agenda. I don't claim to be a feminist author. I have my private views, sure, and some of those views are reflected in my writing in that I believe women are sexual beings and that it's a beautiful thing, something to be celebrated. But that's as far is it goes. That's why I write smut rather than The Vagina Monologues.
The other complaint this reviewer had was that the men in my book are both of Eastern decent (one is from India, one from Jordan). She said I was perpetuating the myth about exotic, Middle Eastern men sweeping white women off their feet, taking them to adventures overseas, never to return. Uh, the book is called 'Exotica'. The two stories are set in a pair of exotic fantasy environments, one of which is the Kama Sutra suite, and the other is the Arabian Nights suite. Should the heroes have been Vikings, instead? Some Joe normal American guy? (not that there is anything wrong with Joe America and you'll see him in some of my other books. His name won't be Joe, necessarily, but you get my drift...). I write fantasy. And I happen to think men of Eastern decent are hot. That's just my thing, so I found a way to live out that personal fantasy in one of my books.
Another reviewer was upset that I didn't make my heroines women of color. You just cannot please everyone. Nor do I try to please anyone but myself (and my editor, of course-this is a business, after all, and she's the boss). If readers like it, that's icing on the cake. I write my stories. If you want to write about blond men and women of color and use the word 'vagina', you can write your own book, thank you very much.
So-what do you think? Do you think the word 'vagina' is sexy? Do you think as fiction writers we have any sort of social responsibility, or are we just here to entertain?
posted by Eden Bradley-Eve Berlin at 12:08 PM -
  • At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Elaina said…

    I agree with everything you said. Political agenda aside, you are writing what you want to write and not to appease the market (Somewhat) You can't make all the people happy all of the time. Too much sex, not enough sex, the use of the word cock or calling a penis his member (I still get a giggle outa that one)
    The people who choose to read your books should already be going into it with a pretty open mind, so why get hung up on wordage, race or any other particularity. It's erotica for goodness sakes. Enjoy it!

  • At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sheesh, some people take themselves much too seriously. It's a work of erotic fiction, designed to entertain, not educate, or facilitate some woman's self esteem reclamation.

    Write what you want, what you like, and what your editor will publish. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't want to read it.


  • At 12:49 PM, Blogger L.K. Campbell said…

    I agree. I don't like the clinical terms either. I mean, is it sex or is it a gynecological exam?

  • At 12:54 PM, Blogger Portia Da Costa said…

    I agree too, Eden. You're telling your story in your way in your voice, why should you have to comply with other people's agendas?

  • At 1:05 PM, Blogger Lauren Murphy said…

    I agree with everything you said! The word vagina is soooo boring. Blah, it makes me feel like I'm back in sex ed. Um...thanks but no thanks! Fiction is a form of entertainment and has nothing to do with furthering political agendas. And seriously why did the heroin have to be a woman of color? What did that have to do with anything? I think people write about what they know best. So if you're not a woman or man of color why should you be expected to write about one and vice versa. Seriously, some people just take themselves way too seriously. (Ha I just said seriously like 8 times in the same paragraph. Someone needs to work on her editing.)

  • At 1:05 PM, Blogger Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said…

    I agree too. Vagina is not sexy. Never will be. I realize that many authors write books in order to 'teach', to make a statement or convey some deep meaning that they want others to understand and share. I don't read those books. I want to enjoy myself when I read and kudos for not 'reclaiming' anything.

  • At 1:23 PM, Blogger Sela Carsen said…

    Actually, I found the implied racism somewhat amusing. I mean, if the heroes were men of color, then the implication that your heroines should ALSO be women of color is a little ... segregationist. Why do they have their grubby terrorist hands on pure white American women! Go repress your own culture!

    Other than that, the word vagina is just icky. And if you're not called to write feminist vagina fiction, then you shouldn't do it. You're an extraordinary smut writer, though. *gg* Go with your strengths!

