I love reading books. I love sex. Naturally, you might think that means I love reading books about sex — otherwise known as literary erotica. You would be wrong. It’s not that I have anything against erotica as a literary genre; in fact, I’m 100% in favor of it. I just don’t enjoy it, personally. Not only do all of those bodice-ripping stories seem so serious — honestly, I just don’t need my jack off smut to be that baroque — but they also often feel pretty predictable. Like, okay, let me guess, the main characters have hot sex, right? Enter: Choose Your Own Adventure-style erotica. These types of books feel like a much-needed breath of fresh air in my musty lewd library.
Take Joanna Angel’s new book, Club 42, which centers around Naomi, a Brooklyn hipster who becomes a stripper on a whim. In Club 42, readers get to choose whether Naomi tells her partner about her adventures in pole dancing, moonlights as a dominatrix, or pursues a new crush — all by skipping around in the pages the way we did in the choose-your-own books of our youth. Angel’s style is light-hearted, nostalgic, and hot af, which makes the book a great pandemic read for lonely nights when you’re solo and horny.
Angel’s work (which also includes the book Night Shift) is some of the best — and most believable — erotica on the market because she’s a bonafide porn star and no stranger to the stripper pole. Her insider status means that she gives her characters nuance; none of it feels creepy, exploitative, or old-fashioned. Not only is this erotica written by a feminist porn maker and sex worker, but it also tells stories from the perspective of sex workers — unlike much of the fanction-style erotica out there. Plus, Angel basically invented the comedic porn genre, and her ease in bringing on bawdy humor makes it legitimately funny.
But Angel isn't the only writer allowing readers to customize their horniness. The choose-your-own erotica genre is not new, though it is growing. There’s an increasing number of websites and apps that allow you to create your own bespoke erotica or read other people’s customizable — and delightfully indecent — literary submissions. At this point, choose-your-own erotica is kind of a literary movement, and a much-needed one. “I love this innovation in erotic writing,” Tristan Taormino, editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series and host of the podcast, Sex Out Loud, tells Mic. “The genre needs evolution, and the choose-your-own format is interactive and fun.” Amen.
Some experts say choose-your-own-style erotica has plenty of benefits, beyond the obvious. “The experience is more interactive — your own interests and feelings about the characters might come further to the fore when you have the opportunity to ‘run the read,’” Carol Queen, co-founder of the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco and staff sexologist at education-oriented sex shop chain Good Vibrations, tells Mic. In other words, this style is not just jerk off fodder; the fact that it gives you agency may also make the erotica experience more emotionally satisfying.
Queen also notes that choose-your-own-style erotica can feel more like fantasizing than a static read would. “We become, if not a character, at least a driver of the erotica experience, and that opens up possibilities in the story that help us think outside the lines when we fantasize, too,” she says. Once we place ourselves in the main character roles and feel what they’re feeling, it may feel more natural to expand our own sexual horizons IRL.
Fantasy is good for your sexual arousal, Queen says, and the experience of a choose-your-own journey can help remind you that fantasizing doesn’t need to stop when you put the book down. Even after the story ends, you can send your favorite characters off on new adventures in your erotic imagination. Who knows? They might just end up back at your place, hog tied to your bed frame. Er, I mean, drinking tea and re-lacing their bodices.