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What is erotica?
When erotica comes to mind, these days we often think of Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, both which took the world by storm as bestselling books and movies in the 2010s.
But erotica is far more diverse than fanfiction turning into multi-million dollar book deals and Hollywood films. Erotica can include the classics: short stories, books, and art. It can also include comics (including manga) and anime. With the advent of modern day technology, erotica can even be consumed in the form of audiobooks, podcasts, GIFs, and interactive erotica in the form of texting (sexting?) choose-your-own-adventures. There are a lot of ways to consume erotica — and a lot of genres, too, which we’ll get into shortly!
Regardless of its form, erotica is content that has been created with the intention of being sexually arousing or stimulating in some way. A particular piece of erotica may not be that way for everyone (since everyone has different tastes!). Content, or portion of content, such as a movie scene, can be considered erotic without the entire movie being classified as erotica. Occasionally something that is erotica can also be considered pornographic or as pornography, but not always.
What is the difference between erotica and pornography?
Frankly, that’s a tough question to answer succinctly.
You might find that the answer varies from person to person. The consensus will vary between different communities and cultures over the course of history.
There isn’t a precise answer to this question, just as there isn’t a precise answer to the other age-old question “What is art?” and “What is art versus craft?” that philosophers and art aficionados have mused about in circles for a millenia.
Erotica, pornography, and the Supreme Court
Even the United States Supreme Court has exemplified the difficulty of answering such questions. In the famous case Jacobellis v. Ohio¹, a movie theater owner was arrested for showing The Lovers, a French film by the renowned filmmaker Louis Malle, where there was one particular scene that considered erotic (at least in the United States in the 1950s). The popular quote “I know it when I see it” was written in a court decision at the time by Justice Potter Stewart when determining how to distinguish whether certain expressions (verbal, written, or artistic) are protected under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech.
More interestingly yet overlooked, as Yale Law School Professor of Constitutional Law Paul Gewirtz stated in his essay “On ‘I Know It When I See It²,’” in this same court case, “the Court was utterly fragmented. There were seven separate opinions, and no majority opinion — indeed, not one of the seven opinions received more than two votes.” Not even the 9 sitting supreme court justices in 1963 (who were all white men) could come to a consensus, much less a majority ora plurality on how to evaluate adult speech and content — what’s obscene or not, and whether and what forms of erotica might be considered obscene.
Modern definitions of erotica and pornography in pop-culture
Moving out of the ivory building and into modern, everyday use, erotica is more commonly associated with writing whereas pornography with photography and video. As such, pornography is more commonly considered to be more “graphic” (figuratively and literally) compared to erotica, and erotica is considered a softer form of sexually arousing content – something you might find someone reading on their kindle on the subway, as many people did when Fifty Shades of Grey came out around the same time people started using e-readers to discreetly hide their reading in plain sight.
The above attempt of differentiating the two in everyday use is a pretty rough comparison though, and doesn’t reflect the broad diversity of erotica, pornography, and other content that might be considered both, that exists out there. At the end of the day, what matters to an individual is whether they enjoy the content and whether the content was created and used fairly and ethically.
As mentioned above, there is a wide array of genres and ways of exploring erotica. There is much more than what I have listed below, but this should be a good place to start and dabble. For this guide, I will focus primarily on written and audio content.
Below is a list of different genres and consumption methods you may want to peruse along with some suggested sites that have a substantial focus on that particular type! Happy hunting. :)
“Women-centric” erotica or Inclusive erotica
Slutbot by Juicebox
I hesitate to put this into a separate category, but because “erotica for women” is such a popular topic explicitly sought out by people when searching for content, I will dabble a bit into what this term can mean and how it came about.
In short, this is erotica that is created for (and potentially by) women. It may be considered softer or more romantic than other types of adult content, though just because it is marked as “for women” does that mean that ALL women prefer softcore content, nor does it mean that erotica for women cannot be enjoyed by men and nonbinary individuals. Everyone has different tastes at the end of the day, whether it’s more tame or more hardcore — and we can enjoy different types of content at different times, too!
