As the world of print media continues to evolve, i.e., as magazine subscriptions move from your mailbox to your inbox and the Internet presents itself as a one-stop shop for all things literary, erotic fiction seems to be defying the current reinvention of reading in the digital age. At least so far.
Why? The easy answer is the enormous success of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy. The books that brought spanking back to the mainstream have been credited with reviving the public’s interest in erotica, a point difficult to argue when, more than two years after its release, the first book in James’ series continues to outrank The Hunger Games and Of Mice and Men on Amazon’s list of current best sellers.
Sure, there will always be publishing trends. But erotica has actually been a literary mainstay since the time of the Ancient Greeks, with anthologies of erotic short stories — particularly the gay variety — continuing to grow in popularity. And there are a number of reasons for this.
Obviously, all types of reading provide us a respite from everyday reality, but sexy stories take the escape a step further, providing the safest possible environment — namely, your mind, which houses your most robust sexual tool, the imagination — in which to contemplate and explore the various fantasies you might not wish (or be able) to experience in real life. And unlike porn, which simply spoon-feeds us images, reading is an interactive experience, one that forces us to use our imagination.
Erotica — whether it be raunchy or romantic, sexy or silly — stimulates the brain, which in turn ignites other parts of our bodies. It touches our most raw emotions and our basic human instincts. For some fans, it’s almost addictive. “I would much rather read than watch,” says a friend, who, back in the day, swore to me that he subscribed to Men magazine primarily for the articles. “It makes the fantasy so much more personal. When I read a sexy story, all the guys are my type. In porn, not so much.”
But in addition to acting as an aid for arousal, erotic stories, when properly executed, have all the characteristics of great literature — plot, characterization, tension, and payoff — allowing for emotional creativity and insights that isolated sex scenes on your laptop or TV simply can’t give.
Plus, they’re really fun to read aloud. Especially with an audience. (Try it.)
And in an age where the simple novel has become passé in favor of the more merchandisable trilogies or “sagas,” erotic short stories deliver all of the nourishment mentioned above without the daunting commitment of thousands of pages.
As for the question of why erotic books remain relevant when one can find innumerable sexy stories on the Internet, the answer is quality, quality, quality. Sure, there are plenty of sites online that offer erotic tales for free (from blogs to forums where people swap personal experiences), but as with everything, you get what you pay for.
In the same way that a guy with exhibitionistic tendencies and a webcam can become a “porn star” online without rendering valueless the much slicker products being turned out by major porn studios, every imaginative sort with a keyboard can fashion himself a writer, but that doesn’t mean these wannabe storytellers are giving professional authors a run for their money. There will always be a market for creative ideas, intriguing storylines, and memorable characters tidily presented in well-written prose with proper grammar and spelling.
Simply put, there’s a reason that writers like Rob Rosen, Landon Dixon, and Natty Soltesz, to name just a few, have had hundreds of erotic stories published: they’re masters of the art.
Also, a book allows for better mobility. And it’s easy to stash, if need be, without the added step of erasing your browsing history. And since not everyone has a laptop or tablet device, books are still ideal for trips (you never have to switch them into airplane mode or worry about them running out of juice just when you get to the juicy part) or for curling up in your favorite reading spot. Because after staring at a computer all day long, a printed page is like a vacation for the eyes.
And a computer is hardly the sexiest place to read erotica.
Last but not least, a book is tactile. Which is important because many people like to “touch” when reading erotica, whether it be flipping pages, earmarking your favorite scenes, or something else. “Plus,” says my friend who prefers reading about sex to watching it, “sometimes I don’t know what I’m in the mood for. And only a real book allows you to open to a random page.”
Winston Gieseke, former editor in chief of Men and Freshmen magazines, is the editor of four anthologies of erotic stories published by Bruno Gmünder: Indecent Exposures, Daddy Knows Best, Team Players, and the upcoming Straight No More.