Sex

Why women read erotic fiction

Great sex needs two things. According to the experts, what we all need most for success under the covers is intimacy and a little imagination.

Couple in bed together

Great sex needs two things. According to the experts, what we all need most for success under the covers is intimacy and a little imagination.

During the past few years, erotic fiction has taken off across the Western world. Women in their hundreds of thousands devoured the sexy, kinky underworld of the submissive heroine in the Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy by E.L. James.

That success sent the sales of erotic novels soaring by more than 30 per cent in recent years, a result of both the impact of Fifty Shades and the anonymity offered by the proliferation of e-readers, such as Kindle and iPad.

With technological advances came an ability for women to download and read this type of novel without ever having to physically confront a salesperson. You can read it on the bus and no one has any idea what’s going on in your imagination. That access has also given women permission to explore some of their own feelings about sex and fantasy. And according to a scientific study by researcher Harold Leitenberg of The Journal of Sex Research, women who read romance or erotic novels have an astounding 74 per cent more sex with their partners than those who don’t.

This, Dr Leitenberg says, is because women fantasise more frequently and have more intense and realistic fantasies when they read suggestive content. He concludes that not only were women readers having more sex, they were having better sex because they and their partners were more adventurous and playful.

"Every generation has had their erotic book," says Nikki Gemmell, author of the worldwide erotic hit, The Bride Stripped Bare. "In the past, it might have been Fear Of Flying by Erica Jong or Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Women have always enjoyed reading these types of books. They are transporting. They help us to feel. They are powerful and they take us to another world."

More importantly, she says, they help women to feel that what they are thinking and feeling is not necessarily wrong and that there are others who have similar feelings.

"You might have read Fear Of Flying, but you would have done so in secret," says Nikki. "You certainly wouldn’t have talked about it. You might have been ashamed or at least embarrassed to talk about it with anyone other than the most liberated of women.

"Now, you have grandmothers talking about it with their granddaughters. Mothers and daughters talking about it, and women reading it on buses. That is the revolution of Fifty Shades. I see it as an outpouring of honesty and frankness about our sexual selves, that yes, women do enjoy these books. Yes, women like to read about erotic lives and to talk about it. That shift is extraordinary."

Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that everyone had three lives: the public life we show the world, our private life, that we show our family and friends, and the secret life, which is the world of our minds.

"Often, the secret life goes to the core of our erotic selves," says Nikki. "That can be very difficult to write about, but enthralling to read, if the author gets it right and gives it a ring of truth.You can write sex scenes easily enough, but to make it authentic for your reader is extremely difficult. But that truth is vital. I think that, for a lot of women, erotic fiction is about living vicariously through the words of others.

"For a lot of us, kids, jobs, marriages, just trying to keep up with the world is hard enough, let alone having anything left for a sexual life. We are all too tired, too stressed, too worried, to have great adventurous sex. Reading about it may be all we have the energy for."

Yet the role played by erotic fiction and fantasy is an important one, says sexologist and director of Sexology Australia, Elaine George. "Erotic fiction, in particular, enables a woman to get carried away with her sense of imagination and imaginary play," she says. "That imaginary play can be with a lover. It can be with multiple lovers. And it can be inventing a scenario that enables her to become erotically charged.

"Men respond to the shape of a breast, or the shape of a leg, or a woman's buttock. They call themselves a boob, bum or leg man. Sometimes, it’s all three. Women are much more turned on by what is said, what they read and what they hear in terms of them turning on that desire button between their ears."

Does erotic fiction have a sustainable place in people’s erotic lives? "Absolutely," says Elaine. "Women can use erotic fiction as a resource, a source of inspiration for fantasy and play, and as an outlet for herself, if she wants to masturbate, or to recharge the chemistry between her and her spouse or partner.

"I think that the positive thing about a book such as Fifty Shades Of Grey is that it has become a very public vehicle to promote permission and acceptance of the role that fantasy plays in our lives – like it or not – and that it is not only acceptable but a necessary part of our psyche."

Passion and its intensity changes as we go through life. "And things are needed – not just holidays – but things are needed to change the sexual repertoire, to expand that repertoire," says Elaine. "Fifty Shades boosted the sales of whips and other sex toys. You might laugh at that, but again, it’s showing you that it reawakened people to the idea that they can spice up their sex lives without having an affair and that’s a positive thing."

"I don’t know where it might take us in the future," says Nikki Gemmell. "Perhaps the extremes of sexual behaviour – BDSM [bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism] for example – will become more socially acceptable.

"Or perhaps when we have finished examining the extremes, we will return to the more natural, spiritual way in terms of sexuality. We might have to wait for a decade before someone writes that next great sex sensation, but I’m looking forward to it whatever form it takes."

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