Identity

The Subversive Sexual Power Found in Erotic Fandom Forums

For young women on fandom forums, the freedom to profess subversive attractions online means becoming agents of their own sexual journeys.

by Rebecca Liu
Jun 18 2018, 2:48pm

Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz. 

This essay originally appeared in the Privacy & Perception Issue of Vice Magazine, created in collaboration with Broadly. You can read more stories from the issue here.

Like many millennials who were once socially awkward, nerdy kids, my gateway drug into rogue juvenile sexuality was Harry Potter.

I was ten years old when Daniel Radcliffe became my first official celebrity crush. At 12, I discovered regular fan fiction—long, serialized stories on the internet that explored such questions as, What is Hermione Granger’s life like outside of Hogwarts? And come 14, I came across fan fiction of the more exciting sort: The Giant Squid fucks the walls of Hogwarts castle!; Hagrid and Dobby get intimate. (In this story, the noticeable size difference between the half-giant and house elf is explained by one of fan fiction’s most infamous lines: “Dobby stretches, sir!”)

I learned the lingo. “Fluff”—a short, light romantic comedy story. “Slashfic”—fan fiction about same-sex couples, often between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. And “mpreg”—fantasies about male characters getting pregnant. (Mpreg stories in the Harry Potter world always seemed to center on the haughty potions professor, Snape. “The manlier or broodier the guy, the better he is pregnant,” reads a WIRED guide to mpreg from 2006.)

Even when I was a teen, it was clear to me that those stories had to do with their (typically amateur, female) authors feeling powerful just as much as—if not more than—they had to do with sex. The weirdest fictions consciously challenged the limits of social acceptability. And the intimate story lines between Harry and Draco or Harry and broody, pregnant men gave young women the rare opportunity to control the physical and psychic choices and beliefs of men—albeit fictional ones. They taught me that I, too, could one day be the author of my own love stories.

Although I’ve since left the fun, fervent excesses of erotic fandom behind, I was recently brought back by a wave of clickbaity headlines about more recent iterations of those fan communities, particularly a group of people who write about their attraction to fictional pariahs like Pennywise, the evil clown from Stephen King’s It, and Venom, the alien-like Spider-Man villain. “Meet the People Who Want to Fuck Venom”; “Way Too Many People Want to Bone the Clown from It.” The variations go on and on. These articles inevitably cite fan pages like the ones I encountered in my youth, where users anonymously submit stories and comments revealing their deepest sexual fantasies.

Today, these fandoms largely exist on Tumblr. While in the early 2000s, I hopped across a decentralized network of fan-fiction websites—Fanfiction. net, niche fan pages like MuggleNet and the Leaky Cauldron, and DeviantArt—to piece my fandom universe together, Tumblr’s arrival to the scene in 2007 changed that. Today, Tumblr offers fandom an umbrella organization for its disparate requirements and has become a haven for both straightforward fandom and unconventional kink communities. Its pages span a nearly unimaginable range of topics, including everything from Riverdale to tetraphilia, a sexual attraction to monsters.

The articles brought me to such community pages as “Pennywise Confessions”—a place that houses anonymous confessions about being deeply, uncontrollably aroused by Pennywise—and “m0nsterpiss,” a self-proclaimed “blog for monster/robot/alien fucking.” Posts on these pages vary greatly in tone. Some are devastatingly earnest, and reveal emotional fantasies of intimacy rather than flat-out physical sexual desire. One Pennywise fan dreamed that the clown would “have this soft smile on his face as he brushes back my hair and kisses my forehead and continues on with whatever he does while he waits for me.” Others are more tongue-in-cheek, and unabashedly sexual.

On pages for Venom fandom, one particular image has garnered a great amount of adoration: a moment in the movie’s latest trailer, during which a long, slithering tongue inches out of his sharp-toothed chasm of a face. “Damn, I would totally sit on that tongue,” one user commented. “Fellow monster fuckers, Venom has tentacles, long tongue, he eats people,” another user reflected. “He really is the whole package.”

Although surely unconventional, I found the posts to be an oddly heartening reminder that erotic fandom is still flourishing. For young women on Tumblr, these freedoms to profess their attractions and explore their desires through fictions, fan art, and parody are precious opportunities to be agents of their own sexual journeys. In the public realm, after all, nothing is more terrifying than a young woman in the unabashed and unapologetic throes of unconventional sexual desire. The vibrant and almost limitless quality of the fandom’s sexual parameters—we can even sexualize a giant squid!—offers these users an expansive psychic freedom to explore their own attractions in a world that otherwise attempts to relegate young female sexuality to a tidy little box.

In her recent song, “Screwed,” pop goddess Janelle Monáe sings: “Everything is sex/except sex, which is power.” On Tumblr, the sometimes serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek discussions of extremely unconventional and outlandish sexual attractions are, indeed, as much about power as they are about sex—working to establish oneself as the looker of another, rather than the one looked at. And for young women often denied the right to dictate our own sexual script, these very unconventional desires—this willful lust for that which they aren’t supposed to want—becomes an empowering act of self-fashioning unto itself.

The vibrantly eccentric erotic compulsions of fandom culture—of broody pregnant men, fuckable lizards, and clown daddies—also speak to how sexual desire writ large is much darker, more confusing, and further beyond rationality than society would like to admit. It’s a big fuck you to the ways in which mainstream culture drip-feeds us one singular meaning of sexual attraction, dictating not only who to desire, but how. And what’s left is a sanitized understanding of wanting and loving that excludes so many types of bodies and so many ways of loving them. The forms of attraction seen on Tumblr’s kink communities allow for disgust, pain, and absurdity to be sources of arousal in ways that dominant, heteronormative mindsets about sexuality do not.

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As I graduated from an awkward, internet-dwelling tween to a reasonably attractive young woman, the surplus of power that I experienced on the internet, where I was the master of my own narrative, sat in stark contrast to the complete lack of sexual agency I had as a young woman in real life. In my teens and early 20s, I lived under the imperative that I must be desired rather than desire. I dated self-absorbed men who saw me as a temporary alleviation for their own individual sexual insecurities, rather than a complete human being unto myself. When confronted with inevitable feelings of romantic inadequacies and insecurities, I tried to hoist myself up in the only way I knew how, and the only way society taught me was acceptable: become hotter, cooler, more charming. Never admit weakness.

But Tumblr’s fangirls and kink-focused communities gesture to a gentler, more emancipatory sexual politics—one that has much more to do with internal gratification than conformity. Our brains, hearts, and sexual desires operate on much more personal and often reason-defying drumbeats than our sterile public conceptions of attraction might suggest. And if the road to your sexual freedom leads you to the sewers beneath Pennywise’s drain or the doorstep of Hagrid’s disheveled hut, I’d say you’re better off for it.