In some cases, some larger adult sites (particularly for pornography) may have a separate category of “porn/erotica for women,” because studies³ have shown that women have been more likely to “encounter negative, problematic content when they consume pornography,” (even though many use and enjoy the content anyway). Having a curated set of popular content that is often viewed by women can reduce the likelihood of negative experiences while making it easier to find content that will be enjoyable.
In the last couple of years there has been a renaissance of erotica (and pornography) that is made to be more feminist, inclusive, and ethically made. Bellesa, Dipsea, Sugarbutch, Slutbot, and Quinn are all created by women and focus on inclusivity.
If you’re looking for places that focus on erotica created for the LGBTQ+ community, here are a few places to start:
Nifty has been around for a VERY long time, especially considering how long the internet has been around. It started back in 1992! Don’t be deceived by its age or its older looking format though, it’s an amazing community of user submitted stories collected over nearly 30 years, with a significant focus on LGBTQ+ stories. You definitely do not want to miss this rich resource.
If you’re looking for a more tightly-knit community, Sugarbutch is a queer and kink-oriented project created by Sinclair Sexsmith. Not only do they have curated, titillating erotica, they also have essays, poetry, and sex toy reviews. They’ve also published a number of books and novellas if you want something more long form.
If you’re looking to support Trans Women authors, or just want to read erotica about trans women from the perspective of a trans woman, Zoe Brown writes short stories as well as longer novels where the main character undergoes a Male-to-Female gender transformation. Sometimes these stories are in an alternative reality such as with warewolves or in a sci-fi setting. As of this writing, she is also accepting paid story commissions based on reader interest, so if there’s something you’d love to see her create into your own erotic reality, you can get in touch with her on her website!
The Turn On
Examples: The Turn On, Zane
A lot of erotica, especially traditional erotica novels, are written by and are centered around mostly white people. If you are looking for erotica created by BIPOC people and centered around them, here are a couple of authors and other content creators to explore:
Zane is a popular writer who specializes in erotica centered around Black women exploring and owning their sexuality. She also is the publisher of Strebor Books International where she publishes 30-60 books a year from other BIPOC writers.
If audio is more your thing, The Turn On podcast is by and for Black people “who want to get off.” They read Black erotica on air, talk to the writers, and discuss all things sex.
In terms of books authored by LatinX authors, there are a lot of up and coming writers over the last decade who cover all genres imaginable — Book Riot has a great roundup of 50 novels to have on your radar.
If you are looking for LGBTQ+ BIPOC writing, GoodReads has compiled a helpful list of books in their database to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Archive of Our Own
If Star Wars erotica is your jam (or any fandom, for that matter), Archive of Our Own is a community with millions of user-submitted stories for movies, book series, anime, manga, comics, TV series… pretty much any popular culture thing with a fandom, you’ll find it here!
BDSM / Bondage
Kink and BDSM are two other popular categories of erotica. If you’re looking for something created by a queer content creator, Sugarbutch is a great place to start. Reddit’s BDSMerotica subreddit is another great place for user-submitted content from people on the internet who share some of the same fantasies as you!
Examples: Anais Nin, E.E. Cummings
If you’re looking for something written in the 1800s or 1900s, two authors to check out are Anais Nin and E.E. Cummings.
Nin was one of the best erotica writers of her time. Various wealthy patrons would solicit her skills to write erotica about their own fantasies — one such example is Delta of Venus.
E.E. Cummings was also a prolific writer and illustrator of erotic fantasies — you can check out a collection of his erotic work here in the aptly titled Erotic Poems book.
ASMR Cherry Crush
Although sometimes ASMR is mistaken for something erotic, it is also often used for relaxation, falling asleep, and to feel what Dr. Craig Richard, founder of ASMRuniversity.com describes as “brain tingles.”
There is some ASMR that is more intentionally erotic in nature, however. If that’s what you’re looking for, a few creators who specialize in ASMR erotica are ASMR Amy, ASMR Mads, and ASMR Cherry Crush.
True erotica stories
Girl on the Net
The Casual Sex Project
True Porn Vol 1 & 2
Sometimes you just want to hear real life stories of fantasies come true (or close to it). If that’s what you’re in the mood for, The Casual Sex Project, founded by Dr. Zhana, is a collection of real life sex stories submitted by people around the world.
