Shortly after the world started shuttering due to the Covid-19 pandemic, porn tube megasite Pornhub lifted its paywall to give the horny hordes full access to millions of hours of porn. With IRL sex verboten, zoom and other video conferencing apps were repurposed for virtual sex, with many sexy shut-ins supplementing their incomes by turning to cam modeling — Chaturbate, or creating their own porn — Just for Fans or Only Fans. Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns were great for the porn business. But porn wasn’t the only media industry to experience a boom: people watched more streaming content and bought more books—both the analog and the digital kind (ala Kindle). And there was the equivalent of the Cambrian explosion in podcasts. While porn dominates attention when it comes to sexual content, erotica is enjoying somewhat of a cumback. The difference in most people’s minds between porn and erotica comes down to medium and gender: You read erotica and watch porn; men are more into porn, while women read erotica (PornHub viewing statistics say otherwise apparently). But a more important distinction is that watching porn is a passive experience that does not activate the imagination (keeps you in your head and disconnected from your body), while erotica is more active, in that it requires the reader to use their imagination to engage with the work. New cognitive research points to a strong connection between imagination and empathy. The more imaginative a person is, the more empathetic they are, and empathy is a quality that all good lovers share. Erotica puts readers in the heads of characters of varying genders, sexualities, and kinks in a variety of sexual scenarios. With porn, you are watching people having sex, but with erotica, you are in their heads (reality) while they are having sex. What are they feeling both physically or emotionally while they are having sex? What was happening in the lead-up to the sex and what happened afterward?

Erotica illuminates sexual boundaries, demystifies what society tells us is obscene, and makes us human, what porn often objectifies. If you use porn to masturbate, that’s fine, continue, just consider that sex and masturbation are not the only ways to engage with your erotic self. Activate your imagination by reading erotic fiction books available to order online or at a store (The Bookshop Darlinghurst on Oxford Street carries loads), listen to erotic audiobooks available from Audible.com, or subscribe to an erotic podcast where writers read their own dirty stories. New and engaging ing alternatives to porn are just a Google search away…

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