The Question of Adult Content

13 years ago | G.S. Williams (Member)

What do my fellow writers think of Adult Content?

This is a serious question, undertaken after serious reflection and following a discussion on my own site (here's a link

Web Fiction has a small (but growing) audience. My own writing seems well-respected, but the audiences appears not just small, but teeny-tiny. I've given some thought to what makes Web Fiction audiences grow.

To some extent, the most popular sites also do more advertising. It's very difficult for me to do that. But even after a round of advertising, the audience doesn't grow very much. What makes readers stay, and then make a story's popularity take off? Good content -- well, I don't get many complaints, and often rave reviews. So that's not it. More advertising? That's on a contingency basis, doing it when I can. Networking? I'm a regular contributor to Web Fiction Guide, and comment on other blogs and Novelr, etc. So what else is there for options?

The two stories that come to mind when someone says "popular web fiction" would be Tales of MU, by Alexandra Erin ( or my host, MeiLin Miranda and the Intimate History stories. If anyone is as popular or more popular, let me know.

Both of them are fantasy based stories (magic, etc.). One of them is about college and the other about politics (if you want the most general summary ever). They're both about young people with active sex lives with partners in both genders. The two stories don't have a lot in common, except perhaps the niches of fantasy, gender, and sexuality.

However, the heterosexual and homosexual sex in the Intimate Histories doesn't come across as a character development issue, as it seems largely accepted in the story's culture. In Tales of MU it's more important, as there's more discussion about gender roles, equality, acceptance, intolerance, etc.

My point is, both of these stories are well-written fantasy, but there are other well-written fantasies out there. Are they popular because they have sexual content?
Intimate History doesn't really have a "key demographic" niche to aim at -- while the protagonist is young (so therefore some young people like it) the content is also historical, political and erotic.

ToMU, however, has some major niches -- beyond gender and race, it also addresses Dungeons and Dragons and gamer fans, as well as the Harry Potter crew now growing up. It's also more specifically college, which has its own culture too.

So, First Question: What makes popular Web Fiction popular?

Is it finding the right niche(s)? Because there's lots of well-written content. Is it sexuality? Because a lot of the best written stuff on WFG doesn't have sex, but isn't as popular either. What are your opinions?

Do I want to include sexual content just to be popular? No, I don't. That in fact would be a reason NOT to do it. Popularity for its own sake is a little shallow and not a goal I've ever pursued. I just bring it up as part of the debate: is adult content worth having, and what will its impact be?

So what would be a good reason to have adult content? Are there good reasons? Is it just pandering to the lowest common denominator? Here are some of my thoughts, and I'm hoping for opinions from all of you:

1. Writing should reflect life. I don't particularly like swear words or violence, but I include vulgar language where it's appropriate for certain characters and their personalities. And violence occurs so often in my writing that I'm not sure how opposed to it I really am, on a subconscious level. Both are used as suits the plot and the characters, however, so the story has realistic action. Well, sex is a part of life, and writers should be able to capably write about anything in life.

2. Fans might want it. I don't mean that in the "pandering" sense either; I'm not talking about including sexual content to gather new readers. I'm saying, what if actual current readers would like to see how well an author writes such content, for characters they care about?

3. It's good to do what scares you. My stories often wrestle with morality, spirituality, relationships, violence and culture, and are ways that I grapple with tough issues. Should I avoid this one just because it's labelled "mature" by our culture? That doesn't seem the most mature way of handling it. Does anyone else think about doing this because they haven't done it before, or is that just my own weird quirk?

There are a host of reasons not to do it -- I don't want to pander. I don't know if I can even write it well. I don't know if I want to at all. Personal beliefs religious, privacy, legal, audience's age, or otherwise.. Not wanting to risk harming the quality of the story. Etc. etc. etc.

I'm not really getting anywhere talking to myself on this topic. So what are your opinions? I might totally ignore the results, but I want to hear people's thoughts.

What makes Web Fiction popular? Is it adult content? What does that say about what we're doing? What are the reasons for/against adult content? And anything else the rest of you can come up with... :)

Read responses...

Page: 123


  1. Ryan A. Span (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    It's a question you have to ask yourself: Are you writing something for its strength as a piece of narrative or are you just writing porn? Do you want your readers to enjoy it as a story or just wank material?

