A recent article for InsideHook, an online ‘guide for culture, travel, menswear and more’, proposed that It’s Time for Men to Start Reading More Erotica. The premise is that most written erotica is aimed at the female market because a. it’s assumed men prefer to watch rather than read erotica, and b… well, that men don’t generally need erotica to get fired up in the first place. This binary concept of male / female difference is challenged by the article, which states that ‘literary erotica is simply another medium of erotic entertainment that can titillate readers of all genders…’ with a ‘healthy overlap’ in the gender of its readers.
I think the above-mentioned article has straight men in mind (I may be wrong). It raises wider points though.
A few years ago, a UK survey found that 43% of British people read erotic at least ‘occasionally’, but with a prominent gender difference, i.e. that 53% of women read erotica at least occasionally, compared with 32% of men. It also appears to be particularly popular amongst Higher-paid managerial, administrative or professional workers, with 62% of this group reading erotica.
However, other research, however, indicates men can be just as aroused by erotica as women. So why the gender difference in readership?
Are men more visual than women, hence more likely to watch than read erotic scenes? Well, not all research supports that assumption, such as this study on nearly 2,000 adults, concluding response to visual sexual stimuli is independent of biological sex.
Is it down to the simple, evident fact that men read less fiction than women – often in favour of factual reading, as noted by a Library and Information Commission survey in 2019?
Or is it social stigma – erotic fiction is considered as ‘for women’, and / or is marketed that way, making men (or, again, perhaps straight men) think ‘it’s not for me’? Along the same lines, is it a frequent overlap in fiction between erotica and romance that feeds this apparent resistance?
Who knows. But in the end, whilst some of this is about natural preference, it’s likely to be about perception, too.
Let’s take its definition as below:
Erotica, literary or artistic works having an erotic theme; especially, books treating of sexual love in a sensuous or voluptuous manner. The word erotica typically applies to works in which the sexual element is regarded as part of the larger aesthetic aspect.
So erotica is not pornography; it is not exclusively about appealing to the fleshly appetites. Nor does its sexual content have to be explicit – it can be as much about what poet and writer Avijeet Das called ‘the unsaid things’. Or as designer Vivienne Westwood put it, ‘The most erotic zone is the imagination.’
It is a broad term and thus a broad genre. Yet it appears to carry muddled assumptions. And I don’t think these are only from men. The below are, I think, some common views:
– Erotica is focused around romance – often, but not necessarily.
– It’s sleazy or ‘dirty’ – if that’s what you enjoy, then sure, you’ll find it – but it is not always the case.
– It has no literary merit – it depends what we mean by ‘literary’ or ‘quality’; however, there are plenty of examples of critically acclaimed works of erotica, books with sensual passages, and those that have stood the test of time.
In short, erotica can, and often does, transcend genre boundaries. It is not an exclusive preserve.