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A sexual fantasy, also called an erotic fantasy, is a deliberate fantasy or pattern of thoughts with the goal of creating or enhancing sexual feelings; it is mental imagery that an individual considers erotic. A fantasy can be a long, drawn-out story or a quick mental flash of sexual imagery; its purpose can range from sexual motivations, such as sexual arousal and reaching orgasm, to simply passing time or helping a person fall asleep.
As a nearly universal phenomenon, sexual fantasy is an important study topic. A fantasy may be a positive or negative experience, or even both. It can reflect past experience and influence future sexual encounters. A person may not wish to enact a sexual fantasy in real life, and since the process is entirely imaginary, they are not limited to acceptable or practical fantasies, which can provide information on the psychological processes behind sexual behaviour. Fantasies are theorized to play an important role in reducing sexual offenses; similarly, a lack of fantasy, or guilt surrounding fantasy, may contribute to sexual dysfunction.
Sexual roleplay is a sexual behavior between two or more people in which they take on erotic roles to carry out a sexual fantasy. The depth of the roleplay depends on the couple, and the scenario may be anywhere from simple and makeshift to detailed and elaborate, complete with costumes and a script. The popularity of the Internet has also allowed for online sexual encounters, known as cybersex, which may involve roleplay.
Sexual roles can be very general designations of power position, sometimes abstracted to “top” and “bottom,” or very specific, detailed fantasies. Nearly any role could become the base material for an erotic experience, and there is no limit to what objects an individual could consider erotic. Many of the most common sexual roleplays involve a power differential.
Erotic literature is a literary genre that either takes the form of erotica written to arouse the reader, or to give instruction in sexual technique. Much classic erotic literature is of novel length, although there are also erotic short stories. Some poetry has been classed as erotic.
Erotic fiction is the name given to fiction that deals with sex or sexual themes, generally in a more literary or serious way than the fiction seen in pornographic magazines and sometimes including elements of satire or social criticism. Such works have frequently been banned by the authorities.
From the Medieval period we have the Decameron (1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio (made into a film by Pasolini) which features tales of lechery by monks and the seduction of nuns from convents. This book was banned in many countries. Even five centuries after publication copies were seized and destroyed by the authorities in the USA and the UK. For instance between 1954 and 1958 eight orders for destruction of the book were made by English magistrates.
The rise of the novel in 18th century England provided a new medium for erotica. One of the most famous in this new genre was Fanny Hill by John Cleland. This book set a new standard in literary smut and has often been adapted for the cinema in the 20th century.
French writers at this time also wrote erotica. One example is The Lifted Curtain or Laura’s Education, about a young girl’s sexual initiation by her father, written by the Comte de Mirabeau.
In the late 18th century the theme of sado-masochism was explored by the Marquis de Sade in such works as Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue. The Marquis de Sade’s work was very influential on later erotica and he (together with the later writer Sacher-Masoch) lent his name to the sexual acts which he describes in his fiction.
In the Victorian period, the quality of erotic fiction was much below that of the previous century — it was written by ‘hacks’. However, some contained borrowings from established literary models, such as Dickens. It also featured a curious form of social stratification. Even in the throes of orgasm, the social distinctions between master and servant (including form of address) were scrupulously observed. Significant elements of sado-masochism were present in some examples, perhaps reflecting the influence of the English public school. These works were often anonymous, and undated, and include such classics of the genre as:
- The Way of a Man with a Maid by Anon
- The Autobiography of a Flea (1887) by Anon
- Beatrice by Anon
- The Lustful Turk (1828) by Anon
- The Romance of Lust (1873) by Anon
- The Pearl a collection of erotic tales, rhymes, songs and parodies in magazine form published in London between 1879 to 1880.
Towards the end of the century, a more ‘cultured’ form of erotica began to appear by such as the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne who pursued thenes of paganism, lesbianism and sado-masochism in such works as Lesbia Brandon and in contributions to The Whippingham Papers edited by St George Stock, author of The Romance of Chastisement. This was associated with the Decadent movement, in particular, with Aubrey Beardsley and the Yellow Book. But it was also to be found in France, amongst such writers as Pierre Louys, author of Les chansons de Bilitis (1894) (a celebration of lesbianism and sexual awakening).
Twentieth century erotic fiction includes such classics of the genre as:
- Trois Filles de Leur Mére (1926) by Pierre Louys
- Story of the Eye (1928) by Georges Bataille
- Tropic of Cancer (1934) by Henry Miller
- The Story of O (1954) by Pauline Réage
- Lolita (1955) and Ada, or Ardor (1969) by Vladimir Nabokov
- Delta of Venus (1978) by Anaïs Nin
- The Bicycle Rider (1985) by Guy Davenport
Lolita and The Story of O were published by Olympia Press, a Paris-based publisher, launched in 1953 by Maurice Girodias as a rebadged version of the Obelisk Press he inherited from his father Jack Kahane. It published a mix of erotic fiction and avant-garde literary works.
