Please welcome my guest, Kirsten Saell.
Writing F/F(/M) for the Female Gaze
I adore men. I love their hard bodies and their strong chins and the frankness of their bodies. I love the sound of a deep voice growling something naughty in my ear, accompanied by the rasp of poky, prickly whiskers against my skin. I love the feel of muscled arms holding me so tight I almost can’t break free. And as long as we’re being honest, I love their…ahem…equipment, both for its form and its functionality.
I also adore women. I love their softness and their curves and their “f*ck me” eyelashes. I love the feel of a quiet, feminine whisper fanning almost noiselessly against my lips. I love the languid grace of a female body, still flushed and glowing with exertion, sprawled on tousled sheets. And I love absolutely everything about the way their bodies express arousal.
For me, f/f/m is the ultimate fantasy—-if you want to get specific, my ultimate fantasy is me, sandwiched between Clive Owen and Angelina Jolie (hey, we are talking fantasy here). As a bi woman, an f/f/m happily ever after is like having my cake and eating it too, and then having another cake and eating that. And then having twice the help with the dishes.
While I would assume most romance readers are straight women, cross-preference eroticism provides frequent fodder for sexual fantasy for women of all sexual orientations. Many lesbians fantasize about men (sometimes more than one at a time, heh), and lots of straight women enjoy fantasies of women being sexual with each other.
Which has made me wonder why f/f and f/f/m erotic content has been less than enthusiastically embraced by romance readers.
Now I’m not talking about the admittedly small, niche subgenre of lesbian romance, because the vast majority of romance readers are not lesbians. I’m talking about books that explore female-female sensuality from a mostly heterosexual or bisexual female perspective.
And I’m not talking about the small minority of readers who find the mere notion of f/f content so objectionable it would make them stop reading an otherwise great book. I’m talking about those straight (or predominantly straight) women who didn’t abandon Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Willow crossed to the dark side of the Kinsey Scale, who may occasionally fantasize about women together, who might have even experimented with same-sex sensuality in college or their wild party days.
What’s stopping these women from picking up a scorching hot f/f(/m) erotic romance? I got three words for ya: The male gaze.
Dudes, f/f sex is everywhere. From late night phone-chat ads to Nascar races, from fashion magazines to beer commercials, from music videos to Spike TV, girl-on-girl action abounds in the mainstream media. It seems like every time we turn around we’re bombarded by images of women together the way men want to see them.
It can’t be stressed enough that what appeals to a man will not necessarily appeal to a woman. In fact, the way women are eroticized in order to arouse men is often actively off-putting to women. To quote fellow author Mima, f/f love is “not two women in bikinis hugging each other at a car race.” It’s not exhibitionism on a dance floor while a crowd of appreciative studs look on. It isn’t two women giggling and groping each other in a corner booth while sending flirty glances in the direction of the cute guy at the bar. And it certainly isn’t that twinkle in the eye of the guy who seemed soooo nice, right up until he asked if you’d have a threesome with him and your BFF.
When I wrote Healer’s Touch, I knew I was up against some pretty pervasive resentment over the exploitation of f/f sensuality for the titillation of straight men. Considering the tropes the story had in common with the typical male version of the girl/girl fantasy, I even wondered if I should write it at all. But I’ve never been one to not do a thing just because it might be hard to do well. And though the book hasn’t scored as consistently high with readers as my others have, I’m enormously proud of the fact that I could write two women being sexual together in the service of the hero’s voyeurism in a way that didn’t result in a flurry of hate-email from outraged readers.
So how do you write f/f(/m) for the female gaze?
1) Write women—-not moving, talking blow-up dolls. Women fantasize about emotional connections, being desired, and being the focus of pleasure. It’s not about the act, it’s about desire and the fulfilment of desire. Putting two women with no emotional connection and no real desire to be sexual with each other in bed together might turn on a male reader, but it does absolutely nothing for most women. And even if the second woman is not going to be a permanent fixture in the romance, she needs to be a real person, with real, healthy reasons for what she does.
2) Let the woman lead. No woman wants to read about a threesome that’s only there to satisfy the hero’s hankering for some Doublemint sex—-even if the heroine is game. There are enough men out there who’ve tried cajoling an unwilling girlfriend/wife into a threesome for such a scenario to seem squicky, even to women who have never been put in that position. If it’s going to work for a female reader, the heroine almost always has to be the one to initiate the scenario.
3) Don’t bash men. F/F sensuality written for straight and bi women needs to consider its readership. No straight woman wants to be told she’s a chump for being straight, because no man will ever be able to pleasure her or understand her or treat her or love her as well as a woman could. Yes, sex between two women is different than sex between a woman and a man. Yes, love between two women is different than love between a woman and a man. But different is not necessarily better. It’s just different.
4) Don’t make it all about men, either. In Healer’s Touch, the f/f sex was primarily there to indulge the hero’s voyeurism—-to break down his resistance so he would admit his love for the heroine. But half of the f/f scenes did not include him at all. Those scenes were 100% about the two women, about their growing emotional and physical connection, and their willingness to explore their own desire for each other. Though the heroine’s primary motive for initiating the sexual arrangement was to get her man, the secondary heroine agreed to the plan for deeply personal reasons. She did it to help a friend, certainly, but she also did it for herself.
5) Lesbo porn—-ur doin’ it rong. Please, please, please do not use commercial f/f porn as an instructional guide to writing good f/f(/m) sex. Visual porn is all about the camera. Most of the things that feel best to a woman do not translate through a lens. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, just ask yourself when the last time was that you kissed anyone with your tongue all the way outside your mouth. “Lesbian” porn produced for men is…unrealistic in so many ways, and somehow even when there’s no man involved, it’s still frequently all about the penis. If you’re going to watch porn to get your ideas, watch the amateur stuff. Production values aren’t as good, but at least you can tell the women are enjoying themselves.
I do find it an absolute shame that so many women aren’t ready to take a chance on an f/f(/m) romance. It’s a shame that it’s so hard to get past the discomfort that can accompany any hint of girl/girl sex—negative associations that coat what could be a sexy, romantic read with the skeezy residue of Girls Gone Wild.
But for women who are open-minded, who are willing to take the chance, there are a few stories out there by talented authors who write f/f(/m) from a female perspective—-with female characters who are more than blow-up dolls, male characters who aren’t condescending or smarmy about f/f sex, and happily ever afters that will make you feel like you just curled up in a snuggie still warm from the dryer. Go pick one up. What’s stopping you?
Thanks, Kirsten! Stop by tomorrow for another Snippet Saturday – the theme is Humor.