Inside the World of Erotic Fan Fiction
Editor's note: Some of the sources for this article requested their full names and locations not be used.
The huge success of shows like "Bridgerton" and books like "50 Shades of Grey" have demonstrated that we all enjoy fantasizing about the sex lives of our favorite fictional characters from time to time. But for some people, watching a couple's long-awaited first kiss or even a suggestive sex scene isn't quite enough. For some fans, fantasizing about fictional couples develops into a fulfilling, lifelong hobby in the form of fan fiction.
Fan fiction is exactly what it sounds like: fiction written by fans about preexisting characters. Ever wonder what happens after the final chapter of your favorite book? Or what your favorite characters got up to before the start of episode one? In fan fiction, writers explore it all.
Erotic fan fiction is a staggeringly popular genre of fan fiction writing. Archive of Our Own (AO3), one of the most popular fan fiction websites, is host to over 9 million works of fiction—2.7 million of which have a rating of "mature" or "explicit."
For people outside of this world, the underground community of erotica writers and readers may seem illicit, seedy, kinky, even obscene and a little weird. But writing fan-fic is more complicated than it may seem. For women, it can become a unique, safe, creative way to explore sexual fantasy and find an honest and open community where sex isn't taboo.
The nuts and bolts of writing erotic fan fiction
Many writers of erotic stories seem to be inspired by a particular moment or scene between a couple. Other writers, however, use their favorite couples to explore their own personal sexual fantasies in a creative way. They're often fantasies that these writers would never want to actually act out in the real world.
"Sometimes it's a scene or a phrase that I cannot get out of my head and sometimes it is my own fantasies," said Shanxnoir, the pseudonym of a 27-year-old writer of "Harry Potter" fanfic from Nottingham England. "It's just fun to explore."
Lizard, also a pseudonym, is a Colorado-based writer who focuses on "Star Trek" and has a pattern of obsessing over one scene.
"Usually, I will start by thinking about a scene enough times that I decide I need to just write it to get it out of my head," she said. "I get in these mental grooves where I'm thinking about characters and their love stories and get caught up on just wanting to write the intimate scenes."
Meg, who goes by "Megwritesfanfiction" and lives in the United States, typically writes about anime. She first dipped her toes into erotic fan fiction in her teens but didn't start publishing stories for several years.
"I remember one of my high school friends had challenged me to write an erotic fanfic. I never had before and I don't even remember what it was about," she said.
According to Charlotte Johnson, sex and relationship expert at Mega Pleasure, an online sex shop based in England, writing fan fiction as a young or sexually inexperienced person is incredibly healthy.
"Writing erotic fan fiction as a young adult or adult before experiencing anything sexual themselves is a good way to determine your sexuality," she explained. "It can help you form an understanding of sexual intercourse and exactly what attracts you as a person."
The draw of exploring sex through fiction
"Writing and reading erotic fanfics gave me a safe way to explore sex when I was younger and before I was sexually active," Meg said. "Then as I got older, I was able to explore different fantasies, fetishes, positions and acts without being shy or feeling ashamed."
For Shanxnoir, writing erotica as a woman lets her take control. "It feels empowering," she said.
"I enjoy the experience of crafting an intimate scene that balances romance and sexuality, that keeps characters recognizable even when they're doing something that obviously has never happened on screen," Lizard said. "So many of us who ship characters want to see them in love in every way: domestic, sexual, getting together, in an established relationship...erotic fic is just fulfilling one of these visions."
According to Johnson, writing erotica can sometimes have the same effect as a real sexual relationship—for some people, it may even be a safe, healthy substitute for a relationship altogether.
"Feeling sexual emotions through a character can be a healthy way of releasing any tension, and many people do this as a substitute for real-life relationships," Johnson said. "There could be many reasons, including loneliness or just the fact that some people do not want committed relationships and find fan fiction is best suited to fulfill their sexual needs."
A safe, explorative community to explore sexuality
But exploring sexuality and fantasy is only part of it. Fan fiction writers are also involved in thriving, inclusive online and in-person communities.
"I've definitely made a lot of writer friends over the years. One of my writer friends is from another state, and she's traveled to hang out with me," Meg said. "We've had annual 'Fanfic Weekends' where we drink wine, eat food, talk about headcanons, write, and trade stories back and forth in a 'smut war.'"
"I have made some very good friends through writing fanfic," said "Lizwontcry" (the writer's pseudonym), a 42-year-old from Texas who started writing at age 18 when she began to fantasize about her favorite TV couple. "First, you talk about the fandom that you have in common, then it starts to branch out into a real friendship, and sometimes it's a lasting friendship. Online friendships are real, and they matter—it can be a really important collective of creative minds."
The community aspect is huge for Lizard, and she's not afraid of telling people about her hobby.
"We trade smut like care packages," she said. "I used to be very shy about sharing erotic fic or acknowledging that I even wrote it, but I'm too old for shame anymore. This isn't a guilty pleasure. It's just a pleasure. So I don't keep it a secret from anyone that I write it, though I only share specifics with my closest friends in real life."
Not everyone understands how sexual fantasy—even when it's a little "weird"—is normal. That's why the fan fiction community is so powerful.
The only downside to writing fan fiction? Keeping your fantasies secret and only being open within your community, according to Johnson.
"Some people feel they do not want to discuss this with others, as this can be judged as well as confuse their partner," Johnson said. "An important tip to ensure your relationship is strong and the sexual aspect is great is to discuss these feelings together and become aware of each other's turn-ons and -offs. You may find your partner or people around you become more open to the idea, and a huge turn in your sex life could occur."