Contemporary erotic fiction
Romantic novels are sometimes marketed as erotica — or vice versa, as “mainstream” romance in recent years has begun to exhibit blatant (if poetic) descriptions of sex.
Erotic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy fiction and utilizes erotica in a fantasy setting. These stories can essentially cover any of the other subgenres of fantasy, such as high fantasy, contemporary fantasy, or even historical fantasy.
Erotic fantasy can also be found in Fan Fiction. Erotic fan fiction focuses on using existing fantasy characters such as Galadriel or Éowyn from the Lord of the Rings novels and movies. Many recent works of erotic fan fiction use characters from the settings made popular by Dungeons & Dragons such as Dragonlance, and to a lesser extent Forgotten Realms. The nature of these erotic fantasy fiction varies widely, and include Slash fiction, and Elf porn.
Sex manuals such as the Kama Sutra are some of the best known works of erotic literature. The Ananga Ranga is a lesser known one, aimed specifically at preventing the separation of a husband and wife.
From around the late 1970s, many sex manuals have been published and openly sold in the western world, notably The Joy of Sex. Sex manuals specifically written for sexual minorities are also now published.
There is a substantial overlap between legal erotic literature and illegal pornography, with the distinction traditionally having been made in the English-speaking courts on the basis of perceived literary merit. This was particularly true of works aimed at men, which generally use explicit descriptions of sexual acts. Many banned books have been suppressed because they also contained erotic visual images, which has traditionally been easier to prosecute than text.
In the USA, the First Amendment gives protection to written fiction – although in one case, a man pled guilty and was convicted for writing unpublished stories (these were works of fiction concerning sexually abusing children) that were contained only in his personal and private journal. That conviction was later overturned on appeal.
Importing books and texts across national borders can sometimes be subject to more stringent laws than in the nations concerned. Customs officers are often permitted to seize even merely ‘indecent’ works that would be perfectly legal to sell and possess once one is inside the nations concerned. Canada has been particularly notorious for such border seizures.
In some nations, even purely textual erotic literature is still deemed illegal and is also prosecuted.
Internet erotic fiction
The Internet and digital revolution in the history of erotic depictions, has blurred older forms of representing scenes of a sexual nature, although research indicates erotic literature was available among the poor and performed at public readings in 1700s Britain.
Readers of erotic fiction in most of the world’s liberal democracies are now able to indulge their fantasies in the comfort and privacy of their homes, without the social and legal restrictions of a pre-digital era. Online bookstores now legally carry a range of professional, commercial and non-commercial erotic writing.
The Web also serves as a hub for non-profit story distribution, offering readers the opportunity to become authors, writing anonymously and posting their own stories. Most online authors adopt a colorful pseudonym (and can develop cult fan followings within their genre), though a small number use (or claim to use) their real names. Among transgendered authors, it’s common practice to adopt a feminine alter-ego, although it’s not unheard of for a writer to use his own first name.
Over the years, many non-profit sites have limited themselves to a particular sub-genre (or fetish). Other websites have started and then vanished (or have never been updated or properly maintained). Similarly, many part-work stories have been started but then never progressed beyond “part 1”. Just a few of the more widely known free sites that have endured over the years include:
- The Erotic Woman.com, established in 2006, is home to a large and ever expanding archive of high quality examples of short, contemporary erotic fiction. Also included on the site are various galleries (erotica, hunks, sealed section), audio erotica, poetry, articles, columns, reviews, horoscope and much more. A sensually designed and free site without excessive advertising or security risks, The Erotic Woman.com is one of the most complete erotica-based sites online.
- The Scarlet (magazine) website has a selection of erotic stories under the heading ‘Cliterature’.  These stories have usually appeared in the magazine so they have been sub-edited and are to a high standard.
- The alt.sex.stories Text Repository, or ASSTR, began as a small FTP site in 1996 for tabulating and hosting the output of A.S.S.’s members. It has since expanded into a free hosting site, similar to GeoCities or Angelfire but specializing in erotica. It now hosts the erotic literature of nearly two thousand authors, including some of the biggest and most well-loved in the field.
- Storiesonline.net: A large archive, founded in early 1998 by its owner Lazeez as a personal hobby site. Its evolution over the years turned it into a general submission site and an easy-to-use alternative to ASSTR with a sophisticated search engine. It accepts all types of submissions including science fiction, non-sexual stories and the ever present erotic stories.
- The Nifty Erotic Stories Archive has archived homosexual/alternative-sexuality erotica since 1993 and permits non-published amateurs to submit, provided the story does not portray graphic violence, abusive situations, etc., but it does permit stories depicting sexual activities among minors and between minors and adults. As of 2007, “Nifty” archived more than 100,000 stories comprising 2.2GB.
