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.

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


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]

"THE SEXUAL WORLD: Don Symons: Slash Fiction" 2009 Interview

One of the authors, Donald Symons, discussed slash fiction in an interview uploaded to YouTube in January 2009 in a video titled "THE SEXUAL WORLD: Don Symons: Slash Fiction."[2] He never mentions Catherine Salmon, his co-author, in the interview.

Below are comments by fans regarding the interview, the article "Slash fiction and human mating psychology", and the book where the article was printed "Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality."

The video contains several cutaways to about a dozen images. Some of them are of chapter titles in the book. Two are to the covers of two mainstream "bodice ripper" romance books, and one is to a "Conan the Barbarian"-type of art (perhaps by Frank Frazetta?). The other five images are to unattributed fanart (1. at .58 Kirk/Spock from an unknown print zine by an unknown artist, 2. at 1.19, a Highlander manip, artist unknown. 3. at 1.24 Bashir/Garak by TACS cover of Tarkalean Tea, 4. at 1.30 Bodie/Doyle by TACS, unknown source, 5. at 1.35 a McShep manip, artist unknown.

All comments are from oh dear god, Archived version or the LiveJournal crosspost.


Yeah. I mean, I think you start to go wrong if you study slash as opposed to fandom, for one thing. I suppose it's possible that he just didn't come off well in the interview and that his book has a better understanding, though.

eisen: O I C, Mr. I r Smart Cuz of My Degrees. I am like unicorns, and I do not exist.

I ... what. There is so much wrong with that perception of slash fanfic I do not even know where to begin. I am too confused to be as angry as my icon would otherwise indicate I am!

(He looks so weirdly pleased with himself, too. It's like he's a little boy who got caught by his mommy with his hand in the cookie jar and he got away with it, or something. There's something very puerile about his behavior that disturbs me, on top of the absurdity of his statements about slash.)

See many, many more comments at "THE SEXUAL WORLD: Don Symons: Slash Fiction" 2009 Interview.

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

From Woman's Hour Interview with Catherine Salmon:

...even if you have a real strong female character, like you could have the Mulder/Scully, X-Files type of situation where, in a sense, they are on a more equal footing, but I think one of the appeals with slash is that the relationship is based in the first place on their friendship and the interdependence that they share. That's not coloured by initial lust, so that when any man meets a woman and there's that initial sexual attraction, I think that women are always aware of the fact that one of the huge factors for men in the appeal of women in general is the physical attractiveness, and that they're attracted to their body before they're attracted to anything else about them, and that in slash stories, what's really the driving factor behind the relationship isn't, you know, that they've got the hots for their body, but that they've got the hots for the person inside. And that's going to survive regardless of what time does to the way you look. And I think that fantasy is extremely appealing for a lot of women.

... As far as Darwinian psychology goes, it's easy to explain differences between erotic material that's produced for men and that what's produced for women. So that for men you have this huge pornography industry where the main body of the material is all about sex and it's about lust and physical gratification, and not about relationships or finding your one true love, which is what the romance novel's all about. And it's easy to look at that from a Darwinian perspective, that for women one of the biggest concerns is finding a mate who will stay with you and remain faithful to you and help you raise your children. And that for males, while that's also a part of their psychology, that they choose a mate and they raise children with them, a little bit of action on the side doesn't have a really high cost for men.

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).[3]

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*.[4]

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." [5]

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.[6]


  1. ^ Google Books unsourced book description, accessed July 25, 2011
  2. ^ THE SEXUAL WORLD: Don Symons: Slash Fiction, Archived version, YouTube video, uploaded January 3, 2009, accessed July 25, 2011
  3. ^ Judith Proctor review of Warrior Lovers, accessed July 25, 2011
  4. ^ This and That, posted August 21, 2007, accessed July 25, 2011
  5. ^ from DIAL #19
  6. ^ Ogi Ogas review of Warrior Lovers, accessed July 25, 2011