can I read erotica on work breaks?

A reader writes:

I came across the discussions of porn at work earlier this year, which got me questioning something I do. I tend to read romance novels and explicit stories from online repositories on my personal phone when I have spare moments, such as on a scheduled break. Other than AAM, this is my main source of entertainment in situations where I don’t have access to my video game console at home, can’t work out, and can’t watch YouTube due to bandwidth, volume, or other concerns.

These stories are all text-based and never illustrated (so no one would glance over and notice anything offensive), but most are more graphic than 50 Shades of Grey (though some are tamer, i.e. regular stories that happen to just have a sex scene). I usually predownload the stories, but if I don’t I bring them up on a phone data connection since there’s not convenient wifi where I work, and these sites aren’t likely vectors of malware like most porn sites (curated content with basic HTML, no external links, and no ads). I had previously thought of reading these as a harmless way to decompress, but the recent-ish discussions about porn on AAM talking about everything from IT risks to hostile work environments has gotten me rattled. Am I doing evil where I thought I was simply taking my mind off work during a break? Would it change things if I was opening them on workplace wifi/reading in a semi-public break room vs a semi-private bathroom stall/a given gender/whatever?

Are you doing something evil? No.

Are you doing something inappropriate at work? Maybe, but it depends on the details.

If it’s hardcore and graphic (as a general theme throughout the story, not just in a scene or two), I’d say that’s inappropriate for work. It’s true that people are far less likely to accidentally see it on your screen than if you were looking at visual images, but it’s not impossible. But more to the point, you really just shouldn’t be steeping yourself in hardcore, graphic imagery at work, even if that imagery is created by words rather than pictures or video.

One good litmus test is: Would you be embarrassed if your boss caught you reading it at work? If yes, then even though you’re on your own non-work device and you’re not using your company wifi, that’s a sign that it’s probably too much for work, even on a break.

But there’s erotic writing that does pass that litmus test. For example, it shouldn’t be a big deal if your boss spotted you reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover (widely considered good literature) on your lunch break. In some offices (not all), you might even get away with 50 Shades of Grey, just because it became popular enough to be seen more as a mainstream book and less as erotica, although it’s iffy. (This is probably where I should confess that in high school, I once openly read Xaviera Hollander’s The Happy Hooker in an English class where I was bored. A paper copy, with the cover clearly visible. I was a brash child.)

The most important litmus test, though, is this: Is the point of the book to sexually arouse you?  If so, that automatically moves it into the “nope, not for work” category — because it’s not okay to intentionally sexually arouse yourself at work, even on a break.

I think those litmus tests trump the other factors you asked about, like being in a semi-public area vs a bathroom stall, or being a particular gender. And of course, work wifi gives you a different level of exposure, but the same principles apply.

Read an update to this letter here.  

{ 572 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A point of clarification about my answer: I’m not talking about romance books or books with a few graphic scenes in them. I’m talking about books and stories where the entire point is graphic sex scenes — stories with titles like “Busty Alien MILF Gets Punished” and “Amanda Meets a Dirty Priest” and so forth. These are stories that wouldn’t exist without the sex — the sex is the whole point.

      1. SavannahMiranda*

        Yes! Those are too hilarious, Alison.

        If I could use that awful crying laughter emoji here I would.

    1. LeisureSuitLarry*

      As a side point, and completely off-topic, the writer(s), director, and producers of American Pie have got to be thrilled that MILF remains part of the lexicon 20 years after it was released. How many people get to introduce brand new words to the language.

      1. Ellex*

        Actually, MILF was being used on the internet long before American Pie. That movie just brought the word into mainstream usage.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I really want to google and see if these are legit titles or ones you just made up, but I probably shouldn’t do that on my work computer.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Don’t forget rule 34, Alison. *YOU* may have made them up, but I will bet money someone’s taken the title of at least one of them for an actual work.

        2. TardyTardis*

          There is actually an SF book called RULE 34, by Charles Stross, which involves some very creative ways of disposing of spammers, the interesting possibilities of 3D printers, and a poor schlub that you shouldn’t like but you probably will anyway.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            I’ve just been mainlining the Merchant Princes series. Mr Stross is a srsly funny deep-thinking sort of a guy!

      1. tink*

        The Alien one almost reminds me of Chuck Tingle novels, which have names like “Space Raptor Butt Invasion”

          1. A.N. O'Nyme*

            I am glad I’m not the only one who knows dinosaur erotica is a thing. Now I don’t have to suffer alone.

