In 2011, a scourge was released upon the western world. An adaptation of Twilight fan-fiction written by E.L. James entitled Fifty Shades of Grey brought erotic literature into the main stream. 50 Shades vividly depicts a young (submissive) woman thrust into the arms of a BDSM crazed billionaire, and the lines of romance novels and adult fiction began to blur forever. Since then, countless articles (featuring unscientific research) make the notion that erotic literature was to women what hardcore pornography has always been for men.
But is it really? Is erotica really the perpetual ladies-night of lit?
Surely men see the value in printed smut as well?
Erase that question mark, friends. Because we do.
The Smutty Word is the Word
Erotic fiction has long been an interest of mine. During my late years of high school and transitioning into early adulthood, one of my favorite routines was the weekly pilgrimage to the local Barnes and Noble. My friends and I always had some time to kill before pub trivia at the sports bar next door, so a good 45 minutes was spent each Wednesday night mindlessly browsing B&N’s bounty of the written word.
There’s so much to consume at any large bookstore, but to me the “Romance” section required a weekly visit. Picking any book off the shelf, I’d open it randomly and begin reading.
A free live performance to anyone with 20 feet, I would begin my oration typically in the middle of one of the book’s most steamy sex scenes. Never simply reading the words, nearly always reading the passage as stately and proper as possible, emulating voice overs from any Ken Burns documentary….
<a perfect* Keith David voice impersonation>
“…Adrian’s cock yearned for release as he rubbed my ass from behind, nearly splitting the denim of his jeans. All the while, my tongue continued to explore the breadth of Damien’s member, I knew what I needed…I wanted them both. Here. Now.”
Adding my own pauses and emphasis for effect, I read each random fuck session as it was the most important piece of literature ever penned. Sometimes for a laugh, but mostly for attention, each “reading” fueled my interest for this genre of fiction. This one bookstore easily had 200 different selections, and there was a constant rotation of new material.
But why? Hadn’t people heard of internet porn?
Attempting to answer this question led me to reading whole novels at a time, at home, not just amusing out of context experiences of a young woman earnestly recounting her first ménage a trois. Slowly, I fell in love with the unapologetic passion, the cheesy but honest messages displayed by the main characters, and the artisanal hand-crafted depictions of people DOIN’ THE NASTY.
But soon after, a new realization dawned on me…
Romance and Erotica are NOT the Same!
Maybe the most important part of every sexy-lit reader’s journey is wading their way through the sub genres and learning their unique themes and ideas. Rule 34 applies to literature as well, so there will be a never-ending quest to find your favorite flavor of page-turning smut. Most works however, can be broken into two groups: Romance and Erotica. Both styles appear the same on the outside: a nondescript man, often faceless, shirtless, possibly oiled, dressed to the appropriate ruggedness of the story’s background. They even have the same titles, employing familiar words like “desire,” “protection,” “boss,” “daddy,” and thanks to 50 Shades, “billionaire.”
If both styles are so similar, how do you differentiate and find what’s right for you? Digging into the actual story, it becomes easy. Romance is a slow build up, a tease of characters increasing their desire for each other. Often there’s some sort of roadblock preventing early chapter screwing, such as a horrid relationship or a desire to stay focused on a career…apparently running an orphanage or community center means your weekly fuck-budget is always in the red, who knew?
Anyway, romance novels then take the next 12-28 chapters to develop and cultivate the hot attraction, and pepper the reader with an (often) frustrating will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic. After all the proper stars align for love, the lead characters finally find the time and the means to get up on each other, and fireworks crash down from the heavens. At face value, I appreciate how the characters in romance novels are actually enriching their lives and are usually finding someone to share that life with. Erotica on the other hand, often makes no promises to leave the characters better off, enriched, or in some cases even happy. Authors of erotica will only promise the reader one thing; the characters will be thoroughly fucked.
Getting down and dirty within a handful of chapters, the protagonist is usually convinced they’re sexually taming some wild stud, all the while learning the fine art of Dominant/Submissive relationships. It’s gritty, unapologetic, sometimes disgusting…
And it’s the greatest type of written work ever to grace the world.
That said, What makes for Good Erotica?