    As a writer I make it clear in my stories that characters have sex, setting the scene emotionally, but I try never to go into graphic detail or play things solely for titillation. That's not why people are/should be reading them. By using direct, powerful language and treating it as an emotional rather than physical thing I find I get a lot more mileage out of sex than I ever would if I sat and typed it all out.

    As a reader, long lurid descriptions of sex always catapult me straight out of a story. If they're particularly gratuitous I tend to skip over them which I hate doing, so if I wasn't enjoying the story particularly much to begin with, it is sometimes enough for me to put a book down. When the emotional power has already been communicated, the rest of it is just physical bumping and grinding, taking up space in the book. It's very easy to make it boring, too. He did, she did, and so forth.

    There's also the consideration that, if you are ever looking for serious publication, writing porn into your stories is a good way to get editors to put them in the rejects bin. Crudely-written, boring and/or pointless sex for its own sake is a near-instant rejection. I can think of several manuscripts submitted to Gryphonwood, including some web fiction titles, that were rejected purely because of unpublishable sexual content. There may have been a hundred additional reasons to reject them but adult content is an easy cincher. Really, currying favour with a certain kind of audience by means of adult content is a good way to get yourself locked into a niche that you can never get out of, destroying any mass-market appeal you might have. If your 'fans' want adult content that badly then maybe you're attracting the wrong fans! ;)

    So, what makes web fiction popular? Well, it isn't adult content. I don't think web fiction is very popular to begin with because very few readers actually seek out written material on the web. It's nowhere near as easy to digest as webcomics, and the only way to read it as easily as you could a book is by buying an expensive e-reader. Really, the market we should be targetting is those people who already have e-readers capable of displaying our work.

    That's all I've got to say on it for now. Back later.


  2. nomesque (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    I suspect that popular web fiction gains followers when readers (a) can find it and (b) develop an emotional connection to the characters or the author. Harder than it sounds!

    Adult content - I include it where I feel it's interesting. I do have a couple of erotic-fiction stories on NF, as well as some material that's child-friendly. Which worries me, a little, but I figure that there's nothing too traumatic on there if an unwatched child stumbles upon it, and parents really need to be watching their children and checking what they're reading/learning.

    As far as markets go - my experiment with promoting people's online fiction via twitter has surprised me. I was expecting to reach a few new people - so far almost 1500 people are subscribed and about 40 of those click on a fiction link each hour. That's not a bad 'reach' rate, imo.

  3. Murazrai (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    I neither approve nor against adult fiction/adult content in fiction as it is, but they way they present it. If the fiction itself do give awareness about things that happen in society, it is good, but if it is rather to encourage illegal activities, then it is bad.

    What really makes web fiction popular is the quality+advertisement. While the advertisement attracts the readers, quality let them stay. I do not advertise much about my novel series, which leads to somewhat lukewarm response added with some RSS readers. But in such world of short attention spans and printed works is still considered as accepted form of fiction, web fiction will take some time, perhaps 10 years, to form popularity. At a side note, if that really happens, my novel series will spawn about 3-5 story arcs, which will make things easier.

    Chaos Fighters...the fantasy of the scientific magic.
  4. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    Just to clarify -- my post is written in a hypothetical tone. I'm not writing erotic literature, nor do I really intend to, nor have my fans asked me to. I'm saying, what are reasonable justifications for writing adult content? Are there any?

    And what makes popular web fiction popular, not why is web fiction popular. Because it isn't. The two most popular sites that I know of, coincidentally enough, have adult content. Is that content the reason why? (and also, does anyone know of other sites that are equally as popular)

  5. Frances Gonzalez (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    Maybe it's because one doesn't necessarily have to worry about appeasing a publishing house to get your work out there, but I've noticed it's a lot more no-holds-barred on the web in terms of adult content and what I consider its cousin, extreme violence.

    I think the graphic sex in both stories isn't too different from, say, Harlequin novels, which can get pretty specific and are really popular with women. The common criticism of those romance books, however, is that the plot often is written around the sex. I'm not saying I've seen web fiction that does that, but the question of fanservice is there. Hell, maybe that's why fanbases are so loyal.

    Though the fact extreme violence is more marketable in book publishing than sex is also a bit interesting. Would I rather have my kids reading about people getting decapitated or people getting their boners on??

