Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Friday, March 6, 2009

Where's the sexual line in shapeshifter romance?

Today's wild speculation--where's the sexual line in shapeshifter romance?

I don't think I've ever read a paranormal romance, or even a fantasy novel, in which a sex scene happens between one human partner and one partner who's shifted into an animal form. With one exception, I've never even seen such a scene happen when the shapeshifter partner is in a form partway between human and animal. However, I have seen the human partner naked in bed, after sex, with a shapeshifter in animal form. That's apparently okay, so long as no sex is involved, only petting the pretty fur. The main example I recall is in Marjorie Liu's Tiger Eye, but I'm sure there are more. Is the idea here that petting the animal form is a deeper form of acceptance of that animal self?

Obviously, the main taboo against shifted/human sex is bestiality, and of course there are the physical obstacles. But is there more to it? What about transitional forms? Assuming the shapeshifter still keeps his or her--but usually his--human mind, does the form matter? Kate Douglas' erotic Wolf Tales begin with a man in a transitional form, in fact trapped in that form, and parlays the scenario into a "Beauty and the Beast" theme. It's surprising this isn't seen more often. Perhaps in a culture of depilation, an extra-hairy man is not seen as hot? Ahem. I'm sure that can't be true for everyone.

In The Moonlight Mistress, both partners are werewolves, but they only have sex in human form. When one is human and the other wolf, they are comfortable with one another so far as physical caressing goes, but I felt there's an added intimacy when both are human and thus more vulnerable (especially relevant to one of the characters). However, I think I'd like to try a "Beauty and the Beast" story one of these days. I think there's all sorts of potential there for conflict, and thus interesting plot.

I'd be interested in hearing about other examples of shapechanging in relation to intimacy in romances, or in erotica.

Happy Friday!

Related post: Romancing the Beast.


  1. Since erotica is all about the fantasy I would think a scene involving animal sex would be taboo. I don't think I would find that stimulating even if they have human thoughts. I'm sure it's been done, but I haven't read any books with it in there. Nice post.

  2. Yes, I think the taboo outweighs the idea of "human brain in animal form." I wonder if there are also legal issues?

  3. I think for me the issue is the bestiality thing. I actually did a fade to black on what was essentially an animal on animal scene where both shifters were in their beast forms (and was very thankful my editor let me get away with it). I couldn't even cross that line. It's a personal squick factor. I do love erotic scenes with shifters where some of the animal traits pop out during the wildness of sex...fangs, claws, stuff like that, but no going all the way for me.

  4. Yeah, I didn't even consider crossing the line, either. I guess it's so automatic, we don't even think about it. Which makes sense!

  5. RED by Summer Jordan has beast-sex but it's not designed to be titillating (I hope) and is more a focus on horror than horny.

    Mima's Bonded series from Liquid Silver Books doesn't exactly have animal sex, but the heroes essentially have three forms - man, battle/fighter form (bigger, a little fuzzier, a little less able to communicate with clear enunciation and a little more struggle between man/beast) and full shifted form. From what I've read to this point, the line doesn't cross over into full shifted form. I like mima's books. They're intriguing.

    I guess Kate Douglass of Wolf Tales fame has some shifted sex but I didn't like enough of the one novella I read (not for shifted-sex reasons) to find out first hand.

  6. Thanks! I hadn't seen either of those first two suggestions.

  7. I think it probably is the writer's squick factor or their pereception of the squick factor of the majority of their readers.

    But there's probably plenty of Furry fiction out there that does this.

    One thing to think about is if the shapeshifter is primarily human or primarily the other animal. I'm thinking of the Piers Anthony books where the main character has sex with a horse in human form. She's a horse who happens to take human form, not a human who happens to take horse form. Of course that situation has even more wrong with it on sexist levels, apart from her being a horse.

  8. ARGH -- had written a comment but Blogger ate it! Its ID verification system is fragged.

    Anyway, wasn't there a scene in TIGER EYE where the man was partially shifted? I recall a scene in which the woman was on her belly/knees and couldn't see anything but his arms, and the arms shifted to tiger form. This to me seemed to imply that he was shifted elsewhere too. Good example of skirting the squick line.

  9. From Mary Anne Mohanraj's Alternative Sexualities and Identities in SF/F list:

    "The Anita Blake series (s/m, leather, polyamory, necrophilia, bestiality (with were-animals), homosexuality, bisexuality, and pedophilia (portrayed negatively); page-turning, sexy, and thoroughly addictive -- recommended)"

    I was looking at the list for something else and happened across that.

  10. Julie, thanks for the examples!

    One thing to think about is if the shapeshifter is primarily human or primarily the other animal.

    There's a Doranna Durgin in which a horse turns into a woman, but she never turns back, and has a human intelligence; and a Judith Tarr in which a man is turned into a horse, and later back into a human. While a stallion, it's strongly implied he breeds with a mare. I don't think I got far enough into Anita Blake to reach the were-animals bit--should be easy to find out, though.

    Nora, I think you're right--I vaguely remember fur rippling along Hari's arm at some point. The arm seems to be the most common place for a partial shift, incidentally, arm or hand (claws pushing from inside fingertips, for example).

  11. I've read a scene in which the shifter went fully (wolf?) animal and his penis did too, of course. The bulb thing was fully described and although the woman getting it doggy style (*snort*) liked it, the scene freaked me out. Damned if I recall the book or the pub, though.

  12. Wacky! I think the bulb thing happened in the first Kate Douglas book, too, but the character was in a transitional form. I also remember something like that in one of the well-known books of women's fantasies. It must be a Thing. Meaning, one of those things some people find really hot and others are puzzled by.

    I'm always curious WHY people find certain things hot.

  13. Since the reader is mostly looking for the attributes of an animal in their human partner, having sex with an animal wouldn't satisfy since they could do that now. The edge isn't all that edgy in terms of looking for characteristics of loyalty (wolves), passion (sex without thinking), agility, speed, strength, danger...

    To some extent the 'other' is often women attempting to come to terms with diminishing viewpoint in their actual partners or potential partners. The 'illusion' or the loss of the 'knight or badboy' is played out by inserting the illusion of shapeshifter and enhancing the characteristics you are working on.

    So, it isn't about the sex except where women are dealing with their own inhibitions to real intimacy who might then feel they could be more vulnerable with someone or an animal who couldn't understand them so their secret would be safe to share.

  14. Kate, the shifted penis is what Lora Leigh uses in her series. She's got 3 intertwined coyotes, felines, and wolves.

    "Since the reader is mostly looking for the attributes of an animal in their human partner..."
    I'm going to have to say that I disagree with your entire premise. I have a very healthy separation between my fantasies that I enjoy in erotic romance and my fantasies that I act out in life. There is no transference between what I read and what I seek in bed.

    I enjoy shapeshifter stories (and the opportunity for the nasty sex that can arise) because of the danger and the mystery and the dominance of an alpha hero. plus i just love magic.

  15. Mallory, you are brilliant! Thank you!

  16. Mima, thanks for the id on that series.

  17. I did it in Dolphin Dreams, and at the time it was unusal to be as in the reader's face about it as I was, but it's become rather more common since then in epublished erotic romance.

    It did bother a number of readers, but a lot of readers were fine with it -- I think partly because I wrote the scene in question to show the human partner having to deal with what it really meant to have a full relationship with a shapeshifter partner, and being deeply uncomfortable with it but recognising that he loved the person and not the shape. But I think that it did help that it was very clear that my shifters are fully intelligent in both forms.

  18. Yeah, I think the intelligence is a major factor! I need to read that one...I liked the Syndicate stories a lot!