Try reading smut. No, really.

by Charles Gerian

How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Smut Books.

Several months ago, I joined a local book club. I love to read, I always have, but I have never really been one to expand my literary horizons. Fantasy and horror are my usual go-to books, and I never ever read nonfiction.

In 2016 when FIFTY SHADES OF GREY was released, based on the E.L. James “dark romance novels”, the floodgates opened for erotic fiction in a way they hadn’t previously.

Before that time, “sexy books” were reserved for the dime-store paperbacks with shirtless cowboys, abs-exposed, that were read by little old ladies or your weird aunt who would read books like “Long Hard Night of the Vampires” or something similar.

In recent years, in-part thanks to TikTok’s “Booktok” subculture, smutty romance novels have exploded in popularity, fueled by the ease of independent writers self-publishing their works to sites like Wattpad or other resources, no longer constrained by publishing houses or the “taste” of the times.

Our book club’s first book was an inoffensive historical drama about the days that mystery writer Agatha Christie spent hidden from society.

Our next few books ranged from god-awful YA tripe to a Judy Blume novel about planned parenthood, which was fine.

Soon, however, we picked the Katee Roberts book “Neon Gods” and everything changed.

“Neon Gods” was a modernized twist on the myth of Hades and Persephone with a lot of sex. A LOT of sex. A tremendous amount of vividly described sex.

I thought, wow. People read this? And yes. They do. Not only did our attendance for the club spike, but so did engagement with the members of the book club. People talked about he book, really talked about. The themes and ideas. The sex. The character relationships. The sex.

After “Neon Gods” we have read a few other smut books, or “spicy” books as they are categorized by our local library.

The books are all, mostly, the same. A brooding and dark male lead with a six-pack and a bank account with several commas meets a sheltered but mouthy girl who is usually down on her luck or under some sort of duress.

The male lead, usually really into choking, calls the girl things like “good girl” and “kitten” and everything he says is in a growl or a gravely cadence. She thaws his ice-cold hard and he treats her like garbage bordering on emotional abuse, and the two fall deeply in love and have a lot of sex while something resembling a “plot” plays out in the middle of it all.

When reading “Neon Gods”, I got a kick out of it. The gleeful playfulness of it all. The guy always is (extremely) “well-gifted”, the girl is always pleased first (multiple times), it became clear to me that this was the female equivalent of the male power fantasy, which is absolutely fine. Girls deserve to daydream too, in the same way dudes do.

Our next few books, “Butcher & Blackbird”, “Once You’re Mine”, and “Does It Hurt?” were all bad. Just awful. The writing, the characters, all of it so bad.

All the growling, all the sex, it became almost unbearable, especially with the most recent one, “Does It Hurt?”, another trending Booktok hit.

But then something amazing happened. I snapped. Mentally, I snapped. After reading all of these books, shaking my head, mocking them, I finally became… at ease with it all. I understood it now. I “got it”.

In the same way dudes will read novel after novel of jacked alpha chads like Jack Reacher roaming from town to town, kicking ass and crushing it too, I began to appreciate the artistic side of these smut books.

I began to…love them. I began to examine their generational, and cultural, impact. How these panty-ripping adventures are emblematic of our sexless and sterile times when movies and TV shows are being picked apart for either not having enough sex or having too much of it.

They also, in a sense, made the book club’s other picks even worse. The book club offers 2 books a month, one spicy and one “not”. The “not spicy” books are mostly always eye-rolling “upmarket women’s fiction” following some rich lady going through a midlife crisis inbetween drinking wine and making pasta, and they’re always so boring and drab, even more-so in comparison to our spicy books full of adventure, sex, and written to almost self-parody levels of genre-adherence which ranges from the sincere to the ironic.

Anyway, maybe it’s time everyone stopped worrying and embraced the smut.