Throughout my life I have remained at a comfortable distance from my sexuality. I don’t consider myself to have any strong preference in sexual partners, because desire is not a driving factor in my sex life. Sex lies outside of myself, as something external yet intimate, something I am willing to give and to receive so long as it remains a positive means of communication and connection between myself and another person. At twenty-two years old I can comfortably count on one hand the number of times I have wished I was having sex when I wasn’t, and I’m perfectly happy to go months, or even years, without it. But, I ask myself this: if I am so ambivalent towards sex, then why do I find myself drawn to erotic and romantic fiction? If I don’t read it for sexual pleasure, then why do I read it?
The intrigue of this kind of literature is so strong that I find myself tangentially looking at it for my Master’s degree. The driving force behind my Master’s thesis is the co-constructive nature of fan culture and popular music with regard to One Direction, but a huge part of fan culture is fan fiction, and the vast majority of fan fiction involves the erotic. So much of the drive to read and write erotic fiction is often exploration and confirmation. Writing and reading this fiction allows you to imagine, mostly in explicitly sexual scenarios, what you want, what you like; and to talk and think endlessly about what it is that you desire, emotionally and physically. When you have little to no sexual or romantic desire, this matter becomes slightly more complicated. In my experience, my emotional self is not closely connected to my sexual self, but my understanding of myself as a woman tells me that my sexual self is inherently connected to my physical self. Consequently, I have trouble reconciling my psyche with any sense of physical embodiment.
Critics often speak to the deeply physical and emotional response provoked in readers by popular romantic and erotic fiction. Jay Dixon, an erotic fiction author who writes about the romantic fiction published by Mills & Boon from 1909 through the 1990s, remarks that the worlds created by these authors are all consuming. The fully immersive nature of these worlds is due to the profound connection between author and character and character and reader. This connection speaks to the total merging of emotional needs with physical and sexual embodiment. Furthermore, the worlds of these novels are largely constructed from a woman’s point of view. In these novels, the woman, who outside the realm of the erotic novel is often reduced to mute object status, suddenly finds that her sexuality is connected to her subjectivity. These erotic scenarios then become less about what is happening to the woman, and more about what she wants, what she can get, and how things can be better for her. Usually, when women’s emotive and physical being is reduced to sexuality by patriarchal narratives, and sexuality is simultaneously externally enforced and policed, it is easy to become disembodied. Romantic/erotic literature becomes a space in which embodiment can be reclaimed by total immersion in narrative where emotional and sexual liberation is achieved by women within the confines of conservative social structures.
So, where does this leave me? I live in a world where I am to be simultaneously sexually embodied and disembodied, when what I want is simply to be embodied. Romantic and erotic literature is about women’s desires, and I am a woman and my desire is to intensely physically and emotionally recognize myself in narratives that depict the struggle of sexuality, while negotiating women’s wants and needs. Thinking about my relationship to this kind of fiction has not left me with any easy answers. But when I read erotic fiction I feel as though I am reading it for the same reason as women who read it in response to their sexual desires; I read it because I want to be radically and totally embodied in a society that fragments this experience.