Man reading a book

The Men Who Read Erotica

A growing number of men find an authenticity in erotica that's not found in porn

James Coleman

Back in 2012, when E.L. James’s novel Fifty Shades of Grey became an international bestseller and was dubbed “mommy porn,” men were discussed largely in their relation to her sadistic hero, Christian Grey, not as consumers of the genre in their own right. But as a longtime erotica author and anthology editor, I receive almost as much feedback about my work from men as well as women, so I know plenty of men prefer X-rated material of the written variety.

To learn more, I interviewed several men who read erotica for pleasure to find out what motivates them (aside from the obvious). Contrary to popular opinion, escaping into a world of anything-goes erotic fantasy isn’t always what they’re looking for. In fact, Wes Baron, 64, of Brooklyn, cites realism as one reason he favors written erotica over porn videos. “The thing that matters most when two characters are talking is that the exchange is real, that they sound like they actually met in the bookstore and were reaching for the same book.”

That’s not something he tends to find in visual porn. “The videos are shooting someplace in California with these great scenes of trees and mountains in the background. It doesn’t seem real, in a way that takes me out of the moment. I’m never going to be in that type of situation, with that type of female body that’s been sculpted perfectly.”

The ubiquity of explicit erotic videos, especially online, is actually a factor that some men find less appealing. For William Bergeron (not his real name), 42, of Florida, who moved on from reading adult magazines to literature like Philosophy of the Boudoir in college, porn videos are too easy to find—and too easy to get off on. “There’s no work involved there,” he explains.

Instead, he prefers more of a challenge. Plus, there’s a direct sexual payoff that comes with stimulating his mind along with his body. “With erotica, I started noticing the strength of my erections were harder and my orgasms a lot stronger.” As for format, he prefers print over online smut. “There’s something romantic about a book, about heft, and having to throw it aside.”
There’s something romantic about a book, about heft, and having to throw it aside.
Julio Job Lopez, 29, started reading erotica at age 21 while working a retail job that gave him access to erotic novels. While he initially found them humorous, he’s since developed his own reading habits, gravitating toward stories that are heavy on graphic details. “I enjoy characters that match my personal taste or type. That makes some of the fantasy become a little more of a reality,” he says.

Ernest Greene, author of Master of O, a BDSM novel with a dominant male protagonist, revealed that only 20 percent of erotica readers are male, reflecting wider trends in reading. “Male readers' main complaints about erotica marketed to women is its tendency to avoid literal rendering of specific sexual acts,” notes Greene via email. “When I wrote Master of O, I made it a priority to be candid and direct about what goes on once the bedroom door is closed.”

Yet even though Fifty Shades of Grey is available everywhere from drugstores to airport bookstores, its lusty adventures even inspiring four older women to reclaim their sexuality in the recent film Book Club, its popularity hasn’t resulted in a sexual revolution for men. Borgeron tells me that the permission that’s been culturally granted to women to eagerly consume smut hasn’t extended to men in the same way. Guys are still seen as, in his words, “filthy pigs,” if they read erotica in public.

That characterization is an especially unfair double standard because for him, the genre is as much about learning about what arouses women as it is about getting off. “I read erotica not because I’m trying to have a great sexual experience, but because when I fall for a woman, I want to make sure I do everything I can to make her feel good,” Borgeron explains. “That’s what being a man is about and what being a lover is about. I can’t do that with pornography and I can’t do that with Jane Austen.”

Asked what’s changed since he started reading adult magazines and dirty books found at the corner store, Baron said that the production values are better. Back then, “The pictures in the books had nothing to do with what you were reading,” he says. “They were just spread shots, not even close to the story line. The guy strips off his medical jacket, and in the text, they were military jackets.”

However, despite the clear demand, the marketplace hasn’t quite caught up to men’s explicit reading habits. Lopez usually reads erotica targeted to women because it speaks to him more. “Many pieces I’ve read that were geared toward men I found myself not liking because of how disgusting, poorly written or just how bad they were,” Lopez says.

Echoing Baron, Bergeron also expressed a preference for realistic scenes over outlandish ones (his other pet peeves are dominant men “hate-fucking women” and the ubiquity of anal sex scenes). “The mundane details of life are sexy,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be a weekend in the Hamptons. It could be I need to take you on the kitchen table right now.”

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