Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More Erotica than Ever – But Is It Exciting?

There is a discussion forum on Amazon's web site in the Romance section where readers have been discussing phrases and descriptions they hate in romance novels for over a year now. In recent months it has migrated from romance novels to erotica and I check in periodically to see what is being discussed because it is so doggone funny. Though porn and erotica have always been around--these days there is a fine fine line between the two-- in the past couple of years it has exploded. This is largely thanks to the popularity of ereaders. Now readers can downloaded as much of this stuff as they want without the embarrassment of checkout clerks and read it on the subway or bus or beach or anywhere without a brown-paper wrapper.

Ever since the explosion of the 50 Shades books (which I have not read and do not plan to read), I've been intrigued as to why this stuff is so popular. Especially the BDSM stuff. I've read all the justifications: women are tired of having to be in control of relationships all the time, etc. I've come to the conclusion that most people just want to get their fancies tickled and they don't think much beyond that. So, ever-willing to be enlightened, I recently downloaded a bunch of ebooks from the free erotica section of Amazon. Yes, I'm being a tightwad. I also downloaded a lot of samples from the pricier ones convinced that if I found a really juicy one I would pay the full price for the whole book. I never found one.

I've spent a couple of evenings sitting on the back porch with my ereader and these stories. At first I felt some of the stuff I was reading was fairly titillating but I have to admit within half an hour I was mostly skimming. Skimming erotica is sort of weird, at first you are just looking for the “good parts” but before long even the good parts are the sale-old/same-old. Maybe I'm just not a good candidate for this stuff. What amazes me is the appetite of the public for these ebooks though. One of the author forums I participate in has a number of erotica authors who are cranking out these sorts of books at a tremendous rate and selling them by the tens of thousands. While I envy their royalties I don't think this is something I could ever do. I've read a few of their books (or skimmed them) and it's the same stuff just with different characters in different settings wearing (or not wearing) different clothes. Maybe it's me.
Alec Baldwin as Dave Robicheaux

I've ranted and raved before about the popularity of rape-erotica and non-consensual-erotica. Recently someone made a blog post differentiating between rape and ravishment which I thought was a good point and one I could appreciate. But now I just keep wondering how books like these 50 Shades of Grey books manage to hold the readers' attention for three volumes. I couldn't get through the sample. Anne Rice has been benefiting from the BDSM boom for the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy and has openly marveled that they are now being sold at Costco and Walmart when formerly they were considered too risque. Rape-porn at Walmart? It reminds me of a line from a Woody Allen movie: Do you think sex is dirty? Yeah, if it's done right.

And yet, at the same time, we see a frightening political movement in the opposite direction – a US Congressman who thinks women can prevent themselves from conceiving if they are “legitimately” raped, lawmakers who want to deny women contraception and basic health services. It's a crazy world out there. It makes me wonder which came first, the repression or the porn boom? I think they go hand in hand.
Daniel Silva, author of the
Gabriel Allon books.
 I've always pictured him as Gabriel.

I've always disliked the expression “getting laid.” It is so passive and dispassionate – like getting a haircut or getting a mamogram. It seems the trend in erotica is sort of like that, it's all very suggestive and euphemistic (no matter how graphic it is) but ultimately unsatisfying so its fans need more and more and more of it. I'm sort of glad I tried to understand it and failed. Now I can go back to James Lee Burke and Daniel Silva and not feel like I'm missing anything. I'll take a Dave Robicheaux or a Gabriel Allon over 50 Christian Greys – those guys are exciting.

Thanks for reading.


  1. I don't really get this whole erotica trend either. I like sex, but the erotica I've looked at doesn't even arouse me. I doubt I could write it.

    As for Fifty Shades and the whole billionaire and innocent virgin subgenre, I don't get the appeal at all. They strike me like the old Harlequin Presents category romances (and I never cared for those either) with a bit of added sex. But then I've never understood the whole Cinderella fantasy thing anyway.

  2. I'm not a good person to comment on this probably being in the LGBT part of the population, but even when it suits my own sexuality, I frankly don't find erotica very titillating to be frank. For one thing, I just plain do NOT like BDSM and the whole S/M thing makes me queasy. And often the sex acts (even LGBT ones) are not what *I* would happen to enjoy--there is after all a wide range of things people do enjoy. It is just so BORING.

    For me that is. Obviously, a whole lot of people don't react the same way.

  3. Thanks to a google alert, I got the chance to read this entry.

    I love erotica. I don't read a lot of it, because I feel so much seems very self-congratulatory, sort of scratching an itch and then some.

    for me, erotica is about the ideas and feelings it brings up in me, which I can transfer to my relationship. It's fantasy for me, just like for others, yes, but it's more than that. It's about me and my relationship, rather than an escape.

    I'd rather live erotica (however imperfect) than read it (no matter how trashy).


  4. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I don't really care that people find erotica as interesting as many do -- I just can't figure out how so much can be written about the same stuff. Maybe it's just me.


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