Catherine*, 26, a teacher, discovered saucy novels as a secondary two student. She had borrowed the book Cruel Venus from a classmate, unaware that the Susan Lewis paperback was chock-full of graphic sex scenes.

 

“My friend had dog-eared all the sexy parts, which I zoomed in on,” she recalls. “My imagination ran wild as I visualised all the passionate trysts. I couldn’t put the book down.” Hooked, she started reading similar books. At 19, she even visited online forums where people posted self-penned erotic stories and poetry. Her favourite find last year was hoochymail.com, a website that generates free personalised erotic short stories. Choosing from various story templates, you can insert your and your partner’s names and tweak the level of sauciness (from “sexy” to “X-rated”) before e-mailing the finished piece to your man.

 

She once spent hours customising stories – her favourite involved a fictional “boyfriend” taking her reverse cowgirl-style on a motorcycle – before e-mailing them to herself to keep. She

hasn’t shown her boyfriend of three years the stories because “he’ll find them weird. He’s not a reader.”

 

Catherine continues her love affair with the written word. “Nothing else gets me as turned on,” she says. “When the urge strikes, I’ll search online for a new story. Or before my boyfriend drops by my place, I’ll browse some steamy passages to rev myself up for lovemaking.”

 

It also makes up for days when the foreplay is lacklustre. “He tends to pull out the same moves. But in my books, the sex can play out in infinite ways, from the back of a convertible to

the cockpit of a plane,” she says. “I’d never act these out in real life – I might get arrested.”

 

Lit-erotic boom

 

 

Things have changed since the days when women hid Harlequin romances in their underwear drawers. British author E. L. James’ steamy novel Fifty Shades of Grey certainly drew erotica out of the closet. Released as an e-book last May and later as a paperback, the explicit

514-pager chronicles college student Anastasia Steele’s sexual submission to magnetic billionaire Christian Grey. Anastasia is so taken by Grey that she has three earth-shattering orgasms during their first hook-up.

 

Fuelled by word-of-mouth, the book nabbed the top spot on The New York Times’ bestsellers list in March and has stayed there for over three months. James’ two follow-ups – Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed – have also done well. A fi lm adaptation is in the works, with Alexander Skarsgard (of hit TV series True Blood fame) and Ian Somerhalder (of TV’s The Vampire Diaries fame) eager to play Christian.

 

In Singapore, Fifty Shades of Grey entered the top spot in bookstore Kinokuniya’s online weekly bestsellers list in April. At press time, it has stayed there for over a month. iPads and Kindles have also made it easier to get over the embarrassment of toting around kinky titles. With a swipe and click, you can now download a saucy tale on the MRT with nothing but a blush to give you away.

 

 

Erotica may be experiencing a revival, but the reasons women read it are age-old – for kicks and guilty thrills. “It feels naughty, like I’m doing something I know I shouldn’t,” says Annie*, a book-dealer in her 30s. She comes across juicy novels at work and has 25 such titles on her desk. She finds them a fun and salacious read. “Everyone in the office knows about my ‘secret stash’ and some even read them when I’m not around.”

 

Ally*, 25, likes how erotic fiction leads her on a slow curve of arousal. “Checking out sexy images or videos is good when you’re in the mood and just need a push over the edge,” says the full-time dancer. “But erotica is well-rounded, believable and addresses the emotional aspects of a relationship. You can take your time to indulge in it. It’s like the difference between a quickie and a long satisfying session of lovemaking.”

 

Steamy books are hot because they reawaken a woman’s sensuality, says a clinical sexologist of Eros Coaching. “Erotica helps women put their roles of mother, wife and employee

on the back burner, and connect with their sexual selves,” she says. “Reading a satisfying love scene stirs emotions that are directly linked to a woman’s libido. It helps her get tuned in

and turned on.”

 

Books are still best

 

 

Working through a novel seems a hassle in an age of instant lust-on-demand. With a smartphone, you can get sexy images and videos in a second. In contrast, you have to wait till chapter eight in Fifty Shades for any nooky. Ironically, while erotica has long been labelled “escapist” fiction, part of its appeal lies in how some women consider it more authentic than

mainstream pornography, which panders too much to male fantasies.

 

 

“In porn films, the camera angles seem unnatural, and the women are overly made up and skanky,” says Joan*, 25, a public relations executive. “But a book pays more attention to what the woman is thinking and feeling.”

 

The gender divide is stark. In a US study, women accounted for one out of 50 porn site subscriptions, but made nine out of 10 purchases of romance novels, says neuroscientist Ogi Ogas. There’s also a greater stigmaassociated with porn. Possessing, distributing and producing smutty films are offences in Singapore. In contrast, while erotic fiction contains graphic imagery, there is usually some extra component that resonates with readers on an artistic, literary or emotional level. In 1988, the government stated that it was less concerned with printed text because “reading them requires a certain level of education and concentration”, says lawyer Bryan Tan, director of Keystone Law Corporation. “That explains the more lax treatment

of erotic fiction.”

The 2006 book Best of Singapore Erotica, a collection of erotic stories and poems, was sold plastic wrapped in major bookstores. Pundits hail the spicy passages in Fifty Shades as a “relationship band-aid” – American Idol host Ryan Seacrest calls the book a “love manual” for him and girlfriend Julianne Hough. But the four erotica-lovers I spoke to here say their pastime is strictly private. All read the books for self pleasure. Those with partners don’t tell their other halves about this hobby because “it’s not something men are into,” says Ally. “They’re more results-oriented and turned on by visuals.”

 

But don’t go thinking that these women turn to books to make up for non-existent nooky sessions. Save for the occasional ho-hum foreplay, all of them are happy with their sex lives. As Joan explains, she reads her favourite erotic novels only when she needs to let off steam alone. Otherwise, she gets fired up in a more direct manner. “I just look at my boyfriend’s naked body to get turned on,” she says slyly.

 

This story first appeared on Herworld July 2012.