Generally, I like to stick to realistic sexual experiences as much as possible. Maybe it doesn’t need to be totally believable, but I can better appreciate a sexy story if I can picture it happening in the real world. This is to say I try to avoid vampires in my adult literature, steering clear of cloud castles housing unicorn sex-centaurs, and NEVER reading anything that pretended to be traditional literature for the sake of sacrificing explicit sex scenes. It’s quite difficult to get lost in the fantasy of a sexy moment when you need to worry about a character being robbed of their sanguine energy, or if there are human/animal rights violations to consider.
Stories about human beings overcoming human problems, and graphically getting laid in the process beats a pixie-faerie’s sparkly blowjob any day of the week. Perusing the old AOL “adults only, please for the love of God be 18” chatrooms as a blossoming young man, “xXSimpsonsFan420-69Xx” developed a passion for the human-interest angle of seeing the dirty written word. With 56k Dial-Up internet still reigning supreme, pornography was going to come slowly, one poorly spelled synonym for penis at a time.
Unfortunately, this set of criteria causes the selection of erotic novels available to be woefully thin. Enjoying your erotic fiction as a slice-of-life fuck-fest with just a mild semblance of a story is like saying you’ll only ever eat Hawaiian Pizza for the rest of your life, you’ll end up starving and soon to die without a friend in the world. That being said, I’ve come to accept that erotica needs to have something of a plot, building the tension all over again before the next payoff. Frantically I swipe or turn through pages of character development, not realizing at the moment that I’m digesting a real story between the raunchy sex chapters.
After all, I always eat my vegetables.
However, Perfection Can’t Always Be Perfect…
Smutty literature is not without its struggle. While there are issues with market saturation and out of touch or just plain sexist writers, there are problems with some of the themes themselves. Erotic fiction, particularly of the vanilla heterosexual variety has a real problem on its hands, and it’s not far off from an issue plaguing visual pornography.
We need to talk about anal sex.
No, I’m not writing this to kink shame or to look down my nose at any volume of anally fixated eroticism in this day and age. There’s more than enough good reason to explore and appreciate the butt stuff. My issue? Anal sex is being used as a trophy. Awarded as an accolade of vanquishing the hang ups and fears of the female main character, the male love interest finally gets the payoff to which he’s been slowly pining for the last 16 chapters.
It’s something I call “THE ARDOUS ROAD TO ANAL™”
Erotica with this problem predictably follows the same Seven-Step-Process to get to the finish line of backdoor shenanigans. These steps lazily present a roadmap that the male lead will undoubtedly follow to get his final piece of “her puzzle.”
Let’s look at each step, in detail.
1) Immediate physical attraction
The female lead, for this exercise let’s call her Roxy, will be introduced first. Roxy is smart and successful, but one thing is wrong: she hasn’t had a good screw in months. Roxy probably had her heart broken recently, and damnit, she’s looking for a new start. “The last DAMN thing I want to see right now is another man” Roxy quips. Before Roxy can even finish the thought, enter the male lead, let’s call him Bruno. Holy shit Bruno, put a shirt on!
2) Flirty bickering
Ok Bruno, I don’t like being stuck on this car ride together any more than you. Why did my college roommate send you to pick me up from the airport anyway? Whatever, I’m just going to enjoy this vacation and ignore that brooding demeaner of yours. No, my neurotic attitude is NOT cute, stop saying that.
3) The first encounter
So Bruno and I have to share a room? Total bullshit! If I wasn’t so oblivious, I’d say the old roommate did this on purpose to get me laid. I’m just going to sleep on the floor and get a hotel room tomorrow. Oh he wants to share? What a gentleman!
4) Exploring each other’s bodies
Last night meant nothing. Sure it was the hottest sex I’ve had in years, and Bruno’s rugged vulnerabilities made me climax in ways I didn’t know were possible, but he’s got baggage or something. -Sigh- Fine, this is just going to be a vacation fling, I deserve this anyway.
5) No one touches me there
Wow, what the hell was that? Did he seriously try that? His finger better have just slipped. You’d think after three weeks of hot sex that’d he realize I’m not that kind of girl…
6) Ok maybe just *some* stimulation
…Ok I just came even harder than the first time. Bruno didn’t ask, he just TOOK! Why did he insist I call him Daddy? Bruno’s done so many things I swear I’d never do. Did he really mean that when he said he was going to fuck me there next time? I’d never let him, I mean, I don’t think I would.
