After one writer recently revealed that she's made as much as $30,000 in a single month writing erotic ebooks featuring creatures like Bigfoot, it became clear that monster erotica has quietly become a hugely popular genre. But what attracts readers with sexy stories about mythological beasts?
A quick heads up to readers: this piece contains non-explicit references to rape in romantic and erotic fiction.
Monster erotica hit center stage a few months ago when news hit that self-published ebooks featuring steamy scenes with dragons, bear gods, and even Bigfoot had gotten caught up in an Amazon porn crackdown. Business Insider published a story about these books being unexpectedly unpublished by the online retailer, but for a lot of folks, the bigger news was that monster erotica existed at all. Not only that, the genre could be quite lucrative, with some of the most popular writers pulling in as much as five figures in a single month.
A lot of the response to the revelation has been titillating or ridiculing. Comments have ranged from bemused to pearl-clutching; BuzzFeed post a list of "The 11 Most Disturbing Works of Monster Erotica You Can Buy on Amazon," mocking the blurbs for merman and cyclops porn. But it's undeniable that numerous readers are not only enjoying monster erotica, but also sinking their hard-earned dollars into it. Certainly the occasional person will buy an erotic ebook as a novelty or out of morbid curiosity (I'll admit that's how velociraptor erotica ended up in my ereader), but folks are largely buying monster erotica for their enjoyment. If you're not a reader of monster erotica, you might wonder, "Why on Earth are folks reading this?"
It's impossible to explain why every single person who reads monster erotica does so; after all, individuals have individual reasons for consuming media. Cecilia Tan, founder and editorial director of the erotic science fiction publisher Circlet Press and author of many erotic works, including Telepaths Don't Need Safewords, Slow Surrender, and Black Feathers, told us, "I think what people get out of erotic fiction is as varied as what people get out of sex in general. No two readers are exactly alike." She goes on, however:
But if I had to point to a common element I'd say that the imagination is one of the biggest sexual "organs," and the more stimulated the imagination gets, the more stimulated the human. Perhaps the further from "reality" the fantasy goes, the more cranked up the imagination engine gets.
Personally, I wasn't sure what to expect when I bought a handful of monster erotica ebooks off of Amazon. Ebooks of any genre can be a crapshoot, and these were no exception; they vary in quality, tone, and typographical errors. The best of them are well crafted fantasy stories with a sexual encounter at their center—stories about maidens sent off as sacrifices to dragons, of sadomasochistic encounters with giants in the woods, of alien abductions, of women kidnapped by minotaurs and married to their chief. As a person who grew up reading Grimm's Fairy Tales and fantasy novels, it was easy to get caught up in these fantasies, to admire places where there is careful attention to world building and detail while enjoying the descriptions of sexual acts.
"The first two stories I wrote were actually contemporary," says Alice Xavier, author of numerous popular erotic ebooks, "and I didn't have very much fun writing them. But before erotica, I wrote fantasy in my spare time. I really enjoy playing with fantastical concepts, you know, creatures and stuff. So it was just a better fit." Titles like Taken by Trolls or Mated to the Kraken luridly evoke the physiological differences between the human and beastly partners, but erotic stories are, at their heart, stories, whether or not they involve imaginary creatures. Tan told us:
People who are buying erotic fiction for their Kindle are looking to be satisfied in all senses of that word. They want to be satisfied as readers of fiction, with exciting and intriguing stories, and they want to be satisfied sexually, which is why they are buying erotic fiction in the first place. I don't think those who like mythological beings are fundamentally different from those who buy any other flavor of erotica. That's like asking if people who satisfy their hunger with Thai food are somehow different from those who prefer Italian.
One of the big mental hurdles that a lot of people seem to encounter when it comes to monster erotica is the animal nature of the monsters. It's one thing to imagine a person having sex with a vampire or a werewolf in human form, but bear gods? Satyrs? Sasquatch?
Stories of humans having sex with sentient beings in animal form is nothing new; Greek mythology, for example, is filled with stories of Zeus seducing human women in the form of a swan, a bull, or even a shower of golden rain. And those stories have long been eroticized. Xavier points to Renaissance paintings of the human woman Leda and Zeus in the form of a swan, which were often sensuous, and in some cases, quite explicit. Michelangelo painted the pair in coitus, although it is believed that the painting was destroyed by someone who disapproved of that hot bird action. Copies exist, though, such as one by Peter Paul Rubens. It postdates the Renaissance, but I'm rather partial to the version attributed to 18th-century painter François Boucher (NSFW), in which the swan looks like he's about to perform cunnilingus.
