Monday, February 19, 2007

The Best of Both Worlds? F/M/F themes in Erotic Romance

Okay, let’s start with a personal note: I’m bisexual. I like it here on the fence. Not only can I see my house from here, I can look into the neighbors’ bedrooms, and who knows, maybe the neighbors are cute chicks and hot guys. (No, I don’t actually spy on my neighbors. It’s a metaphor. Work with me.)

The point is, I like women—women’s bodies, women’s soft lips, women’s minds and attitudes. And it seems the longer I’m happily married, the more likely I am to completely crush on women, whether celebrities or people I actually know. (Maybe I need the balance to stay on the fence?)

And I’m not alone in this. A survey released in 2005 by the US Centers for Disease Control* concludes that 11.5% of women 18-44 have had sex with another woman at least once; 3% had fun with both men and women in the previous twelve months. Younger women seem to be considerably more adventurous in this area than older ones. (I always knew I was ahead of my time!) Not exactly overwhelming, but seemingly, more and more women are at least willing to admit to curiosity in this area.

How many? One not-exactly-scientific poll revealed 63% of women surveyed said they’d at least fantasized about same-sex encounters and/or threesomes. (Granted, this was a survey done by the men’s magazine Club—no big surprise that women who read a magazine full of pictures of naked women might be bi-curious!) Girls who date boys but don’t rule out girls are all over the media, and don’t even get me started with bi chic in the music industry and Hollywood. (Unless it involves Angelina Jolie deciding to leave Brad Pitt for, oh, Gina Torres, or better yet, staying with Brad and dating Gina too. Then I want video. Please.) And the mere existence of books with titles such The Straight Girl’s Guide to Sleeping with Chicks, Same-Sex in the City, and Threesome: How to Fulfill Your Favorite Fantasy is enough to let you know that "mostly-straight-but…" f/f and f/f/m-threesome fantasies have become pretty accepted.

Or have they?

There’s scads of absolutely brilliant lesbian erotica out there. (Check out the annual Best Lesbian Erotica and Ultimate Lesbian Erotica for a sampling. You might see some familiar names in the table of contents…) But if female bi-curiosity is running as rampant as it sometimes looks like it is, you’d think hot girl-on-girl action and juicy f/f/m threesomes would appear more often in erotic romances aimed at the mostly straight, but potentially curious, woman.

And, to my sorrow, they’re not.

“To my sorrow” not just because I want to read them, but because I want to write them. Threesomes, though challenging to write (what with pronoun problems, flipper arms, and choreography—and the cats don’t work as stunt doubles when I’m trying to figure out if three human bodies can actually align that way) are also a lot of fun. More pretty bodies in action! More opportunities for conflict and resolution! More potential love to go around! And of course, more orgasms!

On a more serious note, writing about “first times” allows you to explore all sorts of fascinating emotions, from desire to fear to curiosity. A woman going from bi-curious to actually making love to a woman for the first time, whether alone together or as part of a threesome, gives a writer ample room to play with the character’s emotional state as well as show a good old girly good time.

But this particular “first time” just doesn’t seem to be popular in erotic romance.

Two guys and a girl in lust and love? Popping up everywhere, in the small press, in e-books, and in books from Big New York Romance Lines. Guys getting hard for, and then falling hard for, other guys? Getting more mainstream by the day. Sexy lesbian romances? Check the small presses and the e-publishers and you’ll find them.

But a romance heroine who wants the best of both worlds—a muscular male and the girl of her dreams—and gets what she wants? If she’s out there, I haven’t found her yet. I’ve found m/m/f happy endings, but except in some older Black Laces—and we seem to be moving away from it as the stories become more traditionally romantic—no two women and a guy settling down in happy tri-ogamy.

What I’ve been finding is a tease at female bisexuality, a wink and a nod, and then back to the Almighty Penis.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me my hot sexy heroes and their appendages, and I understand that the majority of our female audience is primarily if not exclusively aroused by boy-bits, and the boy they’re attached to. But I get a bit tired of throwaway scenes, not really connected with the main plot, where the hero sets up some girl-girl smooching and sits back to watch, or does it because he knows, due to some astonishing male/domly intuition, that She Wants It. And then the second woman disappears without forming any real connection with the heroine other than an orgasm or two and nothing changes. The heroine gets no insights into herself, other women, life, the universe and everything—even though you’d think it would be worthy of at least a “Well, that was fun! I should try that again sometime.”

