I have considered the question in several stories. I am not the first writer – novice or professional – to concern over the introduction of erotica into a particular plot. Stephen King’s characters did little more than kiss until his story Bag of Bones. I can’t recall Dean Koontz having any scenes directly related to the issue. To the reader it can go unnoticed; as sex is one of the many normal human behaviors that we may not encounter in a story (going to the bathroom, getting the oil changed and paying bills are a few others). In others words the absence of sex or even sexually in a story does not strike the reader as odd. However, does the presence of such things detract from the horror?
The question arose as I continue work on my upcoming story, The Things That Drag You Down. The story has a gothic and erotic undertone throughout (I’ll explain the parable nature of the story in Back Story at its completion). As a writer (and psychology major), I understand that sex and fear are “primal” instincts and that as such they share the stage at our most primal level. However, the introduction of both at the same time can create a measure of discomfort as we process these two conflicting emotions.
There is a significant difference between “erotic horror” and simply having a few “sex” scenes in a story. In the former, the eroticism is a part of the core story, it creates a mood and undercurrent that ties the sexual nature (whether overt or covert) to the story itself. It is not an easy thing to pull off and if used incorrectly your horror story becomes an entirely different thing. Most concerning is that the presence of eroticism can change the reader’s perception of the story. Bryan Smith’s “The Killing Kind” is a blend of sex and violence such that it tended to be a strange emotional rollercoaster read. Richard Laymon’s, The Island had a similar effect although he certainly stretches the limits on how the average person would respond in the situation. These stories serve the example because they may have been more disturbing stories without the actual “erotica” (more on this when I discuss Jack Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door,” in my “Best Horror Book” post).
The slippery slope is that the erotic nature of the story line needs to make sense with the overall plot of the story. Adding in a “sex scenes” does not make erotic horror; it is just a cheap plot trick (like when the girl’s new boyfriend is able to save her from the old abusive one because this new, kind, sweet man….was a former black ops ranger skilled in hand to hand combat….yep I’ve seen that written before). So assuming that the erotic nature fits into the story, will the reader’s emotional distraction/discomfort over sex and fear, repulsion and desire, detract from the tale? Unfortunately, the possible “conflict” that creates both a pleasurable reaction (desire) and an un-pleasurable reaction (fear) is just too interesting for me to ignore.
The concern, of course, is immaterial at this point. For me a story idea is like a ghost that insists it be given a voice and will not go-away until it does. In my mind The Things That Drag Us Down is written, the erotic nature already is core to the plot, and it all just awaits my fingers at the keyboard to give it voice. To remove the erotic nature now by forcibly removing “those” scenes, would be to deny the story its true voice – and that is dishonest writing. So when it is complete, we shall have our answer. And as with all things “horror,” we shall have no opportunity to reconsider the dark path we have journeyed.