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Breaking Taboos Believably

I ran across a forum where the person was asking how to make crossing a sexual taboo believable. My assumption was that this was meant in terms of writing about it happening.

My forum posts are generally infamous for being a) poor attempts at humor and b) almost more long winded than my submitted stories. However this one began to even give me pause as the hours rolled past and I didn't run out of things to say on the subject.

And so, I pasted what started as a simple forum discussion response into a working document and began to get more serious.

To be honest, I have no good reason beyond the fact that it stirred my imagination and began to make me question my own perceptions of just what is taboo and, more germane, what makes crossing a taboo sexual rubicon believable.

The first question that came to me as I began to get more serious is just who the hell I thought I was to address the topic with anything remotely resembling authority. I have the overwhelming desire to stand and say, “Hi. My name is Acktion and I am a sexual addict.”

That small attempt at humor probably offended some people. But, the fact is that it is true. I am a medically diagnosed sexual addict. I think that is why, in my misspent youth, I wasted a lot of time and money taking college courses and studying outside materials to become an addiction counselor and sex therapist which I then chickened out of.

Or, perhaps I just realized that putting me in a situation where I would be counseling someone else with a sexual addiction would be a lot like handing a three year old a flare gun. You aren't sure what will happen, but you can be sure it will make the papers.

But, I digress.

Despite going in a different direction professionally, I had a strong drive to learn and understand sexuality as fully as I could. By that, I do not just mean watching pornography and reading erotic fiction. Although I have certainly done more than my fair share of that. Usually with the hand that isn't on my mouse in my pants.

I also read research papers. The kind with abstracts at the beginning and statistics laced throughout. I knew I was different. Now, I needed to know how I was different. And if it was possible for me to be normal.

Normal, by the way, is a myth in my studied opinion. There is no normal. There's just that little voice that is telling you to clear your browser history before you log for the night. But, that may just be my addiction talking.

We're going to be at this a long time if you keep letting me get off topic that way.

As a result of my studies into the topic of sexuality, both prurient and non, I know a bit more than some on the topic and a bit less than others. I don't pretend to stand atop a mountain of research guided by my own hand or to have more than the two degrees I actually possess.

Instead, I merely challenge any who have made it this far to read on and decide for themselves if what I have to say makes sense, to research the scattering of topics I have hinted at rather than boldly citing just one or two, and at the end, to make up their own damned minds.

What is a taboo?

If you look through the categories on, you will find, about halfway down, one marked “incest/taboo”.

Meaning absolutely zero disrespect to Laurel or Manu, I have often wondered about that seeming redundancy. Is there anyone who doesn't think incest is taboo whether it horrifies or tittilates them?

But, what about gay or lesbian sexual relationships? Don't those meet the definition of a taboo relationship? What about Anal sex in a heterosexual relationship? Are there not people out there who think such is wrong and possibly even sinful?

Just what does the word taboo mean anyway?

According to Wikipedia (since I'm too lazy to turn on the lights and look for my three dictionaries);

“A taboo is a vehement prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too sacred or too accursed for ordinary individuals to undertake, under threat of supernatural punishment. Such prohibitions are present in virtually all societies.

“The word has been somewhat expanded in the social sciences strong prohibitions relating to any area of human activity or custom that is sacred or forbidden based on moral judgment and religious beliefs.

“'Breaking a taboo' is usually considered objectionable by society in general, not merely a subset of a culture.”

Hmm. Okay. I'm not smart enough to disprove that and smart enough to know it and not to try.

However, what precisely constitutes “a society”? Just what is the cut off point that marks the number of people that can be a society? Is a belief any less strongly held because it is held by a family of four when just up the street a family of two is openly violating it?

Does the ostracism when one within the sociatal construct of four violates it hurt any less than if it had been a village of four hundred?

Is the naughty eroticism and guilty pleasure of courting disfavor by breaking it any less?

I'll let wiser and more interested heads than mine explore that to their heart's content. If it doesn't fall under the heading of sex, it doesn't touch upon my interest nor upon the titular topic of this paper.

I will only argue that for the purpose of this paper, something is sexually taboo to the individual if they are raised within a belief system, however large or small, that professes it to be. In short, if they believe it to be sexually taboo then it is for them.

And a taboo is by definition “a vehement (or extremely strongly held) prohibition of an action”.

Anybody who thinks that racism is dead has their head buried in the sand. It may not be as prevalent as it was in the sixties or as open. But it's still around. Hell, less time ago than most would believe I watched a town be [B]forced[/B]to change a city ordinance and take down a plaque that read, “Nigger don't let the sun go down on you in town.”

Ageism is alive and well too regardless of what we read in the Hollywood tabloids. So are anti-Semitism and other religious differences. As are the separation of classes. Hell, regardless of the popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, bondage and dominance are still anathema to John Q. Public and his upright community bearing. And many professed religious peoples still frown on anal as sodomy and a sin worth turning the ones who commit it into pillars of salt.

