Smut’s the stuff for kinky bibliophiles

Porn may be easy to get, but for many people erotic literature is a far superior way to explore their sexuality

Wayfarer Books on Princess St. offers an array of erotic literature and visual art.
Wayfarer Books on Princess St. offers an array of erotic literature and visual art.
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People are pretty tough to shock these days. Movies and TV are getting dirtier and access to all things risqué is as easy as a click of the mouse.

But perhaps because the display of sex has become so explicit in our culture, some people continue to turn to the good old-fashioned book to explore human sexuality.

Erotica novels are a growing literary genre, and even with sex so accessible everywhere else the novel can still cause a stir. The erotic novel Wetlands has already topped Amazon’s worldwide best-seller list. A recent article in the U.K. Telegraph wrote of reports of people fainting at the pornographic readings of Wetlands.

Wetlands author Charlotte Roche describes her novel’s premise as “a heroine that has a totally creative attitude towards her body.” In a 2008 interview with Philip Oltermann, editor of the online magazine Granta, Roche responded to critics who call her novel “literary porn.” “I wanted to present the whole package: women aren’t just, say, a sexy presentation space, they also get ill, they have to go to the toilet, they bleed,” she said.

Entering the Indigo store in downtown Kingston, erotica is in a single narrow bookshelf, housing about 30 books under the particular category of “Love and Sexuality.”  Eyeballing the entirety of the bookcase, one solid colour stands out—pink. Most neatly stacked paperbacks were glossy, italicized and feminized with such titles as “Best Women’s Erotica” or varying slogans with “orgasm” placed somewhere in its syntactical structure. Unlike pornography, erotic literature leaves the visuals up to the reader’s imagination.

Walter Cipin, proprietor of Wayfarer Books on Princess St., said the demographic in his store for such a genre are mainly women of varying ages, with the occasional man who may be purchasing them as gifts. Because of Kingston’s high academic population, the more philosophical literature on love and sexuality sell better than the typical erotic novel.

Cipin offers an assortment of philosophy books on love. There’s also a gender studies section where the most of the erotica novels write of eroticism in same-sex relationships.

Cipin said visual erotic art tends to sell the fastest.

“Usually historical art anthologies containing nude classical figures over the contemporary photographic erotica,” he said. “Any orders placed for Kama Sutra novels, however, get snatched up fast by all genders alike.” Harlequin Enterprises Limited is one of the most successful publishing companies, with $379 million revenue in 2008 selling solely romance novels.

Cipin, who has worked in the book business for more than 30 years, said he’s noticed an expansion of sexual exploration in the novels. While Harlequins maintain the more conservative plots, where the last page ends with the first kiss, more erotic debauchery has been weaved into plots to varying degrees depending on how clothed the people are on the cover, he said.

Cipin said there’s a great deal of literature that seeks to satisfy the male sexual fantasy as well, the best known being series like the James Bond books or The Executioner series. The James Bond series, in particular, was responsible for pushing the boundaries of sex in literature during the 1950s, with sadomasochism being a prevalent theme in the books. But what draws young men today to erotic literature, especially of the 1950s and 1960s, is the idea of pushing boundaries, Cipin said.

“It’s the attraction of the taboo—that’s what’s attractive to young men,” he said.

Erotic literature in general focuses on sexual exploration. This appeals to everyone, Cipin said. Contemporary books are exploring queer identity, while past erotic literature has focused on expanding our notions of sex from a limited definition of sexuality.

“All the fiction that I see that is advertised or promoted as presenting sex in one way of another is all gay and lesbian,” he said. “Or it’s presented as historically significant erotic literature.”

Cipin said pornography is different from erotic literature in that it’s very results-based. It also draws a lot of heat from feminists in the way it often illustrates an unequal power relationship between men and women, he said.

“Pornography has a specific cinematic target,” he said. “Certainly for guys, pornography is intended—as far as I can tell—as a stimulus or to accompany masturbation.”

Cipin said although people can find sex everywhere, erotic literature is a valuable medium for people to explore their sexuality in a more sophisticated manner.

“My sense is that erotica is literature which is intended to enhance the pleasure of the sexual experience or to contextualize the sexual experience so as to deepen the pleasure or enhance one’s understanding of sex. ... Erotic literature is more about the experience rather than the result.”

—With files from Ashleigh Ryan

Build your erotica collection

Here are some popular works from the steamy world of erotica:

• Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)

• ”Please Master” by Allen Ginsberg (1968)

• Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin (1977)

• Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black (2007-)

• Breeds series by Lora Leigh (2003-)

• Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey (2001-)

• Bound Hearts series by Jaid Black (2003-)

• Diana: A Diary in the Second Person by Russell Smith (2008)

• Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)

Ashleigh Ryan

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