I have a friend who has recently started reading erotica. This began out of curiosity specifically that she wanted to read my published work, But she read the other stories in the books I lent her, enjoyed those and asked me to lend her some more books. I went for a coffee with her recently to talk about her experiences. Anna is in her early 30s, she identifies as straight and vanilla, and on her own admission had never thought much about her sexuality and the ways in which she lived it. Bur she had fund much to enjoy in the erotica she had read. She had gained insights into her own life, and understanding of herself as a sexual being, even from stories about gay sex or even BDSM that were far removed from her own experience.
As the conversation continued Anna opened up more and confided that she had had some bad experiences sexually and that she had issues with low self esteem specifically related to sex. And reading smut had helped to come to terms with this, to see that really there is nothing wrong with her. In short, reading smut had been therapeutic.
Some years ago I did some work with a Community Interest Company that was commissioned bt local Mental Health trusts to run reading therapy sessions often with people who had had limited educational opportunities and presumably found reading literary fiction daunting. But it was fascinating to sit in on a session and see how the act of reading helped the self esteem of these people and also served as a medium for self understanding as they brought their own life experiences to bear on the text, commenting with insight on the issues raised.
It is a commonplace that there is no right or wrong way to read a text, everyone brings something different to that text. This is true of literary fiction. It is also true of erotica. In fact I would go further and say that the distinction between literary fiction and niche fiction, be it erotica, crime fiction or whatever. Good writing can open doors, whatever the subject matter I am grateful to Anna for providing evidence of that.