A Very Tired Fangirl :) (jij) wrote in superhero_muses,
A Very Tired Fangirl :)

Workshop: "Writing Sex Pollen Stories" by Jen_in_Japan

Human beings have always wanted to believe in the existence of some kind of love potion or irresistible aphrodisiac--a substance that creates uncontrollable sexual desire in a person. This yearning manifests itself in fiction over and over again. The original Star Trek, for example, has both the inhibition-lowering flowers of "This Side of Paradise" and the tears of Troyan women in "Elaan of Troyus." Some fandoms have to make such substances up, but DC writers have the advantage of having a near-canon love potion we can use: sex pollen, courtsey of the villain Poison Ivy.

This essay covers the basics of sex pollen, purposes writers can put it toward, and different options you have in writing stories with it. It's a surprisingly flexible and subtle plot device that can be used to lots of fascinating effects--hot, funny, romantic, and disturbing. Having done exhaustive research on it, I'll share some great stories too!

The Good Sex Fairy

To be fair, in canon Poison Ivy's pollen does not seem to work the way it's often used in fandom. Usually Ivy's pollen puts her victims under her control. It doesn't even seem to be primarily a creator of sexual desire in the comics and animated series--largely, of course, because that would quickly involve scenes not suitable to a young reader. So in the wonderful comic based on the animated series, when Bruce is controlled by Poison Ivy's lipstick he must do as she says, but he certainly doesn't seem to be attracted to her:

In the comics there's usually more innuendo:

But nothing ever seems to really happen sexually.

That's where we come in!

Poison Ivy is very rarely the person the victim ends up having sex with. In fandom, she is much more likely to scatter sex pollen around like an X-rated Tinkerbell and then flee the scene, leaving whichever characters you like affected by the stuff. Occasionally she will stay to watch, if you enjoy the voyeurism angle. But most of the time she's long gone by the time your target characters are in place. Usually sex pollen is presented as literal pollen, I suspect because it's fun to imagine powder floating about. But it can be totally invisible and undetectable as well--Pamela Isley is a skilled biochemist and can work with pheremones in their pure form. Canonically it's often portrayed as a lipstick--which I think would have some fun possibilities in het or femslash if a female character got a hold of some without realizing what it was.

Sex Pollen as a Tool

The first question to ask if you're thinking about writing a story featuring sex pollen is the same to ask with any story: why do you want to use it? I've seen about five major purposes in sex pollen stories, covering a massive range of possibilities.

1. Marital Aid. I mention this as an almost unique example: a story in which both parties willingly ingest sex pollen to enhance their sex life. trascendenza's "Wherever Truth Lies" (Superman/Batman, R) has both characters knowingly using sex pollen to enjoy the effects. Because part of the fun of sex pollen stories is smudging up the boundaries of consent, this kind of story is going to be rare, but I wanted to mention it as an example of possibilities with the plot device that people don't use often.

2. Romantic Matchmaker. One of the most common uses of sex pollen is to bring together two people who have wanted to be together (consciously or unconsciously) for some time. The iffy question of consent raised by sex pollen is dodged by having the two people realize at the end of the experience that they're actually in love with each other. Yes, it's a pretty lucky coincidence, we all know that, but in these cases sex pollen functions as a metaphor for sexual desire itself--irresistable, uncontrollable, and surprising. Sex pollen's function in these kinds of stories is usually to corner the characters and force them to face their own desire and embrace the frightening lack of control it brings. Superheros tend to be control freaks--even the more open and accessible, like Dick or Clark, are still, compared to average people, almost always on a very tight leash emotionally, morally, and physically. Sex pollen gives the writer and reader delicious access to a version of these tightly-contained characters where that control is stripped away. So for example in solvent90's story "Containment" (Tim/Kon, R), Kon sees Tim under the influence of pollen and can't stop thinking about it: "Kon heard his voice tighten as the memory hit him like a wave of Kryptonite, liquid, dizzying – Tim, trying so hard to control himself, and failing." Honestly, what's not to find hot about that? This goes just as much for Catwoman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Jason Blood as Batman: DC heroes are control freaks, every one, in their own ways.

