It’s late, and I’m reading in bed. My five-month-old baby is asleep in her hammock, and my breasts are refilling for the midnight feed. In bed in the next room is my son, aged 3, and also my husband, who’s been camping there due to the snoring issues I’d developed in pregnancy… 10 months ago.
There’s not much that’s sexy about having a baby, and sex is far, far from my mind. I’m just glad everyone is asleep and I can read my book. It’s Conversations With Friends, by Sally Rooney. I like the stillness. I hope nothing breaks it before midnight.
I am unprepared, then, for what happens when I turn the page and find myself in the middle of a sex scene. I feel something. It is my body reacting in a way that is familiar but long forgotten. A part of me that has lain dormant for the better part of a year—my erotic self—wakes up. In shock I glance at the hammock; the baby is still asleep.
Literary erotica isn’t new: from Sappho’s poems to romance novels, we’ve long recognised its role in awakening desire. But recently, the form in which many of us consume erotica has changed.
My body reacts in a way that’s familiar and long forgotten
Women have turned to romance and potboilers for generations—but today podcasts are introducing erotic storytelling to a whole new market.
In the US, subscription service Dipsea (“sexual wellness meets storytelling”) offers relatable, feminist and celebratory sexy audio. In recent months they’ve co-produced the erotic audio series Dirty Diana, starring and produced by Demi Moore, that made headlines around the world with its line-up of Hollywood stars and stories of female sexual fantasies.
My unexpected awakening between the pages of Conversations With Friends set me on a journey that led to the launch last month of my own podcast, The Good Bits—an erotic audio drama series sharing ‘the good bits’ from bestselling books.
The appeal of erotic podcasts is obvious, in some ways. They’re discreet, allow for more nuance and style than other pornographic media and they’re comparatively easy to produce, especially in lockdown. Our director, Olivia O’Flynn, worked remotely with actors from around the world, while our sound studio—(coincidentally named) BangBang Studios—worked remotely from locked-down Melbourne. But it’s not just social-distancing-friendly production that is making sexy literary audio stories so popular right now. So what else is at play?
Podcasts are introducing erotic storytelling to a whole new market
Coming after the turbulence of the #MeToo movement, this strange, sad year of protests and pandemic has changed the way women see themselves and their desires, says Dr Victoria Brooks, sex ethicist at Westminster University, UK.
“Erotica makes sexuality accessible to all women in a time when some women may not feel safe to explore their sexuality physically due to Covid. But its popularity also coincides with a moment where women feel more empowered, politically and personally, to explore their sexuality and get to know their own desires, and not just what society tells them to desire,” she says.
In the last few months, many of us have had more time at home than ever before—and, in the case of single women, opportunities for anything other than solo sex have been limited. There are signs that we’ve all been a bit more experimental (or bored, or both): sales of sex toys have exploded since Covid-19, with vibrator brand Womanizer quoting global sales growth of a staggering 162 per cent in the last six months.
It seems the pandemic has even encouraged people to mix things up a little, according to sexuality psychologist and author of Becoming Cliterate, Dr Laurie Mintz. “Research conducted in the United States finds that people are having less sex during the pandemic, but the sex they are having is more experimental. In other words, people are trying new things,” she said.
Facing down shame to embrace their sexuality is a new thing for many women. In an interview with Variety Magazine, Dirty Diana writer and director Shana Feste said the project was a catharsis: “I was not raised to talk about sex openly. I had so much shame about my own sexuality that I was fighting through.” Demi Moore agreed: “My own discomfort or fear is something that I want to change because it’s there out of a conditioning. The conditioning can’t change until we change the narrative.”
As a copywriter and avid reader, it was perhaps unsurprising that I’d find the solution to my sex quest in books—but I was genuinely surprised to find it on the pages of romance novels. My perception of this genre, like many of the uninitiated, was of heaving bosoms, ’70s hair and damsels in distress. But it turns out you can’t judge a book genre by its (admittedly daggy) cover.
When I picked up my first Romance novel, The Hating Game by Australian author Sally Thorne, I was thrilled by the witty writing and great sexual tension. Today in romance fiction, the tropes of alpha males and virgin heroines are being challenged, with many contemporary romance novels showing a conscious awareness of feminist values. In The Hating Game the lead characters are so equal they literally share the same job.
And then, of course, there’s the sex. While some Romance novels don’t go past first base, most contain sex scenes; and it’s here that female sexual desire, power dynamics and consent are being reimagined in a very contemporary way.
This genre inspired me, together with my business partner Carol Battle, to create The Good Bits. We work with bestselling authors from around the world, sharing their sexiest scenes on our website and via our podcast.
As lockdown gives many women around the world time to read, write, and listen, the stories we’re sharing continue to evolve. By owning our sexuality and communicating our fantasies, we are shaping not just the stories we hear via our headphones, but the future narrative of female sexual identity.
Read and listen to The Good Bits here