I've recently learned that at least one online publisher has been pressured into pulling erotic fiction dealing with certain taboo subjects (e.g. incest). Smashwords was contacted by PayPal in late February and informed that they would no longer allow certain types of content to be transacted through their processing platform. Smashwords is not happy about this and is working to try and strike some sort of compromise with PayPal. For more information on this particular circumstance (because there are others brewing), go to http://www.smashwords.com/about/beta
According to my source, much of the discussion is polarized around very emotional topics such as censorship and preventing child exploitation. This blog post is about neither of these. As I listened to my source talk about the issues, I got to thinking about the role erotic content in fiction and erotica can and do play in the sexual lives of people. Sure, like any piece of fiction, it can entertain and depending on the genre, take the reader on a journey of intrigue, mystery, true crime or romance in another country, era of history or galaxy. But erotic fiction and erotica offer the reader even more than this.
Erotic content/ erotica is a vehicle for exploration of sexual desires and fantasies. Even the most vanilla erotic romance plays such a role in the hands of the sexually inexperienced. I vividly recall the very physical reaction I had to the relatively sanitized content of Harlequin Romances when I was barely in my teens. The words painted a vivid picture in my mind of passion, the likes of which I had not actually seen with my own eyes at that point, let alone experienced. I felt that delicious flutter in the pit of my stomach and tingle between my legs and tried to imagine what it felt like to be caught in such a lusty embrace. The next time I was caught in the throes of an adolescent crush, I had a better understanding of what was happening to me. That spark of attraction and desire was recognizable!
When the erotic content ventures into more adventurous territory for the reader, that's when things can get very interesting. I remember the first novel I read with strong homosexual content. Initially I bought the book as I was curious to learn more about homosexuality. (Remember, this was the pre-internet era). I got caught up in the story and in the physical and emotional responses of the characters. I hadn't counted on getting hot and bothered as I read about the sexual exploits of the main characters.
Erotic content in fiction or erotica itself can provide an opportunity for exploration of our darker desires as well. Consider the ongoing popularity of vampires in fiction. Readers are drawn in by the intensity and/or tormented nature of the characters. The sexual content often has elements of danger, angst and powerful lust. In erotic paranormal romances, human characters interact with vampire or other supernatural beings, breaking taboos, crossing boundaries and having amazing physical experiences. Does the average reader want to meet a vampire in a dark alley or become that sort of predatory creature? Of course not. But the notion of confronting and indulging forbidden urges, of acknowledging the darkness within and finding ways to embrace it can be attractive themes to those of us actively repressing aspects of our sexuality.
Sometimes, a work of fiction provides validation for the thoughts nagging at our consciousness. Romance novels that describe situations where polyamoury or open relationships might actually work can help nudge folks out of the closet enough to acknowledge their own unfulfilled desires and needs. Erotica that sheds light on what happens inside private BDSM clubs can provide a window into another world for someone who has never heard of such a thing.
Sometimes, they provide masturbatory inspiration and can nudge a stagnant libido back to life again, without the use of medication. They can inspire us to enliven our existing relationships. Even something as simple as reading erotica aloud to one's partner and sharing why you like a particular story can help partners to better communicate their needs and desires.
Of course, the one caveat here is these books are all works of fiction. It would be a mistake to presume that the stories they tell will automatically unfold that way for any particular reader. You may find that what turns you on is a complete turn off for your partner. You may discover things about the nature of your own desire that intrigue and shock you. You may become motivated to make major changes in your own life on the basis of what you learn. You might discover it is enough for you to experience all these forbidden pleasures vicariously through the characters in these books. The exploration that results is as individual as the reader.
At the very least, erotic content in fiction and erotica all certainly stimulate our imaginations and challenge us to think beyond the confines of our own experiences, to imagine a greater field of possibilities, and in some cases even to dare to dream of living more authentically.