Boon or bane for young girls exploring their sexuality?
Almost every teenage fangirl has come across at least one work of fanfiction.
In the complex and diverse world of fandom, one of the most interesting practices that have emerged is the active role of fans in creating different types of content inspired by the object of their admiration.
Of the various types of content, perhaps one of the most notable ones is fanfiction. Although fanfiction existed long before the rise of the Internet age, it has only grown both in amount and popularity with the rise of platforms like Wattpad, Tumblr, and Archive of Our Own (AO3).
In a nutshell, fanfiction are works written by fans based on particular celebrities or fictional characters written from different points of view. They feature a diverse range of tropes — enemies to lovers, fake dating, arranged marriage, the list goes on. They also comes in three main genres fans can choose from depending on their mood: fluff, which is essentially any plot line that will warm your heart; angst, which is made to make your heart clench; and lastly, there’s smut — one of the most popular yet taboo genres with mentions and themes of sex.
Erotic fanfiction, more popularly known as smut, invites readers, most of whom are young women, to a whole new world that portrays various kinds of sex. Some experts have even observed that fanfiction is a way of reclaiming representations of sexuality, given that most media portray sex from a privileged point of view – white, cis-gendered, and heterosexual.
The teenage girl’s introduction to fanfiction
Many teenage girls were introduced to the world of fanfiction with the emergence of Justin Bieber and One Direction fanfiction back in the early 2010s. Although it is difficult to trace when exactly the phenomena began, one of the most popular forms of fanfiction were the Y/N (which stands for Your Name) stories, which allows readers to insert themselves into false scenarios, usually romantic. Aside from the known and common platforms used for fanfiction such as Wattpad, Tumblr, and AO3, these works have also found a home on Twitter, Instagram, and even Tiktok, making them easier to access for fans.
While most fanfiction contains complex storylines, the main focus of the stories is usually centered on characterization and relationships, which are usually romantic or sexual. Naturally, readers gravitate towards their object of affection when choosing the fanfiction they want to read. “I was inclined to read fanfiction about them because it, somehow, gives me the chance to daydream with a specific face in mind.
“Although I don’t want to generalize, I’d like to think that most girls like to daydream or play up scenarios in their heads about how they can meet a significant other. It would be hard to daydream without a particular face in mind, so I guess reading fanfiction was the opportunity to put a face to the guy when you’re daydreaming,” BTS fanfiction reader Amanda* admitted.
A secret hobby behind closed doors
Despite the immense popularity of smut as a genre, many Filipino readers, because of their conservative upbringing, do not like to tell others that they read these kinds of fanfictions.
“Being born and raised in a conservative Catholic country where the government does not prioritize sex education, I was not exposed to proper and sufficient sex education, if not none at all. Growing up, I felt that anything involving sex is a taboo topic that would definitely not be talked about at the dinner table,” Amanda shared.
This is not a groundbreaking revelation. Despite the advent of the Internet age, the Philippines continues to be a largely conservative society, with sex still being a taboo topic. It doesn’t help that religion is prone to shunning women for exploring their sexuality outside the bounds of marriage. Because of this, young women are left clueless about what actual sex is like.
Julia*, a fanfiction reader-turned-author shared, “When we started talking about the reproductive system in elementary, the word ‘sex’ wasn’t even mentioned in class. Sex, to me, was the gender I was assigned to at birth and nothing more. It wasn’t until fanfiction that I started to piece things together and realize that sex was an act, it was an activity.”
Maria*, a SEVENTEEN and NCT fanfiction reader, also added that talking about sex in general still makes her uncomfortable even at 20. “Since I grew up in a very conservative household, I used to be really uncomfortable and awkward when sex is brought up. Despite being more mature and open about it now, there are [still] certain instances [when] I am still clueless about things, which makes me uncomfortable when discussing [sex].”
However, even in the face of being uncomfortable when talking about sex, more and more readers continue to read smut, which opens them to a world that allows them to explore their sexuality with their increased exposure to sex. In fact, some researchers have even argued that smut can serve as a vehicle for sex education, especially for young teenage girls.
For many teenage girls, fanfiction has served as their sexual awakening. “As someone who was able to get a better grasp of sexual things through fanfiction, I’d say [fanfiction] was my eye-opener…. I also really learn a lot from the fiction since it paints a lot of possible scenarios, although it might set some unrealistic expectations. I think it’s a matter of being able to see fanfiction as mere fiction but also balancing it with the fact that it poses possibilities,” Maria shared.
