Sexually Explicit Fanworks

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Related terms: Adult
See also: Anal Sex, Oral Sex, Sex Position, Worksafe
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Although what is sexually explicit to one fan may not be to another, a commonly agreed-upon definition of sexually explicit fanworks is fanworks that depict actual or simulated sexual conduct involving one or more persons. This includes sexual penetration, non-penetrative sex and masturbation. Partial or total nudity by itself is generally not considered sexual content.

This differs from "Adult," a term once commonly used to describe all fan fiction and art in zines that were not labeled gen; in practice, it usually included sexually explicit het and all slash, explicit or simply inferred.

"Adult" is now more commonly used as an equivalent to the R or NC-17 ratings, or by authors who choose not to give specific ratings to their stories or art to warn for sexual or potentially disturbing content or mature themes. These themes include the depiction of graphic violence, intense horror, and/or frequent use of profanity.

Differing Reactions

What is explicit to one fan is not to another. Or, "I know it when I see it."

An example of differing definitions of explicitness; the cover of The Sensual World #1, a Sentinel zine, offered on ebay in 2018 showed two men touching lips. It was deemed by its seller as too explicit to show to a general audience. See other examples of the use of "Fig Leaf

Who decides: In response to an widely-discussed early open letter regarding what one fan considered het porn at a Star Trek con, Johanna C wrote:

...What gives any fan (or group of fans) the jurisdiction to declare what is ‘noble’ and what is ‘scum’ in Treklit? Who has been appointed arbiter of decency in fandom? Since when are one fan’s characterizations ‘true’ and another’s ‘borrowing someone else’s creations and returning them covered in slime’? [1]

In 1990, the Beauty and the Beast zine, Black Cover, caused much discussion for its content, something many fans commeted on in Tunnel Talk. One fan, complained about the wording in the flyer [2], one she felt was too vague:

... this zine should be withdrawn from the market... I've seen the flyer for this zine; it does not begin to explain the contents. 'Sexually explicit' needs to be replaced by a different phrase, or broken down more. Love scenes between V & C are explicit in many zines; in most they are beautiful. The stuff in Black Cover is sick and weird. What is next? V & C as child molesters or drug dealers? [3]

In 1997, a Lois and Clark fan was scolded for posting a submission request for what sounded like an R-rated zine to the LOISCLA-GENERAL-L. Another fan asked:

We all know there's a big difference between nfic and regular fanfic, but some fanfic has had nice steamy (though PG-13) scenes in the past. Even the series had some serious innuendo like the "You missed!" scene at the end of Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Should the rule be "if it was fair on the series, it's fair on the list"? Again, I'm not talking about explicit scenes, that's definitely nfic, but I've had stories, usually for humor's sake, that were loaded with innuendo, but nothing graphic, because I certainly don't write nfic. I'm just asking because I wouldn't want to post something that might be construed as inappropriate for this particular list. [4]

Another Lois and Clark fan replied in 1997 on LOISCLA-GENERAL-L.

Well, I can give you the same answer that Rhen, saint, mother and keeper of the PG-Fanfic list all those years running <g> gave me when I asked her a similar question: she said something to the effect that... If you could feasibly walk into a supermarket and pick up a romance novel from their shelves and find it [your content] in there, then it's usually safe enough to send to the regular fanfic list.

Different Language

Different fandoms may use different terms to describe porn in their milieu. For instance, furry fandom uses "spooge" or "furporn." In Lois & Clark, a primarily het fandom, it's called "Nfic" for "naughty fic". Jane Austen fandom, another predominantly het arena, sometimes calls it "NB" for "naughty bit" or "nasty bit". Many anime & manga fandoms in the 90s and early 2000s used the term "lemon" (with "lime" being the equivalent of "teen").