Okay, I get very tired of these scenes, this throwing in a “bi” scene that doesn’t add anything to the plot and doesn’t engage the heroine’s emotions. (Even in a negative way. It might be interesting if she decided that on second thought it had been a bad idea and it led to a conflict with the hero. But no, she just goes along…)

It reminds me too much of male-oriented porn, or the out-of-the-blue “oh, you’re bi? Want to have a threesome with me and my girlfriend” invitations that bi women really do get (usually from vaguely creepy guys whose girlfriends have zero interest in a f/m/f threesome anyway.) Bad enough dealing with that silliness in real life—can we at least get sexually confident, self-aware women enjoying the full spectrum of their sexuality in books that are supposed to be female fantasies, written by women for other women to enjoy? I’d like to think we females are capable of getting into our own girl-girl naughtiness if we feel so inclined and then grabbing a hunk to add to the fun. That we can set up a threesome to enjoy the best of both worlds and gratify our own desires as well as those of the guy in our life. (Or at least we can enjoy a well-written heroine who’s into it, just like we can one who’s a bit kinkier than we might be, or who’s dating a vampire, or something else outside our realm of experience or just plain impossible, but fun to read about and drool over.)

Could it be that—gasp!— we can appreciate the occasional HEA that involves both Mr. Right and Ms. Right, hard cock and hot pussy, a best girlfriend who’s also a lover and a male lover who’s also a best friend? Not two women sharing a man (I can see where it wouldn’t be a big hit with most female readers) but three people sharing each other.

Lots of readers seem to eat up that ending with two guys and a woman, but would they buy the other way around? Is that version of the happy ending a little too much female queerness for erotic romance, as opposed to erotica, to handle? Conventional publishing wisdom says the market isn’t there. But until recently, conventional publishing wisdom said there was no female market for male-male love stories, and now they’re selling like chocolate at the post-Valentine’s Day sale. So what do you think, fellow writers and gentle readers? FFM triads—bring it on or don’t bother?

* Okay, we don’t want to think about why the CDC needed to do this survey, but presumably they made efforts to do it carefully and objectively.


Alison Tyler said...

Oh, Teresa,

Luscious post.
And definitely... bring it on!
I had so much fun with the theme of thresomes (and moresomes) when editing Three-Way. But your post made me dig out that title and see how the players fell—F/M/F in Marilyn Jaye Lewis' delicious "Three for the Money." M/F/M in Dawn M. Pares ultra-sleek "Third Party." F/F/F/F/F in "Circle of Friends." M/F/F (on the phone) in 1-900-Fantasy. I think most readers are ready for female-dominated triads.
I'm interested to hear what other writers have to say...

Kate said...

Personally, f/m/f just doesn't do it for me. The only time I've used that combo in a book is when the hero is trying to work out exactly where the heroine's sexual interests lie and gives her the opportunity to make love with a woman.

I've also been told by publishers and readers that there isn't a market for it, which I agree is surprising because I think a lot of girls are now quite happy to get it on with their friends.

Maybe it will come-maybe we have to get the m/m/f out into the open before most women can explore their even deeper forbidden fantasies of f/f/m

Great post!

Mathilde Madden said...

Stoopid Blogger keeps eating my comments.

I wanted to say, recs:

Pat Califia - esp Macho Sluts - Laura Antonio's Leatherwomen anthologies. Also, not porn but, anything by Sarah Waters and Naomi Alderman's Disobedience. Oh, and Stella Duffy.

I hate to say this but I think a lot of the time f/f and f/m/f just aren't that well done. Maybe it's because they're porn cliches and that just means (unfairly) that writers have to raise their game a bit more.

In Peep Show I have a character, Lorne, who is either a drag king or a female-to-male transsexual. She was really, really fun to write and, although I only created her to use as a plot device/theme-echo type thing (Imogen the main character impersonates men too) she's someone I really want to come back to one day.

Mathilde Madden said...

There is also the excellent 'Cherry' by Charlotte Cooper, which is tragically out of print. Worth scouting for a copy.

There's a non-smut extract here

Nikki Magennis said...

Well, this is a fascinating subject. Thanks for raising it, Teresa!

I remember reading ‘My Secret Garden’ – in which there was a whole chapter of f/f fantasy, and not a single mention of m/m or m/f/m. That book is now ancient history in the Brave New World of female-oriented erotica. And these days the scales seem to have tipped in favour of m/m scenes, yes, I’d agree.

Me personally, I’m an omnivore in fantasy (and a tame hetero in real life). I’ll raise my hand as an example of all the things that you’re complaining about. I’m guilty of writing a scene in which ‘the hero sets up some girl-girl smooching and sits back to watch'. That, for me, is a turn on.
(I do like the sound of the Almighty Penis. Do you have a phone number?)

