There’s a multitude of genres under the umbrella “Erotica.” One of the genres I particularly enjoy is “Religious Erotica.”
So what is religious erotica and what is it not? First things first, do not confuse religious erotica with inspirational romance. Those are two very different beasts. Inspirational romance is, generally, tamer than erotica and Christian themes are quite common. Religious erotica uses religious themes, of various faiths but Roman Catholicism is favored. Or it uses religious imagery. It plays up the taboo or forbidden element of sexuality blended with faith. It’s the juxtaposition of religion and sexuality.
Maybe it deals with a Roman Catholic priest struggling with temptation. Maybe it’s two members of laity who know this is wrong, but cave to carnal desires. Maybe it’s the setting or an underlying theme.
I’ve been toying in the realm of religious erotica for a while now. Obviously, About to Sin is religious erotica. That’s full on religious erotica that not only has a priest in a sexual situation, but I also use religious imagery in the setting and I make Father Daniel’s faith a major character motivation factor.
Full Circle, by all rights, could be considered religious erotica and there’s not a single member of clergy in it. If I explain fully why this is, it will ruin the moment in the story that Tami Parrington says, “…will shock the shit out of [my readers].” I can tell you this. The book starts in a destroyed sanctuary. Religious history plays a critical role in the story and Kendrick’s faith is nearly unshakeable. If that man had a choice of what to do with his last breath it would either be: stating his love for Byron or praying.
The beauty of good religious erotica, in my eyes at least, is that it respects religion. It’s not blasphemous or sacrilegious. Even after befriending some members of clergy, I’m not ashamed of what I’ve written. I don’t know if they are reading my story or not, but the thoughts of it does make me nervous. I’m not nervous that they might be offended by the story. I’m nervous that I jacked up something liturgical and they’d call me on it. (You bet your ass they’d call me on it too. They’d GLEEFULLY call me on it and they’d NEVER let me live it down.)
One piece of religious fiction that I wish had been more erotic was Tami Parrington’s Hell’s Own. It’s a story about a demon, Alexander, who escapes hell. Lucifer sends guys out to recapture his pet. God sends people out to snag the demon. I wanted Alexander and Michael the Archangel to get it on so bad I could taste it. There’s a hilarious scene where Lucifer calls (yes, calls as in on the phone a vidphone to be exact) God that had me laughing so hard I had to walk away from my computer to calm down. God was so “oh what now” with his attitude and Gabriele nearly soiled his robes. Too freaking funny! What she does with Adam (yes, THE Adam) is pure genius. I don’t know the status of that book and if it ever gets published, I will pimp it. I promise you.
Religious erotica can be light and funny like Hell’s Own. It can be flippant and irreverent. It can also be dark angst. What it shouldn’t do, in my eyes, is cheapen religion or faith.
There are things I won’t do in my religious erotica. I won’t make a predatory priest the hero. I have used it as a plot point and I have no problems making the antagonist a predatory priest, but what makes religious erotica work for me is that it’s the GOOD guy who is struggling with what he thinks is bad. I won’t make a charlatan a hero. If I’ve presented a priest/pastor/whatever as hero, you can bank on me thinking he’s a good guy even if you disagree.
Someone who isn’t into religious erotica may never see the respect in the story. Or they may find the whole concept blasphemous.
I don’t see a dang thing blasphemous about Anand and Daniel using Boy Butter (best name for lube ever) and having a blacklight reactive Pyrex dildo show up. Using confession-like language as pillow talk? Not sacrilegious in my eyes. Getting it on in a confessional booth? Yep, I totally have the balls for that. Playing a game DURING mass? Yes, I’ve gone there. Sex inside a baptismal tub? That’s in Full Circle.
Religious imagery is beautiful and powerful. Sexual imagery is beautiful and powerful. In my mind those naturally go together. The next time you find yourself in church look around and make note of all the phallic symbols. Look closer and you’ll find female equivalents. The Pagans make no bones about what dipping the athame into the chalice means. The Great Rite carried out—symbolic or otherwise. Do others see it when they dip those communion wafers into the wine? Or submerging someone fully into a basin of water? Does anyone look at those long taper candles with the brass heads and NOT see it as a phallic symbol? The shape of most sanctuaries can be likened to a huge intimidating womb add the long wide aisle that divides the pews, and you totally have symbolic representations of sex.
Even when dealing with same-sex couples there’s usually something going IN somewhere—oral sex, finger play, anal sex. Someone is the chalice and someone is the wafer/athame. It’s all the same. The difference is semantics. The union of flesh is one the most powerful things we can experience as humans and that act can produce life. Why shouldn’t we celebrate this? Why shouldn’t we write about it?
(As a side note: Sex can also be completely not worth taking off your socks. Sometimes, it’s just lame.)
Religious erotica dances a very fine line. And that’s a line that some publishers do not want to go near. Some publishers refuse submissions that have a priest or nun in a sexual situation. In my eyes priests, nuns, rabbis, etc have stories to tell and there’s nothing wrong with telling them.