Mia, a BTS fanfiction writer, surmised that reading smut is a different experience from watching porn. “As a reader, you get to understand the experience and not just ‘watch’ it. Really good writers get to help you create scenes in your mind that make you experience both giving pleasure and being pleasured. You get to imagine things on your own and direct the scene how you want.”
The writing process of fanfiction authors
On the other side of the spectrum are the authors behind fanfiction, who are also fans of the celebrity or fictional character they are writing about. Different authors have different reasons for why they begin to write fanfiction, but most of them see it as a creative outlet. “I started writing fanfiction about 10 months after I started reading. There were so many good stories, which prompted me to imagine my own. I read somewhere that ‘if you can’t find it, then write it,’ and that’s what I started doing,” Mia recounted.
Mostly written by amateurs, fanfiction with themes of smut portray different types of sex that occur in different contexts. More often than not, sex is described as pleasurable in a vivid and detailed manner.
Admittedly, there are multiple fanfictions that skip straight to indulgent smut, with almost little to no plot, as if just to fulfill the reader’s sexual fantasies of the character. However, some writers believe sex should only be added if it is necessary to the plot.
“I am an author who likes to dwell on the plot and dialogue and the motivations behind two characters. If my writing and story are hinting towards a visceral attraction between characters that pulls them to each other, I only see it as appropriate to write a smut scene when those desires culminate and are finally answered to,” Julia said.
But when exactly is it necessary to write smut into a story? “All my stories have smut. Even if it’s cliché, everything I write is about love and romance, [which is why] sex is always a part of it. A part of it is the sexual fantasy element of fanfiction, but there’s exploration in there, too. The more I read, the more comfortable I became with the idea of sex in general, and the more inclined I am to write it as well,” Mia revealed. For her, in stories of romance, sex is often necessary as a major plot point as it is an expression of love.
But that is not to say that sex is portrayed realistically in these works of fiction, which are most commonly written by young adolescent girls. Most writers romanticize sex, and make it out that every instance is sure to elicit an orgasm, which is misleading and inaccurate. “If anything, it portrays sex as a very idealistic thing. It makes everything look easy and smooth. I think this also comes with the fact that it is fiction and it revolves around people who are generally unattainable, so the content can be very far from reality as well,” Maria shared.
Dangers of smut
Aside from setting unrealistic standards for sexual experiences, fanfiction may also carry severe portrayals that can be harmful to readers, as some writers glamorize sexual violence, toxic relationships, and trauma. Because of this, some believe that it might not be the best avenue to learn about sex.
“At the end of the day, it’s still a story and you need to captivate your readers, so some are still romanticized. It sets up expectations for people without realizing that bodies are different, our sexual reactions are all different; that’s why I think it’s really important to be in the right mental headspace when consuming fanfiction, especially with smut, just like when watching porn,” said Mia*.
For others, fanfictions have given them false expectations of what sex is like.
“When I first started engaging in sexual activities, I thought I could expect certain things from my partner, but that was not the case. I thought from the get-go, sex would simply be pleasurable but there is so much more to sex than just sex, like foreplay, aftercare, communication, check-ins, consent, and so much more,” Julia mentioned.
Amanda added, “I would not say that reading fanfiction is 100% healthy for the mind, because it actually fools or sets your expectations so high that you tend to look for that kind of experience in real life, which I highly doubt exists.”
Another issue at hand is the moral dilemma that comes with writing smut about public figures. People read fanfictions for a variety of reasons, but it is difficult to deny that it fulfills fans’ fantasies of their idols. “I’m more inclined to reading them because I do have a certain level of affection for them as I am their fan. I also like how these fanfictions are able to connect with some real things about the idols, which really triggers a sense of delusion towards them,” Maria admitted.
In fact, Julia said that she had noticed some fanfiction writers taking down some of their written works with smut because these no longer sat right with them morally. “When I write fanfic, I use names of K-pop idols and sometimes base the characters’ personalities off of idols, but in my head, I picture a different person with a different life. I think that is how I remedy that moral dilemma. However, I cannot lie and say that whenever I read extremely objectifying content about a K-pop idol, I don’t reflect the least bit, because as much fun writing fanfic is, we’re still writing about real people at the end of the day.”
At the end of the day, the ideal situation is that all individuals be able to go through formal sex education instead of using works of entertainment like fanfiction as their sole basis for understanding sex. With its potentially harmful effects, both readers and writers must remain careful and critical of the content they believe in and create. However, despite the risks it poses, there is no denying that the world of fanfiction continues to be an avenue for both readers and writers alike to explore their sexuality, an aspect of personhood that one must continuously celebrate and learn about. – Rappler.com
*Not their real name, as the interviewees wished to remain anonymous.
Samantha Onglatco is a Rappler intern.