The first time I saw my husband’s handwriting something about it made me shake. Nearly all capital letters (showing he likes to be in charge), writing straight across on unlined pages (suggesting an even temperament), sturdy upright strokes and slightly parsed connections between letters… I was attracted to him already, but then it became overwhelming. It wasn’t just an appreciation for the beauty of his handwriting. I was actually aroused by the sight of it.
It was not a new experience for me. Somewhere along the way my teenage love for handwriting analysis flourished into full-blown graphophilia. When I say “you have great handwriting,” that also means hey, you’ve got me a little excited. Handwritten serifs make me shiver. A delicate but solid cursive has my head spinning. But for me the ultimate handwriting turn-on is my husband’s: take-charge script with no-nonsense style, forceful and authoritative, strongly caps-locked and straight lines.
Handwriting on the whole has a distinctly personal nature, which may be the reason for mine and many others’ arousal at the sight of some really good script. It’s not just a way to convey information. It’s a window into the inner workings of someone’s mind and personality, an intimate look at how a person views the world. I can imagine what a person looks like just by seeing how they write. And then I can imagine that person holding just a pen (but never a pencil), lounging on a chaise, writing me letters, and … you get the idea. Physically watching a person write takes it to a whole new level.
Monsieur Lamoe, a writer for the website Anime Diet, suggests this fetish has historical lineage in Japan. He says that hiragana, a more cursive form of Japanese writing, was once thought to be more feminine because of the curved lines reflecting a woman’s body. The script was used in private for poetry, love letters and erotic turns of phrase. In time, hiragana began to carry a certain sex appeal with it.
During the Heian period in Japan (784–1185 A.D.), if a woman spoke to a man outside her immediate family, she had to hide behind a curtain or screen. The only clue to a woman’s personality and appearance was how she wrote, so men began to fetishize the hiragana itself, as an extension of the woman.
It’s only grown from there. Graphophilia has found its way into pop culture, taking a starring role in the graphic novel Blankets. Two characters, Craig and Raina, begin a penmanship-based romance, exchanging letters and packages. Craig calls the letters a “flirtation”, and the next few pages lead the reader through his handwritten climax as he contemplates the indentations from Raina’s pen, the lines of her L and the falling loops of her cursive F. He lays naked with the letter, silently pleasuring himself until he releases onto a blank page, inspired by his momentary handwriting-fueled attraction for Raina. He then crumples the page and throws it in the trash.
And there’s Graphophilia, an eBook published in 2014 by A. E. Saachi that tells the story of a woman who finds her way to eroticism and a secret lover through the act of writing. Handwriting the story makes it real for her–so real that she ends up in an institution. “FailureArtist” from Archive of Our Own (an open-source home for fan culture) even based a fanfic erotica story in the world of handwriting fetishism, where a troll receives a letter from his empress and gets off on her elegant text dotted with hearts.
Graphophila isn’t just about writing itself. It’s about the interplay of words, personality and romance–the short glimpses into a lover’s soul, the revealing quality of handwritten words on a blank sheet of paper. Poet ONElia AVElar possibly says it best with her piece Graphophilia:
She read the few lines once,
took words out of their context,
enjoyed them one by one,
then put them back in place
and licked with eyes the space
between the few lines, where
bitter caramel of melted sense,
suggested meanings in low cadence,
were oozing from the terse substance
of lover’s message, brief and dense.
I might even handwrite this one out just for my husband.
Jennifer Billock is a contributor to Playboy.com.