        1. aebhel*

          My coworker and I recently had to explain who Chuck Tingle was to our boss (we work in a library, we were talking about the Hugo Awards, it was work-related, I swear), and we both kind of fumbled around a bit before I just finally told him to Google it… just maybe not at work.

          He came in the next day and said, “…so I looked him up.” And then just started laughing his ass off.

      2. Canadian Natasha*

        As someone who often browses amazon’s free ebooks for (non-smutty) reading material, those titles are not even an exaggeration. *shudder*

            1. Duchess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              “that title might top anything he’s done before.”

              I see what you did there.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*


          I Was a Lunch Break Call Girl (remember THAT letter?)
          Black Magic Curses: Forbidden Sex Sorcery
          Pounded in the Butt by the Mayan Shaman (Who’s Actually a White Dude from California)

      1. Mike*

        Now, if it were Busty Alien MILF Gets Pun-ished, where it’s the puns, all the puns, and only the puns that count, I’d be first in line for that.

    3. Anon for this*

      In the fanfic world these are labeled as PWP stories (plot, what plot?). (Although some have normal sounding titles so you have to go by the tags/labels/warnings)

    4. Batshua*

      “Pounded in the butt by my resume and cover letter” — The new Tingler with advice from AAM?

      … I know, I’m going to the Special Hell.

    5. Jennifer Juniper*

      That second one sounds like pedo-porn to me. But then, I’m a very morbid and pessimistic person. I’ve been told my mind works like a bad slasher film.

  2. Karen from Finance*

    ” Is the point of the book to sexually arouse you? If so, that automatically moves it into the “nope, not for work” category — because it’s not okay to intentionally sexually arouse yourself at work, even on a break.”

    This, times 100. Excellently put.

    This line will be subjective of course, but I think with decent enough judgement it’ll be fine.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Yes! This is why I love Alison: she gets down to the nuts and bolts in way I didn’t think to phrase it.

      Given the description of the stories (most are more graphic than 50 Shades of Grey and more graphic than a regular story with an isolated sex scene), I suspect the LW best err on the side of not reading this at work.

    2. LadyPhoenix*

      I forgot exactly what WTFIWWY said, but it was along the lines that public displays of fetishization are NOT OK unless everyone is ok with it—including any passer byers who might witness the actions. They will need consent too.

      So public maturbation and getting hot and bothered in public? No bueno.

      And also, the classic “No one wants to see your dick.”

      1. aebhel*

        That seems like… kind of an odd place to take it, though? As long as someone’s not actually doing anything inappropriate, I don’t see how reading smutty fiction in public is the same as jerking off in public. Although maybe I’ve spent enough time in fandom that I’m just inured to it.

        Probably not appropriate for work, but otherwise? Eh.

    3. kristinyc*

      Agreed! If that is the point of reading them… why would you want to when you’re in a situation where you can’t um, do the next logical step?

    4. Vicky Austin*

      Agreed, with the caveat that it’s only okay to sexually arouse yourself at work if you’re a porn star or other kind of sex worker.

    5. SavannahMiranda*

      Alison gets incredible points in this answer for expertly walking a fine line between reason, kindness, practicality, personal matters, and a tiny bit of “WTF.”

      This is the kind of question that in any other hands could devolve rapidly, but Alison keeps everything both kind and businesslike, as usual.

      Excellent work Alison!

  3. Elizabeth*

    I agree with Alison that if reading this, um, excites you…then that’s a no go for work. That’s definitely Uncomfortable and Inappropriate.

    But, if that’s not the case, and you just read this stuff because you like it (but you don’t have a physical reaction to it) then I personally think it’s fine. As long as it discreetly remains on your personal device and not a work computer, and people who glance over don’t have a chance of seeing something that may raise eyebrows, then read whatever you want.

    1. Anonysand*

      Well put, especially your last line. Although I’m not the OP, I have been reading steamy romance novels for years as a way to decompress, and have read these types of stories on my phone during work breaks (mostly lunch breaks while eating alone in my walled-in cubicle) in the past. But, as it happens when you’ve been reading smut for long periods of time, it can often turn into something that doesn’t have a physical effect on your libido and you almost become desensitized to it. I’ve gotten to the point where reading these books/stories are often like watching a run-of-the-mill chick flick.

