“What are you reading?”
Cheeks flushed, I slam my phone down and try to get my beating heart in check. It takes my husband all of two seconds to just know what I’m reading.
I’m reading smut – a sexually explicit sub-genre within fan-fiction — on Wattpad, where the story follows the reader (me) and one of my favourite anime protagonists, Kakashi Hatake from the popular Japanese manga series Naruto), through a series of chapters which are not for the faint-hearted.
I’m a big fan of erotica. It was during the lockdown that I dove deeper into this genre and was the reason my husband gifted me my first vibrator. My phone gallery has a dedicated folder with screenshots of racy book recommendations that I’m just waiting to read. Luckily, it isn’t as hard as it used to be in the Mills & Boon era to find and read good erotica.
A study in the National Library of Medicine in 2018 found that 90% of women use mental framing or scene conjuring to get aroused. According to Pornhub insights (2019), lesbian porn is 151% more popular with women than it is with men, and this isn’t just coming from their LGBTQ+ audience.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
In most porn videos, you’ll quickly notice that the little storyline is centred around the man. To many women, this would not be appealing because the ‘show’ would end as soon as the man climaxes. With lesbian porn, women are seen enjoying and pleasuring each other and spending more time on their bodies.
“If I have to pick, I will choose watching lesbian porn to just about anything,” says Neha Menon, an architect from Ahmedabad. “There’s something so appealing and real about imagining how I would be treated than watching some dude just push inside me when I’m dry, which I feel is what happens in all these other typical porn videos,” she says the last part with a shudder.
This is also why erotica has become a woman’s first choice –the protagonist, often a woman, is front and centre, and the sex scenes are more about her than her male counterpart.
Megwyn White, a clinical sexologist and director of education at sexual wellness brand Satisfyer said in a 2020 interview with Screenshot that “women are sensitive creatures, endowed with a multi-sensory pleasure map that induces details of physicality, sensitivities to touch, aroma, lighting, plot line and more. We remember these details and use them to connect the dots to our own pleasure maps.”
Sex stories can spice things up in the bedroom, whether you’re planning some hot solo time or are keen to take things up a notch with your partner.
“We brought role-playing into the bedroom after I read Neon Gods by Katee Robert,” says Goa-based housewife Rachel D’souza, “life can get monotonous, and when a friend got me reading erotica, honestly, I couldn’t put it down even when my kid was calling out to me.”
It took D’souza months to speak to her husband about what she wanted to try. “I remember running to the bathroom and sitting there while he read the highlighted parts on my Kindle,” she laughs.
Today, erotica and mature romances are seeing a boom, and it’s all thanks to user recommendations on platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest popularising these reads and authors. They share small scenes, or quotes from books with hashtags like #spicybooks #booktok and #enemiestolovers.
“Fifty Shades Of Grey was just the tip of the iceberg, it gave people a chance to talk openly about ‘trying new things in the bedroom,” says Sridevi (name changed on request). “I was finally openly talking about things that my boyfriend and I had been doing for a long time before Mr Grey brought BDSM to the bedroom. While I hated the book, I’m thankful for the conversations they’ve begun.” Sridevi is now even a part of several kink communities where everything from best products to buy, safe practices and measures are shared, and other questions are answered in a judgement-free space.
The communities built from ones in online spaces like Discord, Twitter or even offline meet-ups, have allowed women, especially, to connect with like-minded readers to discover and have more conversations around their pleasure. This is integral as it encourages women to learn more about their bodies and enhance their experiences with their partners.
In May 2019, Durex India tweeted, “India, we need to talk #orgasminequality”, with a picture that had the following statistic: ‘Nearly 70% Women in India Don’t Orgasm Every Time During Sex’. As jarring as this statistic may be, we all know at least 2 or 3 women (or more) who have faked an orgasm– whether to be polite or to end a ruse.
Growing up, we are taught not to touch our bodies. In fact, the first time I learned about masturbation was when my first boyfriend introduced me to phone sex– this was when I was 20, which is an alarming age to learn about my own body. Unfortunately, we’ve seen more porn than read erotic literature, so it’s no surprise that women’s needs have not received the attention that it deserves.
“Erotica has been around for a long time now but we’re yet to see it develop to really be more inclusive,” says Aili Seghetti, intimacy and dating coach, founder of The Intimacy Curator. “We encourage the use of visualisation and breathing techniques to connect with the body, sensations, feelings, and fantasies. This improves self-awareness, along with transforming old patterns and habits and improving the quality of intimacy.”
However, Seghetti believes that we’re a long way from an ideal scenario, “unless we include more regional works, or erotica written by and for Indian women, or even explore podcasts and other methods to include those who can’t read or don’t have access to this sort of literature, we can say we’re heading in a good direction, but the ideal picture is still too far away.”
Till just a few years ago, one could not imagine sharing quotes like, “I want you splayed out on the table like my own personal feast,” a line from Sarah J Maas, A Court Of Mist And Fury, on social media platforms, let alone have such reads reach bestselling lists, and yet here we are. Riding the social media wave, #bookstagram accounts are pushing boundaries by helping women discover books and stories that are helping them to indulge and explore their deepest fantasies– first within the pages of a book, and maybe later, within the sheets.
From Hades and Persephone retellings to reading fan-fiction with your favourite anime, film or even K-pop characters — with everything from exploring mild to extreme bondage, to racy mafia romances, to fantasies where characters look like Henry Cavill but with wings, fangs, horns, or all — books are the land of imagination and these erotic reads can be a great way of bonding with yourself and your partner.
Richa Sheth is a freelance writer based in Pune. She explores complexities within human interactions and relationships.