A couple of days ago I wrote an article about society's attitude towards sex (as opposed to violence). I started with an example of me not being acceped into an (unnamed) online writers' group because I write erotica. Members of said unnamed writers' group made their way into my comments to attack erotica and argue that it has no redeeming value.
The point of my article was not that erotica is amazing and everyone should read it. The point was...well, you can read it for yourself. But these comments did make me think and I decided to write an article extolling the virtues of erotica.
[Note: I know there are lots of people out there who don't like erotica. That is fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But please keep things polite and civil and don't come into the comments to crap all over erotica. I don't like horror, but I don't seek out Stephen King or Chuck Wendig and trash their genre on their websites. Don't be an asshole.]
Also: this article may contain what some people may call vulgar references to male and female genitalia. If you are easily offended or sensitive to those types of words, consider youself warned.
What is erotica?
The definition of erotica is "sexually arousing literature". While there are different shades of erotic literature - romance with erotic elements, erotica romance and straight erotica - I am going to lump it all under one umbrella in this article. I do realise there is a difference, but I want to focus on books with lots of explicit sex scenes and for ease of writing I will call all those erotica.
You may have noticed the term "literature" in the definition. Some people will argue until they are blue in the face that erotica has no redeeming value from a literary standpoint. Those people have a very narrow and elitist opinion of what literature is and this is an argument that I don't find helpful in the least. I have read a lot of literature and the majority is pretentious and provides me with no enjoyment. Classifying something as literature does not provide any value, in my opinion.
Is erotica porn?
Another argument I often hear is "Erotica is just porn." First of all, I don't think there is anything wrong with porn. Good porn is fabulous. Just look at the amazing movies Erika Lust produces. The argument that erotica is just porn is usually used to highlight that erotica has no plot, no character development and it's just sex all the time. Like any literary genre, there is good erotica and bad erotica. I would say Fifty Shades of Grey is an example of very badly written erotica with overtures of abuse and full of misogyny. On the other hand, Jenny Trout's The Boss series takes the same themes (young woman falls in love with billionaire and has a BDSM relationship), but there is definitely plot, character development and lots of feels besides the sexy ones.
Yes, erotica has a lot of sex. But to dismiss a whole genre because "it's just people having sex" is a bit shortsighted. Also, have you ever tried to write erotica?I It's really not as easy as it seems. Especially if there is a LOT of sex: I mean, there are only so many ways of describing someone's pussy or dick, or the act of having sex. And you don't really want to use too many euphamisms, as that can get tedious (and silly for the reader) and then your writing will lose it's effect.
Erotica makes you horny
What better way to get in the mood for sex (either alone or with a partner) than reading erotica? Remember, erotica is sexually arousing. Which means there is sexual tension built up, anticipation, release and sometimes more release. The "doing it" part of erotica is usually not even the best part, it's everything leading up to it. As my friend @svedenmacher said when I talked to him about it, "Horror makes you afraid, erotica makes you horny." And what would you rather be? Afraid or horny? I know which one I would choose...
Erotica discusses themes of an overtly sexual nature. So yes, there is a lot of sex. But the sex in erotica has a point, it's not just - what some people may call - gratuitous. And because of it discussing a wide variety of sexual practices, erotica works to destigmatise sex. Erotica is the only place where you can read expicitly about threesomes, gay or lesbian sex, anal sex, BDSM, in a way that does not invoke shame and guilt. Erotica celebrates all the different ways humans like to have sex, whether it be "vanilla" or not.
This was the part that I liked most about erotica when I started reading it. Growing up in a very conservative household I had not really received any sex education. Without a point of reference it was very easy for me to think that certain urges I had were weird. For example, I get more turned on thinking of women than of men. I thought there was something wrong with me until I read erotica and discovered bisexuality. Someone else may have a similar realisation. Do not underestimate how powerful it can be to read a story about a woman who experiences the same sexual frustrations or highlights as you do. In a society where talking about sex is still frowned upon, knowing that you are not alone in your experience can be very comforting.
Erotica fuels your fantasy
They say the brain is the largest erogenous zone, which is why fantasies are often recommended as a way to get aroused (and even to help you get an orgasm). Erotica can help with this. If you are only exposed to your own limited experience of sex, it will be very hard to develop erotic fantasies. After all, if you don't know what is out there, how can you fantasise about it? Fantasies don't need to be based in reality, nor do you need to want to make your fantasies come true. Erotica is a safe place to explore what gets you aroused, providing you with food for fantasies you can use later on when you need just that little bit of extra stimulant.
As I said at the beginning of my article, not everyone likes erotica, just like not everyone likes horror, or thrillers, or literary fiction. You can't pay me enough to read James Joyce's Ulyssus (I have tried and failed) or even Stephen King these days. And that is fine. But erotica is in no way a subpar genre, reserved for lonely housewives, written by people who can barely string a sentence together. Erotica celebrates the most glorious of human experience in a way that arousees, destigmatises and educates. And how can that be a bad thing?