"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."
"Research from the Canadian company audiobooks.com has shown when it comes to downloads and audiobooks, men are reading/listening to almost as much erotica as women, and account for around one third of erotica audiobook downloads."
So reading erotica isn't limited to one gender; it's enjoyed by all, and it's actually good for you! In addition to improving your sex life, reading erotica and romance can help you live out fantasies you may not be able to fulfill in your daily life, it opens doors to other sexual ideas, it allows a person to experience sexuality from the perspective of another person's identity, and it allows a person to do all of this and more inside the safety of their own head! Looking at Amazon's top 100 list for erotic fiction, you'll notice best sellers aren't limited to heterosexual stories. Like any genre of fiction, consumers from all sexual and physical identities are reading.
But what about the people who write these stories? Does an erotic fiction author's gender or sexual identity play a role in how or what they write? Do they know who they write for and is it OK to write from an identity not their own? I've asked a number of erotic and romance authors about this. Here's what they had to say:
Q: Are you aware of the gender demographic(s) that read(s) your work?
“No, not really. Most of the comments on my blog posts are from women, but more men have been commenting recently. I suspect that there are quite a few men reading my stories, but are doing so quietly.” –Ria Restrepo
"Yes. Based on the responses and reviews I've received I do believe I have a pretty good idea. It is as eclectic a mix as the stories that I tend to write. Varying wildly from book to book and story to story. I have stories that are gay male, transgender, lesbian, May-December romance, interracial, and I have a dual collection of horror short stories that push all kinds of boundaries. My readers follow the same patterns.” –M.S. Tarot
“No.” –Delilah Night
“Judging by reviews and social media followers, I believe it is a fairly wide gender demographic reading my books. It differs by title, with more transgender or nonbinary readers picking up what I will call my ‘standard’ erotica, but the cross-genre books - those that blend horror, fantasy, and adventure with the erotica - seem to have reached a wider audience.” –Sally Bend
"Not precisely. It appears that there are more men than women, but I definitely have both. I couldn't say the precise breakdown." —Reed James
"I’m not generally aware of who is buying my books, but I have heard that women tend to read more than men do, especially when it comes to erotica. Nonbinary readers seem to enjoy a fair share of erotica as well."—Richard Bacula
Q: Do you have a target gender or sexuality that you specifically write for?
"I've actually struggled with who my target audience is. I've always written stories that turn me on, but when I first started writing erotica, my stories were what was traditionally considered male-centric fantasies. They were smut, porn, or whatever you want to call it. The writing was more vulgar and less nuanced. Even though my taste for down and dirty sex is still very much alive, I think the quality of my writing has improved.
Those early stories generated a lot of feedback from men—mostly hitting on me. It was flattering at first, but then I started feeling like an X-rated version of Pride and Prejudice. It's a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman who writes erotica, must be in want of a horny guy to fuck her silly in real life. That may be true for some, but for me it has to be the right guy.
At the same time, I was trying to write mainstream romance. I've always loved the romance genre—especially the steamier stuff—and wanted to be a successfully published author. Back then, romance was predominately targeted to heterosexual women. So I was torn between writing romance for women and dirty stories for men. Ultimately, I decided to go where the money was and that was in writing romance for women.
However, that decision wasn't as simple as it may have seemed. Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey changed a lot of things. I think it gave more women the power to embrace their sexuality. Hearts and flowers are great, but so is raunchy kinky sex. You don't have to choose between romances with sweet kisses and tender touches, or dirty stories featuring spanking, bondage, and domination and submission. At least in erotic romance, you can have it all.
Bottom line, I'm a heterosexual female who loves passionate stories about characters with a strong chemistry that have lots of dirty, kinky sex. So that's what I write. I think there are lots of women out there that enjoy those kinds of stories, too. Primarily, that's my audience. If there are men out there that enjoy my stories, too, all the better.” –Ria Restrepo
“By far the most well received of my stories have been ones with a younger man falling for an older woman. That being said I tend to make those young men more like the teens of my generation than the teenagers of the current day and time. This is deliberate. I'm trying to appeal to mid-forty to late sixty, heterosexual women. I make these young men seem like the young men they knew when they were that age. Or as well as I can without it being ridiculous.
Equally, I also tend to catch young hetero males who are attracted to older women with the same stories.” –M.S. Tarot
“My target demographic is myself. What do I want to read in romance?” –Delilah Night
“While I cannot say I deliberately write for a gender, I do expect my stories to speak loudest to LGBT sexualities. It thrills me to hear from ‘straight’ readers who had their eyes opened to the romantic potential in a transsexual partner, or to the erotic possibilities of a futanari lover, but I tend to write with the assumption that readers are, at the very least, bi-curious.” –Sally Bend
"I write erotica for myself. Since I'm a guy, it probably appeals more to men than women." —Reed James
"I generally assume that my readers are women, but I try to write for everyone to some extent. I’m probably least popular with gay males, because I haven’t done any male/male stories as of yet."—Richard Bacula
Q: Does your gender identity influence your writing?
