Welcome to today’s stop on the virtual book tour for Three of Hearts: Erotic Romance for Women, a new collection of short stories edited by Kristina Wright for Cleis Press (2015). As the title and cover art suggest, Three of Hearts is an anthology about threesomes – so let’s talk about the complexity of writing poly porn!

I was invited to participate in the book tour for Three shortly after diving into my own first-ever pass at writing an “OT3” — the fan fiction world equivalent of erotic, romantic threesomes — so I thought, hey! maybe I’ll get some ideas. If only about what not to do — because, to be honest, I struggle to connect with a lot of original (non fanwork) erotica. As it turns out, I have some positive as well as frustrated things to say — so congratulations to the editor and authors on that score!

In terms of Three‘s positives, I was particularly impressed by the relative diversity of situations and perspectives contained within this single collection. Too often, porn anthologies are repetitively thematic; true, most of us seek out certain subgenres according to mood or personal preference — but at the same time I think short stories curated around a certain theme (e.g. masturbation, quickies, spanking) are overwhelmingly a missed opportunity to play with, and challenge, tropes about sexuality and romance. Three offers a thoughtful variety, and even a couple of surprises — Giselle Renarde’s “A Thief in the Night,” for example, was the first piece from a male-identified person’s perspective I can recall reading in an anthology geared toward straight women.

Likewise, it was good to see some of the pre-existing relationships — into which a third player is introduced — be same-sex couples; these aren’t strictly heterosexual fantasies.  A.J. Lyle’s “Medley of Desire,” for example, features a woman sliding into a relationship between to bi men; “Experience and Expectations” by Kathleen Tudor offers two women exploring the possibility of introducing a male partner into their relationship. None of the stories feature all-female or all-male threesomes, but, you know, there’s always room for improvement  – and no one anthology can be all things to all people. In terms of queering straight erotica conventions and expectations, this collection was a step in the right direction.

In other ways, I found the anthology frustrating — though no more so than I have other similar collections. There is a lot first-person narration, which I find off-putting in porn. At first glance, you’d think it would feel more intimate, but I find it hard to be drawn in to first-person stories.  My working theory is that first person actually distances the reader, in some cases, by making you feel like an intruder rather than a voyeur.

How much does geometry matter? All porn suffers from over description and  I think poly sex scenes are prone to this shortcoming more than most: with three (or more) peoples’ juicy bits in play, it’s a difficult dance to make sure your reader can follow the action without resorting to a laundry list of erotic activities that are — thanks to the laundry list quality — anything but. Overall, Three suffers from this no more or less than usual.

Another shortcoming of three-person porn is, I find, a reliance on the zing of three people having sex! for the emotional punch, rather than slowing down to take the time and show what the characters mean to one another. Emotional complexity definitely matters in porn, and with threesomes it’s particularly important to establish how and why these individuals have reached the point of emotional and physical intimacy. With threesomes set in a contemporary, “our world” setting — as all of these stories are — it’s important to understand what elements to the relationship allow or invite the participants to bend or break our social norm of monogamous coupling. It can be as simple as, well, “it felt simple”: characters whose love for one another is so glaringly obvious to all concerned that the usual rules clearly cease to apply. Or it can be more complex. But it has to be legible. I stand willing to be invested in the pleasure of an impulsive fuck in a taxi, a first-time exploration, or the playfulness of committed partners. But I want to know why probably more than I need to know how. Everyone’s sexual tastes are different, of course, so your mileage may vary. But if why is your thing, then Three may, in sum, be unsatisfying. (You might just want to go seek out some fic instead…).

In the end, Three gave me a lot to think about in terms of what works and doesn’t work in original porn — and poly fictions in particular. I hope it finds a satisfied readership!