Why I Quit Erotica

Reflections from a reformed pornographer

Sayde Scarlett
9 min readMar 8, 2022
Andrew Scott and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in BBC series ‘Fleabag’

For over the past ten years, I’ve kept a dirty little secret. Under many, many nom de plumes, I wrote porn in the form of easily accessible, short digital books. I’m not talking about romance novels; I wrote graphic sex scenes, sometimes with very little romance involved. The type intended to get you off. At the time, I liked to think I wrote erotica, but I was, in fact, just a peddler of some of the various degrees of smut you can buy for your digital device.

An early user of Tumblr, having discovered the site at a particularly lonely period in my life soon after leaving secondary school and a somewhat lost adolescence, I would read through reams upon reams of x-rated material and use it as inspiration to write short ebooks anyone could purchase off Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing. I never earnt enough money to quit my day job, but there were months where the extra cash helped this freelance journalist make it over the finish line to payday.

In 2019, I disengaged from my secret hobby when several monumental changes in my ethical and philosophical approach to life collided. The clarity these changes brought made me realise that I was part of something that was not as honest a service to other women as I had previously thought. Instead, I was enabling behaviour that I would mock when I saw it being indulged in by men. That is, escapism through online fantasy sexual relationships.

I also realised that what I was doing was not just harmless fun. Smut and porn are like alcohol. Most people can use it harmlessly, but not everyone can. Erotica and mainstream romance novels also have a tendency to distort women’s perceptions of their relationships, just like visual porn distorts young men’s perceptions of their relationships. Don’t believe anyone who tells you women like porn or sex less than men; they just consume it in a different way.

Erotica is almost exclusively the domain of women. Women write most of it, and women read most of it (94% of erotica consumers are women, according to this study and 53% of the female population admit to reading it). Living in a fantasy world where men are created by women can be a dangerous lie. Men are not like women emotionally. The men in erotic and romantic novels do not communicate or behave like men in the real world do.

The more I wrote, the more I realised the stories that sold best were the ones that spoke to specific emotional needs as well as general sexual ones. Most women who consume erotica are heterosexual women who have relationships with men. Even though erotica has only just become mainstream thanks to ‘50 Shades of Grey’, it wasn’t a surprise to me that it was this type of naughty book that was erotica’s breakthrough moment.

Both ‘50 Shades’ and the work it’s based on, the ‘Twilight’ saga, feature a male lead who is intensely fixated on the female protagonist. So fixated that there is no doubt they will end up together. So fixated that it’s almost creepy. Many critics have pointed out how the behaviour of the male leads in these works is controlling and emotionally abusive and wouldn’t be anywhere near as appealing to women in real life, if at all.

‘50 Shades’, in particular, was a massive turn-off for those already immersed in the BDSM community. People who do BDSM do it because they like BDSM. Having a female protagonist in a work of BDSM erotica who wasn’t really into BDSM is like reading about a character beating someone up for their own sexual gratification. A lack of enthusiasm in fiction is just as off-putting as it is in real life, but these book series were still enormously popular.

The success of both of these properties reflects women’s intense craving and instinctual need for monogamy. About 90% of the stories I wrote involved a female protagonist experiencing an intense emotional and sexual intimacy with one man, nary a love rival in sight. Even when the characters were LGBT, no one was as interested in stories without an intense, overarching chemistry between two people and two people alone.

Women are not interested in reading about a man who sleeps with/or texts/or flirts with/other women. They may have enjoyed reading about group sex fantasies, but those usually did not involve romance, i.e., a single romantic lead the protagonist ends up with. The — all the women wanted him, but he only wanted me — trope exists because women like it, crave it, need it, want it, and don’t experience a satisfying level of security in their own relationships.

If there’s one flame I regret stoking most, it’s the toxic fantasy of ‘The One’ — but try selling any sort of romance or erotic novel without it! The rational part of my brain believes that not only is there not ‘One’ person for each of us, it’s also the complete opposite. The type of people who are happily married are the type of people most would be happily married to if they fell in love with them.

I, like many others, am of a romantic persuasion and even though I’m ashamed to admit it, there is still a part of me that believes in ‘The One’. The stranger I haven’t met yet, who will offer me perfect love. A love without strife. A life together with unbridled, limitless happiness. Big love. There is no desire of our hearts that we won’t be able to mutually fulfil together. No matter what obstacles we face together, we will overcome them.

And it is on this very heartstring that I and many other authors tug each time we build fantasy relationships in romance/erotica. But believing in this doesn’t help us build quality relationships in the real world. It encourages us to bolt instead of compromise over minor quibbles in relationships. It encourages us not to see other people as flawed humans who are doing their best. It encourages us not to bother putting effort into our relationships because you don’t think you would have to with ‘The One’. Or deludes us into staying with an abusive partner because we are convinced they are ‘The One’.

Another cloud of darkness I was forced to reckon with was how much exploitation and degradation women experience in their relationships. I vividly remember receiving a commission that began: “My fantasy is this…,” she then proceeded to outline a scenario in which a man treats a woman perfectly respectfully, and then they have good, mildly kinky sex. I queried her, asking if this was all she wanted, and she replied: “Yep, I’ve never been treated as good as that.”