“Yes, I think so. I'm a woman who loves dominant men with a sensitive side. That's generally the point-of-view I write from, because it's what I know and I'm most comfortable writing. I haven't discounted writing from other perspectives, but I haven't felt the need to so far.” —Ria Restrepo
“Of course, there is no way that it couldn't. At times it makes it easier to write since I'm writing the familiar. But then again, at other times, it makes me have to challenge myself mentally. Taking on not only gender but culture, age, race, sexual discovery and all the rest ... well, that tends to bend my imagination into new and different shapes to help bring about the desired story. To me, it's all about emotion and story. Everything hangs on that.” —M.S. Tarot
“It's impossible for it not to. Just as my race, age, socioeconomic status, education level, and urban v rural upbrining influence my writing, the fact that I identify as a woman does as well.” –Delilah Night
“Oh, absolutely. I have used my fiction for a long time to explore and understand my own gender identity, finding a sense of comfort and acceptance on the page that I had not always felt in the flesh. I am at a point where my writing is more a celebration than an exploration, but part of me will always write for the anxious, lonely teenager behind me.” —Sally Bend
"I don't think to. It's not like I think about it when I'm writing. I think about the character, the scene, and what will make it a hot and sexy read."—Reed James
"I’m sure that my gender identity does influence my writing. I’m a cis het male, and I’m mostly into writing about male/female sex, with female/female sex as a close second. While I research everything as best I can, I’m sure my gender identity does provide the occasional gaps in knowledge."—Richard Bacula
Q: How do you justify writing from the point of view of a gender or sexuality you don’t identify with?
“People are people no matter their gender or sexuality. As long as a writer is clear on a character's motivations and desires, they should be able to write plausible stories from any perspective. There is plenty of variability in the genders to make anything believable. There are sensitive men; there are crass women.
Whatever the gender, a writer just has to be able to get inside their character's head and tell their story. I think I'm a pretty empathic writer and feel capable of expressing the feelings of characters of either gender.
Thus far, I've only written one story where I alternated from the female protagonist's point-of-view to the male's point-of-view. Sometimes you need to tell a story from more than one viewpoint, so that means you might need to get into the head of a character whose gender is different than your own.
Also, I think readers of either gender like reading the other gender's perspective. Surely you can't say all women feel the same way about something, but some do. I know there are heterosexual men who like reading stories from the female point-of-view—because they find it arousing and/or because to want insight into what some women feel about various situations. I also know that I like reading what the male characters are thinking, so I feel certain other women do, too.” —Ria Restrepo
“By being damn good at doing whatever it takes to sell that point of view. I will research to the hundredth degree if I must to bring that character alive in the minds of my reader.
I have also been told by several authors that I can write anything and make it hot. That comes not from writing scenes that sizzle but by bringing the reader into the scene. Hooking them not just with the story but with characters that they identify with and then can't help but empathize with. Emotion crosses all genders, touches all people. To paraphrase the song 'We're only human. Of flesh and blood, we're made.'
We all weep, some just hide it better.
We all rage, some just channel it into ways that hide their anger.
We all laugh, even if some do it with only their eyes.
Now if a writer can make his characters cry, get mad, or laugh in a manner realistically enough that the reader feels like they are there with them, well then selling what that character does between the sheets is simplicity.” —M.S. Tarot
“Romance is a fantasy genre. My male characters fit that—they're interesting, educated, good in bed, and have more strongly held ethics than a great deal of men I've run across in my forty years. Writing from a gay male perspective is harder to justify. It's not my voice. But in both cases, I utilize betas who fit the gender identity of the characters (for instance, I wouldn't worry about having a male reader in my f/f novel, for example, but it would be nice to have a woman who identifies as queer beyond myself vet it. My betas know me well enough to know that I want to be called out and do better at representation.” —Delilah Night
“We are writers and creators, people of limitless imagination. Diversity lives in our imagination, and the page would be a very boring place if we only wrote about the experiences we have lived. I mean, I have written about futanari, dragons, dominant women, tentacle beasts, submissive sissies, mummies, gay men, giants, interracial lesbian, demons, and more . . . and I can only lay claim to a few of those identities. I think we owe it to readers to do our research, to educate ourselves on the genders, sexualities, races, or cultures we write about so that we can do them justice, but I reject the idea that we should have to limit or justify our narrative choices.” —Sally Bend
"Why do I have to justify writing any character? The author's job is to write whatever truth they can in their story. Does one gender, one sexuality, one arbitrary identity, created by a person who wishes to gain control of the chaos of the world by pigeonholing us all into one slot or another, hold truth? Or do we share it with each other in a continuous exchange of ideas that can only be held back by such reductive thinking?" —Reed James
"I’ve never really worried about it that much, in part probably because while gender IS important, I don’t consider it to overwhelm all the other common experiences we all share as human beings. Also, I read a lot of Romance novels when I was growing up, and I’m very familiar with reading about sex from a female point of view. I’m sure this helps me be comfortable writing from the same view.
Ultimately, I justify my writing other genders with the reactions I get from female readers. I turned in a female POV short (non-erotic, although there were some sex scenes) story in college once, and a man in the class challenged my authority to write a female character faking an orgasm, for example. The women in the class simply wanted to know how I wrote so WELL from a female point of view. I considered their responses an adequate answer to the man’s question."—Richard Bacula
Conclusions: It seems that writing from the heart for the truth of a character is the overall consensus, regardless of the author's personal gender or sexual identity. The best way an author can write from another perspective is with respect, imagination, and appropriate research if needed. The purpose of fiction is to transcend the levels of our own world, to invest our time in another, to better understand ourselves, those around us, and all the possibilities that come with it. Keep an open mind. Stay curious. And keep reading!