Reading for Pleasure
How many of you share porn with your friends?
My guess is, probably not very many of you.
I certainly don't.
That is, unless you count my sexy romance novel as literary porn.
In that case, I've shared it all around! To my friends, and their friends, and even some of their families...and even my family.
I'm not sure if you can tell, but...I embrace my sexuality. More than that, I embrace healthy relationships, where people have real problems that they talk about and work through together.
Those types of stories make me happy, and part of why I wrote Crushing on You is because, as your friend (❤️!!!), I want to make you feel happy, too.
Based on the feedback that I've received so far, I've mostly succeeded. (Yay! 👏) Even so, my beta readers had a lot to say, especially about the sex scenes. More prudish readers (self-proclaimed! not my judgment) were drawn in by the emotional depth of the story, but found it jarring to transition from a heartfelt moment in one chapter to an explosive orgasm in the next.
This happens in real life—you're crying one second and screwing the next. And some of my readers definitely watch porn, which by its very nature is so much more graphic.
So what was it about the medium that disturbed them?
And on the flip-side, why were some people totally chill about my having written a book with sexual content?
Here are some insights from the many discussions that I've had with folks about my book so far.
Point of view matters.
In my book, I alternate between two first-person perspectives, those of the main characters, Ian and Anna. It was super fun for me to get into the heads (and pants) of each of my characters, and across the board, readers enjoyed the alternating POV, too. It helped them understand each character's motivations better, and also made them want to continue reading to see the other character's take on an event or interaction.
But I also did it because I love the idea of being able to see both sides. It's something that I think is important for people to strive for in a healthy relationship. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all empathize a little bit more with our significant others?
But when it came to the sex scenes, there were at least a few (straight, male, non-romance) readers who agreed that reading the one sex scene from Ian's perspective was much less jarring than reading the ones from Anna's perspective. That seems fairly straightforward to explain—it's easier to occupy the headspace of someone similar to yourself. The things you focus on, the use of active vs. passive verbs, the vocalizations during sex...it's easier to relate if you've experienced those thoughts yourself.
Interestingly, however, I have not heard comparable feedback from other demographics of readers. Is it an empathy thing? A phallic fixation? Something else? There might be more to unpack here, and I'd be curious to hear from you if you agree / disagree!
Certain details are just too much.
You'd think that while writing about a blowjob from the first person, a key sensory focus would be taste. Or texture.
Both of those made it too real. For example, veininess and saltiness were not qualities that most readers cared to think about.
And in many cases, I was surprised to find that it wasn't the actions of my characters that disturbed people so much as my word choice. Removing / replacing just a few keywords was sufficient to make some scenes much more palatable to readers.
It was almost like hiding the word softened the mental image, even though knob and penis most certainly refer to the same thing, especially when associated with certain verbs (e.g., lick, suck, thrust).
Setting Expectations is Important.
When you open up Pornhub, you know what to expect. You go there for a reason.
But people read for all kinds of reasons. To think, explore, be transported...etc.
Some of my readers just weren't used to getting turned on by a book. And it made them uncomfortable.
It's like if you went into the kitchen and encountered the sexiest sandwich you've ever seen, with thick, juicy red tomato slices, all smothered in hot, gooey cheese, just dripping down between two warm, pillowy buns...
You might feel a bit confused if you got sprung.
But...yeah. Books can do that. I personally get more turned on from a well-written romance novel than from any other medium of erotic content. And I hope that, with my writing, I can open more people up to the possibility that books might do it for them, too.
After reading my book, even if you don't agree, I hope you'll consider the possibility elsewhere, or at least not judge anyone for getting off on books. There's definitely a stigma around the romance genre, and plenty of people have preconceived notions about it. Just listen to the podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno, which led two of my readers to think beforehand that my book would likely be cringe-worthy trash.
But they both really enjoyed it. 😊
Some people just won't read it. Period.
Some of my beta readers just skimmed through or glossed over the sex scenes, even readers who have read romance novels in the past. No matter how much editing I did, it just wasn't for them. They didn't want to get hot and bothered.
Even so, they still enjoyed the book! And while I would never take the sex scenes out, it's great to know that people can relate to the characters and appreciate the plot even without.
I also know of several people (friends, former colleagues, family) who have admitted that they won't read my book no matter what, but they're happy and supportive of me anyway!
It's all good. I get it. And I'm grateful for your support 🙌🏻
some people will be cooler with it than you'd think.
A few of my former colleagues have read the book. Some of them have been dudes, dudes who have never read a romance novel before in their lives.
And they've enjoyed it! And it hasn't been weird! (Whew! I'll talk about this in the next post.)
But perhaps most surprising to me of all, my old-school Asian parents are supportive, too.
Right before I published, I was especially worried about what my parents would say. I thought that they'd be angry, or ashamed, or just plain disappointed.
But the night before I published, my mom called me out of the blue. She wanted to know if I'd written any family secrets into the book (I hadn't), but her line of questioning got me to admit that there were explicit sex scenes.
All she said in response was, "As long as you aren't making sex tapes to put yourself through school, or stripping, it's okay."
This was very puzzling, because:
I am not in school, nor have I been for over two years (and also, my PhD was fully funded).
Based on her phrasing, was it okay if I made sex tapes as long as the profit went to causes outside of my education?
Where was the Judgment!? The Shame!? The Disappointment!?
I'd been so anxious about my parents' reaction...
...but they were totally chill.
I even had to reject their offer to sell my book to customers in their restaurant.
I attribute their enthusiasm to the fact that my parents don't really read much, so I doubt they've ever been inflamed by the written word. To them, any words on a page are perforce platonic.
But also, they have dreams just like everyone else. They know that it's not easy to make it as an author, but nevertheless, they want me to succeed at something that truly makes me happy. And they know that sex sells.
Actually, my mom used to go to the library and unwittingly buy used books for me that had lots of sex in them, so it's kind of because of her that I'm now writing romance novels. (Thanks, momma! 🌹)
Anyway, if you're embarrassed or worried about what people will say about your writing or choice of reading material...don't be. Share it. Just be true to yourself!
The conversations that come out of it will be enlightening.
Got something to say about this post, or about my book? Ping me at @jentrinhwrites!