Here’s some food for thought: According to data collected by Destination: Toast!, the top ten most written about relationships on the fanfiction site, An Archive of Our Own (AO3), are all male/male. Furthermore, male/male is the largest category on AO3 — double the size of its closest competing category.
A lot of the readers consuming these “slash” fics are cisgendered heterosexual women; and more than a few confused outsiders are struggling to find the rationale behind it. Why on Earth would straight women want to read about gay sex?
There are numerous explanations, some more nuanced than others, but what I’ve discovered is that it usually breaks down into one of three reasons.
Reading has long been an acceptable form of escapism, and for heterosexual women, gay erotica serves as the ultimate form.
Some women have had enough of traditional gender roles and like to fantasize about relationships where dominance, submission, and power aren’t predetermined by sex. Moreover, many women identify with male characters in books, and male/male romances allow them to do so while still enjoying a male love interest.
Others find MM erotic fiction to be a safe place. They don’t have to identify as the woman in the act, instead being able to relax and enjoy the sex as an observer. In either case, the characters’ male gender serves as a buffer between reality and fiction.
Heterosexual romance has been done — to death. Every angle has been covered, in every style, and in every setting. It’s omnipresent in books, film, and music. Hell, it’s even in most advertisements.
What’s more, a lot of straight women are in, or have been in, relationships with men. They have that at home — not to mention society shoving it down their throats — so why not read something they have never (and can never) experience?
Women are sexual creatures, and at the basest level, many read gay erotica because they find it arousing. If one man is sexy, two men are doubly so. Two beautiful male bodies in the throes of passion — what’s not to like?
Some consider straight women who read and write MM erotic fiction to be suffering from a form of internalized misogyny. As a feminist, I find this idea to be a particularly abhorrent — so much so that I have a hard time putting my thoughts into words. Luckily, Professor Fangirl put it quite eloquently in her post titled, “It’s Not Misogyny: Sexwriting and the Gender Politics of Slash,”
“My problem is that people have used unconvincing stats about authorship to categorically dismiss the idea that women’s sexual desire for men drives the predominance of M/M fics.”
Desire; It’s a powerful word, and when it comes to straight women and gay erotica, it covers a lot. We desire to immerse ourselves in romance not confined by traditional gender roles. We desire to explore our sexuality in a safe space where women aren’t routinely degraded and oppressed. We desire to be sexual beings and to take control of our pleasure.
That’s why straight women love erotic fiction featuring men.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, history studying, pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo.