FOLLOWING the staggering success of Fifty Shades Of Grey, which has been read by millions, publishers are falling over themselves to capitalise on this Pandora’s box of ‘Mummy porn’ by releasing anything that might even loosely fit in the ‘erotica’ category.
That’s erotica for the ladies. Porn is for blokes.
One of the latest offerings is something from Harper Impulse (corporate tagline: “We’ve got the love”), called Follow Your Fantasy, a book “where you, the reader, chooses what happens next....As the story deliciously unfolds, exciting, sexy and downright naughty adventures await your every decision...” Note the word ‘naughty’, infantilising female sexuality as a matter of course.
Written by a journalist using a pseudonym, Follow Your Fantasy involves a handful of fairly cliched scenarios — hotel rooms, high class casinos, porno sets, bachelor parties — where you, the reader, can play a sort of sexual game of snakes and ladders via various unfolding storylines. If it all gets too much, you can backtrack, and start again. Or have a cold shower.
Although that does not sound like it would be at all necessary — there is a sterile whiff of health and safety about the whole venture: “Remember, even if you choose submission, the control is still all yours.”
Well, yes. It’s a book, not a dungeon-master. You can put it down.
Interactive fiction — IF — has been around since the 1970s, mostly in the medium of computer games. However, since the runaway success of Fifty Shades, the pseudonymous Nicola Jane came up with the idea of Follow Your Fantasy, based on IF fantasy and adventure books of her youth.
Except this time the fantasy and adventure is all sexual. Using flow charts, colour coding, and other non-erotic modes of planning, she conceived a book of 44 chapters, 22 of which contain conventionally hot stuff. It is being released, predictably, for Valentine’s Day.
The choose-your-own-fantasy genre was also explored by Little, Brown with their interactive Girl Walks Into A Bar series, involving routines such as drinking tequila with a rock star, hanging out with a millionaire businessman, and having fun with the man next door. More are due — Girl Walks Into A Wedding, and Girl Walks Into A Blind Date.
Is this what women actually fantasise about? Really? Are we sure about this? Or is it what psychotherapist Brett Kahr, in his book Sex & The Psyche, refers to as a “pub fantasy” — the kind you would have no problem sharing with friends, as it is almost as innocuous as a toothpaste advert, and totally impersonal?
The fact that Fifty Shades was such a monumental success indicates a demographic looking for sexual entertainment whose needs are not being met by the porn industry.
Women love sexual fantasy as much as the next man, but we are always fobbed off with the kind of ‘erotica’, that reads like breathless teenage diaries.
Yet the basic ins and outs of male-focused porn is generally too mechanical; in real life, do women fantasise about plumbers coming quickly? Yes, but not like you’re thinking.
The difference between commercialised erotic fantasies and the ones that actually go on inside your head is that the latter are not politically correct. Inside a private sexual fantasy, constructs such as social decorum, sexual equality, even legality, do not exist.
There are all sorts of non-PC sexual dreams that are possible to experience in real life only in a safe, sane and consensual manner by people comfortable and at ease with their own sexuality. For everyone else, there are the books.
Pauline Reage’s 1954 classic The Story of O is one of the few works of S&M regarded as literature, and perhaps the only female-oriented one — the Marquis de Sade had previously cornered the market.
The Story of O is to Fifty Shades what cashmere is to nylon. Anais Nin preceded Reage by writing Delta of Venus, her taboo-busting collection of stories in the 1940s, but the book was not published until 1977, after her death.
More recently, one of Mary Gaitskill’s short stories, from her book Bad Behaviour, was made into the film The Secretary — which rather unfortunately equated a desire for sexual submission with self-harming. Not very erotic, or accurate.
But then commercial fantasy never is. It is the burger-andfries of the sexual spectrum — cheap, unsatisfying, poorly manufactured. Far better to create your own. Maybe even write them down, live them out, make them real. Far more fun than doing it from a book.
Why women’s sexual fantasy needs to be nurtured:
¦ For arousal — psychological and physical — to happen successfully, fantasy plays a crucial role.
¦ All of human sexuality involves degrees of pretence, role play, imagination.
¦ Fantasy with your partner enhances sexual satisfaction — when alone, there is even greater scope for imagination
¦ Fantasy, unlike behaviour, does not require censorship.