Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Love that Dare Not Bark its Name

Most dictionaries define bestiality simply as "sexual relations between a human and an animal".

Erotic Romance Publisher tend to incorporate a more speculative element by specifying that bestiality in fiction relates to sexual relations between a human and a non-sentient animal. This is yet another example of how words mean different things to different people. Within modern science most mammals and birds are considered to be sentient to the extent that they are aware and capable of emotions and thoughts. It must be assumed that what the publishers mean is that if a being is intelligent and self aware to the same degree as a competent autonomous human adult, they are counted as being able to consent to sex. In many genres this seems totally accepted such as science fiction where Bujold gives us the genetically modified canine women 'Taura' who has sexual relations and full romance (in 'Labyrinth' and 'Irresistible Forces').

However there seems to be a difference in genre-romance between what is bestiality in terms of an offense against a vulnerable being, and what is bestiality as a squick to the reader. As far as I can tell there is a general difference between readers of erotic and readers of mainstream romance on this issue, with erotic romance readers somewhat between the two. But generally speaking in romance if it looks like an animal, it is an animals, and so bestiality. Thus in mainstream romance both parties must be in fully human form during sexual intercourse to be fully acceptable.

Take for example amazon reviews for works with human females and monster males who bring a little of the beast to the bedchamber--accusations of bestiality are thrown around in the reader comments. In the case of Cast's 'Divine by Mistake' sexual intercourse occurs with both as humans but some fondling and masturbation of the human female partner occurs in centaur form. While in the Ravencliff Bride by Dawn Thompson a shapeshifter beast form is intangibly present during sex. All of these things only slightly blur the beast-human physical line and there is no question that all parties are sentient, but still make at least some romance readers uncomfortable because their emotional/disgust response it to animal shape alone.

Some authors choose the lightly-lightly approach in strongly implying things such as the werewolf being unable to pull out immediately after sex (one I used myself in 'Blue Murder' without an negative reader reaction so far). This sort of allusion is easily picked up by the reader 'in the know' but likely to be missed by those who would rather not know. This allows a little form blurring while still staying the 'monster lite' category with broadest reader acceptance. However, I would also expect that reader's who didn't read the blurb, don't have much basis for complaint (if the heroine is described as marrying a centaur, you think she'll never so much as touch any 'hairy parts'? I was disappointed that she didn't go far enough!)

Personally I feel that the appeal of the beast-monster is his or her 'otherness' and all this romance shapeshifting to allow sex in human form is coy and even dishonest. If you love the monster, you love him or her as a monster rather than trying to make him or her into a human. That doesn't mean you need rampant puppy love scenes in every werewolf romance but a few non-human features shouldn't come as to much of a surprise. I suppose the message to paranormal writers is, the ethical basis for bestiality rests on consent--but the squick factor will fall all over the place depending on the reader. There may need to be a new 'furry warning' on some of the paranormals coming out now.

It also seems to me that if that warning loses a few trad. romance readers it might well gain readers from the enthusiastic and largely untapped furry and taur subcultures out there on the Internet who are just waiting for a little action with the ears and tails left on....


Anonymous said...

Hey, wait a minute. My "Snake Bite" story includes some hot smexing between a human male and a were-snake.

BTW, Molly keeps pestering me about the Pet Meme. She wants to know who won, and she wants to hook up with Brianna the Bottomfeeder.

Jules Jones said...

Oh dear me yes. I've seen a comment where someone called "First Footer" in the "A Kiss At Midnight" anthology bestiality porn, because one of the characters is a felinoid alien. The guy's an alien diplomat from an advanced race, but he's not a human with a funny nose or forehead a la Star Trek, so it's bestiality. I'm not sure if the reader got as far as the scene where the guy's boss squashes a tabloid reporter who's going on about the gay relationship by pretending to misunderstand what he's complaining about, and explaining that the bestiality legislation in the UK wasn't meant to apply to something capable of informed consent. :-)

It does sound as if there's a potential market in the furry community -- I was invited to be a panellist at the local furry con earlier this year because I'd written a couple of "alien sex" romances (although I wasn't able to go to it as I was away at the time).

Arin Rhys said...

Dude, furries are everywhere. Honestly, if you have a book that contains a few scenes like that then you ought to check out a few sites and see if they will give your book a review. Its just like if you write a romance book about military men, you could find a website for military wives and see if they will give it a gander. There is more to promotion than just getting a sparkly myspace.

Jules Jones said...

Myspace is the spawn of Satan, and I will not go near it.

I'd be perfectly happy to give a review copy to a furry website that will actually treat it as a review copy. That is not a slur on furries, it is merely a reflection of the fact that there are websites in slash fandom I wouldn't consider sensible places to send review copies to (such as the ones that would promptly put it up as a free download on a hidden page, because people shouldn't have to *pay* for fic...). The problem is knowing which are the sensible ones -- for me it's easier to just give a bunch of flyers to a friend, and ask him to take them to the furry con.

veinglory said...

Furry fandom also has its own conventions, so it would need to work simultaneously as romance, erotica and furry (or some other subtype). (Furries and plushies and bears, oh my!)

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard of the archetypal story called BEAUTY AND THE BEAST?
Beast was scary...

but it's a classic because it goes deeper than just "OMG how will their sex be like?"

We let kids read Beauty and the Beast no problem...I don't see the issue in erotica. I've never felt shape shifter stories were blatantly "bestial" because the mind of the lover and usually his body is very HUMAN. It's not like the heroine waltzed into a bard or something or the hero goes out into the pasture and smexes up a cow.

I love cat shapeshifters too (^_^)