Men Reading the Erotic

Almost fifty male readers of erotic fiction (some wishing to remain anonymous) have shared their views on how this genre compels them, and how it has shaped their thinking. A significant number of these readers have been so stirred by what they have read that it has inspired their own writing.

You may like to visit the first article in this series, which looks at the motivations of men ‘writing the erotic’.

Erotic fiction explores human experience through the lens of sexual desire. It has the power to move us, to disturb, to confront, to inspire, and to warm us. It goes far beyond titillation. It has the power to examine the psyche in unexpected ways, allowing us to access a realm of paradoxes.

As ever, your comments are welcome.


Why Read?

Need a quick ‘sexy fix’? There are plenty of magazines and films to help you on your way. Seeking both a visceral and cerebral experience, of bringing your own imagination to the erotic? It’s time to explore what fiction has to offer. Words on the page urge us to bring our own interpretation.

Erotic fiction invites intimacy and, in so doing, builds a far deeper relationship than porn. Your response to the words is unique to you.


Owning Your Sexuality

Dayv Caraway, of the hugely popular Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica Podcast, notes that erotic fiction encourages us to feel that we have ‘permission’ to be sexual. He explains, “It’s more socially acceptable for men to have casual sex but it’s not so usual for men to be encouraged to explore the emotional aspects of sex. The reverse tends to be true for women.  Erotica gives men ‘permission’ to have an inner dialogue with themselves, and with their partner. This is something that porn does not; it doesn’t offer sexual language for dialogue. It doesn’t aid communication with a partner. If anything, porn can create barriers, as women especially sometimes feel ‘betrayed’ by their partner watching (and masturbating to) pornography.” 

Terrance Aldon Shaw emphasizes, I try to uncouple sex from shame, to demystify what has too long been unspeakable (and thus, frightening).” He adds,Porn does not teach you how to be a man. It does not even teach you how to have sex. Erotica, on the other hand, can enlighten. Anything that gets men to THINK positively about sex beyond the clinical aspects of the act ought to be welcome, especially in a time when far too many are getting their information about sex and relationships from pornography.”


The Echo of Self

There’s no doubt that readers seek out works with a very particular agenda, wishing to findScreen Shot 2016-06-05 at 15.23.10 copy a mirror to their own preoccupations, to find a recognisable reflection of their sexual thoughts via fiction. They seek not only self-knowledge but validation of shared ‘sexual humanity’. There is an urgent need to find a resonating truth, to read what already plays out in our imagination.

Thomas Roche mentions the work of Patrick Califia, saying, “His early writing (particularly during the time he publicly identified as female) was audaciously rough and hardcore, and I liked that.” Another reader notes, “Hardcore lesbian and gay BDSM was about as far as I could get from my upbringing, but finding those subjects within fiction profoundly affected me.”

Readers taking part in this survey cited their most common fantasies as those involving domination, submission and bondage, with just as many men seeking out fiction in which women are dominant, as tales where the male protagonist dominates.


Paradox and Transgression

The paradox of the illogical underlies much of the frisson in erotic literature: the desire to transgress, to overstep social norms, to act (via the safe realm of fiction) as we wouldn’t in real life.

As one reader puts it: “I’m attracted to the inherent illogicality of BDSM. The desire to be beaten, controlled, humiliated, or to do the beating for that matter, makes no logical sense—and yet it’s what has driven some of us since early childhood, before we even understood what sex was.”

Some readers mention interest in incest-themed fantasies (including the ultra-taboo mother-son scenario), or the seeking out of fiction exploring abduction, rape and torture. More than half mention interest in reading non-consent stories, and those incorporating ‘rough sex’: a statistic which echoes women’s own fantasies of being sexually overwhelmed or taken ‘against their will’ (naturally, within the confines of fantasy, where they are, ultimately, in control). Readers make a firm distinction between their ‘real life’ actions and what they pursue in fiction.

We each draw our own lines in the sand, creating our own definition of the transgressive, as it applies to our own inner limits. It is the thought of crossing those very lines that excites us; the illicit thrill of our moral repugnance.

Naturally, transgression is a moveable feast, since what appears transgressive to one person will be ‘everyday bread and butter’ to another: among such themes, we can class desire between protagonists of widely differing ages and inter-racial sex. The latter, particularly, seems a bizarre ‘taboo’ in our 21st century world and yet, for some readers, it remains so.


Shaping Perceptions

Anyone who has been moved emotionally by a film, or by fiction, knows the power of storytelling. Beyond entertainment, it has the power to shape our perception of our own self, to improve our self-knowledge and to extend our empathy with others.

emmanuelle de maupassant quote porn versus erotic fictionOne reader asserts, “I’ve been able to positively enhance my pleasure by knowing myself better, through reading fiction. I’m convinced that reading erotica can bring benefits beyond the bedroom too, making us more self-aware. I still have some way to go to express my desires, being afraid of receiving an adverse response from my partner, but I’ve learnt that women possess a tremendous well of sexual desire, needs, interests and fetishes. They share the same sexual drive as men.