Types of erotica
Girl on the Net
Sounds of Pleasure
There is something sexy about hearing a person talking about a sexy story or being pleasured themselves — over the last several years there are a variety of different types of audio erotica. For longform novels Audible is the main standby (or Romance books if you prefer something a little more tame).
If you want smaller sound bites, there are several collections of work by both companies and individual creators. Dipsea and Quinn are startups that both provide shorter stories — Dipsea is curated while Quinn is user submitted. Girl on the Net creates both books and audio porn (as well as guest hosts from other creators) on a variety of titillating topics. The audio porn is created from her most popular work and from popular vote from her Patreon supporters, so you know they’re good. ;)
True Porn Vol 1 & 2
If you want a bit of visuals with your erotic storytelling, erotic comics are the way to go! Goodreads has a list of comics to peruse. If you’re able to get your hands on one of these books though, the True Porn series is great because it’s an autobiographical collection of stories illustrated and told by different artists who experienced the exploits they are sharing. Not only is it well made, it’s also thrilling because they’re all based on true stories.
Slutbot by Juicebox
Interactive is a relatively new category — think of it as a modern day choose-your-own-adventure through texting (or Facebook Messenger if you’re international or if you prefer it!). Slutbot is a virtual lover who will never leave you on read. They help you dream up dirty ideas and stories based on your own preferences. Not only is it an interactive story tailored to your interests, it can give you ideas for ways to spice up solo or partnered sex for later. Some users report even copying and pasting some of the text they see and like from the bot with their own partner(s) to share something they really love.
Longform reading (Literature / books / novels)
Erotica and romance Book Subscription Boxes
Of course there is your local bookstore as well as the Amazons and Barnes and Nobles of the world, but one way to switch up your routine is to sign up for a Romance Book Subscription Box. Many of these subscriptions are curated by independent bookstores and aficionados who will curate their favorite or newest reads each month to their subscribers. If you’re interested in picking up the newest and greatest, and get a surprise in the mail, this is a great and affordable way to keep some sexy surprises in the mail coming!
Friday Night Fun Erotic Stories | Hot Romantic Adult Weekly Podcast
Erotic Audio by AudioDesires.com
The Kiss Me Quick's Erotica
The Turn On
We Gotta Thing
If you’re already a podcast geek, why not dabble in a bit of podcast erotica? There’s Erotic Audio for weekly stories and The Kiss Me Quick's Erotica for about bi-monthly episodes (last updated in May 2020). The Turn On is a podcast for Black people looking to explore both erotica and all things sex. Finally, as an honorable mention, there’s the infamous My Dad Wrote a Porno which is more of a comedy than an erotica, but worth mentioning because the episodes are pretty hilarious with commentary (and the book was intended to be sexy, at least!)
Deep Underground Poetry
Erotic Poems by E.E. Cummings
True to his name, E. E. Cummings penned poems and drawings about love and sex. But more seriously, another great place for erotic poetry is Deep Underground Poetry. They have a comprehensive section on erotic poetry that are just a click away.
If you’re already a redditor you may already know about some of these, but if this is new to you, there are several large erotica communities with user submitted stories ranging from short stories, multi-part stories, to people on the internet sharing their deepest desires with other strangers on the internet. Part of the fun is browsing to see what’s new as well as checking out some of the top stories in your subreddit of choice.
Girl on the Net
The classic short story form erotica — Literotica is OG of this, having been around since 1998 with tens of thousands of user-submitted stories over 20 years ranging nearly every topic imaginable. If you’re looking for something more LGBTQ+ friendly, Nifty is especially a great resource. Bellesa is more oriented towards making adult content for women. And if you want to dive into content from sites run by one author, Girl on the Net is a classic site for short stories, audio erotica, and even how tos and frank discusions about sex.
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2 Gewirtz, Paul. “On 'I Know It When I See It'.” The Yale Law Journal, 1996, pp. 1023-1047. Essay, https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7665&context=ylj.
3 Chadwick, Sara & Raisanen, Jessica & Goldey, Katherine & Anders, Sari. (2018). Strategizing to Make Pornography Worthwhile: A Qualitative Exploration of Women’s Agentic Engagement with Sexual Media. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 47. 10.1007/s10508-018-1174-y.