Insta-Culture and the Demise of Desire

by | June 21, 2021 | General | 7 comments

Image by lounis production from Pixabay

You’re probably familiar with the old joke about humor in the penitentiary. The convicts are taking their daily exercise in the prison yard under the watchful eye of the warden, when someone shouts out “Twenty two”. Everyone convulses with laughter. A few minutes later, another guy calls “Sixteen”. More hilarity ensues. Someone else counters with “Thirty seven”. Guffaws and catcalls ring out through the yard.

The punch line doesn’t matter. The point is that everyone is so familiar with all the funny stories, it’s not even necessary to spell them out anymore. Just the number, the label, is enough.

Erotica these days reminds me of that joke. Cuckold. Hot-wife. M-preg. MILF. First-timers. Hu-cow. Futa. Swinging. Femdom. Reverse harem. Billionaire. Breeding. Wolf-shifter. Bear-shifter. Polar-bear shifter. (Just saw one of those today…) Everything’s explicitly labeled. Titles leave nothing to the imagination, and just in case there’s some ambiguity about exactly the box in which a book belongs, there’s the always the subtitle to make things crystal clear.

Tell me the label, and I can predict what you’ll find in the story. Indeed, that’s the purpose of all these kink and genre categories. Given that thousands of erotica titles are published daily, people want a fast way to find the reads that will push their particular buttons. In today’s world of instant communication and information overload, it seems that readers don’t have the time or the patience to browse or to experiment. They think they already know what they want. Labels and keywords are intended to make sure they get it. In fact I know from painful personal experience that if a book doesn’t fulfill the expectations associated with its labels, readers will voice their displeasure.

Erotica has become predictable, compartmentalized and homogenized. Today’s insta-culture tags on-line stories with phrases like “10 minute read”, as well as the inevitable keywords. Erotica is something to consume, like gossip or popcorn. (See my post last month about serialized fiction for more about this.) And orgasms are absolutely required. A story in which the characters have some sexual interactions but don’t climax violates the requirements of today’s readers.

Most erotica I encounter now barely revs my engines. It’s too obvious, too stereotyped, too manufactured. I like my sex veiled in a bit of mystery. I appreciate a tale that keeps me in suspense. The build-up of erotic tension can be as pleasurable as its release, and an unexpected twist can be deeply satisfying, even when that tension is unresolved by orgasm.

When I started writing and publishing erotica, more than twenty years ago, things were very different. Variety was given far more emphasis. A single erotic novel could include all sorts of sexual scenarios: ménage, BDSM, exhibitionism, cross-dressing, same-sex interactions, toys and taboos. You couldn’t sum it up in a couple of keywords. Cleis published themed anthologies, but within the flexible boundaries of the theme, the challenge was to write the most original, surprising and arousing tale one could manage.

If you’d like a glimpse of the amazing richness available in erotica ten to fifteen years ago, grab one of the volumes from Maxim Jakubowski’s Mammoth Book of Best Erotica series. Or take a look at Cream (, the anthology of ERWA authors I edited in 2006. (The reviews of this book on Amazon show a lot of disparity; the more recent the review, the lower the rating!) Or if you’re looking for arousing novels, consider K.D. Grace’s The Initiation of Ms Holly (2011) or Portia da Costa’s Gemini Heat (1995/2008).

It seems that thematic complexity, narrative sophistication and sexual creativity have gone out of style. I mourn their loss. I miss the stories that inspired me to tell my own, full of yearning, dripping with desire.

At the same time, I try to adapt to the current market of meticulously enumerated genres and key phrases. Every book I’ve published recently has a sub-title. What else can I do, if I want anyone to read my lascivious imaginings?

I’m not very good at it, though. I keep wanting to tear down the walls, shatter the boxes, break the rules. I long for the sensuousness and subtlety of two decades ago. Which is probably why my stories don’t sell nearly as well as Hot Erotica Short Stories – 32 Explicit and Forbidden Erotic Taboo Hot Sex Stories Naughty Adult Women: Filthy Milfs, First Time Lesbian, Dirty Talking Position for Couples, Horny Bisexual Threesomes (Amazon rank 11 in erotica anthologies today) or Erotic Sex-Story: Daddy Dom, Menage Explicit Adult Couple: Wife Ganged Bi-Strangers Hard Husband Forced Watching Gay (Amazon rank 237 in bisexual erotica) or our own Larry Archer’s House Party 4: Swingers Swap More Than Their Partners at Hot Erotica Sex Parties with cuckolds and Hotwives.

No surprises here. But I guess that’s what today’s readers want.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Donna George Storey

    Thanks so much for articulating an issue that’s been nagging me for some time. I began writing erotica around the same time you did and my hope was to explore sexuality with respect for its complexity and mystery. I felt my experience was not represented in Penthouse Letters, as fun and fantastic and “educational” as they were (educational about fantasies rather than actual sex!). There was indeed a “golden age” of erotica when a variety of voices were welcome, when Best Mammoth Erotica gave us an annual compendium of well-written and surprising tales. Self-publishing and easy access have many benefits, but it seems the “free market” has created a self-perpetuating cycle where complexity is suppressed yet again. What can we do but keep trying to do our thing and hope to make a match with readers who will appreciate it?

    • LIsabet Sarai

      Hello, Donna,

      I’m not at all surprised this post resonates with you. It was hard to get published in the early 2000’s, and even harder to make money, but it was worth it to see the gems that authors created.

      Many of my favorite authors from that period don’t seem to be publishing anymore. Maybe they just got fed up.

  2. rikki de la vega

    I’ve advertised my writing as “good smut for smart people” and sure enough one of my friends asked: “What’s the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ smut?”

    My answer: “When you have a well-written story that happens to include hot sex, that’s good smut. When you have sex scenes loosely held together by a thin plot, that’s bad smut.”

    • LIsabet Sarai

      Hi, Rikki!

      I think in this anti-intellectual, social-media-driven world, saying your work is for “smart people” might be the kiss of death!

      Honestly, I wonder if anyone cares if our smut is good.

      Quite discouraging at times. Fortunately I get my jollies from the telling more than the selling of the stories ;^)

  3. Jean Roberta

    Oh, Lisabet. I’m sure your writing won’t be forgotten in the long run. However, I’ve noticed the same thing you’ve noticed. As disappointing as today’s market is, I suspect the erotica that will stand the test of time is not the very genre-specific stuff, or even Fifty Shades of Fan-Fic, but stories that are not only a turn-on in the sex scenes, but in the use of language, the plot twists, the dialogue, and the character development.

  4. LIsabet Sarai

    What a sweet thing to say, Jean!

    I can only hope you are right.

  5. laura marion

    what a hot an damm hot history

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


Babysitting the Baumgartners - The Movie
From Adam & Eve - Based on the Book by New York Times Bestselling Authors Selena Kitt



Pin It on Pinterest