Thomas Roche adds,Much of the erotic fiction I enjoy is about female pleasure. I honestly believe it has made me somewhat more sympathetic to women’s concerns, especially with regard to sexism and misogyny.”

Dayv Caraway underlines, “ I’ve become more aware of women as sexual beings through reading erotica. There’s a common perception that women don’t have the same sexual drive as men. Historically, men have been freer to express their desire. Erotica shows that women do think about sex outside of monogamous relationships and ‘romance scenarios’. Reading erotic fiction has also made me more comfortable with myself sexually and it’s brought even more dialogue to my relationship with Rose. We were good before, but we’re even better now. We talk to each other more openly about everything now, not just sex.” 


 Male Versus Female Focus

Most male readers interested in erotic fiction mention having read variations of ‘steamy romance’ (it being most readily available). However, the vast majority express their disappointment and disinterest, finding stories repetitive and predictable. As one respondent put it, there seem to be endless variation of ‘a billionaire initiates me into the ways of the lash’.  

Even setting aside the well-worn tropes of the genre, it seems hardly surprising that romantic fiction, being largely female-oriented (and female voiced), might fail to address male sexual preoccupation.

However, there are exceptions to this ‘rule’, with some male readers noting their interest in reading ‘female focused’ fiction, written by women, with an eye to ‘learning more about female desire’.

Dennis Cardiff tells us, “I generally prefer to read erotic books written by women, even lesbian erotica, as I want to see inside a woman’s mind. It’s a path to learning how to please a woman. I find women often hard to understand and generally mysterious. 

Another reader mentions, “I prefer fiction by women, mostly because I’m curious as to what a woman chooses to write about.”

One states, “Female POV is what works for me, regardless of whether it is a male or female author. First-person, preferably, but that’s not an absolute.”

Another comments, “I’ve been reading erotica off and on for about 22 years. I was an English major in college, but I didn’t try taking stories apart and seeing how they worked until recently. I find that male writers tend to use more physical description, without much happening internally for characters.”

Dennis Cardiff adds, “Although I have enjoyed erotica written by men, I generally find it more crude, more dominant, less sensual.”

One male reader praises Kristina Lloyd for her characters’ self-examination, and lack of naivety. They also praise Tiffany Reisz, saying, “She uses wish-fulfilment tropes (mostly wealth, power, and outrageous situations) but writes with realism. Her unrepentant rebels have a lot of fun, and all the good lines.”

Will Crimson states,“What currently appeals to me is the writer’s ability to describe sex indirectly or in novel ways. Also, for me, what makes sex erotic isn’t the sex but the emotional context: Why are characters having sex? Why do they want it? What do they want from it? How do their desires compliment each other or conflict? How are they affected by it? Our bodies are our means of expression, but our minds make us erotic. Sex is always an expression of who we are and writers who capture that meeting of human desire and erotic imagination, its conflict and resolutions, are the writers I admire.”

Thinking beyond ‘romantic fiction’, most male readers note no significant preference for male or female authorship, being more interested in individual style. Dayv Caraway notes, “Raziel Moore and Allen Dusk are edgy, but so are many female writers I know, such as Malin James. Knowing that they’re men may influence my perception of a story. It’s in the back of my mind.  However, I think fiction reflects the writer’s personality more than their gender. In the fiction we broadcast, which tends not to have a ‘romantic’ focus, there isn’t a great deal of difference in theme or approach between men and women writers. Good storytelling is good storytelling.” 


Encouraging Male Readers

Dayv Caraway comments, “Men aren’t generally reading erotica because it’s hidden in the romance section. They aren’t usually cruising that aisle, or sharing those recommendations with their friends.”

Will Crimson comments that, as far as he can gauge from readers visiting his online site, perhaps only 20% are men, but that he finds them more ‘interactive’ than his female readers. He muses,That may simply be because women feel less safe. The online experience for women can be entirely different (and more threatening).”

Dayv adds,” I enjoy so many themes and angles in this genre, but I do know that I’d like to see more Terrance Aldon Shaw quote erotic fiction pornsci-fi with erotic elements. I think there’s still some way to go before erotic elements become more visible in ‘mainstream’ fiction, and this would be great to see.” 

One reader points out that ‘though the execution may be lacking, people will crawl across the broken glass of bad prose to find that which tweaks their kinks’.

Saying this, there is an almost unanimous cry for eloquent, powerful prose, and for fiction that has the ability to engage us more deeply, through character development, so that we’re invested in the outcome of each story. Readers want to see the psychology of characters laid bare; they want to examine motivation and see protagonists dealing with the consequences of their choices. Writers take note!

What can we do to encourage men to more readily explore erotic fiction? Perhaps, foremost, we should stop making assumptions about what women or men ‘should’ be reading.

Our desire to fulfill our sexual nature shapes us as much as our need for intellectual and emotional fulfillment. Embrace it as an element of your mental and physical health. Embrace it through art, and film, through poetry and fiction.

Acquire an anthology of short stories, and read them aloud nightly, in the style of Scheherazade; seduce your partner with words. Tune in to audio readings of erotic fiction. Spread the word little by little; share recommendations, share positivity.

Above all, don’t feel shame at indulging fantasy through reading fiction. The likelihood is that you’ll gain far more than a ‘quick thrill’; be prepared to have your eyes, and your perceptions, blown wide open.

Dayv Caraway comments, “I’d like to see people become more accepting of erotic content in books. We’ve come a long way in accepting ‘nudity’ in mainstream culture, no longer equating it only with sexual intention. We need the same degree of maturity about erotic fiction.

In exploring sexual themes, our barriers are eroded. We come to recognise the breadth of sexual possibility, and how our sexual-self feeds into other facets of our psyche; in knowing ourselves, we gain better understanding of others.

Our journey continues in achieving tolerance of individual choices, including those relating to how we express our gender and sexuality. In setting aside shame, refraining from judging others, and opening ourselves to the myriad shades of the human palette, we may take real steps towards living in harmony.



Further Reading

The Male / Female Hand

The Erotic Vein: men writing erotica

Remittance Girl: on writing the taboo in erotic fiction: here and here

The Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica Podcast: for fiction and audio recordings (my thanks to Dayv and Rose Caraway, who also feature in an interview here).


My thanks to all readers who took part in this survey, many of whom asked to be quoted anonymously. For a full list of writers who contributed their thoughts as readers, see the foot of the page here, within the Male Writers article.











The Erotic Vein: the male pen

Several months ago, I put out a call to writers (of both genders) asking them to ‘share their secrets’. Well over a hundred responded, including around forty men (some wishing to remain anonymous). Thank you to all who have given their time generously,title image and who have written so honestly.

You’ll find articles exploring the results of the survey on this website, launching here with thoughts from male writers. The second post tackles ‘Men Reading the Erotic’ and can be read here. All issues deserve further discussion; we hope that they inspire writers and readers alike.

As ever, your comments are welcome.

Arousing Intellect and Flesh

Most readers currently associate the erotic genre with ‘steamy romance’ and, often falsely, assume it to be the province of women writers alone. In fact, several of the respondents to this survey are successful male writers of what is usually classed as ‘women’s spicy fiction’.

Meanwhile, there is a whole strata of erotic fiction (written by both sexes and aimed at male and female readers) which tackles eroticism beyond the formula of romance. Plot and characterization and the tension of tight storytelling remain important, but without guarantee of ‘happy ever after’.

Raziel Moore quote erotic fiction authorErotic fiction is often dismissed as no more than titillation. We know that it can transport a reader to this state of arousal (and takes skill to do so) yet it also has the power to delve so much deeper. It can examine the psyche in unexpected ways, allowing us to access a realm so often defying words.

 Jonathan Kemp explains, “I don’t consciously set out to write something that will arouse eroticism, I set out to describe and represent sex, or sexual encounters. If it turns the reader on, great, and I know from some readers directly that it has; but my main consideration is the language I use, the ‘reality’ I try to convey, the experience I try to explore, the subjectivity or subjectivities I am aiming to articulate or express. I’m very interested in sexuality as a form of sociality, of bodies being together, sometimes in public spaces, sometimes private. I think there is an almost anthropological or ethnographic element to why I am drawn to these situations and encounters. I want to show erotic forcefields at work, hopefully as a way of Jonathan Kemp fiction author quote Emmanuelle de Maupassantentering the territory of what it means to be human through a different doorway.”

Erotic fiction explores human experience through the lens of sexual desire. It has the power to move us, to disturb, to confront, to inspire, and to warm us.

As Aleksandr Voinov puts it, sex scenes allow writers to explore the psyche at its most vulnerable: ‘when the concept of the self is on the line and characters’ defences are stripped away’. “I like seeing what’s left of them afterwards,” he explains. “There’s a huge amount of satisfaction in digging for the emotional bones of a character and then hitting the point where I really feel I understand what makes them tick, sexually and emotionally and in terms of identity. I enjoy character exploration; sex/desire is the diamond-headed drill I use to crack them.”

First Inspiration to Write

While most of our male respondents note having sought out books with erotic elements from an early age as readers, far fewer recollect an early desire to write in this vein. In these cases, the impulse stemmed from failing to find fiction adequately satisfying their imagination, or from a strong desire to convey their own perspective on eroticism and sexual culture.

Patrick (originally Pat) Califia tells us,”I started looking for sex in fiction and non-fiction as soon as I could read! I was hungry for acknowledgment of what went on behind closed bedroom doors. This inspired me to try my own hand at writing because I simply wasn’t finding the sort of writing that I wanted and needed. There was so little same-sex erotica, and almost none that featured sadomasochism. I wanted fiction set in the time that I lived in, with characters facing dilemmas about sex that I too pondered late at night.”