- Fictionmania, founded in late 1997, archives the works of any writers (amateur or professional), provided the story involves transgendered erotica. In 2002, Fictionmania averaged 161 new story submissions each month.
- The advent of web 2.0 has led to new interactive sites like Lush Erotic Stories where users can submit, vote for, embellish, and comment on erotic stories.
- Open-submissions sites such as Literotica, C-S-S-A, Sex Stories Post, Electronic Wilderness Publishing, BDSM Library,mindspired.com Erotic Stories, and The Wolf Pub publish a wide variety of erotic literature. Literotica, in particular, is one of the most popular erotic text sites in existence, with nearly 25,000 registered authors (as of late 2005) contributing about 100,000 stories, poems, essays, illustrated stories and audio stories in a huge variety of categories. Electronic Wilderness Publishing , Or EWP for short, was the youngest of these sites until The Wolf Pub or just The Pub. EWP and The Pub was created by Net Wolf.
- Erotic Stories at mindspired.com – The mindspired.com Project [Erotic Stories to stimulate your mind], provides free access to original erotic literature. The archive is moderated and provides unrestricted access to erotic stories [fiction/non-fiction/poetry] as well as writer’s resources, discussion forums for members and a very open real-time chat room.
- The Erotica Readers and Writers Association, established in 1996, is a moderated online archive of erotic fiction, poetry and non-fiction articles, as well as an association for writers of erotica. It also includes articles about authorship, author resources, calls for submissions, and publishing opportunities.
- OystersandChocolate.com, co-owned and co-edited by Jordan LaRousse and Samantha Sade, is a sex-positive women’s erotica site that features artwork, photography, columns, erotic product reviews, a readers’ forum, and erotic fiction categorized as Vanilla (heterosexual couples), Licorice Whips (BDSM), Dirty Martini (voyeurism, fetish and other kinks), and All About the Oysters (lesbian tales). The site also accepts unsolicited writing and art submissions as well as hosts quarterly writing contests. Note that not all submissions are automatically accepted for publication at OystersandChocolate.com as it is not a repository site. Every submission will go through a rigorous evaluation process by the editors.
- Samarelart.com, owned by world renowned digital erotic artist Samarel, is a free erotica site that features original artwork, adult stories and poetry, sex guide, and a weekly updated webzine.
- Literotica.com A free site featuring member submitted content. For more information, see Literotica.
The Growth of Pay Sites – Not surprisingly, the growth of free adult literature on the Internet has also resulted in the growth of pay sites, especially erotic literature that is targeted to the female audience. However, the online visitor needs to exercise even more caution when it comes to paying for erotic literature. Just as much of the free erotic literature online is of poor quality, sites that require paid membership or product purchases do not necessarily provide you with quality erotic literature. The surfer of erotic literature pay sites should be able to view enough free content or a free sample to know that he or she will likely enjoy a product for purchase. Some pay sites that have a good history of quality erotic literature are as follows:
-  This site is devoted to the female lover of erotic literature. It became the first site to offer ‘personalized’ erotic stories that are written for and about the customer’s specific sexual wishes and desires.
-  More than 10 years old, this site offers quality erotic novels from several accomplished female writers of erotica.
-  Erotic Literature is just part of this site’s product lines for women, but the literature is of high quality and ranges from short stories to full-length erotic novels.
- Sex Audio.com provides free erotic audio.
- Hypnotic Dreams provides a collection of erotic hypnosis audio recordings for women.
- RedWordSaid is a collection of downloadable erotic audio stories produced with sex soundscapes. (strictly commercial site, nothing is free.)
- Scarlet (magazine)
- Black Lace (books)
- List of authors of erotic works
- List of pornographic book publishers
- Sex Stories Post
- Erotic Stories
- BDSM Library
-  For fun erotic stories from Australia.
- ^ H. Mongomery Hyde (1964) A History of Pornography: 71-2
- ^ Science and the Artist’s Book. Retrieved on 2006–10-05.
- ^ Ohio man convicted for “obscene” stories in his private journal. Retrieved on 2006–10-05.
- Phyllis & Eberhard Kronhausen: Pornography and the Law, The Psychology of Erotic Realism and Pornography New York: Ballantine Books 1959
- Phyllis & Eberhard Kronhausen: Erotic Fantasies, A Study of Sexual Imagination New York: Grove Press 1969
- Encyclopedia of erotic literature, ed. by Gaëtan Brulotte; John Phillips, New York, NY [etc.]: Routledge, 2006
- Susan Sontag (1969). The Pornographic Imagination in Styles of Radical Will. Picador. ISBN 0-312-42021-8.
- Patrick J. Kearney (1982), A history of Erotic Literature
- Michael J. Weller (2005), “The Secret Blue Book”, Home’Baked Books,, London.
- Linda Williams, Hardcore: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible’, (University of California Press, 1999)