By Sarah Swenson, Assistant News Editor
Sex & Vampires
People talk about how vampires are sexualized or romanticized by modern media portrayals, and at first, I was inclined to believe them. I’m sure you’ve seen the articles and heard the scoffs. It is yet another failing of our hyper-sexual modern society; even this creature that murders and maims without morals has been twisted into Mr. Tall, dark and handsome, a sparkling, effervescent face with a set of good cheekbones. However, having recently read Dracula, by Bram Stoker, I have some context for the claim, and I’m not sure I agree.
The more sexual portrayal of vampires wasn’t first imagined by Stephanie Meyer or L.J. Smith. Pretty universally, sucking on someone’s neck and holding them close, especially at night, conveys sexuality. That has been present since the beginning, and it’s not a new idea for authors of vampire stories to write it as sexy or even to write the bitten characters as attracted to or enthralled by the vampire. In Dracula, Jonathan Harker, the first character to see a vampire, meets Dracula not knowing his nature, but it’s not until he meets Dracula’s brides that the sexual overtones become clear. They are beautiful, he describes their “voluptuous” red lips, their musical laughs, the way their hair looked in the moonlight—in his journal, he writes that even while he was afraid, he felt a desire for them. He even writes that he hopes his fiance never reads his journal because she might see him as unfaithful.
Later, several other characters also equate sharing blood to cheating on one’s partner, a theme that is strengthened when Mina is bitten by Dracula and feels as though she is sexually impure. The framing of Mina’s assault, in general, is very sexual. She lies in bed, with her husband paralyzed beside her, while Dracula forces himself upon her and drinks her blood, then rips open his shirt and forces her to drink his blood. She later says that she too, like Jonathan felt desire even with the fear. Lady Westenra and R.M. Renfield, other victims of Dracula’s, feel the compulsion as well, drawn towards Dracula over and over.
Now, unbearable desire, drinking of blood, a bit of nudity—it’s nowhere near the level of sex you see in vampire media now. No interpreting is required to read the sex in the Dresden Files. It’s not subtext, it’s fully textual. If you pick up a YA vampire novel, chances are you’ll find a steamy encounter between the main character and the bloodsucker in question.
But the explanation for that is modernization, not sexualization. Vampires didn’t become a sex symbol out of the blue. Bram Stoker knew exactly what he was writing, and he knew exactly what he couldn’t write. Dracula was published in the Victorian era, in Britain. Sex wasn’t talked about among the sophisticated crowd. Conservative sexual values were preserved, at least in writing, and there was no way a novel featuring explicit sex scenes would get distribution, so he wrote a book with no sex, but filled with innuendo, mysterious but attractive men and women, and forbidden desire.
In all of Dracula, though it was certainly aimed at adults, there is no sex at all, even between the married couples, and in fact, it’s not until the characters encounter vampires that they start to be written as having desires, or being flirtatious. Lady Westenra, before she is turned, is sweet and devoted to one man, writing letters and admiring the sea. Afterwards, she dresses provocatively in public, pulls her husband to kiss her not once but twice (that doesn’t seem scandalous, but ladies that that time did not initiate kisses), and is further described as “voluptuous”. Voluptuous, I think, was Stoker’s go-to word for evil sexy vampire lady.
See, Bram Stoker couldn’t have written more explicitly because nothing could be written that way. It didn’t have to do with the subject matter, that was just the standard. Reading about ripping nightshirts and forbidden desire, men in dark cloaks and women in tightly corseted dresses—that was a scandal to the Victorian reader. So perhaps our whole society has become more accepting of sex in media, but the vampire myth itself was never tame. There have always been readers invested in a romance with a bit of blood and shadowy figures; the appeal is nothing new.