An ardent fan
Erotic fiction is not just for entertainment, it can also serve as a study of female sexuality, believes Mitzi Szereto
Creative writing lecturer Mitzi Szereto accepts that her latest publication is not a standard academic work.
She has edited The New Black Lace Book of Women's Sexual Fantasies, an anthology marking the 15th anniversary of the Black Lace imprint at Virgin Books, which publishes explicit books written for women by women.
She is equally clear that the work should not be dismissed merely because it is not in a decorous scholarly format. "I'm not a psychologist or cultural historian, but anyone reading it will get a handle on what's going on with female sexuality. Although the book is intended to be entertaining, it also serves as a sociocultural study of female sexuality."
Ms Szereto, who lectures in creative writing at Roehampton University and the University of East London, is an expert on erotica. When she runs creative writing courses, she finds that her students sometimes try their hand at sexual themes. But both aspiring and established writers can "feel a bit funny about it", with an underlying fear that assumptions will be drawn about their own lives.
However, she points out, people are happy to write about murder in great detail without worrying about being considered closet psychopaths.
People may be reluctant to appear outside the "norm", but Ms Szereto's research for the anthology suggests that there is no such thing. She devised a questionnaire covering topics such as which films, books or items of clothing are a turn-on, and what stops people from fulfilling their fantasies. She compiled the anthology from more than 1,000 replies from women aged between 17 and 86, dividing them into three sections: The Simple Pleasures; Sex On The Edge; and The Danger Zone. "It was important for me to make sure that women were not misrepresented, so I tried to provide a truly varied sample, from the sweetly vanilla to the wildly kinky," she said.
"I do feel that I have some social responsibility in this regard, so I didn't want to have the collection sway too far in any one direction. I hope this book will make people realise that women are not all the same, are not all turned on by the same things, and do not all react the same way sexually. We're all different - which is something that a lot of men need to realise. They're so conditioned by porn."
Ms Szereto found the most touching fantasy was from the oldest participant, about being dumped by her husband for a younger woman when she was 55, and then having a sexual encounter with a 30-year-old man. The fantasy was based on the truth, and the woman and her lover subsequently married.