I would suggest that if anything is ‘wrong’ with any fantasies, it’s the fact that we feel we have to tailor them to the Great God/dess of Market Forces. One day we will all be free to explore whatever kind of menage/scenario we please. And no one will mention statistics...not even the Center for Disease Control (which sounds positively Orwellian. What on earth is it for?)

Alison Tyler said...

As an editor, I've never noticed that m/f/m is any better written than f/m/f or that m/m is better written than f/f. It seems like an odd theory to float. My favorite writers seem more than adept at crossing the genre lines. Some stellar f/f/m pieces in my recent memory include Tsaurah Litzky’s “Sharing the Love” (in A is for Amour), Tom Piccirilli’s oddly moving “Craving Faces” (in Three-Way—it’s f/f/m, in a fashion), Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “His Just Rewards” (f/f/m bondage piece in Naughty Stories 4), Saskia Walker’s sizzling “Things That Go On at Siesta Time” (f/f/m from NS3). I could go on…

Personally, I was pegged as a f/f writer early on. I wrote ten f/f books for Masquerade before making the transition to mostly hetero novels for Virgin. But I almost always include f/f or f/m/f scenes in my books… can't seem to get the topic out of my blood. :)

Mathilde Madden said...

Maybe I've just had some bad experiences. There are some f/f and f/m/f shorts I love and some novels (basically the ones I recc'd). I think what I haven't liked have been f/f scenes in mostly het novels that just often felt a bit tacked on.

I think there was a time when every erotic novel seemed to have a f/f scene and it sometimes felt like a bit of a box ticking excercise.

I am so divided over this issue it's weird. When I first started thinking of my response to this post I was planning to write, 'nah, not for me.' And then I turned around and saw all the lesbo-smut in my bookcase.

Oh, Alison, am I being an idiot over this? I'm am fully prepared to admit that when it comes to girl/girl smut I am one mixed up conflicted miss.

Alison Tyler said...

Oh, no. You're not an idiot! I've just been rambling.

And I'll admit, that I was thinking with the m/m or m/f/m blog post that I never write that genre. And then I remembered my life/and my daily posts to my blog, and realized, "Um, okay, moron, you just don't write it a lot in fiction..."

But as to what I receive in slush piles, what I was trying to say was that I can't think of one genre that comes off as better written/worse written. It's more (and I'm going to sound all pompous now) about the talent of the writers.

I know that I write better about subjects that are dear to me. But I also like to think that I'm able to write competently about things I've never done, or that aren't cherished turn-ons. (I've probably mentioned this before, but I have a patron who comes to me again and again for tickling stories. They are massive fun to write, but I would not want to be tied to a bed and tickled mercilessly as a regular activity.)

That said, there are certain themes that I've not personally been able to identify with in any way, and that I've avoided.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

I think one of the things I love about good FFM is that the women like each other. So often female relationships are about jealousy and competitiveness. It's fun to read about good friends who bring in a guy for added fun, or a couple who looks at one of their female friends and says "Hey, you're cute!"

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

A few replies:

Nikki: "I’m guilty of writing a scene in which ‘the hero sets up some girl-girl smooching and sits back to watch'. That, for me, is a turn on." It's been known to be a turn-on for me, too--I just get bored with it, especially when it's utterly devoid of emotion between the women. (If Heroine had been sighing over Girl #2 but was too shy to ask so Hero decides to set it up...well, bring it on!)

And I totally agree that I'd love to see the day when the great god/dess of market forces doesn't rule what gets published. Realistically, though, since publishing is a business, they do need to weigh if things will sell.

Tilly: Thanks for the recs! (I loved Lorne, BTW. Very intriguing in the glimpses we got of her.)

Tilly and Alison: I haven't noticed one particular flavor/subgenre being consistently "better" than others, but I do feel that a lot of the more obvious setups for f/f/m fun and games have been overused in porn so you do have to stretch the old imagination more. But that's a good thing, right!

Mathilde Madden said...

Ha ha, thanks Teresa. You know, I do have a half-arsed synopsis for a Peep Show sequel somewhere in which - among other things - Lorne gets married/civil-partnershipped to a very beautiful woman called Pansy.

If I ever get these werewolves to bed I might work on that some more.

Keziah Hill said...

At last! At last! Some discussion of f/f and f/f/m erotica! I've never understood why women get off on men fucking when there's nothing in it for them while they express distaste for women fucking. And there is an element of distaste to what some women say about f/f sex. It only goes to show that the fantasy imagination is a bright and wondrous thing.

f/f sex is in erotica but not in erotic romance. Everyone says there's no market for it. It seems women can't fantasize about two women and a man in an enduring love triad but they can about two men and a woman. Maybe since erotic romance as a genre seems so hero focused, it's less interested in women? I'm not sure what I'm saying here but I find a lot of erotic romance is about women consuming men if you know what I mean. It's as if we want to rewrite the heterosexual landscape into something more desirable.

