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How writing fanfiction helped get me in touch with my sexual side

Words by Shaeden Berry

The timeless allure of erotic fiction.

I have a secret to confess: I used to write fanfiction. Yes, fanfiction – the stories written by the fans of television shows, movies, celebrities, and musicians that use the copyrighted characters and/or people for the basis of their own fiction. 

Fanfiction is often the subject of derision. When people think of fanfiction, they imagine twelve-year-old One Direction fans writing stories where Harry Styles spots them in a concert, falls in love and asks them to marry him. Truthfully, there probably are stories like that out there – that’s the beauty of fanfiction, people can write whatever they want. 


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If you look at the demographics of fanfiction, you’ll find that the writers are predominantly women. The stories they write will usually focus on a romantic relationship (or ‘ship’) between two characters who might not canonically be together.

And I won’t sugarcoat it – a lot of fanfiction is explicitly erotic. It makes sense that the phenomenon that spawned Fifty Shades of Grey (originally a Twilight fanfiction) would be. 

Discovering fanfiction as a teenager 

When I first discovered fanfiction, I was in high school. I wasn’t a particularly sexually aware teenager. At sixteen, when my friend told me about giving a boy a blowjob, I wrote about it in my diary in teeny-tiny letters because even writing the word ‘dick’ in my private journal felt embarrassing.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I just wasn’t ready for that world yet. But when I was ready to start learning about the intricacies of sex – not yet with someone else, just within myself – my main source became fanfiction. 

Writing and reading fanfiction provided me with a safe introduction to erotic romance. Fanfics are extensively tagged to give you an indication of what the story will entail. You rarely go into a fanfic thinking you’re getting a coffee-shop meet-cute only to end up with tentacle play – not without fair warning, at least.

After spending my teenage years writing and reading fanfiction, I progressed to reading original erotic romance novels. Currently, I get them from Kindle eBooks, which has a section of erotic romance that caters to every desire you might have. 

Why is it so appealing to women in particular?

Reflecting on my love of raunchy reads got me thinking – erotic romance is heavily marketed to women and women dominate the fanfiction sphere. So what is it about the saucily written word that appeals to women so much? 

I reached out to Dr Jodi McAlister to ask for her thoughts on this. Dr McAlister is the Senior Lecturer in Writing, Literature and Culture at Deakin University, she writes romantic fiction for adults and young adults and is the Vice-President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, the major international body for the study of romance.

I posited to her that my fixation on erotic romance might be a product of growing up in the late nineties/early noughties when porn was predominantly an industry made for and by men. When I was a teenager, porn was something that we viewed as a ‘dude thing’.

Beyond that, the porn of that time was not the porn of today. Today there are places exclusively for ethically made porn, and sites that focus on female pleasure, queer intimacy, and different gender identities. 

“Broadly speaking, I think you’re on the right track,” she tells me. “As an academic, I am allergic to generalisations… but if we’re talking broad strokes, you’ve pretty much got it there. I was also a teen in the noughties, so pre-feminist porn, pre-ethical porn.

“It probably was focusing… more, I think, on the man’s pleasure than the woman’s pleasure. Particularly if we’re talking heterosexual porn. That’s not to say that women can’t get off watching porn – many do – but I think you are very much on the right track there.”

When we talk about the appeal of erotic novels, I ask if it’s reductionist to imply that women enjoy erotic fiction more because there’s a plot involved. Does that feed into the stereotype that women are incapable of enjoying sex for the sake of sex and always need a connection, or romance? 

“I want to be quite careful in saying that women are not necessarily biologically programmed to need narrative – I want to stay away from any biological determinism,” Dr McAlister says. “But the way women are socialised in terms of sex, there is this sociological concept called ‘sexual scripting’ which basically argues that people learn about sex at three levels.

“The dominant cultural level, the interpersonal level… and the intrapsychic level, which is the individual’s own wants, desires [and] fantasises. That dominant cultural level, for a long time, has been telling women that sex and love are inextricably intertwined.”

If this is the attitude that’s being fed to women, then it makes sense that erotic romance appeals to us more. The slow build of tension and chemistry that an author creates between the two characters (or sometimes more than two) is one of the most appealing elements of the genre.

“While it has kind of eased off a little bit, we still see it all the time in [our] culture that, for women, sex is discursively okay if you’re in love,” Dr McAlister says. “Which is why for a lot of people, it can make it easier for them to get off if it’s embedded in a romance narrative.”

Of course, I’m well aware this isn’t always the case. The popular fanfiction ‘porn without plot’ tag exists for a reason. Some women just want to get right to the good stuff. 

Hidden sexual desires 

Another reason I’ve been contemplating erotica’s popularity with women is because of the way it can be hidden. When I was a teenager browsing fanfiction sites, it was a comfort to know that should my parents check my browser history, at first glance, there would be nothing untoward.

Outside of the digital sphere, erotic fiction is also easy to hide – all it takes is a different book jacket. And our desire to disguise what we’re reading makes sense. For time immemorial, women have had to hide their sexual desires. I ask Dr McAlister if she thinks this need to hide our sexuality also contributes to erotica’s appeal.

“If you’re reading on a Kindle, no one can see the cover. Some of that is tied into shame around reading romance full stop, which isn’t just about the sex. A lot of people feel kind of embarrassed about reading romance novels because people talk shit about romance novels all the time. So, there’s some other cultural baggage in addition to the porn stuff there.”

At the conclusion of our talk, Dr McAlister brings my attention to the rising trend of audio erotica apps like Dipsea and Quinn“There has been a boom, since about 2019, in audio erotica apps that are… predominantly female-led and targeted towards women.”

She explains that they’re short stories but audio, often serialised, and that they always have a narrative. “Even if it’s a pretty bare-bones narrative,” she adds with a laugh. “You can, among other things, sort it by the relationship of the partner to you – so friends to lovers, enemies to lovers. It’s not dissimilar to AO3 [a fanfiction site] tagging, just not quite as complex.”

It makes sense, with the rise in popularity of audiobooks and podcasts, that fanfiction and erotica would expand to the spoken word as well. As for my original question about the appeal of erotic fiction for women? Well, the answer is complex.

It’s rooted in cultural ideologies around sex as well as the individual’s own preferences. But whatever the reason, fanfiction and erotica show no sign of losing their appeal – or their predominantly female audience – any time soon.

For more on erotic fanfiction, head here.

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