Last week, I met up with a group of girlfriends in Midtown to indulge in the most lurid of sins— gossip over high-priced, but weakly-mixed cocktails. How trite. Self-respecting, modern women (one of which I often impersonate) have renamed such Sex and The City moments as Sex and The Clichés. But every now and then, you forget it isn’t 1998, and let yourself talk dirty with lips stained pink from over-priced cosmos.
It was during one of these cosmo-induced conversations that a friend—an editor of erotic novels—described her recent trip to an erotic author convention. As she marveled over all the different fetishes represented there—everything from S&M to Furries—I simply marveled that the erotic literary genre was popular enough to warrant a convention. How is it that, in a world where E-readers have slayed Borders and porn is only a mouse-click away, people will still turn to the written word to turn them on?
I came home that night and googled erotic literature to discover Brian Alexander’s msnbc article that explores the boom in sexually themed novels. Most major publishing companies—Random House, Penguin, and Simon and Schuster included—have founded erotic divisions. Pretty remarkable, seeing as only 50 years ago, Lady Chatterley’s Lover had to fight to make its way to American readers due to its ribald content. The pages practically stuck together from the steam.
The obscenity trials of Ulysses and Howl protected sexual content from censorship, and erotic literature became legalized by the 1960s. It failed, however, to become legitimized. Titillating tomes tend to be associated with neon book covers and Fabio’s flowing locks. Even Alexander admits, “much of the new erotic is simply porn moved to the printed page, only smarter and largely aimed at women.”
But is it porn? No. Without stating the obvious, porn is porn. In fact, what’s so remarkable about erotica’s rise in popularity is that it isn’t porn. How many books have been neglected due to the “I’ll wait until the movie comes out” excuse? Why would anybody—especially in this instant gratification generation—read written-word porn when the movie is already out? On the internet. For free, no less!
Erotic novels offer something more. They represent the marriage of the sensual and the cerebral—two spheres of human cognition that have been divided for far too long. Two spheres that, at Naked Therapy, we simply love to see getting along. The Erotic Publishing companies, “the creators” Alexander notes, “mostly raised in the era of Madonna videos on MTV, open discussion of sex during the initial HIV scare, and the mainstreaming of porn” are modernizing a traditional art form. They have identified the curious, progressive and yes—at times, oversexed—cultural zeitgeist and put it into words. And I, for one, am interested in what they have to say.
What about you? Have you read erotic novels? Do you find they’re just word-porn, or do they offer something more?