Writing erotic horror consists of a trade in secrets. Authors of the genre have a choice to make in this matter: should they divulge their own kinks, interests, and speculations; or should they seek to fulfill the wants of the market? The latter risks timid commercialism, the former, masturbatory self-indulgence. I think that writing a good erotic story involves a bit of secret telling, in that you reveal at least your ability to conceive of a given scenario being exciting.
For Halloween, people decorate their properties with all sorts of horrific things, including fake severed heads, plastic-wrapped bodies hanging from trees and so forth. Some people complain about tastelessness, but that’s about it usually.
Erotica gathers a bit more stigma, with a number of variables. More people find it distasteful, but degree of explicitness and type of kink probably determines to what extent. Saying that you read erotica offends more people than saying that you read horror. Still, depending on the social circle, people may perceive it as being adventurous. Erotica needn’t be sleazy or degrading or otherwise negative, and the reader and writer may be perceived as pleasantly naughty.
If people aren’t offended by sex or violence, the combination of the two may cause discomfort. Erotic horror involves the violation of boundaries. A great deal of nastiness often occurs in erotic horror, things that simply won’t do in other genres. Actions neither sane, safe, nor consensual tend to occur in the genre.
Consider a slasher story, with a killer targeting attractive women, murdering them in a manner with many sexual overtones. He uses a knife, penetrating her body, and perhaps she is nude or partially dressed. Maybe the killer wears a fetishistic mask. Despite the horrific and erotic elements of the story, we still wouldn’t call it erotic horror, and it would still be acceptable to many horror fans. Add sex to it, however, and things change.
Saying you like slasher stories is one thing. Saying you like erotic slasher stories, well, that may be different. The erotic slasher story openly addresses the issue of titillation. Readers of the ostensibly non-erotic slasher may be excited by the dark sexuality of the story while still identifying as simply a horror buff. The hypothetical erotic slasher story, however, forces something out in the open, that this story is of sexual interest, if not openly arousing. At least in the U.S., we live in a culture in which, on a Saturday morning, a basic cable television show can show dismemberment without much controversy, while an exposed female nipple remains forbidden.
But let’s return to literature. When we deal with erotic horror, we now work with dark subjects mixed with sex, typically sex in negative contexts. We see a number of boundary violations here. Sex taints the genre of horror. Negativity taints the genre of erotica. And we approach other boundaries. Is the story titillating, and, if so, intentionally or incidentally so? Intentional titillation incriminates the writer, incidental excitement, the reader.
Erotic horror may be written with very different goals. Sex sensitizes people and heightens emotions, and can be used to enhance feelings of revulsion, rather than to sexually excite the reader. The giant slimy monster killing you may be less horrific than the giant slimy monster sexually violating you first. The erotic element, in this case, seasons horror with disgust and revulsion.
Another path involves presenting stories that may titillate, or at least illustrate what a character finds arousing and pleasurable. Maybe the reader takes a prurient interest in reading about the above giant slimy monster violating a character. Or perhaps the story reads from the monster’s perspective.
I won’t argue for the superiority of one perspective over the other; I happily use either, depending upon the story. But either way, we’re dealing with primal urges towards sex and violence, elements central to our identity throughout evolutionary history, posing immense complications and adding intricacies to our modern, social existence.
John Vaillant, in The Tiger, discusses the view that much of our fixation on predatory creatures, whether sharks or vampires, stems from our adaptive wiring to recognize predators. We are, perhaps, alive, because our ancestors were good at recognizing and responding to creatures that hunt us. And so that predator recognition response may transfer to other things, including horror fiction.
I would add that we are obviously also alive because of sexual instincts. Erotic horror games our systems by reverting us to a pre-human, pre-mammalian perspective, from which fucking and dismemberment by slashing jaws lie on very similar grounds. Erotic horror is paradoxical, because it returns us to a simpler form; at the same time, it plays with the ciphered language of the unconscious. In writing or enjoying erotic horror, we expose truths about ourselves, or we bury truths in symbolism.
We fiddle with dangerous formulae, toying with combinations of the mercurial emotional states of fear, lust, aggression, and shame. The readers and writers of erotic horror visit a place with very few rules. This state presents both benefits and cost.
Benefits include freedom to read or write with greater freedom. Costs include the fact that more people will read (or write) the genre than will admit to doing so. Secrecy brings isolation. People are less likely to discuss that necrophilia story they just read, less likely to admit finding it stimulating. Such things tend not to go viral on social media. The genre exists on the margins of marginal genres. Readers have to go looking for it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.