With over 70 million copies sold worldwide and a movie on the way, you would need to live under a rock to be unaware of the 50 Shades of Grey mania, by author E. L. James, that has been going on around us since 2011. Women in particular, regardless of age, love to read about romance and sex. In fact, about 80 per cent of buyers were female, according to a Bowker Market Research analysis (and that goes without counting the men that bought the book not for themselves, but for their lady).
However, another fact has also come forward in the midst of the “50 Shades” explosion. Straight women do not restrict themselves to typical heterosexual love stories: they also love male on male romance and erotica books.
“By following on the heels and fandom of Twilight, E.L. James put kink on strip-mall shelves at a moment when public sexuality is permitted to go further and farther,” said Damon Suede, bestselling author of gay romance novels Hot Head and the recent Bad Idea.
“The impact on romance audiences has been seismic. The minute readers could access the atypical love stories they wanted without fear of censorship and reprisal, erotic romance exploded internationally.”
Suede’s first novel, Hot Head, sat at number one in its category on Amazon for six months and even made it into the general romance bestsellers list. His biggest fans are, yes, straight women. In fact, his biggest fan club named, Damon’s Bitches, is mainly female, “a group of sassy young women in killer shoes.” But why does male on male culture, love and sex stories appeal so much to straight women?
According to Suede, the easy explanation is that straight women are extremely curious about male feelings, but can’t get information about them from their emotionally silent heterosexual partners. They then turn to gay friends or literature for insight.
“Hetero ladies dream of big, rugged, brutal men…who can also cry and snuggle with that one special someone. They crave books that give them a window into the mysterious male psyche and romances offer that view in spades,” explained Suede.
To him, the difference between women and men growing up, and how it affects their views of things, is another explanation. Since gay men are born in a certain “male” way but adopt new “female” views growing up, they possess both sexes’ perspectives, a “double vision of the world” which is why they are so fascinating to women.
In a Yaoi Research analysis of Geoffrey Knight’s Why Straight Women Love Gay Romance, fantasy author and magazine editor Dru Pagliassotti also explains that straight women love male on male romance and erotica for many reasons. Some like it because it avoids gender stereotypes (especially the damsel in distress), because it’s arousing, more complex, and because women can relate to both male heroes and not be “annoyed by the weak heroine” often found in heterosexual romance novels.
Suede agrees saying, “Male vulnerability, tenderness, ferocity, and vulgarity get unleashed in gay erotica. All that Miss Manners courting gets tossed out; dudes get down to business without any need for niceties.”
One may ask then, “Well, if it’s so exciting, why aren’t all women reading gay romance?” According to Pagliassotti’s research, there are three ways to answer this question. It can either be because there is a lack of exposure, since gay romance and erotica is still not a mainstream genre. It can also be because women are afraid of what they will read or are afraid of getting “caught.” Finally, it could be because of the spiral of silence revolving around the genre; perhaps not all gay romance readers are willing to admit their literary preferences in public. Nonetheless, the genre is being read, whether privately or publicly and books like 50 Shades of Grey has definitely enticed some women to come out of the closet.