Jonathan Kemp adds, “The impulse to write about sex was twofold: it definitely came from reading others and seeing what they did with it, but it also came from a desire to write about my own sexual experiences and describe the subculture of gay cruising in London, to celebrate promiscuity, hopefully push boundaries (creative or otherwise), and to give voice to the voiceless, in the case of my first novel, ‘London Triptych’.”

Raziel Moore notes that his writing began as correspondence with a lover but grew into exploring how we tackle our monsters. He became fascinated by how far we may be ‘devoured’ by what lurks in our psyche.

A minority of respondents admit to having begun writing with an eye to specific commercial success. Wade Esley admits,Initially, I chose to write erotica for a terrible reason. I thought it would be an easy genre to break into, because, in my mind, there was so much poorly written erotica. How hard could it be to climb to the top of that dung heap? However, the more I read, the more I discovered truly talented writers, and became determined to write quality stories myself. Now, as with any form of artistic expression, I see my ultimate goal as moving the reader emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and, yes, even sexually.”


Why Write the Erotic?

Authors have much to say on what inspires them to explore erotic themes. Most emphasize the importance of provoking a response in readers. Much like writing ‘horror’ or ‘thriller’ fiction, writing the erotic is designed to create a visceral reaction: to stir the blood and quicken the pulse. We delight in knowing that our words have such physical power, as well as emotional and intellectual.

Nobilis Reed explains, “I get a real kick from hacking brains, getting people to think the thoughts I want them to think.” Allen Dusk states, “I’ve always liked evoking reactions; whether I turned you on or pissed you off, I did it with the power of words, so my job is done.”

One anonymous male author tells us: “Early on, I wrote to achieve personal arousal and gratification. Later, I wrote to explore what aroused and gratified me, and then took on more challenging themes. Most of the time, the process is quite pleasurable, since what I write arouses me but it can be excruciating if I’m flaying open something to see what it looks like.”

Several authors note a desire to challenge social assumptions: to crack open stereotypes and reveal emotional and sexual ‘truths’. 

Patrick Califia explains, I always thought sex was one of the most important aspects of the human condition and deserved its own celebration and interrogation. I continue to feel that writing erotica is a wonderful way to encourage people to examine their assumptions about sexuality and live closer to the edge.” 

Terrance Aldon Shaw notes,I explore the human condition through the lens of the erotic. I want people to think about as well as experience the visceral thrill of sex. I believe that an unexamined life is no life at all. Sometimes, in order to grasp a concept—a truth within ourselves—we have to speak (or write) that truth out loud.”  

Meanwhile, on the introspective, reflective process of writing, Patrick adds,My intent is to understand events from my own lifetime. The spiral of life takes you around a few bends, and you find that you are a different person and you have new questions to ask about the past. The past and the future are the same, really, it’s all my life, it comes from me, but I know a lot more about the past than I do about the future. By standing on the edge of the well of memories and throwing a pebble into the darkness, then counting to see how long it takes to fall, I can create an oracle for myself, for my own death, and for the unknown years I have between this breath and the last.”

Will Crimson adds, “If I have a goal, then it’s to create a body of erotic writing that’s beautifully written, that mixes humor (and I love humor) with seriousness, explores our shared desires, inspires, arouses, and that makes our erotic imagination something to be enjoyed and celebrated. What makes sex erotic isn’t the sex but the emotional context: Why are characters having sex? Why do they want it? What do they want from it? How do their desires compliment each other or conflict? How are they affected by it? Our bodies are our means of expression, but our minds make us erotic. Sex is always an expression of who we are and writers who capture that meeting of human desire and erotic imagination, its conflict and resolutions, are the writers I admire.”

Eyes Wide Open

Most of the male authors taking part in this survey believe that reading has the power to encourage reflection, and to shape our world outlook, with erotic fiction fulfilling this role as effectively (and in some cases more so) than other genres.

Raziel Moore articulates this perfectly, saying, “Our perceptions can be empowered or impoverished, illuminated or benighted by fiction. At its best, fiction allows us to discover and understand things about ourselves, and perhaps share and teach us perspectives we have not encountered or may not fully understand.”

Patrick Califia quote writing erotic fictionAlmost every writer notes that their understanding of their own (and others’) sexuality has expanded as a result of exploration through fiction. Thomas Roche states: My concept of male sexiness has been thoroughly changed by erotic writing. Reading gay male porn has revised my way of thinking about my own body (even though I identify as straight).” Nicholas Tanek adds, “I like to explore the themes of individuality and self-expression. I believe that, in accepting your kink, you gain self-knowledge; you look at the world in a different and beautiful way.”

