Singaporeans are terrible at sex.
I’m not criticising our performance in bed, but our cultural attitudes towards it. While we’re ostensibly Westernised and progressive-minded, we also live in a conservative Asian society, and this tension often manifests as repression and cluelessness.
We don’t feel comfortable talking about sex, and thus we don’t know how to. Asian stoicism makes it awkward to open up about the birds and the bees, and for many adolescents and young adults coming to terms with their sexuality, their vocabulary can be abysmal.
This is exacerbated by our widespread abstinence-only sex education, where you’re expected to magically know how to please your partner once you put a ring on it. Despite being rooted in a biological urge, sex is cast as a shameful subject, and in all its myriad flavours is still seen as taboo.
But even as a taboo, we want to seek out sex. So how can we experience its transgressive thrill if we don’t have a partner? Where can we learn about sex if we don’t know how to start?
We can turn to stories.
After all, fiction allows us to experience different lives and situations we would never actually find ourselves in. We can use this as an avenue to explore the unknown, to conduct a private interrogation into our own garden of sexuality.
On a subject as delicate as erotica, we need an appropriate medium for the message. Pornographic videos and images are too crude, and leave little to the imagination. Books are the least sexy thing you can do, because squinting at words across a page is hard when all you want is to relax.
So why not audiobooks? You get to let a sultry narrator entice you, their words flowing like silk into your ears, until you’ve spun a narrative snug enough to fit your figure. It’s convenient, it’s effortless, and it’s sensual.
In an effort to explore these taboos for myself, I trawl through Storytel’s assorted selection of erotica audiobooks.
(The folks at Storytel would like to mention that the app has a ‘kids mode’ feature to filter out mature content, so don’t worry about the young ones sneaking a peek!)
Testing The Waters
As a purveyor of fine erotica myself—swills Ribena in a wine glass—I know that short and sweet is best. You get straight to the action, and you don’t need to invest hours into a payoff that might not be as satisfying as you had hoped for.
With that in mind, Andrea Hansen’s A New Friend is a perfect entry point to those new to the genre. At 17 minutes in length, it’s a story about a woman in a new city, meeting a stranger whom she ends up sleeping with.
Pretty blasé, as narratives go. But the narrative takes its time by introducing you to the tactile sensations of our protagonist’s world, teasing the reader as anticipation builds. It captures the anxieties and exhilaration of casual sex, the euphoric heat that comes with exploring taboo, of satisfying one’s yearning.
“I’ve never done this sort of thing before,” the narrator quips. She proceeds to burst into a flutter of moans while prone on a yoga mat.
By the time I put down this title I’m a convert, eager for more.
Before we move on, it’s apparent that contrary to popular belief, erotica is more skewed towards feminine perspectives. It’s also more amateurish than other genres, but that’s part of its charm. There’s a glimpse of authenticity in these words when they’re the expression of one’s deepest wants, unfettered by profit or publishing.
Many stories—like A New Friend—are written by women for women. And if you’re a straight guy like me, take notes because here’s some insight into what women really want.
So we move away from the vanilla, into the realm of occupational role-play.
Handyman by Marianne Sophia Wise and Dirty Doctor by Olrik are two popular stories that feature our protagonists in wildly improbable scenarios. As the titles suggest, sexy professionals seduce their clients—the situation straight from a porn narrative.
There’s a clear power play embedded in these occupations. The handyman is portrayed as subservient, under his mistress’ thumb; the doctor is calm and in control, armed with a paraphernalia of medical equipment to exert his dominance.
I realised that it’s these dynamics—and not the hilarious fictional dressing serving as pretext to these interactions—that make this particular subgenre of erotica so alluring.
And we don’t openly discuss power and sex because it’s uncomfortable to think about exploitative or even abusive interactions. But inherent in good bed-play is understanding the flow of power; the push and pull between different parties.
Sex, after all, is about feeling good. Sometimes this means elevating yourself, sometimes it means submitting to others. If we’re unaware of these desires, they may take root and escalate in ways that may be detrimental to a relationship. Acknowledging it allows us to negotiate how these dynamics unfold.
It’s a balancing act between two individuals connecting through flesh. It’s theatre; a dance; a game.
And because erotica is about simulating these scenarios in your mind, the moment you feel too uncomfortable, you can just pull the plug.