      1. Kathlynn*

        This, I read a lot of romances. And I’m glad I’ve moved to digital, no need to worry about people trying to figure out what the book I’m reading is about. (and if you decide to read over my shoulder,without talking to me first, that’s your own fault. Because if you talked to me, I would be angling my phone away from you)
        To me looking at someone’s phone is like going through their purse or other private object.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah, definitely. If you are reading the text on someone’s phone screen in the first place, you’re not in any position to complain. It’s not like someone watching a smutty video with bewbs galore filling up the screen or, God forbid, something with audio….

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Wasn’t there a letter here years ago, where someone got in trouble at work because the person on the bus behind them read what they were texting? (and it was about work)

      2. Vicky Austin*

        That’s a good point! I didn’t think of that. I don’t read smut, but I’ll occasionally read a novel that has a sex scene or two.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      I think this is well said.

      But if you choose to continue reading these books, you should have a prepared answer if anyone asks what you’re reading!

      1. Rainbow Roses*

        She can just say “Oh, personal messages.” or even “Nothing much.” It’s her private phone; not the companies. And it’s her break time. She doesn’t have to answer if she doesn’t want to.

        1. BookishMiss*

          I tend to go with “historical fiction” when asked. You could also use sci fi, fantasy, or whatever broader genre the book would fall into without the romance heading.
          To be fair, I read romance novels because right now my brain can’t handle a story I really have to pay attention to, and some of them are downright hilarious. I also don’t really read when I’m at work, because books for some reason attract questions and conversation…

    3. Kelsi*

      As an ace person who regularly reads smutty fanfic on my phone at lunch breaks–this.

      I enjoy it in the same way I enjoy non-smutty romance (I tend to prefer smut that’s all about the emotional connection between the characters). It’s not like, getting me all hot and bothered.

      Plus there’s no real chance anyone will be reading over my shoulder, given the layout of my cubicle (where I usually eat lunch instead of the lunch room so I can have some introvert decompress time).

      1. Not Rebee*

        Ditto. I actually prefer the smutty stuff to not-smutty-at-all stuff, but I’m ace and only very rarely have any kind of physical reaction to the story. At which point I would save it for later and pick something else to read because I’d like to not be worried about getting interrupted, so. But that happens maybe once a year? If that, tbh.

        1. Jess*

          Another ace who reads smutty fic on breaks. I read it as I do romance, like Kelsi, and luckily have my own space where no one will be looking over my shoulder.

    4. CR*

      I read smutty fanfic on my phone all the time at work and it never even occurred to me not to. It’s my phone, nobody sees it.

      1. aebhel*

        MTE. If someone reads my personal phone over my shoulder while I’m on break, then anything they read that disturbs them is on them.

    5. Blerpborp*

      How is it uncomfortable and/or inappropriate if no one knows she is aroused? As long as she’s not going around humping coworkers, I really think it’s strange that we can thought police people on this. I love most of Alison’s advice and it is the most cautious plan of action but it really does make me see how totally clueless people are about the folks around them- odds are at any moment someone you work with might be having a dirty thought! Is this shocking? Maybe but it also has no affect on you. They might be thinking about something they did last night, the passage they read in a book, they might be thinking about you! But as long as I’m not acting inappropriately, I’m not of the belief that my employer has dominion over my thoughts.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Would you say it’s okay for someone to watch porn (videos) on their phone at work if he has a private office, sits facing the door, and is absolutely sure no one could accidentally see over his shoulder? If not, why reading this different (again, assuming we’re talking about stories where graphic sex is the whole point, not where it’s incidental)?

        1. Kathlynn*

          Assuming that they shut it down if someone entered the room and had headphones on, none of my business. There is the difference that another person has to make a special effort to involve themselves in written works, they don’t have to do so for visual works. And honestly, there is still a lot more plot in most of the erotica or highly graphic romance book I’ve read (having read more then my fair share of both) then any porn I’ve seen.

          1. JamieS*

            Not everyone has to make a special effort when something is written. My mind instantaneously reads what I see the same way our minds see images even if we don’t mean to. So even if I just happen to incidentally see my coworker’s computer screen I would be able to know instantly if they’re reading erotica with no special effort.

            1. Kathlynn*

              I mean, get close enough that the screen is clear, and take the time to read it. Which takes more then 1-10s/page. Especially if you’re like me and use pretty much the smallest print you can. Visual images can be seen a lot father away then text can.

              1. JamieS*

                I don’t have to “take the time”. It’s literally instantaneous. That’s my point, you don’t know whether or not a coworker will be able to tell what text is on your screen.

