A lot of studying is being done on pornography and what it does to our brain. My question: are there any studies being done on erotic writing? “Women’s Romance Literature” is absolutely exploding in the online self-publishing sector, and my wife is an avid consumer. “Spice” is the euphemism they use but — wow — romance lit is a hot dish. My wife consumes countless e-books and audiobooks, and there seems to be a huge community of readers like her out there. Erotic lit has been very good for our relationship; we listen to scenes together and I help bring my wife to orgasm with my hands or tongue. It’s a fun way to be intimate! And listening is definitely less intrusive when we’re “coupling” than watching other people go at it on a screen. Anyway, back to my question: There are lots of studies looking into the effect of porn movies and...
Want to read the rest? Subscribe now to get every question, every week, the complete Savage Love archives, special events, and much more!
...nto the effect of porn movies and pornographic images on the brain. But has anyone studied the impact of erotic literature on the brain? It’s got to be the oldest form of titillating art we have. What’s it doing to us?
Lessons In Titillation
“I haven’t come across neurological studies of erotic writing or literature,” said Dr. Kelsy Burke. “That doesn’t really surprise me since the questions scientists ask about sexuality usually reflect broader social and cultural interests — in this case, research on ‘porn’ is almost exclusively about it as a visual medium, not the written word.”
Dr. Burke is a sociologist and the author of The Pornography Wars, a terrific new book about the never-ending culture war over pornography. Suffice it to say, LIT, if Dr. Burke hasn’t run across studies into the kind of dirty stories your wife enjoys reading, those studies don’t exist. And while there are a lot of warring studies that look at the impact of pornographic images — moving and still — on our brains, much of the data being generated are pretty useless.
“There’s a lot more talk about pornography and the brain than there are definitive empirical studies,” said Dr. Burke. “And a lot of the talk stems from groups with a political or religious interest in opposing porn. Academic studies, on the other hand, offer mixed results and no definitive conclusions about how porn impacts the brain.”
So, despite all these warring studies and claims — from opponents and supporters of porn — we simply don’t know if pornographic images and videos are warping our brains.
“Here’s what we do know: our brains process visual images 60,000 times faster than text,” said Dr. Burke. “One of the better arguments, in my opinion, about the potential harm of internet porn —which is actually not exclusive to porn at all and applies to all video-streaming websites — is that the quick succession of videos and rapid processing of all of those images is what sucks us in, sometimes for longer than we would like.”
We all know people who watch too much TV, play too many video games, and spend too much time on TikTok, all media served up on the exact same screens that serve up porn, and all serving up the exact same dopamine hits porn does. But while people express concerns about “screentime” when it comes to Ted Lasso or Minecraft, the combo of sexual pleasure, sexual agency, and the potential for sexual exploitation fuels a unique moral panic about the porn we watch. And very little concern is expressed about people who spend “too much time reading,” even if they’re masturbating to what they read, because at least they’re reading.
“And while we can have a huge queue of romance lit on our Kindles,” said Dr. Burke, “we aren’t likely to stay up all night binging one after the other, as we might do with, say, Netflix because our brains will tire from all that textual processing.”
So, your wife could be a graduate of the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics speed-reading program, but there’s a limit — a much lower limit — to the number of dirty stories she can consume in a single day and/or wank. (Evelyn Wood? Anyone get that reference? Anyone? Bueller?) But the same moral scolds who’ve successfully banned books with LGBT themes and characters, as well as books that delve into wrongs committed against Black people and other people of color (slavery, Jim Crow, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Internment of the Japanese, etc., etc.), are starting to go after romance novels. Books written by Nora Roberts, a popular (and PG) romance novelist, were just pulled from the shelves in a high school in Florida after an activist with the rightwing group Moms for Liberty complained. (You know who was reading Roberts’ books before they got banned? Teachers. You know who’s reading them now? Teenagers.)
“I doubt we’ll see a surge in research on what affect Roberts’ writing has on our brains, not only because banning books is purely political theater,” said Dr. Burke. And we may not see a surge in that kind of research because we ultimately don’t need it. “Neuroscientists already know that the stories in our heads are hugely important to our sexual pleasure,” said Dr. Burke. “These stories — our thoughts and feelings — can help or hinder our sexual experiences. It sounds like for you and your wife, it’s helping.”
Follow Dr. Burke on Twitter @kelsyburke. Visit Dr. Burke’s website — www.kelsyburke.com — to learn more about her work.
