It might surprise you to know there's quite a bit of Sonic the Hedgehog-themed erotica on the internet. That's before you remember that this is the internet and, per Rule 34, there is erotica of everything, no matter how asexual it seems.
Still, whenever I've brought it up in conversation, which I've done at almost every opportunity, even the most jaded find something newly shocking and surprising about the vast, ever-growing field of amateur Sonicrotica (say it out loud, it works). To be fair, just what in the hell IS going on here?
There's a whole world of this stuff just one Google Image Search away, and while you can imagine the basics, Sonrotica (I don't think this one works) exceeds every expectation. There are many muscle-bound bulging Speedo'd Sonics. There are Sonics in moments of erotic unsureness, his red shoes off. There are gender-defying gigantically breasted or pregnant Sonics. There's Sonic as Elsa from Frozen, anime-like mostly human-looking Sonics, male-female, male-male, and female-female Sonic couplings of basically every character of the expansive universe of official and fan-made Sonic Characters. Except—conspicuously—for the main villain, the corpulent Dr. "Eggman" Robotnik.
For all of their defiance of heteronormativity (and anatomy), the Sonicrotica community seems to have fairly predictable body-shape preferences.
And this is just the pictures. If you want to talk about Sonic fan fiction as a whole, then you have to talk about short stories—novellas even—of Sonic adventures in grammatically suspect prose. Whole different article, I'm afraid.
My own study localized in on user-artwork site Deviant Art, specifically on the Sexy-Sonic group, which seemed to be the widest spanning and most popular of several available groups on Deviant Art alone.
Judging from screen names and people I talked to, it seems like most of the art is made by early teenagers. It seems rather widely accepted that there hasn't been a good Sonic the Hedgehog video game made post-Genesis—which is to say, within these artist's lifetimes—but the games from the early 90s that endeared the speedy hedgehog to us all are available for smartphones.
"I would start to have issues if the sexualized drawings took on themes of sexualized violence or overt sexual acts"
It's amazing because even though I know what to expect, every now and then something will leap out and viscerally revolt me. Usually those are the pictures that look the most like regular porn, and the knowledge that it was made by a real person somewhere makes me profoundly depressed. For some reason it's hard to be a tourist once you realize that someone, somewhere is actually getting off on sexy Sonic. The sheer strangeness of most of the images for a long time excluded this possibility from my mind.
I tried to get art therapists to comment on what they surmised was happening here, but for whatever reason none got back to me, nor did any of the psychologists I contacted. Finally my friend Mandy Jones, a licensed social worker, agreed to take a look and tell me how unusual any of this was by human (non-internet) standards, since clearly, I had no idea any more.
"I am not too surprised by the sexual nature of the drawings," Jones told me. "During that [early teen] age is really when adolescents are starting to become curious about sexuality. For children and adolescence, language development is often slower than the development of other skills. For many children, drawing and acting is easier to display their thoughts and curiosity than words. The visualization of sexuality can be a somewhat 'healthy' outlet for them to express their questions and curiosity about sex and sexuality."
Jones told me that the group "doesn't concern me too much," and I asked her what it would take to really raise some red flags.
"As a parent or educator," she explained, "I would start to have issues if the sexualized drawings took on themes of sexualized violence or overt sexual acts. It is one thing for children to be curious about sexuality and express that curiosity without knowledge of what sexual intercourse is. I would begin to have concerns about whether a child witnessed or experienced intercourse if the drawings morphed into something more."
Even then, that's something that she'd want to look into rather delicately, because it might not be the case. There used to be an assumption that sexualized drawings and trauma were always closely linked, but it seems like that's falling out of fashion.
I've got a pretty solid theory on why this personal discovery takes the shape of Sonic drawings too, and it's not that Sonic is inherently sexual (in one of the cartoons, he was a sort of troubled freedom fighter, so I'm not judging you if you think he is). When I asked Sonic artists "why Sonic," basically the only explanation was "because I can." Not in a "rebel" way, but in a "I am able to draw Sonic if nothing else" way.
This makes so much sense to me. Back around second grade, Sonic the Hedgehog was pretty much the only thing I could competently draw. Well, Sonic, and orioles, and cartoon human noses. But I had just moved to the DC suburbs, and all of my new friends liked to draw. At that age, a complete lack of ability didn't really stand in the way of having a good time, so I would fill whole pages with tableaus of cartoon noses fighting Sonic the Hedgehog and an oriole.
Then my family moved again, and my new friends didn't play much Sega, and I added the F-117 stealth fighter jet to my repertoire, and Sonic faded out. I was pretty much done drawing by the time puberty hit. So looking at Sonicrotica, I guess I think "there but for the ability to draw go I," although honestly probably a lot of other things would've had to been different too.
Still, the internet's a big place and if it's taught us anything, it's that so is human sexuality. And now it's taught me a lot about fast hedgehog sexuality too.
This story is part of Motherboard's Sex Ed Week, a series of sex-focused science and technology stories. Check out more stories here.