                1. boo bot*

                  Yeah, I also read this way. Honestly, I probably process words faster than visuals much of the time. It might take me a second to figure out that all those people are naked, but as soon as I’m close enough to see words on the page, I will know that author’s favorite euphemism. (e.g. “…he thrust his scimitar into her most secret aperture…”)

                2. Kathlynn*

                  So you can read the time on the tiny bar at the top of most phones over 3 feet away? I doubt it. An image is larger and visible father then print is.

                3. JamieS*

                  Kathlynn, my ability to see text is slightly better than my ability to make out images on a phone so yes if I’m close enough to tell what an image is then I’m close enough to make out text. Regardless my personal ability is irrelevant. I responded to you saying someone has to make a special effort to read something and I said a lot of people don’t. Being close enough to see something isn’t “special effort”.

              1. JamieS*

                True but a lot of people couldn’t see it from across the room on a phone if it were a porn video either so I’m starting from the presumption it can be seen. Otherwise image vs words would be a moot point.

        2. Alton*

          I think the thing that can make it different is that there’s a spectrum between stuff that’s clearly 100% porn and romance that has a couple steamy scenes. The boom in e-publishing and the popularity of stuff like 50 Shades has created a whole market for erotic romance that’s steamier that romance but that still has a story. So I don’t think it’s that black or white. It can be hard to draw a line.

          I think a better comparison would be something like watching a mainstream movie with nudity and sex scenes. I also feel like there’s a difference between a written medium and something with pictures and sounds. The latter is a lot more likely to be noticed by others by accident, and a lot harder to ignore.

        3. Blerpborp*

          Honestly, yes, I’d say that’s fine albeit much harder to accomplish (to assure 100% no one can see it.) If it isn’t cutting into productivity and isn’t leading to inappropriate behavior and is just about getting a secret thrill then I don’t see how that is the employer’s business. I’m a librarian and have definitely witnessed plenty of people viewing porn and not doing anything else inappropriate so my job was just to make sure they weren’t doing it where the images were visible to others. Of course, they weren’t my employees but it did make me view these things differently than I would have before. My viewpoint is that people are freaky and if the freakiest thing going on is someone getting privately a little hot under the collar while reading a fic on their break then that’s a lucky workplace!

        4. beth*

          Honestly? If they’re on break, they’re in a guaranteed private space (so their coworkers aren’t exposed to them being aroused without consenting), they’re not using their work computer or work wifi (and thereby exposing them to potential viruses), and they’re not leaving body fluids around the office space, then I don’t really care if a coworker watches explicit videos (or reads explicit stories–like you say, I don’t think they’re all that different) in their offtime.

          The problem for me is that usually those aren’t all 100% true. The private space one is especially tricky in an office setting; even in a private office, walls and doors are thin and not all that soundproof, offices often have a window to the hallway, you might get a phone call or a knock on the door at any time, etc. And obviously a bathroom stall or cubicle is even less private.

          But if OP were, say, going to their car to eat lunch and read a bit? I don’t see why that would be a problem. To me, it’s about making sure you’re not inadvertently exposing your unconsenting coworkers to either your erotica or your aroused state, not about banning a certain genre entirely.

          1. Susie Q*

            There is no such thing as a guaranteed private space at work except the bathroom stall. It’s work not your home.

        5. aebhel*

          You can’t have that same level of absolute certainty with a visual medium, though. It’s fundamentally different. Anyone who happens to glance at the screen will be tell if someone is watching porn; in order to tell that someone is reading sexually explicit material on their phone, you’d have to be literally leaning over their shoulder; it’s not really something you can do by accident. And even so, there’s no way to tell from a single scene whether it’s an incidental plot point or whether graphic sex is the whole point of the story.

        6. Aveline*

          I think any purposeful sexual arousal is problematic for three reasons

          (1) most humans don’t switch from sex mode to work mode that quickly. We need decompression and transition time. So simply shuttlng of the computer or putting down the book when someone walks in isn’t enough. The person who is aroused is still in sex mode.

          (2) studies show that people make objectively worse decisions about risk when aroused. Particularly those humans with higher testosterone. Even women with high testosterone do worse than women with normal levels.

          (3) studies show that if you show het Or bi men photos of sexualized women, they carry that over to their judgment of and treatment of women they encounter immediately after
          Such exposure. That effect dissipates given time intervals between the exposure to sexualized images and contact with women.

          So their treatment of the women in the workplace would be impacted in way that their off work porn habits won’t.