  6. grantcravens (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    Of course, the risk you run putting a sex scene in your story is that you could become a winner of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

    I agree with Ryan: I find a long, drawn-out sex scene more jarring than anything. I much rather show it's about to happen, and let my readers fill in what ever details they want. I'm sure it'd be much more exciting than anything I could come up with anyways. And, as Ryan said, it's all about the emotion, rather than the sex itself.

    Boat Story: kidnapped kids, mysterious maps, debt, tropical storms, pirates, sea monsters, family, tea.
  7. Sora (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    I agree with Ryan and Grant, long drawn out sex is a little bit jarring. With some web fiction that does have adult content, I find myself skimming over or completely skipping the chapters that have sexual content. If it has minor sex scenes and whatnot, then that's fine. When the whole plot hinges itself on adult content, it's a precarious slope. Although it may be successful in it's particular niche, it may not be successful in more traditional publishing capacities. I'm sure the fanbases of these adult content stories would probably buy the printed editions, which is why these authors have gone into self-publishing.

    Besides, as it was stated before I think it's the emotional connection that is more important and if you can convey that without getting over the top, you may have a more diverse fan base and more marketability in a more traditional publishing format. I mean I've sat there and wondered whether I should put a sex scene in some stories and realized that I can't do it. It's not worth it, nor does the story call for some of that nature. If I can just convey the emotions and consequences connected with the act itself, there's no need to throw in sex scenes just for the sake of getting an audience.

    I think stories do well with good advertising. It also depends on who your fanbase is as well. Does the story attract the kind of readers who will join forums or to write comments? Does the story attract a certain type of people repeatedly? I think if you write in a niche, you may only attract the same kinds of people but if the story has a more diverse appeal, the story may be more marketable in another medium.

  8. Morgan O'Friel (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    Wow. I haven't commented here in quite some time, but this seems like just the topic to get me involved. It's something that seems to come-up in a nice cyclical pattern -- sort of like spring and my allergies. For what it's worth, here's another discussion on mature content, with possibly different people than will respond now, so that you can see some of the range. ^^

    My two cents on the sexual content issue (some might be a replay of my last response):

    First, it's important to remember that while sex is still 'adult content,' not all cultures are as prudish as a lot of Western cultures can be. On top of that, certain Western subcultures treat sex like a normal and, in some instances, celebratory thing (there are several fertility religions that come to mind). Sexual content isn't necessarily taboo, and is an enriching part of the human experience. Add to that the fact that violence is much more destructive, and I don't understand why so many people hesitate at sexual content (explicit or not).

    So yeah, I can see reasons to include sexual content. Like I mentioned in my last comment on that subject, sexual content can show a lot about different characters, and can also be used as a vehicle to move the plot along. Discounting sex from a story that would otherwise call for it, simply because it's 'adult content' makes about as much sense to me as refusing to include gays or another hot-button culture because it's too controversial. Authors should be willing to look at all possible ways of telling their story, and not bias one or the other because of 'ew, icky' factors.

    And, as a note: Ryan, IMHO there's a lot of gray area between strong writing and porn, a good story or wank material. Adults can and do see and read sexual content, without having to go wank. They can relate to a story, and it can still have strong writing, even with the sexual content in. Yes, even if sometimes they want to/do wank, the story can still be strong. You're setting up a false dichotomy. ^^;;

    And dude, Ryan, this: If your 'fans' want adult content that badly then maybe you're attracting the wrong fans! ;) is NOT COOL. Way to shame people for having a sexuality. ^^;;

    _thelighthouse: Would I rather have my kids reading about people getting decapitated or people getting their boners on?? Personally? I would prefer neither. I like to think that stories with graphic sex aren't marketed towards children, and would contain proper warnings. Unfortunately, stories with violence don't always get the same treatment, but they should (a valid criticism). I just don't think that the issue of sexual content is as 'about the kids' as you're making it seem. Authors shouldn't curb what they write about so that obscure straw men children aren't potentially exposed. It's not an author's job to ensure that someone's child doesn't get into what they're not supposed to. But that goes into a different debate, so I'll let it drop.

    Having said all of that - sex is a vehicle for storytelling, and therefore isn't for everyone. Just like not everyone writes romance, zombie invasions, graphic violence, real world hot topics, etc. And that's fine. But as a genre and vehicle for storytelling, it shouldn't be dismissed outright, and it certainly doesn't deserve the derision that is being heaped on it.