But of course Leda is not having sex with a real swan in these paintings; she's having sex with a god disguised as a swan. Although you can certainly find stories about people having sex with creatures who possess a bestial intelligence, monster erotica primarily involves beings with human-like intelligence (and, despite other physical differences, compatible genitalia). "Bestiality is animal abuse," says Xavier. "The power dynamic is completely different." In fact, for many writers, the appeal of these monsters isn't that they're subhuman—it's that they're superhuman.
"I think with the monsters, it's about power and danger and exoticness amped up to the Nth degree," says Xavier. "One of the big themes in monster erotica truly is the power dynamic. The monster is big, scary, dangerous, dominating, and uses his monsterly qualities to overpower and seduce the maiden. And I think the idea of being seduced by something so wild and animal and dangerous…it's kind of like being forced to play with fire and finding out that you enjoy it. It's kind of this warm, fuzzy corrupted feeling."
Erotica author Simone Beatrix adds this point about the exotic quality of monsters, "If I'm writing a human on human erotica, then it's focused a little more on the implicit understanding that's a given between two people. When I get the chance to write about monsters and women, it's more of this carnal desire aspect: they might come from completely different worlds, but they both understand one thing: sex."
A common theme of these stories, too, is that the women (who aren't necessarily maidens, for the record) are also elevated to something more than human through their sexual encounters. They might be mystically changed by the sexual act, for example, or the big scary monster might come to respect them and serve as a powerful ally. It's a classic empowerment fantasy with sex as the catalyst.
In 1987, Florence King wrote an essay in the New York Times about her experience working for a romance novel publisher on an erotically charged historical romance. She was instructed by her editor that if her heroine had sex with someone she didn't love, the sex must not be consensual. It was a trend in romance publishing at the time that women could only enjoy the pleasures of non-monogamy reluctantly.
Rape certainly exists in monster porn, as do situations where the monster is planning to have sex with the heroine regardless of her consent. Sometimes, the heroine is abducted or offered as a sacrifice or chased into the woods, and only when they are put in forced proximity with a monster do they see their erotic charms. For Xavier, these scenarios keep readers from asking, "Why would you want to have sex with something that could eat you?":
I think what it might do is remove that sense of responsibility from the heroine, so that it's easier to accept that they'll go along with it, rather than, "Hey, there's a sexy monster! Let's go at it!" I don't think that scenario is as relatable as getting pushed into something, because the reader realizes that they would never willfully go bang a werewolf or something. But if you set up a scenario where the werewolf is the werewolf prince and he imprints on the heroine as his destined mate, then she's put in a position where she's shoved into it. I think at least for a lot of female readers, it would be hard to imagine them, of their own accord, entering a situation like that.
At the same time, there's a sort of safety in these fantasies. You're not really going to be abducted by aliens or kidnapped by minotaurs or forced to be a dragon's bride. When you read erotic fiction about human beings, it might very well remind you of something in your real life, something that's less likely to happen while reading about randy, hyper-intelligent krakens. Readers who prefer a bit of distance between reality and sexual fantasy can easily find it in monster erotica.
Sometimes, though, the popularity of a particular erotic tale can mystify even its author. Xavier was surprised by the success of her story Alien Seed, which she considers one of her more ridiculous works. After reading Alien Seed I can understand both Xavier's bemusement and the ebook's popularity—it's a hoot. It involves a woman abducted for an alien breeding program that requires maximal pleasure to ensure insemination. At one point, the shapeshifting aliens tell our captive heroine, "[B]ased on our research of erotic literature produced for your demographic, we have each determined our mating forms." Those forms include a Lovecraftian horror and a panther creature with two penises—and appropriately over-the-top sex scenes follow. Sometimes in our non-erotic science fiction and fantasy we just want something fun and absurd, and the same can be true for erotic fiction.
Monster porn may have stomped into the limelight because authors saw their books disappearing from Amazon, but it turns out these books were fish accidentally caught in a wider net. Xavier explains that Amazon had received some bad press for hosting ebooks that featured underage characters and pseudo-incest. The Amazon staffers launched a search for certain keywords and cover art styles, and some non-offending erotica was blocked in the process. Xavier suspects, for example, that her book The Serpent God's Virgin ran into trouble for use of the word "virgin" in the title and blurb. Once she changed the word to "maiden," she had no further trouble with the book. For other writers, ebooks with covers that resembled covers for "jailbait" books had similar issues.
In fact, Xavier believes that Amazon's actions have led some erotica writers to be more polished in their presentations, and to put the same kind of effort into their listings as they put into their sexy scenes.