Is Reading Erotica Bad For Your Love Life?

Erotic literature appears to be a “safe” way for individuals to explore their sexuality solo; however, it’s slowly emerging that smut is not only addictive but can also damage our romantic relationships.

By Rebecca Hope4 min read

How could reading erotica be bad for your love life? It’s just words on a page, so surely, its effects couldn’t be compared to pornography? There are no actors undressing and engaging in violent sex or women forced to perform degrading, humiliating acts, so what’s the issue?

It’s slowly becoming apparent that reading erotica could be as addictive as watching pornography. And although no one is physically hurt in the production of erotic literature, the content can emotionally harm the reader and the people closest to them, just like pornography.

How Reading Erotica Can Be As Damaging As Watching Pornography

We know that watching pornographic content has a variety of risks, including addiction, porn-induced erectile dysfunction, and distorted beliefs about sex and relationships. Unlike pornography, there is limited research on the effects reading erotica has on the person and their relationship. However, there is anecdotal evidence. 

In a letter to Fight the New Drug, an organization dedicated to raising awareness on the harmful effects of porn, a writer told of her addiction to reading erotica and the negative effects this had on her life and relationship with her husband. Here are some excerpts from her letter:

“I had a passing introduction to porn in a couple books I read as a teenager, but they were ‘softcore’ and didn’t lead to anything more. It was when I read the Fifty Shades of Grey series that my porn obsession really began.

I read the series out of curiosity, something I have negative feelings about now. The fact that the series was loosely based on bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism & masochism (S&M) practices, or BDSM for short, just made it worse for me.

I went searching for more information on BDSM after reading E.L. James’ twisted version of it out of curiosity and soon found sites where I could read porn of any genre. And there is a wide array.

‘Softcore’ love-story type sex, incest or pseudo-incest, bestiality, threesomes or group sex, mind control and behavior modification, lots of anal, crazy kinky sex…even kidnapping, rape, and murder. These were all ‘genres’ that anyone could read…

My obsession grew and began affecting my body image, my relationship with my husband in and out of the bedroom – my entire view on sex changed. I developed several porn-induced fetishes and found that I had to think about the things that I read about in order to be turned on for sex or achieve an orgasm

My porn-induced BDSM fetish damaged our sex life because it wasn’t mutually agreed upon and made me want to be controlled during sex and be told what to do and when to do it…even though it wasn’t as fulfilling in real life as it seemed when I read about it.”

The writer of this letter is just one example of how reading erotic literature warps a person’s views on sex and shows how damaging it is to reenact fictional scenes with your partner in real life. But if women don’t actually enjoy this kind of sexual interaction in reality, why do they enjoy reading erotic literature in the first place?

Why Are Women Obsessed with Fifty Shades of Grey?

The erotic appeal of the Fifty Shades series is something author and journalist Louise Perry covers in her book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, where she explains why erotic novels and BDSM appeal to some women. 

The older, more traditional erotic novels, such as Mills & Boon, usually tell the story of a strong, handsome man falling for the heroine. In these kinds of novels, he’ll do anything to have the woman he desires – even become violent. However, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series took erotic literature one step further. James catapulted BDSM into the mainstream, igniting a worldwide obsession, and further normalizing violence against women in the bedroom. 

Female readers of erotic literature aren’t turned on by a man whose interest wavers. Instead, they’re fascinated – even aroused – by a man who is obsessively into them. 

What you’ll find in the Mills & Boon novels that you’ll also find in James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is a leading male, very much obsessed with the novel’s heroine. Female readers of erotic literature aren’t turned on by a man whose interest wavers. Instead, they’re fascinated – even aroused – by a man who is obsessively into them. 

In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian Grey is the handsome billionaire who sets his eyes on the virginal Anastasia Steele. He charms Anastasia with his persistence to make her his own, bombarding her with attention and spoiling her with lavish gifts. He later becomes controlling, dictating what she can wear, who she spends her time with, and even what she eats.

So why would women find this kind of character attractive, even arousing? Christian Grey has all the red flags. The answer is quite simple: Typical female sexuality reveals women are very much attracted to men who display emotional loyalty. 

When women and their children did need to rely on men to survive, it was vital a woman chose a partner who was committed and well-resourced. This is because when a woman is pregnant and nursing, she’s in a very vulnerable state, so displays of loyalty are highly attractive to most women.

In today’s society, a man may show that he’s a worthy, committed mate by lavishing his girlfriend with attention or buying her gifts. However, this commitment can also be shown in more unpleasant ways. We see this in the Fifty Shades series; Christian Grey shows an unwavering commitment to Anastasia, but he is also controlling, violent, and obsessive.

Knowing this, it’s no wonder why the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer was also so popular, albeit with a younger audience. In this young adult series, once again, the love interest, Edward Cullen, is 100% committed to the heroine Isabella Swan, but he is also controlling. Of course, most fans of either series know that the Fifty Shades books started out as erotic Twilight fan fiction. But the theme remains consistent – Edward Cullen and Christian Grey play into typical female sexuality, showing utmost loyalty and commitment, even if it’s obsessive and unhealthy. 

How Do Novels Like Fifty Shades Harm Women?

It’s perfectly rational for women to desire a loyal mate, but the erotic novels do take this need a step further by making obsessive, controlling men appear desirable. One of the problems with romanticizing these kinds of men is that, in the novels, these men are loyal to the heroine. However, in real life, they are controlling, dangerous, and very rarely loyal to their partners.

In reality, a jealous, controlling man is not necessarily committed and loyal like he is in literature.  

In reality, a jealous, controlling man is not necessarily committed and loyal like he is in literature. This is something psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple has written about after working in a hospital in England with both the victims and the perpetrators of domestic abuse. He writes: “The great majority of the jealous men I meet are flagrantly unfaithful to the object of their supposed affections, and some keep other women in the same jealous subjection elsewhere in the city and even 100 miles away. They have no compunction about cuckolding other men and actually delight in doing so as a means of boosting their own fragile egos.”

Erotic novels, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, give women an entirely warped view of controlling behavior. These novels romanticize men with unhealthy obsessions and desensitize women to the real-life violent crimes these men commit against their partners. Instead of seeing these men for the danger they are, young, naive women can mistake their obsessive behavior for loyalty and commitment.

Closing Thoughts

Sex was once treated as an act with inherent value, but now it’s been degraded to a transaction between participants. Every depiction of the act, from written and spoken word to live-action films, has been exploited by book publishers and pornographic creators. 

Repeatedly, men and women are told the mantra “It’s just sex,” and so society keeps on consuming it, in all possible forms. And the more sex is gorged on in these degrading forms, the more these perversions leak into society. This is not only shown through the numerous reports from women who have had men strangle them without consent during sexual encounters, but also in anecdotal stories like the one written above.

Perhaps representations of sex, in all its forms – whether written or performed – should give sex the respect it deserves. And if that can’t be done, should sex be represented in media at all? Because although there are no real people physically harmed in the making of erotic literature, the domino effect it has on its consumers and their loved ones is real. 

Whether it’s pornographic videos or literature, it’s clear to see that when sex doesn’t show a physical representation of healthy love, the repercussions on the consumer and society can be disastrous.

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