Different Fandoms

A few years after the release of Star Wars, a fan wrote:

... this is a plea to all would-be writers of Star Wars pornography and the already-existing writers of such. Please, do not continue doing this! Most of us are having a wonderful time writing fiction and would be very unhappy to see it disappear. I know how much fun it is to write sexually explicit material; I've done so myself, but I don't plan to publish it. Writing it and publishing it are two different things altogether. If you want other people to see your lovingly assembled porn, show it around, but don't publish it "officially" or there may be trouble for which the vast majority of fandom would never forgive you. [5]

Differing Desires

A fan wrote: "Fade-to-black sex scenes. You know the kind... "They made love gently. The next morning..." and so on. Drives me nuts. It isn't that I require an explicit sex scene in every story. God, no. And not every sex scene has to be explicit. But when you're writing a first-time story, especially, then the love scene is damned important, and to just skip by it - for what ever reason - usually makes for a bad story." [6]

Different Mediums

Explicit fanworks can take many forms:

Explicit fanfic contains detailed textual descriptions; explicit podfic contains a reading of the text, but also can include "sex noises" (sighs and moans mostly) at the discretion of the podficcer. Explicit content is more common in fanfic and fanart than in fanvids, for example, where the vidder usually needs to include clips from professional porn in order for the vid to qualify, though creative editing of the source canon can suggest a lot. More recently, Tumblr fans can and do include a porn gif with "look-alike" actors for gifsets that tell a ship story.

The medium can impact a reader's response to sexually explicit material; for better or worse, visual or auditory sexual content is more immediate and visceral, whereas textual descriptions can provide more distance between the reader and the subject. Explicit fanart is seen by some to be more shocking and objectionable, whereas fanfic is less obvious and therefore harder to challenge. Fan reactions to fanworks mirror the mundane world, where the visual medium is often held to a higher "decency" standard than the written one.

The explicitness of a work of fiction sometimes affects a fan's blanket permission to podfic. From flickings: "if you would like to record podfic of any of my work, please feel free - i am incredibly flattered! my only requests are that sexually explicit rpf not be recorded. [7]

Some fans have expressed disgust at the thought of listening to explicit fanfic read aloud.[8]

Different Playgrounds

Sexually explicit or "adult" fanworks were often split off into their own newsgroups, with a suffix indicating adult content: for instance, and, or alt.startrek.creative and alt.startrek.creative.erotica.

On some fandoms, such as Lois & Clark, sexually explicit fiction is restricted to specific mailing lists which require an age statement before allowing a fan to join. Alternatively, an "ADULT:" header may be required on all fiction rated higher than PG13. The use of such a header allows subscribers to filter such stories out if they prefer not to receive them.

Joan Verba wrote in Boldly Writing about one of her zine Treklink:

Because I knew a lot of fans did not wish to read about explicit material, I split Treklink into two sections. Fans wishing to receive section 2 would have to send in an age statement.

Some Fandom Firsts

Because the definition of sexually explicit material varies, and because much of sexually explicit fan material was initially circulated "under the table", it is impossible to pin down these first fanworks. In fact, many of the early explicit fanworks would fall under today's "adult" standards as they neither contained sexually explicit text and scenerios nor images of genitalia (either in use or even just resting). Complicating matters is the fact that for some fans, depictions of heterosexual sex are by definition less explicit than depictions of homosexual sex, and they have labeled all slash as "sexually explicit" even if no sex takes place on the page or screen.

While Spockanalia did not bill itself as an erotic or adult zine, it contains the earliest known lay stories. An excerpt from issue #3's story The Alternate (1968) is an example of some fairly racy prose for the time:

He has shifted his position slightly and is inquiring if I am uncomfortable. Strange... he is capable of insisting that I do almost anything that occurs to him if his curiosity demands fulfillment, but he will then be quite gentle and, as long as he is satisfied with the results, take pains to insure that I am not hurt or made to suffer acute discomfort. The point is, after all, not cruelty but satisfaction. For him, the two do not necessarily go together. I pretend not to hear or understand his question, and with a small half-groan-half-growl dig my fingernails into his ribs. He is obviously satisfied that I am not in distress and says no more. His lips wander up from my ear, across my cheek, brush my lips, the gentle movements of his lips and hands punctuated steadily, rhythmically by more virile caresses... you bearded virile bastard, it is I who will penetrate to the center of you and learn your secrets, learn if you are truly a lord to be feared, a black-maned lion who roars and rules, or one of us, with fears and weaknesses…

The editor responds in issue #4 to reactions to "The Alternate" as well as in anticipation of the story Time Enough in 1969:

We've been told that a couple of the items in Spockanalia #3 are embarrassing, dirty, or downright trashy. If we've embarrassed you, we are sincerely sorry. The recurrence of the theme of sex isn't surprising. Sex is a recurrent theme of life. The recurrence of the theme of sex involving Spock is also unsurprising. We Star Trek femmefans find him attractive and highly masculine. Some of us are articulate, and the result is predictable (and even logical.)

If anyone is seriously concerned… psychiatrists regard such feelings as perfectly normal (if they are non-obsessive) and artistic endeavour as a healthy outlet.

Perhaps some of our readers are too accustomed to the tradition, in popular literature, of the male protagonist being aroused by the presence of attractive women. When they find that women write it the other way around, they find it strange. We, the editors of Spockanalia, try our best to print only material which we consider well-written, interesting to us, and written within our format. We do not choose to limit ourselves by eliminating one effective segment of our submissions."

naked Spock centerfold from the first issue of Grup. Art by Roz Oberdieck. This image would not be considered sexually explicit under Fanlore's image policy.

Grup was the first adult, or R-rated Star Trek zine. It began publishing in September 1972 and featured a naked Spock fold out centerfold. It showed a fully naked Spock, genitals visible resting alone on a bench.

Most the stories in Grup would be rated PG13 today, but a good number would probably be classified as "adult" (or R rating).[9]

For example, would the following passage be rated "adult" or "sexually explicit" today?

"Catching her to him at the waist, he pulled her down, kissing her. She tasted of fruit and flowers. Kisses rained on her face, eyelids and throat as he fumbled with what there was of her blouse. His fingers found her nipples gone hard with passion. Exploring her breast with his tongue he made her moan with pleasure. His hand ran down her thigh to pull at her skirt. Irma kicked it off onto the floor. She felt his chest moving rhythmically on hers as she tasted his tongue. He gently massaged her buttocks as she slowly opened her thighs to accept him. She felt him enter her and responded with the familiar passion, digging her nails into his back. They lay locked together as he stroked her hair and whispered to her. Her movements began to match his own - finally, they drew apart."[10]

Grup was soon followed by R&R in the US in 1976, Grope in the UK in 1976, and Obsc'zine in the US in 1977. All three fanzines published mainly adult het, but on occasion slash fanfiction and in the case of Obsc'zine, the occasional femmeslash.

Here in an excerpt from the first issue of R&R is a sex scene between Sarek and Amanda, Spock's parents.

"As his lips moved upward to her throat, his hand slid between her legs, teasing her until she opened to his touch. She felt her body preparing for him, warm and liquid, sensitive and yearning. Finally he entered her, slowly, gently, deliciously, suffusing her with waves of physical sensation, hers and his, the unyielding heat of him, the welcoming cool moisture of her, meeting and quenching and igniting passion at once. As he moved within her, she ran her hands over his back, trying to draw him down to her, but his strength was too great. His face hovered over hers, watching her, as he prolonged the moments of purely physical pleasure until she could stand it no longer. Entwining her fingers in his hair, she drew herself up to kiss him, to join their minds as well as their bodies in a union in which all sense of individual identity was lost."[11]

The first sexually explicit slash fan fiction published was most likely A Fragment Out of Time published in Grup #3 in 1974. While the story did not directly refer to genitalia, it uses phrases that are evocative and lead the reader to understand that a sexual act is taking place: "....He felt a tightening as he contracted a little when pubic hair was brushed slightly" and "....The other smiled and then ran expert hands once more over the surface and then between the legs, spreading them effortlessly. Careful palms cradled a very sensitive area that had been exposed." and "A circle of thumb and forefinger was working, too...pulling slowly up and squeezing."