3. WTF Pairing. Ever just feel like writing Lois Lane and the Martian Manhunter in bed together? (if you have, please write it for me!) How about Hal Jordan and the Phantom Stranger? Or, uh, Catwoman and Hawkgirl? The DC universe is full of gorgeous, interesting, sexy people who may never meet each other, or who have personalities that are not conducive to a quick romp in the hay. Sex pollen is our chance to skip the long-drawn-out process by which Lois breaks up with Clark and heals J'onn of his mourning for his long-lost wife and just toss 'em into bed together. These kinds of stories can be very hot, or very funny, or both! So, for example, greeneyelove pairs up Batgirl (Cass Cain) with Jason Todd, with both sexy and amusing results, in "A Disturbing Reality." Or salmon_pink literally tosses together Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) with Catwoman in "Fall." Depending on the tone, almost any pairing can be made rather "WTF": pervyficgirl's "Familial Relations" (Dick/Tim/Bruce/Selina, PG-13) uses sex pollen to wreak havoc on the paternity of little Helena, and the tone is less hot than wildly, chaotically funny.  Oh, and her pairing reminds me that sex pollen is very good for when you want to write an orgy:  see merfilly's "A Misty Day" (JLA:  Year Zero, R) for a good example (and hopefully get inspired!)

4. Breaking Taboos. Sex pollen is especially good for getting characters into relationships that they are, for whatever reason, somewhat resistant to (you'll notice we're starting to get into some dubious consent issues here). Usually only somewhat resistant at this level of story. In many ways, all slash stories that use sex pollen (and most sex pollen stories involve slash relationships) are using a touch of this type. Even in the happy "everyone is cheerfully bi" world that we slash writers often like to create, I believe there's still a lingering sense of taboo to a gay relationship that sometimes requires sex pollen to get through. Not surprisingly, Robins often feature prominently in stories of this type, because of the very strong taboos against teen/adult pairings. In "Clean as a Washed Stone," for example, petronelle brings together Jason Todd, Superman and Batman in a threesome that everyone involved knows is wrong, wrong, wrong, but it doesn't matter anymore. Or in "Boots, Belts, and Pollen," where mildredmilton has some very hazy consent issues indeed with a bound and unaffected Batman and an affected Barbara. I could imagine sex pollen being used to break down happily married characters into adultery as well (although I didn't find any, perhaps because breaking up marriages is rarely "hot.") Where "Romantic Matchmaker" stories focus on the underlying rightness of the pairing, and "WTF Pairings" focus on the randomness, taboo-breaking stories focus on the wrongness and make that part of the erotic charge of the story.

4. Non-Con. When it comes right down to it, sex pollen leads to non-consensual sex. Characters' ability to say "yes" or "no" is generally stripped away, and although most of the time they turn out to be happy about that, that's really just a lucky accident. If someone hit your office with sex pollen, would you be happy about it? What if you weren't next to the co-worker you secretly think is cute, but someone you find repulsive, someone you loathe? Even if it's someone you like just fine, no one really wants to be forced into having sex with them. Hell, even if you love someone, you're not always going to be happy to couple with them at someone else's crazy whim. Sex pollen can be used on people who really don't want to be intimate, or it can be used on someone against their will. The results can be hot in a disturbing way: for example, quiet__tiger's "Catalust" has the Joker and Batman running into sex pollen, to the Joker's enjoyment but almost certainly not Batman's after it wears off. Or Kerithwyn's "Florotica," which has Ivy with a very reluctant Nightwing. Or the results can be realistically disturbing: teh_no's "Summer of Love" explores the repercussions when Superboy is dosed with sex pollen and tries to rape Robin. There are a lot of possibilities for using sex pollen for some very dark and twisted stories--I was frankly surprised I didn't come across more in my research.

Variables in Writing

Because there's no definite canon for how sex pollen works, we're free to make up our own versions every time, like mad biochemists! There are a lot of fun variables you can tweak and play with to get exactly the effect you want. A few of them include:

1. Who is affected? Are both/all parties affected or has only one person gotten dosed? It makes a big difference on how the story progresses. Many stories feature an undosed person who tries not to take advantage of a dosed person but eventually gives up and enjoys the uncontrolled lust of the other--for example, Shrift's "Dodge-Town" (NC-17, Dick/Tim). The feel of a story like that is going to be rather different from one where both parties are hit with the pollen.