  • At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Gwenith said…

    Gee...while we are at it, how come your characters weren't lesbians? Why did they need a man to fulfill them?

  • At 1:40 PM, Blogger Dana Belfry said…

    You can't please everyone, nor would you really want to because how boring would that be? I think particular types of feminists limit themselves by focusing too specifically on their pet interests. Human beings are diverse and fascinating creatures, celebrate that! Who cares if you use their term or not?!

  • At 1:57 PM, Blogger Elise said…

    Well, I completely agree that vagina is more clinical than I prefer in my erotica.

    For the other stuff - well, I'm kind of offended. Would the reviewers have been similarly distressed if the women had represented varied racial backgrounds but the men were all Joe America (to borrow your usage)? Because to me this just SCREAMS double standard.

    I rather thought the whole point of feminism was to empower women to pursue whatever fulfilled them as women. Are feminists now going to dictate what fulfills me? *mutters dire things*

    I'm going home to sit on the couch, eat bon bons, and fantasize about being abducted by pirates who will sell me into bondage in a harem.

  • At 2:08 PM, Blogger R.G. ALEXANDER said…

    What everyone else said.
    That is just ridiculous.

  • At 2:15 PM, Blogger Natasha said…

    I also agree with you, Eden. These are fantasies, written in the language of fantasy, not anatomy class. And we certainly can't be everything to all readers - especially all in one book! Honestly, sometimes people just have to complain about something!

  • At 2:47 PM, Blogger angeleque said…

    The only person I have a responsibility too in my writing is myself.

    I choose to write women and men of color or have characters of different ethnic heritages as my main characters. But that's my preference. It's not to say I won't write non-ethnic characters (cause I also write inter-racial stories too).

    There are plenty women/people of color in erotica, erotic romance, erotic fiction and books in general both in print and e-pub. People just have to look, if that's what they want to read.

    And I don't like clinical terms. Books are fantasy, fictional not text books or medical exams.

    The writer has to write what she feels is best for that particular book or story and not cater to others agendas.

  • At 3:07 PM, Blogger Kate Pearce said…

    I think vagina is too clinical as well. For some reason I like pussy too and her sex -it depends whom I 'm writing for as to which way it goes :)
    Sometimes I fear feminism has been highjacked. I thought it was about supporting all women's choices, so if I want to read/write erotic romance novels and fantasize about getting locked up in a harem that should be okay, right? Apparently's FANTASY right?

  • At 4:14 PM, Blogger bettie said…

    Readers who want to see something in fiction that they aren't getting from current offerings should write their own. Really, let those reviewers write erotica and make the word "vagina" sexy.

    Lordy knows what they'd think of me and my fondness for words like "twat" and "cunt" in addition to the oh-so-vulgar "pussy." Blech!

    As long as human beings get excited by the dangerous and the forbidden, erotica can never be politically correct--and it shouldn't be--but that doesn't mean that every interracial pairing is some example of western imperialist cultural fetishization.

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes a hot read is just, you know, a hot read.

  • At 4:16 PM, Blogger Karen Erickson said…

    Very interesting and I agree with what everyone's said, I can't add much more. I definitely think vagina is too clinical and not very sexy. In fact I just read a book where it was sprinkled throughout (I was thinking cos of a variety factor) and every time I came across it, it threw me right out.

    Unbelievable, some of those reviewers' comments. And you definitely can't please everyone!

    Just keep doing what you're doing cos I think you're fantastic. ;)

  • At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sounds a tad racist to me to take that opinion with the heros, and seeing VAGINA everywhere would make me THROW the book with Great Force. Her Sex is one I love, I don't like Pussy at all and if the character can handle it, cunt. I Reclaimed that one myself.

