You thought you were the only one reading erotic fiction? Think again

·2-min read
The majority of female fans of erotic literature discuss their reading with their friends, according to a German study.

The "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy by E.L. James brought millions of readers into the world of erotic literature. A German study wanted to further explore who such readers are, a group that is largely female and who are unafraid of diving into an erotic book both in the bedroom and in public transport.

Once upon a time we were ashamed to buy such books or read them in public.That was before British author E.L. James rejuvenated erotic literature with her lightly sadomasochistic saga, "Fifty Shades of Grey". Nine years later, erotic books are flourishing on the shelves of bookstores, where they sell like hotcakes. In fact in Australia, eBay revealed that sales of erotic or semi-erotic fiction jumped 423% in the first half of 2020 during social distancing.

Despite this craze for sultry literature, the genre still suffers from many preconceptions, and the motivations of its readership have rarely been studied. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics have defined a profile of this mostly female audience in a study recently published in the journal Humanities & Social Sciences Communications. Most of the respondents are heterosexual women, between 20 and 40 years old, in stable romantic relationships and having pursued higher education.

Progressive novels?

Just 16% are housewives, challenging the popular belief that erotic literature is a pastime for housewives looking for thrills. Another important point is that the vast majority (80%) of the participants in the study describe themselves as "great readers" who are used to talking about their latest discoveries in the field of erotica and romance literature with their friends. While 65% of them have this kind of conversation with their friends, less than a third of them discuss it with their companion.

The German researchers also tried to find out what these readers think about erotic books such as "Fifty Shades of Grey" or the "Crossfire" saga by Sylvia Day. Most of them mention the entertaining potential of these types of novels, followed by the progressive values they convey about pleasure and female sexuality. A point of particular interest to Maria Kraxenberger, the study's lead author."Many of the study participants saw erotic novels -- at least in part -- as being emancipated, feminist, and progressive. We attribute this finding primarily to the respondents' more traditional views of male and female gender roles," she explains. Erotic literature's sexual revolution is yet ahead.

Caroline Drzewinski