7) “This man touched my soul” aka “I always loved anal”
No, wait, this just feels right. I’d do anything for Bruno, and for some reason that’s symbolized by this historically taboo brand of intercourse. I feel liberated, reenergized, but most of all, I’m HIS.
There, Bruno can hang the “Mission Accomplished” banner and call it a day. He’s won the trophy, he got the butt, and in far too many cases of erotica, this means he “got the girl.” Why does this need to the end of the road, so to speak? Why is it that anal sex most symbolizes a complete sensuous connection with your partner?
One erotica author that relies heavily on this “Road to Anal” method is Helen Hardt. Hardt can be best described as the R.L. Stine of hetero erotica, always churning out a new book or saga, and I own several of her selections. I really enjoyed her Cougar Chronicles series as it read just like a Hallmark Movie if Hallmark showed hardcore porn (please God, make that happen someday). It gave a healthy amount of hot sex, but I could still feel that the characters were genuinely falling in love. That series also served as a nice and light alternative to the Steel Brothers Saga.
**Spoiler Alerts*** This saga, which makes no real attempt to differentiate itself from the Fifty Shades series, details the chronicles of the obscenely rich, and obscenely fucked up Steel family.
The first book of the Steel Brothers saga, Craving, started at least as an interesting sexual journey. Told from alternating perspectives, following the writing style most often employed in Hardt’s books, it’s fun and exciting to read the buildup and pay off from a sexual encounter involving both the male and female point of view.
This style paired well with Craving’s nearly wall-to-wall fucking, but got WAY too heavy toward the end. As was made clear from the start, both the male and female lead were bouncing back from bad life experiences, one we knew from the first chapter, Jade was left at the alter and starting a new life in the rural but affluent backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Talon, the male lead on the other hand was clearly suppressing something traumatic. Talon’s sexual aggression is presented as alarming and unapologetic, and is giving Jade enough orgasms to stockpile for a long Colorado winter. Jade has progressed nicely through steps 5 and 6 on the road to anal, but Talon keeps running into trouble. Unfortunately, the traumatic “something” we learn in the stories climax was a horrid kidnapping and rape that Talon endured when he was a child, written in vivid detail.
Even more unfortunately, the “trophy of anal” appears connected to this experience, as in my opinion Talon used anal sex as the ultimate ownership of his sexual partners, not unlike his kidnappers did when he was young. Talon can’t quite win his trophy with Jade, possibly out of love, or possibly because he finally realized that this unhealthy obsession had a much deeper internal meaning. Literature has shown time and again throughout history to have the power to change society for the better. While it’s maybe asking too much for erotica to pave the way for positive social change, the least it can do is stop trying to become part of the problem. Besides, a simultaneous orgasm sounds like trophy actually worth winning.
How I Enjoy this Obsession
Eventually, it was time to grow up. The free show performances on the Barnes & Noble circuit is a young man’s game, and a lewd behavior citation becomes harder to explain way when your age starts with a crooked number. Presently, nearly every piece of erotica that I purchase is from Amazon, read on my wife’s Kindle. I still find the time to take a look at bookstore shelves whenever I can, and I find a guilty pleasure digging deep into internet fan fiction and unpublished erotic fantasies clogging the dark web. As I’ve entered my late twenties however, my favorite activity has become to read some of these filthy stories to my wife at bedtime.
Let’s be clear, this is not a sexy “foreplay” type experience. I’m still somewhat of an obnoxious punk, giving unique voices to characters, pronouncing words in their unintended old-world ways. While I certainly have more appreciation for the staid recounting of personal sexual experiences, taking my preferred brand of erotica too seriously can lead to unhealthy real-world experiences and expectations. I’d love to say that my readings turn my wife and every consenting adult in a twenty-five-mile radius into a sex-frenzy, but that’s simply not the case.
Erotica was never about the sex. To me it’s always been about bonding. Whether it’s a cheap laugh with friends before trivia, or something to relax with before bed as my wife drifts off to sleep, the erotic genre will always be a part of this obnoxious punk’s literary arsenal.
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