In particular, writers wish to encourage the putting aside of shame and make readers aware that they are ‘not alone’ in their fantasies and sexual thoughts.  Jeremy Edwards believes that readers can draw ‘comfort’ from seeing their sexual thoughts acknowledged. He comments, “Validation can be so important, in a world in which sexual fascinations are not widely spoken of and shame and isolation are so prevalent.”

Frank Lee echoes this, saying, “ Erotica has the potential to empower us, to help us stop stigmatizing sex, love and desire, and begin to see these things as the vital, healthy forces they are.” Terrance Aldon Shaw adds, “I try to uncouple sex from shame, to demystify what has too long been unspeakable (and thus, frightening).”

Several male writers note the possible influence of ‘role models’ in their work, and are, thereby, keen to create believable and relatable male (and female) protagonists. As Ashley Lister explains, “Given the success of current titles in the genre I assume most men will worry that they are inadequate if they’re not self-made billionaires by the time they reach their thirties!”

Nicholas Tanek feels similarly, stating, “A lot of erotic fiction is garbage. Men should be written in an honest and genuine way. As a male reader, that’s how I connect with the character. How many tattooed billionaire biker werewolf Dom stepbrothers can there be?”

Encouraging understanding of sexuality is cited as a prime motivator for writing erotica. Aleksandr Voinov notes his desire to show ‘how characters negotiate their masculinity, and what they think ‘makes them a man’. As Terrance Aldon Shaw asserts: “Porn does not teach you how to be a man. It does not even teach you how to have sex; it is a stilted caricature of desire. Erotica on the other hand can enlighten. Anything that gets men to THINK positively about sex beyond the clinical aspects of the act ought to be welcome, especially in a time when far too many young men are getting their information about sex and relationships from pornography. I want men to see that they can be strong in the context of gentleness; that they can be powerful and sensitive at the same time, that they can be loving and kind without loss of manly pride.”

Gender Bias in Publishing

It’s an undeniable truth that today’s writers, publishers, editors and readers of erotic fiction tend to be women. Raziel Moore comments, “Before the age of the net, most erotica was written ‘by men, for men’ (or by women using a male persona). The worm has turned, and erotica, after a transformational wild west of the first decade of the 21st century, is now essentially dominated by erotic romance.” He adds that, in the wake of this trend, much that he likes to write (and read – from women and men) has been ‘relegated to the sidelines’.

Jeremy Edwards relates, “At the time I entered the field (mid-2000s), erotica ‘for women’ and (largely) ‘by women’ had emerged as an important concept. Historically… Western erotic literature had overwhelmingly been written primarily by and for men, with women’s sexual agency, one assumes, largely neglected, distorted, denied, demonized, misunderstood, or caricatured… Presumably, modern, liberated, sex-positive women… wanted to see erotica that properly acknowledged and explored female sexuality; and, understandably, they looked primarily to female authors to tell those stories.”
He continues, “There was sometimes a perception that erotica written by men was typically a… string of clichéd, mindless sex scenes… Obviously, this was an unfair generalization… But I can see where the prejudice against male-written erotica might have come from: I mean, if you’re trying to write literate erotica that won’t insult a sophisticated modern reader’s intelligence, approaching female sexuality with respect and reality is a great starting point, and talented women writers had presumably been leading the way here.”


Male/Female Author Branding

Even in the past fifty years, women have found breaking into the genres of thriller writing, crime, horror and science fiction to be a challenge, historically resorting to gender ambiguous initials, or inventing male pen names to be taken seriously by their readership (not to mention publishers). The situation appears somewhat reversed for men writing the erotic, with a significant number adopting a female or gender-neutral pseudonym. Some actively represent themselves as female.

Although the majority of male authors taking part in this survey choose to present their identity to readers as male, many note that female ‘branding’ invites a wider (i.e. female) readership.

R V Raiment tells us: “My name was intended to be gender free. Wanting to write predominantly for a female audience, I originally thought that not identifying as male might help.”

Maxim Jakubowski writes crime and science fiction under his own name, while also co-writing a well-known, bestselling series under a female penname. His publisher suggested this as a sensible commercial move in the wake of the ’50 Shades’ phenomenon.

Other male authors, some currently using gender-neutral or female pen names, note their belief that writing ‘as a man’ would impact their commercial success.

A significant number of male writers comment that they have, at the very least, considered this route, believing there to be prejudice against male authors within the erotic genre. An exception is made for ‘hot dude’ writers, who can take advantage of their general appeal to garner a following.

Some male authors note that women seem wary of ‘trusting’ a man to write for them, doubting a man’s ability to properly empathize with their emotional journey. This seems particularly true of women readers of erotic romance. As one male author mentions: “At a convention, a female reader noted that she only reads erotica written by women, because they ‘understand her’. He adds, “Of the favorite writers she mentioned, I knew one, at least, to be male (unknown to her).”

In interacting with female readership, Allen Dusk notes having occasionally felt ‘as unwelcome as the guy in the trench coat hanging out by the schoolyard’.

