Porn on the Kindle: A Catch-22

People like to read erotic literature on an e-readers because they're discreet. But retailers can make the smut very difficult to find.
Max Braun/flickr

"Many of us realized immediately that, like the Internet, the Kindle was made for porn." So wrote the pseudonymous kinukitty at my website, The Hooded Utilitarian, a while back -- and the use of the pseudonym underlines the insight.  Consuming porn is something people often prefer to do at least semi-anonymously -- especially people who happen to be women. By dispensing with book covers, and indeed with books, the Kindle has made it possible for readers to peruse 50 Shades of Grey wheresoer they go, without fear of scorn -- and, for that matter, without fear of harassment. According to the (also pseudonymous) porn writer  Venus Santiago, back in the 90s, when she purchased Black Lace titles at a brick and mortar store, "the clerk felt free to hit on me." After that happened several times, Santiago said, she stopped buying in public.

With the Kindle, though, you don't need to buy in public.  As Santiago wrote me by email:

The beautiful thing about buying porn on Kindle is that nobody sneers at you.  It's just you, Amazon, and your personal mobile device.  You can read it on the train or subway, at home, wherever, and no one has any idea what you're ogling.  Which removes most of the outside negative social pressure that prevents a lot of women who are interested in porn from buying it in the mainstream places (sex shops, online XXX websites).

As a result, pornographic e-books have taken off50 Shades is the successful mainstream phenomenon that everyone knows about, but there are tons more where that came from, and tons kinkier as well. E.L. James' nervous flirtations with BDSM are perhaps titillating by the standards of the rest of the best-seller list. But her too-timid-to-even-sign-the-contract relationship shenanigans barely even register as kink compared to the other offerings available via e-book, where step-sibling incest, minotaur porn, and futanari abound. Santiago for her part has written gay assassin romance as well as a series of cheerfully perverse stories featuring human cow lactation porn, in which submission, degradation, and impossible busts exist alongside a remarkably detailed grasp of dairy industry mechanics.

The Kindle, then, provides both privacy and the promise that somewhere, someone has written exactly the gay werewolf paranormal romance you've always wanted to read. Combine the privacy and range of titles, and there's little doubt that for readers digital is the perfect porn delivery system.

Which seems to have made Amazon somewhat uncomfortable. Back in 2010, Amazon deleted many erotica e-books with incest themes -- not only dropping them from its store, but actually electronically erasing old titles from consumers' digital devices.  (It later claimed the erasures were a mistake, though its policy on incest titles remains unclear.) More recently, the company has been filtering some erotic titles, so that they don't appear in the All Departments search. To find them, you need to search directly in Books or in the Kindle store. For example, Santiago's title Accidental Milkmaid 3: Gangbanged by Bulls shows up in the Kindle Store, but not in the All Departments search. On the other hand, high-profile erotica like 50 Shades, or, for that matter, Lady Chatterley's Lover, appears in both kinds of searches.

Presented by

Noah Berlatsky is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He edits the online comics-and-culture website The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the forthcoming book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948.

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