Fan Service: The Significance of Sex to Fandom

You know those posters that say All I know about life, I learned in kindergarten? Well, all I know about sex, I learned from fan fiction. I was 12 when I first got into fandom, and about 14 when I started reading graphic fan fiction. I didn’t do so indiscriminately; Firefly had gotten cancelled after half a season, so I was struggling to prolong the stories through fanfiction. R-rated fiction happened to appear on every site I visited. To be honest, I was curious, and there was nothing stopping me except for an “Are you over 17?” pop-up that I could click with only a shadow of guilt.

In the intervening 10 years that I’ve been involved in the fandom world, I’ve noticed an increase in sex-specific stories, especally on LiveJournal where there’s an honor system and no constraints on content as long as there’s a clear warning stamped on the story. Whatever the fandom, you’ll find stories where the main couple — or obscure pairings, or random characters who never interacted on the show — are getting down. What seems to best unite fan authors is sex.

(If you need more proof, check out this comic drawn by Comics Alliance spoofing fans’ predilections to slash — or write queer relationships for — basically every character in existence.)

Fans have incredible imaginations when it comes to the bedroom, and it’s their peers who benefit from the steamy stories that get posted with a kink warning or a self-conscious disclaimer. That isn’t to comment on the sex lives of hardcore fans; I imagine that those having adventurous sex four times a week come to the keyboard in about the same form as fanfic authors experiencing a romantic dry spell. Because both groups are writing about characters, not themselves.

Sex permeates all fanfiction. In a sense, fanfiction as a whole is like sex: Putting yourself out there, trying new things, trusting others’ reactions, seeing yourself in a new light. But really, I’d wager that at least 80% of fanfiction has a significant amount of sex in it. Fan authors who don’t specialize in PWP (Porn Without Plot) stories are a minority.

A lot of genres — sitcom, procedural, teen soap, sci-fi western — are built on the “will-they-won’t-they” dynamic between the (usually) male and female leads. Aside from catching the murders and solving the season-long mystery, we’re waiting breathlessly to see when they’ll finally do it. Because that’s our link, our anchor in these unfamiliar worlds. We may not know how to hunt demons or have a $1 million trust fund, but we know what it means to want someone and to realize that that attraction is mutual.

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    • Corissia

      This should have had a “BONES SPOILER ALERT” in it. I hadn’t seen ep23 of Bones. Had to work that night so it’s in my Hulu queue. A warning would have been appreciated, I would have just postponed reading this till after I watched. Oh well… What’s done is done.