As an extreme, upon discovering that the writer they’ve thought to be female is, in fact, male, some women report feeling manipulated.

Regarding ‘honesty being the best policy’, JD Lexx stresses, “While I know there are certain obstacles inherent to writing as a male author in this genre, I believe such an intimate style requires a degree of honesty.” Terrance Aldon Shaw echoes this, saying, “Beyond using a pen name, I’ve never attempted to hide who I am, either in terms of gender, orientation, race, age, or regional origin. Part of this stems from my belief that there is nothing harmful or wrong about the work I do, and I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.  I don’t know if writing under the guise of another gender would make a difference in terms of sales and popularity, but I have seen a few (too many) good writers who have been subsumed by their alter egos, and, when ‘outed’ have had their careers ruined. I’ve lived my life by the simple principle that it’s always easier in the long run to TELL THE TRUTH.”

Of course, many readers would say that we should simply view each writer as individual in style, and that to generalise is meaningless. We’d hope that readers who prioritize literary craft pay little attention to the gender of the writer.

Ashley Lister asserts,The only way men are different to women when it comes to writing is that men are better at writing their names in the snow.

Voicing the thoughts of the clear majority of male writers, Aleksandr Voinov notes that he doesn’t believe in gendered writing beyond female or male ‘tone/voice’. He notes, “I wish we didn’t bring all that gendered baggage to writing and reading or to art overall. I simply don’t find it useful.”

On this theme, you may like to visit this post, on potential differences in male/female writing style.

Writing Female Perspective

Almost universally, writers note their desire to write a woman’s point of view with authenticity. Those writing under a female or gender-neutral name take particular pleasure in readers stating that a woman ‘must have’ written the story, due to its empathy with female perspective.

Will Crimson comments that he has written under a female pen name ‘to see if it makes me want to write “like a woman” and if that’s even meaningful’. He adds that he has been eager discover if readers perceive stories differently (and respond differently) when they believe the writer to be female. He jokes, “I knew I’d arrived as a female erotic writer when I received my first ‘dick pic’.”

TJ Vermillion comments, ”I tend to write female main characters and see no issue with men or women writing any aspect of human behavior from the standpoint of either gender. Gender is at least partially learned behavior; the differences are more about sociology than genetic psychology/physiology.”

Wade Esley asserts that, where there appear to be differences in male/female author style, this may reflect differing approaches to life in general, and sex specifically.

A commonly mentioned trademark of male authorship is the focus on physical sensation, Erotic fiction Terrance Aldon Shaw quotewhile female authorship (and female characterisation) is generally said to embody a greater degree of introspection, of internal dialogue and of emotional conflict. However, it would be ridiculous to assert that men are less able, or less likely, to use the latter technique. Clearly, it would as incorrect to say that women can only write emotional-romantic fiction as to say that men universally write in a brusque ‘down-and-dirty’ style. 

Raziel Moore tells us, “I tend to write very internally in the main character’s head and body, in a style introspective, tactile and sensual. I try to inhabit a character’s sensorium and emotional state – whichever sex they are.” He believes that his tendency is ‘to go deeper into the emotional aspect of male characters than female’ exploring some of his own preoccupations though male-POV, the stories being ‘emotionally tumultuous’ as a result.

Will Crimson notes, I think women, in general, focus more on the emotional investments in and consequences of sex. I like to think that good erotic writing comes more naturally to women, though the erotic impulse is more often subdued. When women veer from erotica, they write romance. When men veer, they write pornography. Men, when they’re at their best though, write more like women (am I in trouble yet?), but seem to enjoy exploring sexual power dynamics more than women. Women, as in life, more often enjoy being pursued, whereas men enjoy the pursuit. That said, there are exceptions to everything I’ve just written. I only speculate and broadly.”

Naturally, many writers cite other authors as a source of inspiration. Jeremy Edwards tells us, “I may have written more [like] female colleagues than… male colleagues,” noting that the majority of “contemporary-erotica stylists whose work inspired me to enter the genre were women… If I was standing on the shoulders of giants, as the saying goes, they were largely female shoulders!”

A minority of respondents feel that writing style does differ between male and female writers, and that men can struggle to capture an authentic female voice in their work.

One writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, notes,I’ve been reading in this genre for 20 years, and editing erotic fiction websites for a decade. I think there is a difference between men and women’s style. He adds, “I know quite a few men writing under a female pseudonym and notice that they write how they imagine or want a female to think and act. I find it lacks depth and understanding.”

Terrance Aldon Shaw, who reviews a wide range of erotic fiction, believes that erotic romance by women tends to follow certain stylistic patterns. He explains, “The ‘heroine’ is plagued by self-doubt, and chatty inner monologue is used as a device for reprising various plot points. Male characters in my own stories may be beset by self-doubt, but it’s never quite so overt or constant.” He continues, “I’ve noticed, too, emphasis on superfluous descriptions: of food and wine, or what to wear on a date (yet another opportunity to wallow in self-doubt). I’m not sure if this bores me because I’m a man, or because it interrupts the dramatic flow of the narrative.”

