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Fifty Shades of Naughty: The Explosion of Erotica

Erotica. The word has been around for a long time and conjures up naughty, lustful images of debasement, debauchery and a whole lotta sex. Until recently, the term was used only in hushed undertones, whispered among women. Books on the subject were usually found hidden away in the back of indie bookstores whereas their kissing cousins, the “bodice-ripper” romance novels, featuring covers showing scantily-clad, nubile young heroines gazing lovingly into the eyes of their conquering, well-endowed hunks, were taking up entire walls at the local Barnes & Noble.

So, what’s the big “diff” between romance books and erotica, you ask. After all, both types of books deal with sex, right? Some experts say romance novels never mention any body parts by name, preferring more covert references like “thrusting manhood” and “heaving bosoms.” In contrast, the online reference source Wikipedia defines “erotica” as “any artistic work that deals substantively with erotically stimulating or sexually arousing subject matter,” and goes on to suggest that erotica differs from pornography in that erotica has “high-art aspirations.” Some, like writer Cyndy Aleo, have characterized erotica as “really porn that tries too hard.” Whatever the actual definition of erotica, the general rule of thumb is that if it’s sex driving the story, then it’s erotica. However, if it’s the story driving the sex, then it probably falls into some other genre such as romance.

In any case, what’s important to remember here is that erotica is “in” and it’s “hot” and a large part of its popularity can be attributed to E.L. James and her Fifty Shades trilogy. Sure, there were other books in the erotica genre before James’ Fifty Shades trilogy, but it was her books that really brought erotica into the mainstream, giving rise to ubiquitous terms like “mommy porn” and a slew of erotica subgenres that seem to grow by the day.

Consider this: erotica has made E.L. James a tidy little fortune and has turned her fan fiction into a million-dollar franchise. In 2013, she topped Forbes’ list of highest-earning authors; a queen reigning over an impressive court the likes of James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, Stephen King and Janet Evanovich. She’s said to have raked in an estimated 95 million dollars between June, 2012 and June, 2013 and when her first book hit the shelves in the U.S., over 70 million copies were purportedly sold in just eight months. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Hollywood to come calling, either. Suddenly, it became the norm to see women on subways and park benches engrossed in a copy of James' novel, for all intents and purposes declaring that it was okay to be seen reading erotica. There was no hiding erotica in the closet - or in the back of an indie bookstore - any longer.

Putting aside for the moment any moral or ethical feelings on the subject, it’s clear to see that erotica has not only become mainstream, but it also pays and, in the case of E.L. James, it pays extremely well.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Marta Tandori