Ask a woman what kind of porn she likes and she would probably answer with a bashful smile and slightly disgusted expression: “No way, I don’t watch porn.” But really though? Do women of the 21st century not watch porn at all?
Of course they do.
A survey conducted by the Daily Mail in 2014 reveals that more than half of the women in Britain watch porn on a regular basis. So, yes, just like the male species, we female, too, have this thing called sexual desire, which sometimes needs to be manifested through consuming sexually arousing media or porn.
“But these are western neo-liberal women, they’re different from us Indonesians!” you might say. But there you’re wrong again.
While it’s true that there hadn’t been any groundbreaking survey on Indonesian women’s porn consumption or sexual habits, I know for a fact that Indonesian female sexuality is alive and well. Maybe not in public, but there are visible traces of it carefully hidden within the pages of online fan erotica or “fan fiction”.
Fan fiction is when someone takes either the story or characters of a published work (novel, TV series, movie, etc) and create another story based on it. Writers usually take the characters and give them a new storyline or love interest that may differ from the original story. For example, a lot of Harry Potter fan fiction feature Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy dating (I know, awesome, right!), instead of the official pairings of Hermione-Ron.
While not all of the fanfic are sexual in nature, a lot of them are, and most of them at least incorporate some degree of sexuality. Surprisingly, most of them are written by young women. This is obviously a contrast to the mainstream porn industry that is dominated by male directors and producers. But, even more interestingly, on sites like tumblr, fanfictions.net and archiveofourown, where most fanfics get published, some of the writers and readers are Indonesian women writing the fanfic in Indonesian or English.
These are evidence that some Indonesian women do embrace their sexuality and their erotic needs. But the questions remain: Why are we embarrassed about it? And why fanfiction?
To answer the first of these questions, I asked one of my friends who is active in the fanfic community.
“I’ve been reading slash fiction (R-rated fanfiction) ever since I was in high school, but of course only a few of my friends know this,” she said when I asked about how she feels about reading “adult” stories of her favorite character.
“I won’t even tell my boyfriend,” she added, “he’ll think I’m a sex maniac!”
This concern may seem silly to men, who have the privilege to openly admit the fact that they consume porn, but for women the notion of having sexual curiosity and desire is still faced with societal scrutiny. Here, the ideal woman must be innocent and pure with little to no sexual experience at all, while the men should be more experienced and worldly, so they can “guide” their women when it comes to bedroom affairs.
This concept of female purity and male prowess in sexuality harms both genders. Men are often ridiculed for not being sexually active enough and called “loser virgins”, while women have to repress their natural sexual desires so they can be seen as “good’ women”. That’s the reason why women often lie and feel ashamed when they are asked about their views on sexuality or, worse, their sexual preferences.
And then the second question: why fan fiction? Granted, this is not the first time female sexuality shows up in literature. But we have to note that the most popular and widely read book and movie that celebrates female sexuality, Fifty Shades of Grey, traces its root to fan fiction and its culture. This means that to a degree, a lot of women feel easier to identify with fanfic over mainstream porn or the usual female erotica.
There are several reasons why I think women may prefer fanfic. Firstly, the idea that your favorite characters have a sex life normalize the concept of sex for women. A lot of women grew up admiring characters such as Hermione Granger or Katniss Everdeen, and reading that the very girls you admire do sexual acts with other characters makes the idea of sex feels normal for us. It’s neither shameful nor dirty – even the sensible Hermione does it.
Furthermore, unlike in most mainstream porn, where women typically only exist in a 5-minute video having sex to some random, faceless dude, characters in fanfic exist in a universe in which their story is linked to a bigger narrative.
The characters, especially the women, have stories and personality of their own and are not just some sex objects. Some fanfic may feature a short, sexy story similar to porn, but we can never forget that characters like Katniss and Peeta are not just “fuckbuddies”, they’re also incredible teenagers who topples down authoritarian government in the world of Hunger Games. This way, women feel more comfortable reading fancfic, as they don’t feel objectified by it.
Whether fan fiction is a legitimate art form or plain plagiarism I will it leave to another debate. But the most important thing I want to highlight in this essay is the prevalent existence of female sexual expression in written form, an expression which in other circumstance or in mainstream porn is seen as weird or “taboo”.
Sexual desire is a natural thing for anyone to have; expressing it shouldn’t be shameful and should be considered natural too. Fan fiction creates the platform for women to do so.