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.
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 find 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.
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.
One 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 sci-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.
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.