Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality

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Academic Commentary
Title: Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality
Commentator: Catherine Salmon, Donald Symons
Date(s): 2001 edition published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003 edition published by Yale University Press
Medium: Book
Fandom: slash media fandom
External Links: Yale University Press Page
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Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality is a book by Catherine Salmon and Donald Symons which looks at slash fanfiction from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. The warrior lovers of the title refer to their theory that slash is popular with straight women because it allows them to experience a romance of equals where both partners get to do all the things in canon that make the usually male protagonists interesting character.


Google Books provides the following summary of the book:

The stark contrasts between romance novels and pornography underscore how different female and male erotic fantasies are. These differences relflect (sic) human evolotionary (sic) history and the disparate selection pressures women and men experienced, say the authors of this thought-provoking book. Catherine Salmon and Donald Symons review the fundamental importance of evolutionary history to human psychology, discuss how male and female sexual psychologies differ, and then demonstrate how sex differences in erotica illustrate this. The authors focus particular attention on slash fiction, an erotic subgenre written by and for women and found on-line and in fan magazines. Slash--so-called for the punctuation mark indicating a romantic pair--depicts sexual relationships between heterosexual male television and film characters such as Starsky and Hutch (S/H) and Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (K/S). Salmon and Symons argue that--despite some differences--slash fiction has much in common with romance novels. The authors examine the essential ingredients of female sexual fantasy and how slash fiction provides them. Their conclusions are both fascinating and original.[1]

In 2004, Salmon and Symons published an article for the Journal of Sex Research, Slash fiction and human mating psychology. It covers a lot of the same ground and relies on the same research as the book. The article is also available online.

Slash and Human Mating Psychology - Symon's Interview

Donald Symons discusses Slash fiction in an interview uploaded to YouTube in January 2009.[2] Although he never mentions Salmon's name in the interview, fans made the connection.

In a post about the video interview, truwest makes a detailed analysis of the article from the Journal of Sex Research beginning with a general statement:

There are many, many statements that are factually incorrect or that take one type of slash story/trope and treat it as a universal.

There may be some interesting points buried in there -- but the sheer number and extent of the misstatements are so distracting, and come across as so ignorant of fandom, it's hard to give the article any credit at all.[3]

And then making a point by point critique, taking on the idea that led to the title of the book:

- "the women in romance stories are never 'warriors' and in slash fic, both men are always 'warriors'...".

A perfect example of the article boiled into one short sentence: a conflation of multiple assumptions, biases, undefined/unclarified terms, and mixing the 'findings' from different source groups/cultures.[3]

An Interview on BBC's "Woman's Hour"

A transcript of Salmon's 2001 "Woman's Hour" interview regarding her book is at Judith Proctor's site. [4]

Also see: A 2001 Interview with Catherine Salmon.

Fan Reactions

Judith Proctor's Blakes 7 site has a review by Proctor of the book. In her fairly positive review, Proctor describes the book as following a single line of argument about slash fanfiction:

People wanting an in-depth psychological account of all slash writing will be disappointed, but that isn't what the book is meant to be about. It finds its line of argument and follows it step by logical step and concludes that slash is essentially romance fiction for women who find it easy to identify with men - often those who are into science or who were tomboys as children (which would help explain why so much slash grows from SF shows).[5]

blacksquirrel describes the book in a very different way in 2007, and takes aim at the field of evolutionary psychology in general as well as the book in particular:

And then, of course, there's the equally falsified and regressive take on gender and sexuality. Salmon's "Warrior Lovers" on slash fic offends me to the very core of my being because it went into this incredibly queer-friendly, border-crossing place that gives me such joy and freedom to dream new dreams about what bodies can do, and implanted these hideously heternormative and *completely unscientific* claims right there. Because according to Salmon and other evolutionary psychologists like her, men and women are very very different. They think completely differently and like completely different things. And it has always and will always be so, amen. Oh, and the capitalist market is perfect too, btw. So if girls have created an entire genre of storytelling focused on male things like visual images, and explicit sex, and action-adventure - it must be because there's something *wrong with them* that separates them from *normal women*, because goodness knows there couldn't possibly be something wrong with *normative representations of sexuality in the romance and porn marketed to normative men and women*.[6]

A Pros fan wrote in 2001:

I've just read Warrior Lovers and found it highly frustrating - a guide to Darwinism which I could have found on the internet or in any half-decent encyclopaedia, followed by a dozen or so pages barely scratching the surface of slash." [7]

Editorial Reviews

Review by Elizabeth Sourbut in New Scientist Magazine. (requires registration to access, reprinted here).

Ogi Ogas reviews the book on Goodreads, calling it a, "Completely overlooked minor masterpiece." while attributing the most meaningful, to him, theme of the book to Symons alone.[8]


  1. Google Books unsourced book description, accessed July 25, 2011
  2. THE SEXUAL WORLD: Don Symons: Slash Fiction, YouTube video, uploaded January 3, 2009, accessed July 25, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 truwest commenting in giandujakiss livejournal on May 4, 2009, accessed July 25, 2011
  4. reference link
  5. Judith Proctor review of Warrior Lovers, accessed July 25, 2011
  6. This and That, posted August 21, 2007, accessed July 25, 2011
  7. from DIAL #19
  8. Ogi Ogas review of Warrior Lovers, accessed July 25, 2011