Allen Dusk tells us that he tends to write strong female protagonists ‘empowered in special ways to accomplish their goals’ and aims ‘to build emotional catalysts for erotic encounters’. As many of the male authors in this survey mentioned, he seeks out early feedback from a female reader. He notes that his wife guides him in improving his writing of female protagonists’ motivations and in describing the female erotic experience.


Outcast Writers?

Very few male authors of erotic fiction feel that they can discuss their writing life completely openly, particularly fearing reprisals in their workplace or community, with this affecting not only their own wellbeing but that of their children. Several writers stress their belief that their professional life would be at risk were the nature of their writing to become known. At the very least, they believe that they would suffer social repudiation from work colleagues. A pen name is thus essential.

Aleksandr Voinov tells us that he fears for his job in the financial services industry. He notes, “I’ve been notified of attempts to ‘out’ me, and some readers have shown some behaviour that’s borderline stalker-ish, so yes, I’m absolutely using a pseudonym to protect myself and maintain a level of privacy. My pen name gives me breathing space to explore some things that might be considered dark or taboo.”

Marc Angel faces a similar situation, saying, “My employers would take a dim view of my writing, hence I take considerable effort to conceal my identity. Of my ‘real world’ acquaintances and friends, only my wife knows. I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of people judging my choices.”

Depending on their social/employment situation, some authors have been able to take a pragmatic stance, and shrug off others’ negative reactions, which may only exhibit as disdain rather than aggressive disapproval.

Ashley Lister tells us, “I’ve had one colleague tell me that my books are filth (even though she’d never read a word I’ve written). Some others make scathing remarks, as though the production of erotica isn’t as worthy as some other, more favored genre.”

Frank Lee adds that he’s often asked why he doesn’t write something ‘not erotic’. He laments, “It devalues what I write, while I’m convinced that the themes I’m exploring are the deepest, most vital aspect of human experience.”

Where writers do present their writing face publicly, the consequences can be significant. Frank Lee tells us that the way even his closest friends have reacted to his writing has sometimes been ‘soul-destroying’. Spencer Dryden notes, “If my friends, family and associates learned of my interest in erotica, they would drop dead in horror, so I use a pen name.”

Patrick Califia (originally Pat Califia) tells us, “I stopped writing for a long time because I was trying to be married to someone who, it turns out, hated my work and was ashamed of it. I’m slowly reclaiming my voice, but it’s like healing from a deep wound. I’ve been repeatedly shamed and treated with disgust and repulsion because I write erotica.” He adds, “Social exclusion and outcast status is imposed at every level. People are frightened of me, and judgmental. They believe I’ve done everything I’ve written. They think that if I write about sex that must mean that anything goes. I’ve received threats and had people assume that I must be mentally ill.”

While the majority of male authors of erotic fiction have found supportive and encouraging online writing communities, the Internet can be a less than friendly place, with ‘troll venom’ expressed behind the veil of anonymity.

Patrick continues, “I’ve been attacked online by other trans people, who assert that someone as disreputable as me can only bring discredit upon the trans-community. It has been extremely difficult to keep a stable sense of myself through all of this brouhaha but I’m a very stubborn person.”

Writing into the Future

Terrance Aldon Shaw articulates an opinion shared by a great many authors in saying, I’d like to see erotica inspire serious discussion and thoughtful critique, with the best of the genre being recognized for the great literature it is, and the authors who write it to receive the recognition and financial reward they so clearly deserve I believe that an unexamined life is no life at all. Ignorance and innocence are not the same thing, and society needs desperately to grow up.”

R V Raiment adds, “I’m eager to witness erotic fiction gain a place in the broader media. There’s still too much guilt, too much prudery and too much persecution of those who are different.” Vinnie Tesla laments that the erotic has to be ‘redeemed’ by other elements, leaving its ‘essence’ mired in shame, while JD Lexx states, I’d like to see erotic fiction framed as less a guilty pleasure and more the mark of a mature and adventurous mind.” Terrance asserts, “Sex to me is neither dirty nor shameful, and there must be a way of describing this universal, beautiful, multifaceted, complex activity in language that is neither overtly vulgar nor detached from feeling altogether.”

Jonathan Kemp quote male writers of erotic fictionA great many male author respondents feel it to be almost a ‘mission’ to push against stereotypes and narrow social expectations, challenging us to rethink assumptions. Many mention wishing to write stories incorporating older (and less conventionally attractive) protagonists, wider ethnicities and protagonists living with challenges to physical or mental health.