Hey, think about this one for a minute. The three most volatile subjects statistically are politics, religion, and sex. Yet, sex is the only one of the three that we hide not only from our neighbors but often from people living in the same house with us!

What's taboo now, eh?

Peer and family pressures are so abundant that I often wonder just how the hell anyone gets together at all to continue the species.

So what would make someone violate a long held taboo, beit personal, familial, or larger? More to the point for this particular work, what would make a reader have absolutely no choice but to believe that a character would break a taboo?

The answer is both simple and complex. Human sexuality is a direct result of three primary factors amidst secondary and tertiary causes.

The first and, arguably, most important is the biochemical balance (or imbalance) of the individual. I could cite chemical equations about dopamine and prolactin and other neurotransmitters, but the papers are out there for any who wants to Google “neurotransmitters in sexual response”, so I will try not to bore any who don't care about the science of it.

The second is that it is an emotional response for the human animal as much, and in some cases more, than a physiological one. Very few people that have had a near death experience have not noted an overwhelming desire for sexual contact once the shaking stops.

We are not animals and are not driven purely by procreation, else we would not seek out sex during time periods when the eggs can not be fertilized. Again, there are papers about “the emotive drive of human sexuality” for those so inclined, so I will not belabor the point.

The third and final point I would posit as the last of the primary palate for sexual desire is a mental one. To be brief, curiosity.

Ask what someone was thinking when they broke a taboo and you may as well ask why it was that Columbus sailed the ocean. Or why Lewis and Clark walked across what we know as the American continent. Curiosity has often been cited as a driving force behind what, in some cases, made no sense otherwise. Hasn't almost everybody heard “if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it” at some point or another?

Other factors do have their part to play as well. Age for example. Generally, the older a person becomes, the more set they become in their ways unless there is some [B]radical[/B] life changing event to set their preconceived notions on end. The younger they are, the more likely they are to be experimental without some perception altering experience thundering down like Thor's hammer.

However, if you examine it closely, this is actually just a composite of the curiosity of the third and the physiological aspects of the first combined. While there may be a fourth primal cause that is not a combination of these factors, it is beyond what I have found in my studies.

So, what would make a scenario plausible in which someone ignored pressures to stay within determined sexual boundaries from virtually everyone around them?

First, they would have to have the biochemical drive. To wit, horny. Then they would have to have an emotional cue. Rebellion works. So does “love”, whatever emotional response is intended by that four letter word. Finally, they would have to be curious.

The thing is, it does not happen immediately.

Even without the taboo factor, two (or more) people do not suddenly just start tearing at each other's clothes. There has to be a steady build up of pressure to make it seem possible and attainable. With the taboo factor in the mix for the three pressures to work against, this is even more important.

As a writer of erotica (and more usually pornography but occasionally romance), as a rule of thumb, I try not to allow the two (or more) people to have sex without a minimum of one Literotica screen (roughly 10 pages) of build up to that point if there is any hint of a taboo to the relationship. I don't always manage it, but I try.

Other more prolific and more popular authors don't wait as long and still others wait even longer. I have not the hubris to say that any is right and any wrong. I can only say that to me, as reader or writer, if the subject is at all taboo, there must be gradually increasing pressure to cross that boundary until it would hurt more not to for it to be believable.

I'll attempt to describe a specific example.

The idea of a wife (and mother) engaging in a sexual act with a man that is not her husband seems to be anathema to most people. More so than the husband cheating on his wife, or so it seems to me. I don't personally understand that, nor am I sure I agree with it. But, I've had pointed out to me too often that I am not normal to question witnessed loud complaints on the subject.

At the risk of angering anyone, I will attempt to show how this specific taboo act could possibly come to happen and not only be believable but almost accepted.


Imagine a woman who had been raised to devoutly believe in the sanctity of the marriage bed. She didn't just believe, she [B]knew[/B] beyond a shadow of a doubt that to have sex before marriage or to stray outside the marriage bed was to volunteer for an eternity in hell. She was married at eighteen and by twenty had her first child.

Now, at thirty-six, everything had changed. From having to submit to her husband's desires when they were younger, whether she had felt like it particularly or not, now she was deliberately courting them.

Yet, no matter what she tried, she could not interest him any more often than every Saturday night after the kids were in bed from exactly midnight to twelve oh eight.

In every other way that mattered, he was perfect. He was the head of household as she was raised to believe that he should be. He never raised his voice, much less his fist to her or the children. He was a good provider and protector. There was very little that they didn't agree on. And when it happened, she bowed to his will as she had been taught that a good wife should. There was no reason in God's eyes, or in her own less perfect ones, that she should even consider a divorce.