    Eva Gale

  • At 6:30 PM, Blogger Eden Bradley said…

    Bettie said:
    "As long as human beings get excited by the dangerous and the forbidden, erotica can never be politically correct--and it shouldn't be--but that doesn't mean that every interracial pairing is some example of western imperialist cultural fetishization."
    Yes! Thank you. I think I love you.
    Oh-and the most interesting thing to me was that the feminist reviewer mentioned that she had read some of my BDSM erotica and loved it. In all of my BDSM material to date, the women submit sexually to the men. I would think that would have really ticked her off. Huh. Guess she practices her own brand of feminism, as is her right. Wonder if she'll enjoy the fem-Domme book I'm writing later this year?
    Now I'm going to go sit on the couch with Elise, eat some bon bons, and and get into her pirate abduction fantasy. Nice! *G*

  • At 6:43 PM, Blogger Kaige said…

    Amen, Eden! I admit I couldn't believe it when I saw "Va-jay-jay" on the cover of a magazine the other day in the grocery store, but that's a completely different extreme I think.

    I think it's well written if it doesn't make me giggle like I was in a 5th grade sex-ed class all over again.

    Vagina's for the OB/GYN's office.

  • At 6:54 PM, Blogger Red Garnier said…

    I happen to find your sex scenes and your books completely, sinfully delicious - and I wouldn't change a word on them. You RAWK, Eden. And your heroes are HOT, and leave the term vagina for the gynecologist, thank you. LOL!

  • At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Julie said…

    Wow, I never realized that the word "vagina" had to be reclaimed. I've heard that comment made about the word "cunt" (see The Vagina Monologues) and even "pussy" but never about "vagina."

    Second, I totally agree with Elise. I always thought that feminism meant that I could choose whatever I wished in regards to my life, my sexuality, my thoughts, etc. I don't want some group of guys telling me what I can or can't do. But I also don't want some group of women telling me that I'm not acting like a woman. ::grrr::


    I rather thought the whole point of feminism was to empower women to pursue whatever fulfilled them as women. Are feminists now going to dictate what fulfills me? *mutters dire things*

  • At 7:29 PM, Blogger Dawn Halliday said…

    Sigh. I just think it's all incredibly silly. People will always find something to complain about, won't they?

  • At 7:44 PM, Blogger Eden Bradley said…

    Julie said:
    'I don't want some group of guys telling me what I can or can't do. But I also don't want some group of women telling me that I'm not acting like a woman. ::grrr::'
    Exactly! And it's fiction, for heaven's sake. It's not a feminist treatise.
    Yes Dawn, some people do just have to find something to complain about, I swear! Uh...I guess this is my complaint today-lol!
    *smooches* to Red! And no, that is not an anti-feminist act. I just like ya. ;)

  • At 7:44 PM, Blogger Kayko May said…

    Lord have mercy. Hahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa:))
    Like serioiusly. Hahhaaa. Your writing was pretty darn good then, if that's all they came up with. Vagina and color. Teeheehee. And now I have to stop, before I post a really caustic, scathing response, which will come back to bite me.
    Always the same old issues, disguising themselves in one form or another. Women, sex and race.

  • At 10:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    No, I don't think the word vagina is sexy. Quite honestly, I have yet to find a name that I really like. (not sure what that says about me, but oh well.) :)
    Your books are to entertain, it's erotica, not a how to on becoming a good little... you know what, I have to bite my tongue.
    I don't want to be preached to about this or that when I'm reading these types of books. I just want to get caught up, and enjoy the ride. It's an escape from the norm. Keep 'em coming!

  • At 2:30 AM, Blogger Savanna Kougar said…

    Eden, I couldn't agree with you more. Vagina is a clinical word. It's not sexy. There's nothing to 'reclaim' about it, IMHO. What? Are we supposed to reclaim a word used to describe the anatomy in a professional way -- and a word, I might point out, that was created from a patriachal culture.
    Furthermore, I write the erotic romance fantasies I enjoy, what turns me on, with the hope it will appeal to others. I'm not here to fulfill someone else's agenda on what they believe womanhood and sexuality is, or is not. Write your own books. I say more power to all romance erotic authors. Create the story of your heart and your 'preferred' sexuality.