          None of this is voluntary. None of it is mitigated by someone being woke. It’s hardwired I into the species (and probably all mammals).

          And we largely don’t see we are doing it, but those whom we direct it toward still feel it.

          Also, I’d say this isn’t just about sex. If you knowingly and repeatedly watch something that makes you enraged or sad at work, that’s also problematic.

          Don’t put yourself into an altered psychological place on purpose. Particularly one you can’t switch out of easily that will impact your ability to work.

          There’s a reason I don’t read twitter or watch abused animal videos while waiting for my cases to be called.

          There are plenty of things that are well within ones right to do in private settings that one should not do in the workplace.

          In most workplaces, purposefully arousing ones self is really not ok.

          1. What a Maroon*

            This was a really great nuanced explanation and I think is a great breakdown of why it matters

          2. Blerpborp*

            If the standard was “don’t read something that is going to alter your psychological state in a way that will affect work” then excellent, that sounds right! But since so many people can’t seem to fathom arousal at work, I have to keep wheeling out my own experience with it. A few times in my decades of work, I have stumbled across a book or story that is erotic (I’m a librarian) as well as various times I’ve received texts/emails of an erotic nature while at work and become aroused. I don’t mean I’m so horny I can’t concentrate, I just mean I’m turned on. I have a private office now but I’ve also experienced this in a shared cube farm situation and even on the public reference desk. The kind of possible arousal that a book being casually read on a work break is a far cry from teetering on the edge of orgasm (THAT would be a problem!) But ultimately each person has to know their own deal and if they now they flush and get really awkward when they feel that way then yeah, don’t do that at work. Of course, this whole website indicates that lots of people lack a lot of self awareness but since the answer was directed at the OP and she seems to be a reasonable person, it just seems more fair to say “don’t read it if it makes you act weird in a way that makes your coworkers uncomfortable” versus “it’s all good unless you’re feeling privately horny.”

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I think it’s fair to say we really can’t know what people at work are thinking, and I’ll take it one step further. I don’t think we even need to know that a co-worker is having an elaborate fantasy about sex, eating pizza, their next vacation, or telling off their boss in epic fashion. Personal thoughts are just that: PERSONAL.

        Which is why I have a problem when personal thoughts manifest in more tangible ways at work – in this case, reading erotica on a personal device in a break room or at a workstation. This changes things for me, for all the reasons Alison and others have posted already. Maybe no one can see a tiny screen unless they get nosy, but they can see their co-worker interacting with it. In my experience, people are not as poker-faced as they think they are. Maybe the employee has a right to read whatever s/he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do at work. Yeah, I’m cautious but it’s served me well.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Sorry, I meant to say I have a problem when *extremely* personal thoughts, etc. It’s a fuzzy line of distinction but I see a line.

        2. Blerpborp*

          You have to really be up in someone’s business to see them react in a way that indicates arousal…if they are squirming or moaning or something, yeah, that’s too much. But I have watched likely thousands of people reading books and screens (I’m a librarian, so I have seen men actually looking at pornography but not doing anything physically inappropriate) and have seldom ever seen anyone physically indicate how the reading was making them feel (in fact, I can’t think of a single time but I’m sure I’ve heard someone chuckle or gasp while reading but it was not worth remembering.)

          1. Aveline*

            Maybe you do, but it’s not as subtle or hidden as you think.

            Husband had to investigate more than once when women said “Fergus is giving off weird vibes, he seems to be leering and aroused.” Only found out he was watching porn by auditing his computer usage.

            In most cases husband has dealt with, the first sign was women in the office having their spider senses go off based on subtle visual cues and facial expressions. Only then did the look at the internet history reveal what had happened

            1. SS Express*

              How does this number compare to the total number of people looking at sexual content at that workplace? Were cases of weird vibes higher for this group than for the general population there? Is it possible that creepy people are more likely to watch porn and not contain their arousal, or do we know for sure that they were otherwise non-creepy people who gave off weird vibes unintentionally after viewing that material?

              1. Avekine*

                One of the men were viewed as creepy prior to the incidents. None. The women were asked.

                The creepy dudes are often watched more closely by IT JD they are reported.

            2. Blerpborp*

              So….Fergus can’t be trusted to control his behavior therefore shouldn’t be getting aroused at work. But that’s not everyone (know thyself.) Also, a creep is a creep and would never ask AMA if it’s okay that they view erotic material at work because they are a creep and likely get off on making others uncomfortable. I get it that your traditional chronic, sneaky porn watching man at work is likely not keeping it effectively to themselves and is coupled with other questionable behaviors and intents. But my solution to that isn’t a complete denial that humans have sexual thoughts sometimes (I actually think that kind of prudishness is what fuels a lot of other messed up behavior but that’s way beyond the scope of this conversation!) The OP doesn’t appear to be a creeper predator so the blanket ban on arousing reading seems like an overstep.