I know that's essentially what fantasy is, but within erotic romance there aren't too many diverse imaginings around. Not to say I don't enjoy Almighty Penis now and then (well, maybe more than now and then) but where are the other images of erotic pleasure and romance for women?

ADR Forte said...

Am I strange for thinking that f/f (just girls, no guys); or f/m/m where the girl is not the sandwich are TOTALLY HOT scenarios.
But f/f/m scenes are NOT?

Perhaps this could be due to all of the stereotypes that have been beaten into us from mainstream porn?

Or it could be because for me girl & guy as opposed to girl & girl is like apples and oranges?

What a woman experiences with another women is nothing like a woman and a man. I don't think one is better or worse; they're just so different that there is no comparison, imo.

When I write I'm not really catering to the marketing gods since I'm not a pro and don't really expect to sell what I've written. But I think there is something that turns me off about scenes with women fucking plus a guy along... it just always seems contrived.

I am sure there is a f/f/m scene out there that is super-hot and doesn't just cater to guy fantasy; that actually captures the different but equally amazing sensual feelings of men with women and women with women. But I haven't seen/read it yet.

Mathilde Madden said...

It would be a shame to feel that we have to choose between having m/m scenes and f/f scenes. And it is weird to think that already we are decrying the frequency of m/m when it was only 3 seconds ago we were fighting for the chance to have this in female erotica at all. And I was banging my head on the table crying, yes, damnit, women *do* like this.

I want it all. I think m/m is important because it is crucial that women have a space to sexualise men that isn't always comfortable for the het male hegemony. I also think women need to reclaim f/f for their own erotica and write it truthfully.

Ack - this post is starting to sound like a textbook. I'm sorry. All I meant to say was: let's have it all. Everything. All the time. Yay!

Alison Tyler said...

Second the motion, Tilly...
:) AT

Amie Stuart said...

Keziah I've heard there's no market for it also, which is sad because I've written it and I'd like to write more. I even asked the question recently and (in some unscientific way) I guess in ER FF or FFM doesn't play into the fantasy for some women. OTOH I don't get the whole MM or MMF that seems to be the next big thing in epublishing. *shrug*

justjo said...

I had an interesting conversation about threesome relationships with an 80 yr old friend recently and I came to the conclusion that I could probably live quite happily with two men - I might finally get my emotional and physical needs met if the load was shared between two! - I couldn't imagine it working with one man and two women, as women just need so much more - could one man satisfy two women? Wouldn't jealousy intervene? Wouldn't you want someone who only lived for you? It's hard enough sharing them with your mother in law, nevermind another lover... ah, but I've just realised how hetrosexually I'm thinking about this.

And also that a once off sex scenario doesn't have the same issues - unless it's a microcosm of a relationship?

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

I suppose some of the issue with the world of erotic romance is a context problem. You want your heroine to have her HEA with the hero and you don't want Some Other Chick sharing the fun. (I mean, I might, but a more hetero woman probably wouldn't.)

However, I really like Keziah's comment: "but I find a lot of erotic romance is about women consuming men if you know what I mean. It's as if we want to rewrite the heterosexual landscape into something more desirable." Yeah, we're creating, or reading about, these utterly perfect wonder readers don't want to "share," unless it's with another utterly perfect man.

Keziah Hill said...

One of my favourite erotica writers, remittance girl, on the subject.

Anonymous said...

I am a reader looking for some F/M/F stories, both of one time/short term flings or exploring longer term relationships and their complexities. Because I may not be able to have my beefcake and eat her, too, in real life, but I can read about it!

Eloise said...

I wonder also if it's something, for many if not all, about a difference in how it's perceived.

Speaking in generalisation, most women are happy with m/f scenes. Adding another man makes for more of that good thing for them.

In my admitedly limited experience, and from chatting to bi friends they rarely mix and match in life or fantasies (f/f/m) prefering their threesomes as f/f/f or f/m/m because what they're looking for in sex with men is different to what they're looking for in sex with women. That's not just about penii, muscles, curves, etc. although what it is about varies between them.

That, of course, is not to say that there isn't a place for f/f/m fantasies and stories, but I'm wondering who the market is?

Oh, for those that do enjoy them the little glimpse in BSG last week, with Baltar, Caprica and D'Anna waking up in bed together might be worth a quick peek!

Keziah Hill said...

That, of course, is not to say that there isn't a place for f/f/m fantasies and stories, but I'm wondering who the market is?
Me! Sigh.