I’m a very straight guy, but then again, am I? I’d just assumed so since my eyes were drawn to girls, not guys, and it seemed ‘normal’.
LGBTQ identities are still taboo in Singapore, especially their sex lives. Male homosexuality is criminalised, and lesbians just … don’t legally exist? These identities teeter on the margins of society, and there’s not a lot of representation out there.
But in erotica, there is.
I get a taste of queer content when listening to Lesbian First Time – Her First Lesbian Lover by Laura Vixen. It’s about a budding lesbian’s soiree with her librarian, and again the occupational dynamic rears its head. Sophia Chambers is a fantastically emotive narrator, exemplifying the trepidation of teenage lust amidst a social climate unaccommodating to queer desires.
It’s an enjoyable read to me, but of course it is. Men fetishising lesbians is a behaviour stereotyped to kingdom come. I feel slightly guilty at inserting myself into this imaginary threesome where I am a voyeur to something not meant for me.
(Ladies, it’s still an objectively interesting read so do give it a chance)
If I am to challenge my boundaries and truly explore my sexuality, I need to give gay erotica a chance.
Still, I want a story that accurately explores what BDSM sex is like that isn’t embroiled in a toxic relationship that has actually decent prose.
Enter Jeffery Self’s Fifty Shades of Gay.
I had to properly lie down for this story, comfortably tucked under the covers with a cool cup of water on standby. I trace the familiar opening beats of any Fifty Shades adaptation: sexually inexperienced journalist meets powerful celebrity millionaire. They flirt, and things get steamy.
Then we enter the bedroom. Alex confesses his virginity to Taylor Grayson, and shenanigans ensue.
For one, that’s a lot of lube, something the straights are shamed into never using enough of. Secondly, I forget that you can be penetrated and jack off at the same time. Gays really do know how to rock it in the sheets.
The leather leashes, whips, and chains make an appearance, and Taylor shows/teaches Alex the thin line between pain and pleasure. But for all its kinkiness, it’s a love story too, and I can only coo in the aftermath of their first night together.
I listen to the two men exchange tender ‘good mornings’ and kisses, along with expressions of uncertainty about the future of their relationship. These sappy, mundane bits bring humanity and empathy to these characters, reminding us that gay men and BDSM enthusiasts aren’t caricatures.
I’m no gayer, but I find it affirming that there’s work out there displaying a healthy gay relationship—even if it’s complicated and naughty. If erotica can de-stigmatise these taboos and affirm young gay men, more power to it.
I could subsist on the catalogue of smut I’ve built up over the week, but the Paranormal Erotica subsection calls to me. If we’re talking about taboos—the niche fetishes and truly bizarre settings—nothing speaks to me more than getting frisky with ghosts and vampires.
Scrolling through the feed, I have a glimpse into trysts with perverted phoenixes, coy cyborgs, and muscular mermaids. But Going Green by Celia Kyle and Erin Tate catches my eye.
It’s intergalactic intrigue wrapped in an extraterrestrial orgy, and a proper novella with socio-political undertones to boot. Erotica’s often seen as all fluff and no substance, but this book is a decent read that can also get you hot and bothered.
And there’s no shame if you find out that you want to fuck an alien. The mechanics of xenomorphic intercourse can be captivating to imagine, and that’s the point isn’t it? Unless you storm Area 51, you won’t ever get to actually bed an alien, which is why you listen to an audiobook.
It’s called a ‘fantasy’ for a reason.
Sex is weird, confusing, and sweaty. We all have different desires—some conflicting, some unhealthy, some surprising. Fiction is the best way to expose yourself to the wide world of possibilities, to work through what you want, and learn how to express these desires.
After spending a week weaving in and out of copious amounts of erotica, I’m even more unsure about what I want in bed—something I’ve never seriously considered before this. How explicit should power dynamics be made? How scandalous would it be to breach the rear? Should I get my partner to cosplay as a blue humanoid from Avatar?
But this uncertainty comes from immersing myself in the fluid spectrum of what intimacy can offer. Even if it’s still awkward for me to talk about sex with others, I won’t feel like a complete idiot when I do. After all, the first step to enlightenment is knowing what you don’t know.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be retiring to my room.
This story was sponsored by Storytel.
Aren’t you sick of 50 Shades being the only household name when it comes to erotica? Share with us your best sensual reads (that are not Call Me By Your Name) at firstname.lastname@example.org.