Erotic literature refers to a wide range of literary, poetic and artistic works that deal with sexual topics. While erotic books can be explicit, they are often thought-provoking, philosophical and evocative.
One of the most popular examples is EL James’ Fifty Shades trilogy and its sequels, as well as Sylvia Day’s Crossfire novels and Anna Todd’s After-series. However, many readers have mixed feelings about the category.
Sex isn’t just sex.
While erotic literature may have the reputation of being low-brow and racy, its writers have long sought to explore and challenge ideas of sexuality and desire. They might be seeking to arouse the same feelings as their readers, or they might be writing satire and social criticism. Some erotic literary works have even been banned throughout history.
More recently, erotic literature has become more accessible than ever with the advent of the modern novel. The genre can be found in a wide variety of forms, from the ancient and quasi-sacred Kama Sutra, to more modern works like Fifty Shades of Grey and Syliva Days’ Crossfire series. In addition to sex, erotic literature often deals with other topics that are often taboo, such as mental illness and addiction.
Despite their controversial content, these novels have enjoyed an unprecedented surge in popularity over the past decade. As such, a new online study by the authors reported here sought to investigate the reasons behind this phenomenon. The researchers asked two straightforward empirical questions with an exclusive focus on contemporary readership: who reads these erotic novels, and why do they enjoy reading them? The majority of respondents were heterosexual women in committed relationships who identified themselves as avid readers. They were from a wide range of age groups, and they often shared their reading experiences with others. Respondents also characterized their enjoyment of these novels as a means of distraction and feelings of ease. The authors interpreted these findings as suggesting that the erotic novels are not only read for pleasure, but also as a means of self-discovery and empowerment.
Characters don’t have to be simple.
Unlike pornography, which often describes carnal pleasures without much narrative context, erotic literature is full of erotic stories that humanize sexual experience. It offers a view of the world through the eyes of those who have experienced it, and provides a safe way to explore fantasies that would be taboo in real life.
The recent popularity of erotic novels has prompted researchers to investigate how readers perceive these texts. In one study, participants were asked to rate how important various features of a book seemed to them using a scale from 1-5. The results were used to construct a principal components analysis (PCA) with oblique rotation. The component loadings shown in Table S1 (Supplemental Information) show how the items clustered together in different ways.
While erotic literature can provide sexual stimulation, it is not without its limitations. The authors of the study suggest that future research should focus on more complex analyses to investigate the nuances of this genre, such as exploring a larger pool of participants from different cultures with distinct values and norms.
It’s also possible that erotic books, stories and poems may serve as a powerful tool for building intimacy among couples. As Placeres points out, “Just as reading erotic novels can help individuals discover their own inhibitions and preferences, it can also be useful for helping couples to identify and verbalize intimate concerns, or to overcome low levels of sexual desire.”
Conflict is key.
Erotic literature fosters playful discourse that mobilizes fantasies, evokes the pleasure of seduction and appeals to all the senses to excite the reader’s imagination. However, it also challenges societal conventions and raises questions about how sexual desires are expressed, interpreted and regulated. The genre of erotic literature has evolved to address a variety of issues, including the relationship between fantasy and reality, the impact of social norms on sexual expression and the dynamics of intimate relationships.
While the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has led some to call for the term erotica to be removed from books that depict sexual activity, the genre remains popular and continues to have a strong following. A recent online survey found that most erotic readers are heterosexual women in committed relationships who enjoy sharing their reading experiences with others. They report that sexy stories make them feel seductive and distract them from feelings of psychological discomfort.
One of the best ways to learn to write erotica is by reading as much in your chosen subgenre as possible. This includes not only contemporary bestsellers, but older works as well. The more you read, the more you’ll see the patterns and the techniques that work. For example, you can experiment with different types of openings by reading the first pages of ten bestsellers in your chosen subgenre. Then, select the one that works best for your story.
Showing is key.
When writing erotic literature, it is important to show instead of tell. The key to the genre is to show that there is a real connection between two characters (whether they be male or female) and to build anticipation and excitement for sex. It is also necessary to include a level of character development and growth (and not just sexy growth). This is what sets apart high-quality erotic fiction from the basement or bargain bin erotica that is merely a series of sex scenes with interchangeable characters.
A lot of the criticism against erotic fiction (as well as the media coverage of Fifty Shades of Grey) has quickly dismissed its readers without considering their motivations or reading experiences in any depth. This has lead to a misunderstanding of the nature of erotic fiction and its role in readers’ lives.
Previous research suggests that erotic novels are used by their primarily female readership as a form of non-threatening literary pornography. They are designed to exalt carnal pleasures and provide sexual stimulation yet enter what Lawrence and Herold call women’s “sexual scripts”. This makes them very different from pornography which is a direct description of sexual pleasure and has no narrative structure. Our analyses show that a key aspect of erotic fiction is its ability to stimulate feelings of anticipation, arousal and euphoria in the context of an engaging story.