    Now, onto my two cents on the niches of web serials:

    It's true that some of the most popular web serials have adult content. It can be a draw, definitely. However, they also have active advertisements (when first starting out I know ToMU advertised on websites that had hundreds of thousands of hits per day), and a niche readership.

    IMO having a niche can definitely help. If a story is just another rehash of generic characters XYZ, it can be harder to convince people that it's better than the other twelve serials they're reading with the exact same concepts. Also, certain niche readers tend to be loyal, and there are different rules among niches for advertising, promoting, and giving money/donations for work.

    Morgan's Fiction Website - LGBT urban fantasy web serials, shorts, and more.
  9. Ryan A. Span (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    Morgan: I think you're reading a hell of a lot into my comments there. If you were familiar with my writing you'd find that sex and (more importantly) sexuality are common themes in my work. However, those themes are always part of the story, appropriate and connected. What I refer to as porn writing is, as I said in the post, sex for its own sake -- plain old fanservice.

    Fanservice is never a good thing because it looks cheap to the rest of your audience and invites the sort of fandom nightmares that create Harry Potter slash, and I for one will be goddamned if I ever listen to a single person begging me to pair up characters romantically, outside of my own pre-existing plans.

    Anything that puts you into a niche creatively is a bad thing, and if you get known for writing sex-heavy stories you'll be writing them for the rest of your life, because that's what people will expect of you.


  10. Morgan O'Friel (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago


    Sorry if I was reading too much into your post. I have not, in fact, read your works, so I had to take your words at face value (which I clearly didn't interpret the same way as you had intended). Thanks for elaborating by what you meant by the term 'porn,' since I hadn't grasped that entirely from your initial post.

    What I refer to as porn writing is, as I said in the post, sex for its own sake -- plain old fanservice. I still see this as a false dichotomy, though. See, fan service can come in many ways, and only a few of them are sexual. On top of that, there's a difference between writing sex for its own sake, and writing poorly. Equating the two doesn't make sense.

    It's better to just say that you're disdainful of fan service in general, or that you find sexual fan service unpleasant. It sounds like I'm being nit-picky, but it also helps make your stance clear in a medium where it's notoriously hard to do that.

    And in the sense of mindless fan service, I agree -- if there's no chemistry behind a pairing, and you'd just write it to please others, and you intend on writing it badly, then it shouldn't be done. However, that seems to me to be a different topic altogether from Gavin's question about whether or not sexual content at all is worthwhile.

    But heck, while I'm off-topic, I might as well go for the gold: I don't necessarily think that Harry Potter slash is a fandom nightmare (as seen by the fact that my current work is, well, Harry Potter slash). I'd love to be able to have half of the fandom that Harry Potter does when it comes to my own original works. I think fandom is a good thing, and while I'm not thrilled with poorly-executed fan service in a story, I don't find hearing my fans get emotionally invested in my characters' love lives (even if it's not where I'm going) to be offensive, like you seem to. ^^;;

    Okay. Done going off-topic now, I swear. Back to the concept at hand.

    As for writing niche fiction, I don't think it's any more limiting than writing genre fiction. And several authors have done multiple genres successfully, using a variety of techniques. ^^

    tl;dr - I still don't agree with you on pretty much anything in this argument (other than that poorly written sex scenes are, well, poorly written), but we'll have to agree to disagree.

    Morgan's Fiction Website - LGBT urban fantasy web serials, shorts, and more.
  11. Janoda (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    First, personally I don't find sexual content adult content. In fact I believe most children are sheltered too much from reality. Not that you should serve them porn for breakfast, but some open communication never hurts. (If my kids would want to read ToMU, I'd let them).

    Besides that, I'm also for realism. Sex is a part of life, and should thus be included when it fits the story. Nothing more annoying than an author becoming prudish and skipping to the next day when you want to see how the characters interact. Even more annoying are the amazing rainbows and fireworks sex-scenes involving multiple life-changing simultaneous orgasms. That's just not realistic.

    About why the most popular web-fiction have this much sexual content, I think it is because that niche, or niches are already used on finding what they want online, esp, because it is so hard to find published works like that. The more 'normal' niches are probably enjoying a book in a couch.