  • At 3:30 PM, Blogger Toni Sue said…

    Huh, let's see..

    Her dripping vaginal cavity begged for his attention.

    Nope, not working for me. Kinda brings to mind an OB who used too much KY ;)

    Let her have her opinion and you just keep on cashing your royalty checks! :)

  • At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Emily Ryan-Davis said…

    I don't think vagina is sexy, but neither do I think it's especially unsexy. I would rather read vagina than "cunny" (what on earth?) or "crotch" (which I hate), and see nothing wrong with "her sex" (what's wrong with THAT?).

  • At 8:36 PM, Anonymous Lauren Dane said…

    I find it rather ironic that a woman taking you to task for what she perceives is you bowing to other people's language issues - is in turn attempting to shape your language issues by her own perceptions. I'm a feminist and proud to say so, but it seems to me feminism shouldn't be about a group of women forcing another woman to use words THEY feel should be reclaimed. How is that not an attempt to control women's sexuality and creativity? It's silly and counterintuitive as well as patronizing.

    If I found vagina to be sexy, I'd use it. I expect you would as well. As authors, we use words we like to use - for instance - pussy and cunt in my case and avoid those we don't (like spurt, a word I hate with a great passion!)

    Sorry this is so long. It makes me shirty when people use feminism to oppress other women.

  • At 9:47 PM, Blogger Marie Harte said…

    What a great topic! I think as an author you use whatever the heck word you want. And yeah, it's pretty hypocritical for feminists to tell you, a female writer, what words you should or shouldn't use. I do think "vagina" sounds clinical as well, and only use it when the character/situation calls for it. And hello, it's fantasy. Of course you put whoever you want in your stories however you want. Nothing irks me more than people telling me how to write or express myself. Amen, Eden. Again, wonderful topic. Got a lot of people thinking... :)


  • At 10:26 AM, Blogger Eden Bradley said…

    Lauren said:
    '...but it seems to me feminism shouldn't be about a group of women forcing another woman to use words THEY feel should be reclaimed. How is that not an attempt to control women's sexuality and creativity? It's silly and counterintuitive as well as patronizing.'
    My thoughts exactly! It reeks of the same stink as when people use religion as an excuse to attack other people. Totally hypocritical.
    I do sometimes edit language in my books to adhere to my editor's preferences, but she's the one who decides whether or not I get a paycheck. Some people may see that as selling out-I see it as something simple I am perfectly willing to do without feeling that I've compromised my integrity. I'd rather be published with a few very minor limitations than to have all my books sitting in a drawer where no one will ever see them.
    IMO, it's this sort of silliness spouting that makes other feminists-and women-look bad. Is she entitled to her opinion? Sure. But don't put me down because I don't think-or write-the way you want me to. Her remarks had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of my writing, and it was supposed to be a book review, wasn't it?

  • At 1:44 PM, Blogger Eden Rivers said…

    Eesh, as a card carrying feminist, I don't think I've ever used the word "vagina" in my writing. Cervix, a few times, as in "he bumped it--ouch," because there's just not any really good word for that bit of anatomy. I've done my bit for a feminist reclaiming of "pussy" but "vagina" is a term for OB visits, or for your doctor describing how many stitches you need after a difficutl childbirth, lol.

  • At 3:20 PM, Blogger Nina Pierce said…

    Vagina, as wonderful a part of the female body as it is... has no place in erotica, IMO. sensual is the key word here. And vagina just ain't it!

    Big ole raspberry to those reviewers.

  • At 2:00 PM, Blogger Will Belegon said…

    I'm going to echo the chorus. Vagina is a clinical word. If I came to a place where it fit, I'd use it I suppose, but it's just not sexy. Neither is penis for that matter. I sewar, the first image that would be likely to flash in my mind is the little boy in Kindergarten Cop saying "Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina." Funny in the movie, sure. Sexy and erotic? Uh, NO.

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Eden Bradley-Eve Berlin
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