Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What Do Readers Want?

by Kathleen Bradean

The first few years I wrote erotica, I didn't think much about the reader, but a conversation with another erotica writer changed that. I casually referred to my writing as Wank Fiction. She giggled and said, "No one would masturbate to your stories. They're interesting, but not porny enough."

I'm still not sure if that was an insult, or if it was a spot on description possibly meant as an insult. Or maybe she thought it was praise. I don't think she meant it maliciously.

Since then, I've wondered what readers want from erotica. It seems obvious, but I'm not sure that it is. So much visual porn is available now that reading a whole story seems like the long way around to self-pleasure, although I've always suspected that women (especially those with kids) have long used romance novels, and now erotic romance, as a way to carve out some much needed personal time in a day crammed full of doing for others. Those long soaks in the bathtub weren't because they needed to scrub away layers of dirt, but rather to get a little dirty.

But I also wonder if here in the US, if people don't use erotica as sexual education. Our society simply can't bring itself to give anyone good information. We don't want to hear it, and we certainly don't want our kids to know. Ignorance, we've decided, is the best defense.

That leaves us in a terrible quandary when we're adults in sexual relationships though. What is normal? What's healthy? What's the difference between enthusiastic consent for a D/s relationship versus lifestyle abuse? When I used to go to writer's conventions, I always got shunned for writing erotica. People would actually get up and go to another table when I told them. But later on, people would corner me and whisper about the most intimate parts of their lives, then look at me with a mixture of hope and worry as they almost always concluded with the question, "Is that okay?"

I never set out to be a sex therapist. I'm no expert in human sexuality. What's more, just because I write about sex does not mean that I consented to hear about their sexual practices. However, if someone can't bear to ask their doctor, or a real expert in human sexuality, or a therapist, if I'm the only person they will ever dare talk to, what does it hurt to comfort them by saying, "So many people ask me that same question, so you're not the only one. As long as everyone involved is an adult, everyone happily consents, and you're all treating each other with respect and practicing good safer sex, then you're probably just a normal person and you're good to go."

Maybe that's what readers want to hear from us. Not as direct of a comment as that, but through our stories.    

4 comments:

  1. I totally agree that erotica (rather than porn) is one of the very few ways to find out how people feel about sex and what they do and like in bed. That's why I like to write erotica, so I can tell the truth... which is why my stuff isn't always porny "enough" either. Except I find the porny stuff so stupid, I can't get aroused. I prefer a story that draws me in and provides some emotional investment. So it takes all kinds to please various readers.

    How terribly sad that people would get up and move to avoid being tarred by an erotica writer. Very discourteous, but also, what does that say about the fear of sex in our culture? It reminds me of the trials of birth control and sex education writers in the nineteenth century. The jury would convict them and then come up later and ask for a copy of the book they'd just declared obscene and dangerous to public morals.

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  2. But are we honest about sex? We're still in the fantasy business. By that, I mean that I've never read a story where two people are honestly trying to give each other good sex, but she just can't let go of her horrible day enough to reach climax, but she goes ahead with getting him off because it's the loving, generous thing to do. And that's fine for one night, but what if it's months of that and he's feeling super guilty that she's not getting the most out of it? See, we don't write that. We don't write about kids puking in the other room, or your mother calling in the middle of our Saturday morning fling while the kids are at band camp. I'm not sure anyone would want to read that.

    The last writer's convention I went to that wasn't LGBT was years ago, so I'm not sure what the reception would be now. Maybe the one good thing about FSOG is that people might not admit that they read it, but they did. So maybe they'd only pretend to be horrified at the level of writing they assume is rife in the genre but not at the subject matter. I knew before I told the truth at that conference that it might get a bad reaction. I cared as much back then as I care now-- very little.

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  3. Too true, Kathleen! I hope the zeitgeist is changing re erotica, but it's so hard to tell. Any gathering of people (a con for writers or a conversation at work) may be dominated by the loudest prude (in which case the more liberal types will stay quiet or walk away) or by the person who clearly has the most knowledge of the subject (in which case the ignorant can be embarrassed into silence), but there is probably a spectrum of knowledge and opinion wherever you go.

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  4. I've never had anyone ask me for advice about his or sex life, but there are a few of my readers with whom I've exchanged email who want to talk about their relationships and their sexual activities. I got the feeling they really appreciated having an audience they viewed as sympathetic or at least non-judgmental.

    As for what readers want, I think it really depends a great deal on the individual. Personally, I've never read erotica primarily as sexual stimulation. But then, I'm one of those strange creatures who practically become aroused by a glorious metaphor or an original premise.

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