In the beginning, I noticed that written porn was a way women could explore their fantasies of having extreme sex without putting themselves in a potentially vulnerable situation. They used it to turn the idea of a sexual fantasy over in their heads before deciding if they wanted to make it a reality or not. In the latter half of my time writing porn, things became more emotional. Women were no longer using mainstream romance novels to experience the love they wanted and erotica to experience the sex they wanted; as written porn became more accessible and mainstream, the two genres became ever more conflated.

After over ten years of peddling smut, I realised it was making me sad. Women fantasize about nurturing men who serve them, providers who won’t abandon them, and lovers who won’t take more from them than they give. In other words, loving, committed, good-quality relationships that are not exploitative, abusive, or degrading in any way. The reason they were consuming my books was because of the absence of this type of relationship in their lives and to stave off the feeling that this type of relationship was unobtainable for them.

But that’s not all that was getting me down. Porn, even in its written form, encourages divvying up types of people into fetishes. On one level, we’re all entitled to like what we like and fancy what we fancy. I didn’t see the problem with this until I entered a relationship with a man who began to fetishize my Arab-ness to the point where I felt like an Arabian-Nights-themed-novelty-blow-up doll.

Nobody in real life wants to be found attractive just because of their race, ethnicity, profession, age, or how recently it became legal to f*ck them, but we’re happy to peruse through these categories like human beings are delicacies on a sushi belt. I wouldn’t be so critical if people distinguished people in real life from their pornographic fetishizations — but they don’t.

People in religious orders, including nuns, monks, and priests, as well as minority communities such as the Amish, are fetishized to an uncomfortable degree. Anyone who wears a uniform is fetishized. But it’s not just for how they look. It’s because uniforms usually signify someone in a service profession. This ties into the appeal of a nurturing partner. Women want to read about someone who serves them in some way.

I think this is the reason why priests are such a persistently popular erotic fantasy trope. Over the years, men have sworn to me that women only want to be bonked by billionaires because we’re all secretly golddiggers. Priests, however, are usually not wealthy, but women fantasize about them all the time. Accountants are almost always wealthier than priests, but I can assure you that sexy accountants are a less popular erotic fantasy trope.

Like doctors, nurses, police, and firemen, priests possess all three of the sexy trinity: a uniform, an ethical code or vow, and a nurturing/protecting/service profession. It’s not just because breaking down their vows of celibacy is a tantalising proposition—tthough that is a factor, every woman wants to be the person her romantic partner makes exceptions for. They’re seen as somewhere women could find nurturing.

In real life, priests aren’t unavailable just because of their vows, emotionally available men do not become priests. They’ve already made their choice to be emotionally intimate with God. Or worse, they’re men who want an excuse to evade emotional intimacy forever. If you want to make yourself miserable, spending time fantasizing about people and things that aren’t available to you is a good way to go about it. Starve it. Don’t feed it.

Try fantasising about men who actually want to sleep with you instead, perhaps?

I used to get a kick out of seeing a woman looking at her Kindle on the daily commute and wondering if she was reading porn. In retrospect, I wasn’t a dealer of harmless titillation; I was an enabler of heartache. Too many outlets for escaping from life mean you eventually stop being able to cope with life at all. Judging the feedback I received, I was profiteering off women being unable to create the satisfying relationships with men they hankered for.

Men are often mocked for their overreliance on pornography—don't get me wrong, that’s still unhealthy. But whilst the men are at home in their mother’s basements playing video games, the women they should be taking out on dates and forming relationships with are at home absorbed in other equally caustic forms of escapism. The result is generations who are lonelier and lonelier than ever before.

Every piece of smut I ever wrote has now been quietly taken down. People are entitled to read whatever they want. I just don’t want to be part of it anymore. Fantasy can be a powerful impetus for altering our perceptions, thoughts, and, therefore, our actions and deeds. ‘Fantasy-prone personality’ traits are often present in women who stay in relationships with ‘pathological’ men as they fantasize away their partner’s abusive behaviour.

To my shame, I did this too. In at least three relationships, I deliberately overlooked a Mayday parade’s worth of small red-flags. I mythologised my new partners to the point of delusion and comforted myself with vivid images of a better future that was never coming. When the big red-flags finally emerged, it was harder to extricate myself from them.

You may think that, having profited from this, I’m now judging the people who read my work, but honestly, I’m not. I don’t even think using erotica is immoral, I just think that many are incapable of using in a healthy and detached way. In writing this stuff, I was equally lost in numbing fantasies as a way of distracting myself from the relationships I wanted but couldn’t make. Having saved my own soul in this respect, I’m not going to contribute to the damnation of others. Your relationship with reality is the most important one you have.

Thank you for reading — I hope you found my thoughts interesting. You can find links to my other work here: https://linktr.ee/sayde.scarlett



Sayde Scarlett

Author and poet by day; artist by night. Loves to tell stories and create art; loves to talk about stories and creating art.