      3. Clay on My Apron*

        I’ve never really considered this but I’d think it’s the same as watching a side splitting comedy at the office, or something that caused me to feel extremely sad or angry. You need to maintain a reasonable level of control and self awareness.

        1. Aveline*


          I don’t watch those Sarah Mclachlan ads for abused kittens or read MRA sites at work.

          Because I think doing something I know that bears a strong risk of putting me emotionally off kilter is disrespectful to my colleagues and clients.

          It isn’t just about discovery, it’s about what it does to one emotionally and cognitively.

          And most of us can’t switch emotional states on a dime

    6. Vicky Austin*

      I don’t see how it would be possible to read erotica and not get aroused; unless it was very badly written. By definition, erotica is intended to arouse the reader. I don’t even like to read sex scenes when I’m commuting to/from work on the train, because I don’t want to get aroused on the train.

      1. Anon for this, I guess*

        Hi, I’m Anon, and I don’t usually get aroused reading it, unless that’s my explicit goal in reading. Otherwise it’s just reading. I’m not ace, I just don’t react to written erotica unless I’m actively trying to.

        1. SignalLost*

          Same. I’ve read literally millions of words of fanfic in about seven different fandoms and I’ve never reacted physically. And I think it’s different from porn because fanfic is broadly-generally more about filling in a story’s gaps (story is used in multiple senses; the relationship could be the story, the setting could be the story, an actual canon story could be the story, etc) and adding emotion, where porn is about getting aroused as quickly as possible. (Honestly, I often skip the sex scenes in fanfic any more. There are only so many ways to insert tab a into slot b. And there are a lot of terrible ways to describe doing that.)

          1. BookishMiss*

            Very same. Half the time, I end up cracking up at the turns of phrase and…creative…word choices and premises. Example: look up The Angel Wore Fangs. It’s hysterical.

      2. bluegirl*

        Because arousal is actually pretty complex and often needs more than just a sexy stimulus. I don’t get aroused by porn if I’m not in the mood. I don’t get aroused by erotica when I’m reading on the train, because a commuter train is not a sexy environment. I can still enjoy them in those contexts, they’re just not arousing then.

        1. Amelia Pond*

          Same here. If I’m not in the mood, it doesn’t matter how well written the sex scenes are, I won’t be having a reaction.            
          Personally, I’m an incredibly private person and wouldn’t read erotica in public. If I’m in public and what I’m reading does does have explicit sex, I’d skip it until I was alone.

          I’m really kinda torn on this. So long as the cover isn’t showing, I don’t think someone reading erotica on their break would bother me, especially since I don’t have a habit of looking at phone/device screens of people around me. One reason porn videos bother me more is because the movement makes it much more likely that the eye will be drawn by the motion, where text wouldn’t. (I’m sure the people that watch it at work either mute it or have headphones on, but you can accidentally unmute something or have headphones come disconnected. So that’s another way it could draw attention the way text can’t.) Plus with men that watch porn at work (I’m not say women don’t, but we have to acknowledge it’s overwhelmingly men that do) it seems like it’s a compulsion. Theyknow they shouldn’t be doing it, that they can’t make it through work day without watching it, even if told the might lose their job if they continue. That’s really worrying and you have no idea what else they’re capable of if they can’t control something so simple. With people that are reading text based erotica, I think most could easily stop if they had to or were told to, so it’s not a compulsion. Does that make sense?

      3. Ace*

        Because not everyone experiences sexual attraction. I’m ace and while I don’t seek out erotica because I find it mind-numbingly boring, I know plenty of other ace people who read it and don’t get sexually aroused

      4. Avasarala*

        I think you made a good point that has been lost in the responding comments. By definition, the intent is to arouse. Regardless of its effectiveness (because poorly written/reader is ace/reader is desensitized/whatever), the intent is to arouse the reader. People should not be doing things that try to arouse them at work.

        1. tbooger*

          Why does the intent of the creator outweigh the intent of the consumer? I realize that sounds confrontational, but I’m honestly curious. There are plenty of people sounding out in the comments that they don’t read smut to get aroused and/or it doesn’t do it for them… so why does the creator’s intent outweigh that?