And yet…

So many, many nights she had lain awake next to him as he snored with an aching emptiness deep inside of her. One of the women at church had laughingly talked about easing that ache herself. Yet it sounded so filthy and wrong that surely God would not approve. So much so that she worried when she bathed that she not linger too long cleaning that part of herself.

Rising from their bed one night, she padded softly into the bathroom for a drink of water. Her eye caught on her reflection in the mirror. She noticed a new line next to her left eye and fixated on it.

As the water ran from the tap, her gaze wandered to the rest of her face and from there to her body. She didn't think of herself as proud or vain, yet she had felt a certain satisfaction that her husband had found her so appealing that had made submitting to his needs more bearable. But, whatever beauty she had possessed was even now fading behind skin that was not quite so soft and resilient and extra pounds from tasting the food to make sure he and their children would like it.

It should not bother her, this fading. Pride was one of the seven deadly sins. Perhaps it wouldn't if the man she had chosen to marry still found her so. It wasn't as if he, too, wasn't showing their age in his gut and his face and the streaks of grey in his hair.

“No.” She whispered. “Forgive me, father. I should not be churlish of the many things you have granted me. Thank you for your many gifts.”

She should have stopped there. She usually stopped there. But, tonight she couldn't. Tonight it was too much. Tonight he had given her more than she could bear when for the third Saturday in a row, he had fallen asleep before midnight.

“But, Jesus, please help me.” She wept. “Take this cup from me because it is too much for me to bear.”

Almost angrily, she scrubbed at the tears tracking down her face. But, she could not take it back. She would not. And she felt guilty for not being able to.

“Amen.” She mumbled almost apologetically as her hand reached for the switch to hide her aging face and body from her sight.

A light that she hadn't noticed coming in shone through the bathroom window. Curious, she padded deeper inside to see what light it was at this time of night. When she looked, she wished she had turned and gone back to bed.

The man of the young couple that had moved in next door was outside. In the bright exterior lighting, she could see him moving about. He held a bar with one hand as his body suspended from it and slowly pulled himself up. He wasn't wearing a shirt and sweat glistened beneath the light over tanned skin over muscles that rippled and corded with strain. He was beautiful. A work of art.

And she felt the raw aching need that she had been trying so very hard to ignore burst into flame within her.

With a gasp, she tore her eyes away from the window and went to seek her rightful place beside her husband. But, she could not close her eyes against the image in her mind as she lay there listening to her husband snore.


Ok, I'll stop there. That brief half hour of scribbling wasn't meant to entertain but to make a point and I think you get the general idea. This same general format would work for virtually any taboo subject, I think.

First, I clarified what made it taboo to the character whether it would be to the audience or not. Then, I turned up the heat by applying physical(horny), emotional(undesirable), and mental(curiosity) pressures. Scratch the extramarital affair and substituting the taboo of choice do the same thing.

Then it becomes a question of not if she will break, but when and what the straw will be that does it. Back off on the pressures and she may not at all or not for a long time.

Increase them though, and gradually add more and more and more pressue and eventually even the most harcore rabidly fanatical proponent of a taboo will be virtually begging the character to break it.

By the way, did you catch that? I said that there were only three primal factors. But, what else was there that I was promoting?

The fourth dimension of breaking a taboo believably is time.

In the poorly written example I gave, if she had walked out the door and drifted in a mental haze closer to the fence to watch him through a knothole, would it have been believable?

“Oh, yeah, baby! He was hot and she was horny!”

Okay, maybe for you it would have. But what about for the ultra religious ultra conservative woman that I described? Not so much, right?

But, if it wasn't such a strongly held taboo by the main character, would the reader feel that it was nearly as erotic? (Assuming of course that I took the time to clean it up and work it through to it's climax and denoument.)

All too often I, and other writers I have read, tend to break that fourth barrier even when we pay homage to the first three. We tend to try to get past that other stuff and get to what people are really here for.

There are writers that can do this and do it well on these hallowed pages of But, there are just as many if not more that can not.

All too often, this sacrifices believability on the alter of brevity and results in what I believe is referred to as a “spank piece”? (Although, I prefer “literary quickie” myself.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and I will admit that I have slipped the hand that is not holding my mouse in the waist band of my sweats on the first page fairly often. But, that shouldn't really surprise you if you knew about sex addiction.

In summation, I believe that a sexual act is taboo if either the reader or the character believe that it is.

I believe that any written work constitutes an agreement that the writer will not push beyond the suspension of disbelief the reader is willing to offer and so that taboo should be attempted to be broached as believably as possible.

I believe that it can be done believably by appealing to the physiological, psychological, and emotional motivations of the character in question and thus the reader.

And above all, I believe that time is a factor in believability.

Thank you, Laurel and Manu for giving me this chance to explore my thoughts on the subject. And thank you, dear reader, for reading.

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