Fiction clearly presents endless opportunities for exploring ‘what if’. Allen Dusk mentions his short story, ‘Damaged Melody’ in which his main character has a prosthetic arm. He underlines, “Writing about her love and loss made me wonder about the challenges people with traumatic injuries face when it comes to erotic encounters: maimed soldiers home from war, the victims of accidents or terrorism, grappling to rebuild their lives.”

Referring to his desire to blow open assumptions surrounding gender and sexual orientation, Patrick Califia emphasizes that he has written as ‘an act of political outrage, to rebel against standard heterosexuality and push back against repression of queer and female-bodied pleasure’.

Yet, he underlines also that he is frustrated by some responses to his work, which wish to critique only the controversial nature of his subjects rather than addressing the power of his words. He explains, “Few people seem to understand how much I care about the quality of the writing itself. They are so obsessed with the indecency of my topics that most seem unable to assess whether I have said anything new or moving about human nature, or if I have described people’s emotions and behavior in a striking way. I feel that I’ve always pushed myself as a writer [having been published since the 1970s] but critics would have it that the only thing I’ve cared about is shocking people and attacking mainstream feminism.”

The media can appear to have its own agenda in regard to erotic fiction, wishing to focus on poor writing, and denigrating it, rather than celebrating examples of well-crafted, insightful, moving prose: writing that not only challenges assumptions surrounding the palette of desire, gender and sexual orientation, but that explores the raw power and beauty of our sexuality.

Maxim Jakubowski mentions having been asked by his publisher to co-write erotic fiction under a female penname, as a ‘sensible commercial move’. This raises the issue of publishers reinforcing stereotypes of what male/female writing ‘should’ look like.

Allen Dusk also comments on the issue of gender bias in the publishing world, disapproving of submission calls ‘capitalizing on negative male stereotypes’. He cites calls for ‘bad boy’ themes, requesting protagonists as biker outlaws or members of the mafia, to be presented with erotic and/or romantic elements. He notes, “As a man, I’m not sure I want to romanticise people who I assume regularly abuse women.”

Of course, we can argue that fiction is no more than storytelling, pure fantasies on the page. However, we also recognise the power of narration in shaping our thinking. Stories not only entertain, but encourage us to take ideas from what is fictional and reflect on our own reality. They invite us to reshape our assumptions. Given the potential power of storytelling, we, as writers, have interesting choices before us.

Meanwhile, Terrance Aldon Shaw underlines his desire to see calls open to writers of all sexual orientation and gender. As he asserts, What’s the point of being a writer if you can’t imagine yourself in another person’s head?” He notes, “I have no issue with anthologies that focus on a particular niche, but I DO take issue with editors who insist on ‘women only’ or ‘LGTB authors only’. Subscribing to an ethical principle has meaning only if that principle is applied universally.” 


Concluding Thoughts

Readers and publishers may have preconceived notions of what men, are ‘supposed’ to write: particular themes, in a certain style, to a particular agenda. We need to claim the power to decide, individually, how we wish to portray our gender and sexual identity. We, as authors, should decide how we wish to present ourselves.

Jonathan Kemp tells us, For me, one of the tasks of the writer is to push boundaries, explore the unexplored in your fiction; to speculate, experiment, challenge readers in subtle ways, have them consider something new, or consider something in a new way, visit places they have never been, take them into worlds that are foreign and slightly magical or dangerous, or squalid… I don’t look for identification in the fiction I read, I look for difference…”

We have the power to challenge social assumptions: to crack open stereotypes and reveal emotional and sexual ‘truths’ through our writing. Within our social environments, we might argue that we are not free to behave entirely as we wish but, as authors, we truly do have freedom to express whatever we wish, in whatever manner we choose.

Write your own path. Write your own pages.

Further Reading

  • You may like to view this post, on the Male/Female Hand, in which readers are challenged to identify writers’ gender.
  • Men Reading Erotic Fiction – looking at why men seek out fiction in this genre, and their preferences for style and content.
  • For further discussion on men writing the erotic, you may like to read Remittance Girl’s posts here, and here.
  • You may like to purchase a copy of For the Men erotic fiction anthology, featuring stories by 25 authors, exploring aspects of male sexuality and fantasy.

See also these articles, exploring thoughts from writers of erotic fiction:

Lines in the Sand: transgression and censorship

Fantasy and Realism in Erotic Fiction

Why Write Erotica?

What the Future Holds: 21st century erotic fiction

My heartfelt thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who have contributed their views anonymously.

Jonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Ashley Lister, Terrance Aldon Shaw, Allen Dusk, Marc Angel, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Nicholas Tanek, Aleksandr Voinov, Frank Lee, Vinnie Tesla, R.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Thomas Roche, T.J. Vermillion, Wade Esley, Jim Lyon, Ian Smith, Dennis Cardiff, Chase Morgan, C.P. McClennan, David Flint, Delores Swallows, C.J. Czelling, Big Ed Magussun, Frank Noir, Nobilis Reed, Charlie Bee and Jay Willowbay.