          For my own part, I’ve intentionally read smutty fic on a break before. Hell, I’ve edited a friend’s erotica during my lunch hour before (promise, the split infinitives and missing commas weren’t that sexy). My feeling is that if someone looks over my shoulder on my own time, they get what they get, and vice versa; if I’m close enough to see something specific on a person’s phone while they’re actively using it… well, I shouldn’t be and whatever I see is my problem. On top of that, people are aroused — or angered, or saddened, or otherwise emotionally altered — by any number of random things in the world. If I have a fantastic date, I’m gonna be poking that memory like a sore tooth the next day, whether I’m at work or not. Shit happens, humans are humans. As long as it’s not being made a problem for others… I honestly don’t see the harm.

  4. JokeyJules*

    I wouldn’t. Mostly because erotica kind of gets me in the mood, and I don’t want to be in the mood at work. Even if that’s not the case for you, imagine the discomfort of others around you thinking that you are. Not that their comfort comes first, but for me that’s another factor I’d be mindful of.

    1. Blerpborp*

      But they don’t know you’re reading erotica therefore they do not know that you are “in the mood.” I do in fact think one’s coworkers comfort in matters of sexuality does come “first” because we’re trying to maintain healthy boundaries and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. But reading a book that no one can see the title of and having a private moment of arousal that is not made known to anyone else is not violating anyone else’s comfort!

      1. Ego Chamber*

        This is where I’m going to nope out. You are the only calm, logical, reasonable person in this entire comment thread so far, and I’m dumbfounded that such a sex-positive and feminist-leaning site is such a group of f#cking prudes when it comes to something so harmless as an invisible arousal response that goes no further.

        I have talked to dozens—actual dozens!—of dudes at different workplaces who had obvious boners when they were talking to me. Not because I’m hot (I’m really not) but no-reason boners are a thing (there’s even a song about it!) and I don’t begrudge a dude a boner unless he’s trying to get me to touch it or something.

        For my part, I once read Razor Wire Pubic Hair in the break room at Call Center Hell. In paperback, with the cover on display. I gave no f#cks. Neither did any of the dudes casually watching porn with their backs to the wall and their hands nowhere near their junk.

        Tl;dr: Police actions, not thoughts.

  5. Emma*

    Ugh, I totally feel you OP!! This can be super tricky, especially with fanfiction which can often have super graphic sex scenes hiding within what might seem like an otherwise “innocent” story…

    1. Vicky Austin*

      Fanfiction is often rated for sex scenes, so you know what you’re getting before you start reading it. Sometimes I wish regular books had similar ratings; just so I won’t have the awkward feeling of reading sex scenes on the train when I don’t want to be aroused.

      1. ligirl*

        Except some people seem to think a single f*ck or someone getting punched merits an M rating (for profanity or violence), and clearly that’s okay to read at work, while the author writing porn also uses the same M rating. It’s not really a reliable way to determine if a story is SFW or not

        1. ElspethGC*

          Also, throwback to when any story with a same-sex couple, even if they weren’t doing anything more graphic than kissing, always got rated as more mature than something with straight sex scene. And fic writers putting “Warning: gay relationship!” so they wouldn’t get flagged for not signposting ‘mature content’.

          And of course, by ‘throwback’ I mean ‘about seven years ago’. I didn’t really get into fic and fandom until then, and I remember how you used to have to set filters to accept mature content if you wanted to see anything involving queer people.

      2. Amelia Pond*

        You can just skip the sex scene if you stumble across it while in public, and come back to it later. (Or not, if those scenes don’t matter to someone.) That’s what I used to do at surprise sex scenes which really helped mitigate the awkward feeling. I used to read in public all the time as a teenager. I was an unusually mature teenage and reading at an adult level by age 11, I was reading a lot of “adult” books and the sex scenes embarrassed me. (This was back when there weren’t very many Young Adult books at all, and didn’t even have its own section in book stores. Teenagers today are so lucky to have such a huge selection to choose from.)

  6. Jenn*

    This just isn’t a good idea. Even if done in a non-harassing way, it would really make me question someone’s judgment to have them reading erotica at work. Sex stuff should be left out of the workplace and especially of someone is getting deliberately aroused at work, it just isn’t appropriate.

    It really seems unprofessional.

  7. ExcelJedi*

    Is this about fan fiction? Because I have a surprising number of professional female friends in their 20’s and 30’s who do this with fan fic. Not actually sharing a workplace with any of them, I find it both hilarious and a bit over the line.