I’m a 32-year-old gay man living in a large US city. I sometimes hook up with college guys through the apps. I’m always up front about what I’m looking for and I try to honor the campsite rule. Occasionally I see the same person more than once and will take them out for dinner or drinks, where I always pay since I remember being a broke college student. This year, I started hooking up a couple of times a month with a 21-year-old guy. Turns out he’s from a very wealthy family — not household names, but super rich. I don’t know exactly how much money he gets from his family, but he let me know money isn’t an issue for him and insists on paying if we go out. I asked him to alternate who pays so it doesn’t feel uneven. He also bought me a small gift for my home that cost less than $40. When it’s just dinner or small things, I don’t mind too much. But this summer he’ll be doing an internship in Europe. I’ve always wanted to go to the city where he will be working, and he’s offered to fly me out around my birthday, pay for nice hotels, and cover other expenses like meals. If he were my age, I would accept, but it feels wrong somehow due to the age gap. It’s just so much money for someone that young to be spending, but is it okay since he has access to a family fortune? Based on everything I know, he can easily afford it, but would I be wrong to accept? What are the ethical concerns of having a sugar daddy fuckbuddy who’s so young?
Additional context: I’ve been very clear I’m not interested in dating, and he’s expressed the same. We describe each other as friends, we both date and hook up with other people, we’re both on PrEP and I’ve encouraged him to get tested for STIs regularly. I have no connection to his family, I don’t work in the field he’s going into, we don’t use terms like daddy/boy, and he knows I’m financially comfortable, so this gesture seems to be motivated by generosity, not pity.
Spendy Holiday On Wealthy Undergrad’s Pocketbook
His motives could be pure — he could just be generous — or he could be motivated by a desire, possibly subconscious, to control you. When an extremely wealthy person brings an urchin like you or me into their orbit, SHOWUP, we get a glimpse of a world we could never access on our own. The conscious or subconscious awareness that we could be exiled from this world at any moment might lead us to put up with things we wouldn’t tolerate from someone who wasn’t flying us all over the world and picking up the tab for fancy hotels.
That said, it doesn’t sound like your fuckbuddy is being excessively and/or manipulatively lavish, only appropriately and proportionately generous, and I think you should accept his offer. Pick up a few checks, SHOWUP, and enjoy the ride.
P.S. Don’t marry Connor.
My sister died last year as a result of breast cancer. I was moved at how, during the last six months of her life, my brother-in-law, niece, and nephew bonded in a manner that allowed them to support each other as they faced the daunting task of caring for my sister. My niece has returned to college, while my nephew moved in with his father during my sister’s illness. Last month, I arrived several hours earlier than expected (some miscommunication involved) to a house sit; when I let myself in, I learned that my brother-in-law and 27-year-old nephew had been sleeping in the same bed. I think they may even have been naked.
When I questioned my brother-in-law privately as to the propriety of this practice, he responded that the intimacy of sharing a bed was facilitating their healing from my sister’s death. I retain some reservations with regard to their sleeping arrangements. Several friends in whom I’ve confided have stated that the matter is none of my business. What do you think I should do?
Keep Exclaiming “Yikes!”
I think you should knock — on front doors, not bedroom doors — when you arrive early, even if you’ve been entrusted with a key.
P.S. I’m so sorry for your loss.
P.P.S. Since you nephew and brother-in-law are both adults, KEY, there isn’t really anything you can do about this. And since grief can be very deeply weird, I think you should take your brother-in-law’s explanation at face value — and take the advice of your friends — and mind your own business.
P.P.P.S. When we barge into someone else’s house unannounced — particularly when we barge far enough in to learn intimate details about sleeping arrangements and nighttime attire — we have no one to blame but ourselves for the mental images that may plague us for the rest of our lives.
P.P.P.P.S. If your brother-in-law is fucking your nephew — let’s just name the thing we’re all worried about — that’s obviously not okay. And if that’s what’s going on here (and we don’t know that it is), perhaps knowing you know or suspect will bring your brother-in-law and your nephew to their senses… and they will stop fucking each other and get the help they need, KEY, which would mean you’ve already done all the good you can do.
P.P.P.P.P.S. You might want to ask your nephew a few questions privately — or you might have to ask him a few questions privately (no one wants to ask their nephew questions like these) — to make sure this hasn’t been going on all his life and he doesn’t know how to escape the abuse… if he’s being abused… which may not be the case.
P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Unlike last week’s questions — which I’m sure were fakes — this is one of those questions I hope is fake.
Record a Lovecast with me LIVE!
Tomorrow, Wednesday May 10th — I’m hosting a very special Savage Love Live, my live Zoom show with Nancy and the Tech-Savvy At-Risk Youth, exclusively for my Magnum Subs. I’m getting surgery on my rotator cuff this week and need to bank a ton of calls, so I’m recording questions for the Lovecast during the show tomorrow! Send me those Qs now, and I’ll see you tomorrow, Wednesday, at 12 noon Pacific, 3pm eastern. The Zoom link will be posted here at Savage.Love tomorrow morning.
Send your question right here on Savage.Love.
Comments on Chick Lit
Write to Dan!
Got a relationship problem? A burning sex question? A burning… sensation?
Dan’s been giving advice and been tapping the best sex researchers, educators, and scientists for more than three decades!