I had a phone interview today with a publisher who deals in sci-fi/fantasy erotica. It went rather well, I think. I consider it a good sign when I confess to a smut publisher that I didn't get to the end of 50 Shades of Grey because it was appalling and the BDSM was worse, and she confesses that she thought the writing was so bad, she couldn't get past Chapter 3.

One of the biggest qualifications you need trying for a job like that one is an absolute lack of shame when it comes to sex. People have sex. People think about sex. People read about sex. Why this is a revelation to anyone in the rest of the popular press is beyond me. Pornography has been one of the fundamental constants of human life ever since cave dwellers discovered they could make marks on the wall with chunks of charcoal. Anyone who thinks their readers aren't firing up the cable modem once they've finished with the New York Times is deluding themselves.

I live on the internet, so I read a fair amount of porn. About half the time, this is because I actually set out to read porn; the other half, it's because I'm going through an entire fic archive and I've just opened a tab for everything whose summary was spelled right. I'm a sucker for stories that have correct punctuation and grammar. I swear to God I'd read an entire trilogy centered around the history of pencil shavings if the author proved to my satisfaction that he, she, or it could use semi-colons and em dashes properly.

Well-crafted erotica is as much a character piece as it is smut. It's rather difficult to hide, physically or metaphorically, when you're rolling around naked with another sentient being. Leaving aside the alarmingly large proportion of fanfic that's written by people who have clearly never seen a human being naked, and in some cases appear to have written their story in Martian and then given it a cursory run through Google Translate, a lot of porn bores me because the author has forgotten this. Oh, look, attractive people fucking for no adequately explained reason! This is the basic story behind every soulless, failed Hollywood marriage. I could get this from watching RedTube with the sound down.

The general trajectory of internet porn is also interesting in a sociological sort of way, fanfic especially. The first known slashfic, for instance, was published in mimeographed fan mags, but neither the phenomenon nor the term reached mainstream audiences until after the World Wide Web, where you can post this stuff for worldwide readership at minimal cost and as anonymous as you like, took off. (Gay original fiction has always existed, of course. There are novels like Fanny Hill whose plots involve overt homosexual activities, and serials like Genji Monogatari, where the homoeroticism runs covertly under the surface.) The term itself comes from the way the relationship is described -- the earliest ones that I know of involve Captain Kirk and Spock, and were referred to in shorthand as "K/S".

Nowadays, actors get asked about this stuff all the time. Not quite by mainstream journalists -- yet -- but audiences not only at conventions, where the atmosphere is heavily geeky and skews internetty, but in reasonably dignified, professional venues like Lipton's Inside The Actors Studio as well. Hugh Laurie was infamously asked who he thought Gregory House would wind up with at the end of the series, and he opined that there was a more than reasonable chance it would be Wilson. Which, effectively, it was.

My generation has completely bollixed up a great many things, but at least we're willing to admit we pay money for decent pornography. Hooray.