Since the release of EL James’s Fifty Shades trilogy, erotic novels have been on a veritable surge. Although contemporary erotic literature is often dismissed for its low literary value, it has considerable influence on the book market.
Researchers conducted a study investigating why women like erotic novels. Most participants were heterosexual women in committed relationships with a high level of education and described themselves as enthusiastic readers who enjoy sharing their reading experiences.
1. They’re easy to read
With advances in technology, the ability to download and read erotic fiction has never been easier. This makes it a convenient form of entertainment for busy women who may not have the time or energy to go out and purchase a paper copy of a book. It also means that they can enjoy a sexy story without anyone knowing that they are doing so.
While some people criticize erotic novels for their’sexist’ or ’emasculating’ messages, they have the potential to offer an empowering outlet for women. Unlike hardcore pornography, which is usually designed for male audiences, contemporary erotic novels are generally written with female readers in mind. This may mean that they are more likely to depict a pseudo-superiority of female characters in terms of emotional stability, which they use to mould their male counterparts into affectively intelligent partners (for a theoretical interpretation of this relationship between features of schematic romances and readers’ low openness to experiences scores, see Archer and Jockers, 2017).
The online survey reported here was designed to explore two main questions. First, who reads erotic novels and secondly, why do they like them? Most of the respondents were heterosexual women who were in committed relationships and self-declared avid readers. They came from a wide range of educational backgrounds, were in diverse professional occupations and were from a variety of age groups. These women were particularly fond of erotic novels because they provided positive excitement, a distraction and feelings of ease.
2. They’re a distraction
Despite the stigma that often surrounds the genre, erotic fiction is a bestseller, outselling literary staples like sci-fi and mystery novels. Women in their hundreds of thousands devoured EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series, sparking a veritable surge of romantic and erotic literature. But what is it about these books that appeal to so many people?
Unlike pornography, which tends to focus on sexual acts and explicit language, erotic fiction is more concerned with the overall storyline. As a result, it may be less likely to stimulate sexual feelings, but more effective at providing a distraction from the everyday demands of life.
In a world where staying ‘connected’ is the norm, it can be difficult to switch off and relax. Reading a novel can help you get lost in a fantasy and forget about the stresses of everyday life.
As a result, erotic novels provide an escape from reality and the chance to immerse yourself in something different. This feeling of relaxation, combined with the sexy content of the book, can have a positive impact on your stress levels and increase your sense of well-being.
3. They’re fun
Women often read erotic novels as a form of sexual pleasure, researchers found. This is because the sexy content makes them feel exciting and provides a sense of enjoyment and excitement.
A recent study by psychologists found that women who read erotica have more realistic fantasies about sex and more intense sensations than those who don’t read it. The authors suggest this is because sexy books help to normalise these kinds of fantasies, making them more acceptable.
When asked to name a book they thought of as a typical erotic novel, participants mostly named contemporary bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey. Classic literary works such as Nabokov’s Lolita were hardly ever mentioned, despite the fact that they have been classed as erotic fiction for decades.
This is partly because most people think of erotic fiction as being more low-quality than other forms of literature. But this isn’t necessarily the case. The items that cluster on component 1 in this study – which includes things such as the characters’ inner lives, the description of their worlds and the writing style – are more important for understanding why readers enjoy these types of novels than the elements that cluster on component 2, which relates to the way that these novels break down moral boundaries and taboos.
For example, the story of Bliss in ACOTAR, the bestselling fantasy series by Veronica Roth, is filled with all sorts of sexy scenes and romance. But it also tells a compelling and moving tale about the relationship between a princess and a warrior soldier.
4. They’re sexy
Recent years have seen a massive boom of erotic novels. The Fifty Shades trilogy by EL James and its spin-offs have sold millions of copies, even surpassing Joanne K Rowling’s Harry Potter books. However, little empirical research has been devoted to these highly successful new variants of romance and erotic fiction (see for example Coles and Shamp 1984, Lawrence and Herold 1988).
It is often claimed that the sexual depictions in erotic novels are what drives readership. Yet, this view has failed to explore the motivations behind reading these novels in a sufficient depth. Despite the explicit depictions, our analyses indicate that participants are reading these novels for other reasons than sexual gratification. They find them to be interesting, exciting and entertaining. These novel-related pleasures seem to be more important than sexual stimulation (for more details see Archer and Jockers 2017).
It is not merely the explicit nature of erotic fiction that is attractive for women, but the overall storyline and character development. This is what differentiates erotic fiction from porn which often focuses solely on the depiction of sexual acts for its own arousal, without any plot or character development. In fact, scientific studies have shown that 30-45 minutes of reading a sexy story can trigger the same arousal as watching porn. Moreover, these stories are more realistic than many of our own experiences in the bedroom.