    On a complete sidenote, in the history of techical revolyion (VHS, DVD etc...) the people have gone where porn and games went. Currently they are at the internet, so the rest of the world will follow...

  12. Sora (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    "Nothing more annoying than an author becoming prudish and skipping to the next day when you want to see how the characters interact."

    This is basically me in a nutshell. But I wonder if it is more annoying when an author knows they can't write a sex scene, but writes one anyway for the sake of putting it there, even if it does fit the characters. I'd prefer just cutting away to the next day or after the sex opposed to writing a scene that would probably be stiff and awkwardly written. There's probably nothing worse for me personally than a badly written sex scene (though if the characters themselves are having bad sex, this isn't least not for a reader)

    I think it all depends on what you want to write and who you want to write for. You aren't going to write a steamy porn scene for teenagers, but you may be able to get away with just a few minor details. But if you're writing for adults, then you could probably go into more details.

  13. Morgan O'Friel (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    Even more annoying are the amazing rainbows and fireworks sex-scenes involving multiple life-changing simultaneous orgasms.

    LOLS! This makes me happy, because all too often I see some variation of this in fiction, and I just want the two inexperienced virgins to have awkward, fumbling!sex, for Pete's sake.

    But I wonder if it is more annoying when an author knows they can't write a sex scene, but writes one anyway for the sake of putting it there, even if it does fit the characters.

    Well, then I'd practice and work to get it right before I included it. My best solutions to the whole 'not feeling adequate/comfortable writing sex scenes' is to do the same thing an author would with any other situation that might be difficult (ie: dialogue, fight scenes, emotional reveals, etc). Doing research helps (read some of the 'best of' erotica volumes or some of the best recommended erotic works, explore what you like and don't like in both fiction and even what different things feel like in reality [if you have a willing partner], join communities, etc).

    After that, the best thing you can do is write it repeatedly. Go out and write tons of sex for sex's sake, and then delete it. Write until you feel confident in your voice, and in the fact that you know what you're doing. Just like any other situation, writing a sex scene will get easier with research and practice.

    I think it all depends on what you want to write and who you want to write for.

    I can definitely get behind this. I wouldn't necessarily include a graphic sex scene in a teen book, and I wouldn't necessarily feel the need to exclude it from an adult book. If my story was focused on someone asexual, it might not fit to include the sex scene. If my story has someone who's sexually confident, it wouldn't always make sense to keep the sex out. Just like violence. I wouldn't always include an epic gun fight in a romantic comedy, but it wouldn't necessarily make sense to keep one out of a western.

    Morgan's Fiction Website - LGBT urban fantasy web serials, shorts, and more.
  14. Janoda (Member)

    Posted 13 years ago

    I was just thinking of an example which has all the discussed sorts of sexual content. I'm talking about the Earth's Children series by Jean M Auel. I read the first one when I was about 11, and it included some serious sexual content, as the main character was raped at a very young age. Big important note, for the male character it wasn't rape, because his culture ordered for females to obey to every order, including sex. I didn't get traumatised by the heavy sex scenes, I did think females where less important then males. (On a sidenote, for those who don't know the novels, it's prehistorical fiction, where a homo sapiens girl is adopted by a Neanderthal tribe. I believe, (and my current research is confirming this that the sex was used to make the Neanderthals seem more primitive).
    In the 2nd book, our girl meets a fellow homo sapiens man, who views upon sex completely differently, in fact sex is considered a sort of rite, or ceremony to honour the mother goddess. When they finally have sex it is a very important scene, about trust, enjoyment and love, and it's very strong. Even later the sex scenes stay importan because they show how the main character evolves from passivly enjoying to actually do something for herself.

    But then in the remaining 3 books, it all goes downhill. There are plenty of sex scenes, they are all the fireworks great magical hands, let's come together sort, and they add nothing to the story. In fact I strongly believe they were added to the narrative (together with the returning every 3 chapters descriptions of the landscape) because the author wanted to write another 600 pages book. They could have been left out, and nothing in the story would have changed.

    So I'm changing my opinion from realism to interesting realism. You don't show your characters every time they take a poo. Only when it's an interesting poo (like George RR Martin's famous poo-toilet death-scene...). The same it should be for adult content, and in fact for all the content. For me, there is no need to treat adult content differently from that.

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