The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘women’s sexuality

I did illogiCon full tilt last weekend. Instead of driving back and forth from the conference like I usually do, I stayed on site. I was an active guest, went to room parties, networked at the bar, caught up with writer friends I hadn’t seen recently and met new writers. I got introduced to terrific readers and fans. I also made meaningful connections with a few publishers and editors.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share some highlights from some of the panels I attended or was a panelist on.

One of my favorites was the last panel on Friday at 11pm:  Sex in Other Worlds.

Description: How do aliens…do it?

It was well worth the wait! The panelists included J.L. Hilton, Julie Steinbacher, Natania Barron, James Maxey and Jim McDonald.

I don’t write a lot of stories that delve into sexuality, either off world or in secondary fantasy. But, I was curious how others approached the subject. One of the fun things about attending a con is that it allows time to restock the creative well.

Conversation threads ranged from how to write a good sex scene to how to create new forms of sexuality and reproduction in everything from hard sci-fi to urban fantasy.

The panel began with each author discussing their journey exploring sexuality in their work. Some authors began their careers writing about sexuality (and even writing erotica), but tapered off as the years went on. Others noted that they have just started to experiment incorporating sexuality more explicitly in their work.

The panelists highlighted the importance of reading about procreative habits of other species for inspiration.

Male Hooded seal nasal display, St Lawrence Gulf, Canada. Photo © Doug Allan


One panelist reminded us that humans are unique with our complex mating rituals, diverse sexual expressions and long, often monogamous pair bonding.  When world building, you can ask yourself questions like: How might these ways of being fray or get stressed in near future stories? What are ways that humans may adapt these behaviors in a different environment?

Many of the panelists said that they only write sex scenes through a grounded character perspective. One author stressed that when writing sex scenes with non-humans, “try find one detail that is sensual and familiar” that can be amplified and pull the reader in.

The audience laughed when a panelist declared that writing good sex scenes is similar to writing good battle scenes—“they need to be well-choreographed and awash in bodily fluids.”

Another fun comment someone said was “some readers want to just hear [sex] through the door; others want to be next to the bed.” Several writers mentioned that they definitely heard from readers –either when readers thought they went too far in a story or when they loved it. It made me think about the value of knowing your readers, once you have an audience. You have to think about how your readers may respond to your take on sex and sexuality.

During the last few minutes of the panel an interesting conversation bubbled up about movie, The Shape of Water.

What seems to be pretty common in speculative media is the trope of a human woman falling for a non-human man (i.e. alien, fantasy creature, “the beast”, etc.). [A quick Google image search tends to confirm this point.]It’s much less common for the roles to be reversed—a human male protagonist falling for a female “monster”. Usually when female bodies are presented as deviant or monstrous, there is no opportunity for love, desire or admiration, only disgust or contempt. I thought this was an excellent observation and of course, part of me wanted to get to work on just such a story.

I love a good challenge!

Overall, this was a fascinating panel. I left with great notes and a commitment to incorporate some of these ideas into future stories.


I can’t believe we’re almost at the end of April and of National Poetry Month! I thought I’d take today to share one of my poems.


Jackie’s Feathers of 1982

Furnace red feather earrings
Twirl at the end of Jackie’s ears
Our eyes travel the shape of her
but miss the incandescent core

Me, lost in the storm of girlhood
Jackie, directing her hormonal lava
She dared to wear canary colored feathers in her hair
Iridescent plumes clipped to jeans

She was curious about her girl slink, funk and body trembles
Inside out she lived, as if her vulva slid across the floor, ahead of her
Boys wanted to possess and discard
Girls melted into the secretions of their own bodies
hunting for wisdom
finding Avon tips and Ultra Slimfast instea
Ticking time bombs, they surfaced
crippled, inchoate and mean

What secret relationship do women have with feathers?
In fanciful boas and gravity-defying rippling headdresses
Who gave us these poor imitations of grand flight?
And, told us to look the other way while men got bombs, politics and Viagra?

Years later
behind my building
I found one of her earrings
Teardrop shape, a blue and carnelian frayed feather kissed with gold leaf
I thought Jackie’s feathers could protect her
As love and attention should protects us all

Did her boyfriend entice her to the roof that night?
Did he know what waited for her in the dark?
Does he see her shadow every time he reaches for a woman?

I heard it was ten boys
Who made her pay for
her mystery,
her curiosity,
for exciting them,
for not roller-skating with them
for having a big butt
for smiling,
for everything and nothing
They threw her off the roof
when done

I shall hold this earring
And remember
And grieve for our lost girlhoods

Author’s Reflection: This poem was written in 2012 for the ‘Vision and Voice’ event at the Joyful Jewel Gallery that I have described here. I walked into the store and saw the wonderful pairs of feather earrings by Marty Broda and a cascade of images (and memories of girls from my youth who wore feathers) came to me. I usually write poems about situations that anger and frustrate me and themes of girls’ and women’s sexuality (and the repression or thwarting of), tend to make it into my work. I envision this poem as part of a series of poems exploring girlhood in the 1980s.

Michele Tracy Berger is a professor, a blogger, a creativity expert and a pug-lover. She’s passionate about all of these ways of being in the world and plays with the order that she avidly pursues them. Her writing has appeared in The Chapel Hill News, Ms., The Feminist Wire, various zines, and Western North Carolina Woman.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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