2. How fast does it take effect? This can range from instantaneous, must-have-you-right-now clothes-tearing lust to a very gradual, nearly imperceptable growing desire. I'm a big fan of the latter--I just have a thing for really drawing out the weakening process, I guess. You can also play with the timing by having one person get exposed first and the other later (I do that in "More" (Superman/Batman, NC-17)), or you can argue that alien or male physiology processes pollen differently than human or female physiology. Shift the timings and you've got a person resisting but being subverted by both the pollen and the other person's active efforts. Yum.

3. How aware are the characters of the situation? Often the characters are aware they've been exposed because it's amusing/hot/fun to watch them react to the knowledge before the pollen takes effect (pervyficgirl's "Familial Relations," mentioned above, is one of my favorite examples of this--everyone manages to snarl out one last insult at everyone else before they set to). But it can be a lot of fun to have characters affected but unaware of the cause as well. Suddenly your character has this uncontrollable desire they're struggling with--how do they explain it, what do they try to do in reaction?  A good example of this is derryderrydown's "When the Little Bluebell Stars to Ring," in which Wally West can't seem to keep his mind off sex.  Which is so unremarkable that he doesn't exactly know when his behavior starts to become inappropriate toward his oblivious teammates...

4. How resistant are the characters? Do they put up a fight or give in quickly? Anyone who knows me knows by now I love watching characters struggle against their desire as long as possible (with or without sex pollen!). Usually, unless you want a really dark story, there's a "break point"--a moment where the character gives up the struggle and gives in to desire. That can be immediately or it can take a very long time, and you need to know where you want it to be.

5. What exactly are the effects? This covers a lot of things. Does the person remember it the next morning? (useful for humorous waking-up-next-to-near-strangers scenes). How lucid is the person during the experience? Is it like being drunk or high, or it is a sheerly physical need while the mind stays clear and sane? (For a beautiful example of a very heightened state caused by pollen, see trascendenza's "Special Delivery" (Superman/Batman, NC-17), which uses lush language to create an almost hypnotic state). The possibilities are nearly endless, from extremely animalistic rutting to incredibly romantic peak experiences.

To illuminate how different these variables can make a story, let's imagine two different Batman/Catwoman sex pollen stories using them:

Story A: Batman has been dosed with sex pollen, but Catwoman's arrival startles off Poison Ivy, leaving Batman bound to a table. Batman doesn't realize he's been dosed (odorless pheremones), but something Ivy says during the fight tips off the unaffected Catwoman. As Catwoman tries to free the bound Batman, the pollen slowly starts to affect him without him knowing it, leading him to try and talk her into leaving him bound and taking advantage of him. She's reluctant, but eventually can't resist such a tempting opportunity, and the intense experience leads to them entering a full relationship.

Story B: Catwoman and Batman are both chasing Ivy to get back something Ivy's stolen. They crash together into her greenhouse on top of a pile of flowers. The results are instantaneous--an urgent necessity to have sex right then and there, even though both of them know it's not really an ideal time or place. Perhaps Ivy lingers to watch, enjoying the combination of their intense fury at her with their irresistable lust for each other. Batman and Catwoman eventually stop, sated but still annoyed, and a half-naked Batman clocks a giggling Ivy with a batarang while Catwoman snatches the loot and flees.

Same pairing, same plot device, two very different scenarios, tones, moods, and goals.  Mix and match to make a story that happens to hit all your personal kinks!

Well, with any luck some of these purposes and possible variables have given you some possible ideas! Sex pollen is a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason: because it's fun, versatile, and can be hot as hell. Consider it another tool in your writer's toolbox and have some fun with it!
Tags: jen_in_japan, sex pollen, workshop

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  • Open Thread: Oracle Hotline

    -- How long have you been writing? I wrote small things while in school, but never really believed I could actually write for any kind of audience…

  • Open Thread: Oracle Hotline

    --How do you feel about the advice “Write the story you want to read”? Oh, especially if writing fanfiction that seems like good advice! Obviously…

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    --How do you handle writers’ block? If I hit a point where I can't seem to move forward I often find it helpful to switch the POV character, or to…