Jason Sanford


PORN: THE MOST POPULAR FICTION ON THE WEB

On the way to writing this essay, I tripped over a pile of porn.

Literally. Or I should so, literary porn. Erotic stories.

The truth is that pornography was the farthest thing from my mind when I sat down to write this essay. My original intent had been to write about the experience of editing storySouth. I figured I'd rant on how hard it is to read through hundreds of submissions each quarter, or about how needy bad writers are while the good writers I publish rarely hassle me at all.

The problem, though, was that I needed a 'hook' for the essay. When editors want to discuss boring subjects like submissions and rejection letters, they need a damn good hook to keep the reader interested. Some editors write about their latest fishing trip (resulting in analogies such as, "Finding a good story is like landing a twenty-pound bass"). Others debate whatever literary controversy is currently hot (Analogy: "Getting your book onto Oprah's bookclub is like leaving a twenty-pound bass all day in a hot car—it gets you noticed but some people ain't gonna want to ride in that car with you").

Anyway, the angle for this essay is pornography.

My original hook had been to discover the various search engine requests that led people to storySouth. As you may know, websites keep track of the numbers of people who visit their sites and what links and search engine requests directed people there. So I thought I'd go into storySouth's web history, see what words people typed in to find the site, and use that as the angle to approaching this essay.

Then along came porn.

Don't get me wrong. Most readers of storySouth found our journal by typing in words such as 'southern literature', 'poetry south', or 'fiction from the south' into search engines like Yahoo or Google. Unfortunately, such vanilla fare can't compare with the one person who found storySouth on Google by typing in: 'pulls+off+her+shirt+at+beach+pictures+of+breasts.'

Amazing, I thought. That means all those words are found somewhere in the different stories published on storySouth. I then began looking for other weird search requests. It turns out that quite a few of the thousands of visitors storySouth gets each month found the site by doing a search for erotic stories. Among my favorite search requests were:

'heavy milk filled tits'
'she was so pregnant'
'girls lsu sex'
'brother's wife stories'
'wife topless breast'
'chopped off my penis'

I wonder about these guys (and being a guy, I know it's guys). Were they typing these search requests at work, searching for erotic stories while attempting to hide their sexual obsession from their boss? Or were they in the privacy of their home, sitting at their computer and...er, maybe I shouldn't attempt to create a word-picture of this.

Actually, I don't care much for readers who find storySouth through these sexual search requests. They wouldn't be the type of people I'd invite to my house to discuss literature. ("What did you think of Madame Bovery?" "Well, she had some amazing tits.") My wife stated it best when, after reading a few lines of this essay, she said a single word: "Perverts." It's hard to argue with such succinctness

It is a well-known fact that the most popular item on the internet—and one of the few industries actually making money online—is pornography. People don't like to talk about this fact. People like to ignore this fact. But anyone with an e-mail account knows this is true; the sex industry almost single-handedly created spam (Don't call it spam, call it Sex with PAM).

The down side to this, and what these sexual search requests prove, is that the most popular fiction on the internet is also pornography. While there are few hard numbers to back up this claim, I am certain more people read online erotic stories each day than visit all the top literary sites in a year. I mean, if a few hundred people each month are so desperate for erotic stories that they look for them on storySouth, imagine how many visitors a true erotic story site gets.

As I originally said, people typing in such search requests are a small minority of the readers visiting storySouth (or other literary websites—don't for a moment think that all literary websites aren't seeing a similar percentage of their traffic resulting from sexual searches). And none of this takes away from the excellent fiction that is being published online—starting with storySouth.

So the next time you read a short story online and notice the word "breast" in a moving description of a mother feeding her baby, know that soon a sex crazed fiend will find that story by accident.

Just imagine this guy's shock when he realizes his search for a story about 'sucking on mother's breast' won't get him sexually excited. Who knows to what depths of despair the man will fall? Who can say how deeply he will be wounded by having nothing to push him over that sexual edge?

But hey, such is the power of great fiction!

* * *

Jason Sanford is the fiction editor of storySouth.

END NOTE: In the year since this essay was published, it has steadily remained one of the most popular items on storySouth—at least among porn seekers. So to all the readers who found this essay while looking for porn, and put aside their raging hormones long enough to read the essay to the end, I salute you (even if I have no desire to shake your hand at this moment).