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Do we have a problem with erotic literature for girls?

Food for thought to address a really hot topic

Is it right for girls to read about sex? How should they do it? In books written by whom and why? Is Gen Z a generation that is afraid of sex or hypersexualized? Can we trust literary advice given on TikTok? Are intentionally explicit books for girls comparable to the porn industry? These are just a few of the thousand questions that arise when talking about books online, especially when this instance blends with explicit themes and when it comes to texts designed and appreciated for and by younger girls. Let's try to clarify.

The History of Erotic Literature in Brief

Erotic literature, or pseudo-erotic, didn't emerge yesterday. In a very simplified way - this is not a comparative literature course - we could say that it all began with romance novels, often found as supplements in weekly magazines at newsstands. With painted covers, roses and knights, descriptions of the sexual act more suitable for 40-year-old women than young girls, filled with a thousand metaphors, rhetorical turns, euphemisms, and jests, and yet rich in nuances and modes: from mild to explicit, always masked as minor literature, to be hidden. Then came fan fiction, a free field to describe in our words every obscenity that clouded our minds. A genre made by girls for girls, awkward but free and, even if we're talking about sex, innocent. It was (and still is) about fantasies put on paper (or on screen), teenage clichés explored and discovered through writing. Who has never dreamt of making out with Zayn Malik? Exactly. Later, the new publishing market entered the sensual scene, seeking its new niche to start selling to a young, or rather very young, audience, riding this wave. Books upon books (some even derived from previous serialized fan fiction, think of the highly successful "After" series) of somewhat toxic love stories, stereotyped and terrible sex scenes, which, in turn, were turned into movies.

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Critics and BookTok

Now that the phenomenon has been legitimized and these movies and books fill our Netflix and Amazon Prime feeds and bookstore shelves, critics from the drawing rooms arrive, attacking the entire BookTok (the part of social media where books are discussed) with cries of "you're worse than people addicted to porn" or simply "how cringe." In short, waves of discussion on Twitter and TikTok revolve around what this type of literature means. It signifies the need of an industry in crisis to sell, sure, but does it also mean that girls refuse to approach considered "higher" literature? Is it a failure of education and culture? The tones are tragic, the predictions apocalyptic. Questions arise about the expectations created by these poetic descriptions of sexual acts, whether they damage the relational capacity of readers. Or, questions arise about what's wrong with a bit of experimentation and why teenage, especially female, sexuality is pushed aside, ignored, and judged.

@lalibreriadivi e voi li avete letti? che ne pensate ho ragione?

The Issue of "Women's" Books

And here's the point. The truth, regardless of some legitimate concerns to address elsewhere, is that female literature has been relegated to the margins of the canon for years and is only now starting to be rediscovered, grouped forcibly into the container of "women's things," even somewhat disgusted. Female authors are all the same, all Ginzburg, Sally Rooney, or Anna Todd, and in between, nothing. If you're a woman and you write, something specific is always expected. If you're a woman and you read women, it's expected that you read exactly that stuff. Nuances are missing, dignity is missing. Except for some editorial cases, we still have a problem with literature made by women for women

Snobbery Meets Taboos: The Contradiction

If we add this so-called gender snobbery to the (taboo) theme of youthful female desire and the general tendency to treat teenagers as entities without brains, the omelet is cooked. So, who is taking care of these girls? Who explains to them what is right or wrong to expect from a real sexual relationship? The feeling is that, by belittling the desires of teenagers, we're also washing our hands a bit. Or maybe the truth is that we want to control them, make them adhere to our ideas and our conception of adolescence, completely forgetting who we were and what we wanted at their age. Do we want them more free or more puritanical? The contradiction arises when, for example, people talk about young people not liking hot scenes in TV series. In that case, the comments are all disdainful adults, writing that these young people understand nothing and are not ready for real life. So why is it a problem when girls read and write about sex?


i’m just full of apparently hot takes tonight

do i live in a pineapple under da sea or naw - star 

The Freedom to Read What You Want

Explaining to teenagers what sex is, educating them in this sense, and teaching them to distinguish between real life and literature (high or low) is the responsibility of society, not Young Adult or erotic books. Leaving a healthy space for fantasy and experimentation, even literary, is good. The secret, as usual, is in setting boundaries. There is quality literature, even lowbrow, that allows readers to dream and desire. There is also poor literature that perpetuates harmful clichés. Adults' intervention should stop here, not belittling or looking with suspicion (or even judgment) at a generation of new readers who need to learn to explore and range and who might, in a few years, get tired of rhetoric and seek something else.

Books on Sex to Read

Let's conclude this article with a brief list of books that explore the theme of sex. It's a diverse list, consisting of novels, stories of various genres, and fanzines written by women but not exclusively, addressing the theme from different perspectives and in various ways, from mild to explicit. A small starting point for those who have come here in search of something new. Happy reading!