Similarly, the first stand alone Kirk/Spock fanzine published in 1976 lacks the type of specific detail required to meet the "sexually explicit" standards today. In Alternative: The Epilog to Orion Spock and Kirk mind meld. The entire first part of the zine—thirteen poems and the first of two short stories—consists of Kirk’s visions as he recuperates in his cabin. He fantasizes a future relationship with Spock and how their sexual relationship would work.

A poem by Gerry Downes in Alternative: The Epilog to Orion:

"So little space between them
as wide as all of time;
In this suspended moment
they knew what they were facing. And knowing -- more; and caring
Jim reached out.
Offering himself
to his friend.
There was no way
to stop the acceptance.
Lust uncontrolled
takes what it needs
Anything to satisfy
this awful flame.
Is it rape?
if the victim too is willing?
Painful penetration -
Consumate, and all-consuming -
Total loss of self.
Climactic agony -
and then release.
And blessed black oblivion.
Only to awaken
and repeat - recompelled
To complete the act again.
And again."

By 1978, when Thrust was published, the language grew more explicit and racier:

"My other hand teases the hardening cock with minute touches, never lingering, drawing it up and out with an invisible magnetism. I can feel the supple thighs next to my cheek bunch suddenly and start a slow, quaking ripple. Then the rippling gives in to a rhythmic squirming, and I can feel his fingers entangle themselves in the thickness of my hair, imploring--what? Mercy or release? Ah, even you do not know, my golden god. My fingers now massage the hot hardness and my tongue prods the base of the erect shaft making it twitch in anticipation. His fingers are digging into my hair and his hips make an involuntary thrust even as he groans in impossible denial."[12]

Age Statements and Disclaimers

  • Age Statements during the print zine era
  • for online fanworks, clicking the box that confirms the fan is "of age"

The Uphill Climb for Slash

From the beginning, slash fanworks, regardless of content were lumped in with explicit het.

The editor of Imperial Entanglements wrote a letter of protest directly to Lucasfilm in response to Open Letters to Star Wars Zine Publishers by Maureen Garrett. In the letter, she explained that the proposed story contained no physical expressions of any kind of sexual activity and lacked reference to anatomical details. By excluding non-explicit homosexual fan fiction while allowing non-explicit heterosexual fanfiction, Lucasfilm would be adopting a prejudicial and offensive attitude towards gays and lesbians. She also took issue with the concept that "even Imperial crew members" must be allowed to maintain their "innocence" by pointing out that these same Imperial crew members had committed acts of genocide, mutilation and torture. And by setting "homosexual expressions of love" in opposition to "innocence" Lucasfilm would be implying that homosexuality was morally undesirable. [13]

A fan wrote in Treklink:

Just how 'sexy' or 'likely to arouse prurient interests' or "obscene" (depending on one's attitude towards erotica) does she think it is? Given that homophobia is as common as it is, a parent is more likely to be upset by a line such … Kirk's penis being caressed if the partner is Spock rather than Uhura, so probably for the protection of the publisher the 'explicit-ness threshold' should be lower for K/S zines to serve as a warning flag to prospective ... [14]

Ratings and Warnings

A sample of one way an archive fulfills an age disclaimer: Archive of Our Own's warning in 2014 and before: "This work could have adult content. If you proceed you have agreed that you are willing to see such content."

To many fans, these "safeguards" are pretty hollow. A fan in 2007 commented:

The principle behind age-disclaimers has always eluded me... I don't think anyone really assumes some curious twelve-year-old is going to say, "Gosh golly jeepers! That person said this might have sexual content and not be appropriate for me! The thing I should do now is make a reasonable, rational, responsible, adult decision and stop reading!" :D I know I sure as hell didn't when I was twelve... [15] [16]

See Warnings, see Age Statements.

As a TPTB's Argument Against Fanworks

Professional authors encountering fanfiction presenting sexually explicit views of their characters may be offended by the fans changing their authorial intent. One example is Robin Hobb's Fan Fiction Rant which includes this statement: "At the extreme low end of the spectrum, fan fiction becomes personal masturbation fantasy in which the fan reader is interacting with the writer’s character." [17]

Reading and Viewing Print Fanworks in Public Areas

For some fannish solutions to this sometimes-challenge, see Reading and Viewing Print Fanworks in Public Areas.

Some Fig Leaves: Covering Up the "Naughty Bits"

A fig leaf is a "modesty panel."

They are most often used by fans and non-fans in public venues such as eBay to cover an area on visual fanworks such as simple nudity (both male and female) and male genitalia, to covering mild physical expressions of intimacy (usually between same sex couples), to covering explicit sexual acts.

Sometimes the decision to use a fig leaf is a political and/or personal statement that represents what the applicator considers shameful, illegal, or embarrassing.

See Fig Leaf for more, and for examples.

Fanlore's Image Policy

Fanlore has a template for fanart and images that "is intended to be used for explicit images that depict people engaging in sexual acts with visible genitalia." This is the standard often used by museums and galleries when displaying art. An image of Michaelangelo's David, who is naked and whose genitals are visible, would not qualify. Neither would the vast majority of naked women photos and painting hanging in museums and galleries. As a side note, breasts are not considered "genitalia" as they are not used in the reproductive act (any more than any other body part). This means an image of two people where only their breasts or buttocks are visible during sex would not be considered sexually explicit. However, when in doubt about Fanlore's sexually explicit image policy, contact the Fanlore Committee.

The template is to be used with this statement: "This image is sexually explicit and should be minimised. To link to this image on an article, please use a pixel size of 100 and a thumbnail caption of this warning, along with your own description..."

See Template:SexuallyExplicitImage.

Also See

Meta/Further Reading


  1. ^ R & R #5 (November 1977)
  2. ^ See Black Cover to view the flyer.
  3. ^ from a 1991 LoC by [I P] in Tunnel Talk
  4. ^ from [
  5. ^ from Alderaan #15
  6. ^ a fan comments in The Hatstand Express #12 about a personal dislike
  7. ^ from Blanket Permission to Podfic
  8. ^ In her 2012 roundup post of negative attitudes toward podfic, klb noted the trend in people thinking that "[t]he idea of reading porn aloud is inherently gross/creepy/laughable/mockable", but remarked that the situation had actually improved; "where once I couldn't go two days without seeing someone, somewhere, calling podfic gross, creepy, disgusting, laughable, I now go months at a time without encountering a single instance of that." klb. Negative Attitudes About Podfic: A Guided Tour. Posted to podficmeta 8 July 2012. (Accessed 7 April 2013.)
  9. ^ Note: the application of movie ratings terminology to literature is misleading, due to the differences in visual and written media. It is, however, a helpful shorthand in these types of discussions.
  10. ^ An excerpt from "Scars From the Past" by J.P. Sinclair, published in Grup #4 (1975).
  11. ^ From The Tenth Night by Jean Lorrah.
  12. ^ From Beyond Setarcos by Gayle F.
  13. ^ Editor's letter to Lucasfilm, undated (but probably 1981), submitted by Barbara T.
  14. ^ from Treklink #14 (1988)
  15. ^ comment by ceresi don't close your eyes, posted August 4, 2007
  16. ^ reference link
  17. ^ Robin Hobb's (anti) fan fiction rant, approx. 2005-06, found at, accessed 2010-5-17