    1. ExcelJedi*

      Addendum: I do not find it over the line on my commute, and have definitely read stuff like this on the subway.

      1. Blerpborp*

        So it’s “over the line” at work but not on the way to work? This cracks me up- so you can get good and horned up on the way to work but I guess it just the second you step foot into work all sexual and sensual thoughts one has ever had are erased? I really think that most people commenting “oh yes, no arousal is the standard” are living in a fantasy land where people have only “appropriate” thoughts at work. For 9 hours a day I will only think the thoughts my boss would like to me to think? Hell no. I’m going to think trash about my coworkers, I’m going to think about who’d I’d tell off if I won the lottery, and yeah I might have a naughty thought now and then. Are we living under the illusion that sexting only happens during non-work hours?

        1. Anon for this, I guess*

          Yeah, I’m really confused by the “arousal is the cut-off” thing. Sometimes arousal just happens. Sometimes you might be looking forward to seeing your s/o after work, or remembering what you got up to over the weekend, are you immediately supposed to sanitize and banish that thought forever?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The litmus test in the post was: Is the point of the book to sexually arouse you? You shouldn’t be intentionally reading/viewing things at work where the entire point is to turn you on. That’s different than a fleeting thought that just happens, or discovering to your surprise that a particularly detailed description of a supernova arouses you.

            1. Czhorat*

              Supernovas are HOT.

              Joking aside, I’m with you here and get your point; the goal of reading erotica is to get into an aroused state which isnt’ appropriate for work.

              You shouldn’t be sitting at your desk – even at break time – and trying to get turned on.

            2. Blerpborp*

              I think it’s even more interesting that it’s the content you think is inappropriate and not even if the OP gets aroused, just if the intent of the material is to arouse. I do agree that if my manager knew I was reading a graphic, erotic story I do think it would make me seem like a freak with bad judgement (bad judgement to force a conversation about sex with my boss) BUT if it’s on my phone and they would only know if I told them, then I still don’t see the problem or why/how they should have a vested interest in my reading material. I really do enjoy your follow up thoughts in these comments and delving deeper into my original kneejerk reaction which was just “LET PEOPLE READ THEIR SMUT!”

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            There’s a huge difference between ‘arousal just happens’ and consuming media that has a goal of being arousing. One is your back/mid brain doin’ its thing, the other is your front brain (exec function in the cerebral cortex) making a choice.

            I lean strongly towards ‘make a different choice’. And I say that as someone who reads spec fic / genre chick-lit murder books at lunch pretty much every day. I avoid horror, graphic murder, etc because they are distracting when I need to switch gears back into work mode.

            1. Anon for this, I guess*

              What if you’re not aroused by such books, even if that was the point of the book? For example, I would have to make a conscious choice to let myself be aroused by reading; it doesn’t just happen by default, even if the material is erotic. I usually read PWP fic with absolutely no reaction other than “wow, that’s well-written PWP” or “hmm, not a fan of this PWP”.

              1. Undine*

                I think it’s not just that you shouldn’t be aroused, but you need plausible deniability that you aren’t being aroused. Like if you light up a joint, but don’t inhale — that’s not a good look at work.

                1. Anon for this, I guess*

                  My coworkers can see me light up a joint, and/or smell it. Unless they’re taking my phone out of my hands, they can’t see what I might be reading.

            2. Avasarala*

              “Make a different choice.” This. Seriously. It’s not OK to see porn at work just because it’s fanfic/romance lit/popular with women and this audience skews female. You should not be doing things that intend to arouse you at work.

        2. ExcelJedi*

          On a 90 minute commute when I’m around strangers I don’t have to care about, of course I’m not going to censor myself or choose only “appropriate” things to read. I’m also comfortable swearing and doing other things I’d never do in the office.

          Lots of people adjust to a different persona as soon as they walk into the office (or building, or even neighborhood as they get off the subway). That doesn’t mean that they only think of appropriate things or whatnot….but personally, I hold myself to a different standard of behavior than I do in the rest of my life (and I’m not willing to sacrifice another 3 hrs/day of commute time to hold myself to that).

    2. anon for this*

      Do you find it over the line because it’s fanfic or just because it might be erotic fanfic?

      I read fanfic on my ipad or phone during lunch breaks. A lot of it contains porn, but I rarely get turned on by porn, so I pretty much look at it as sex scenes that pop up in longer stories. Are people supposed to stop reading something at work if a sex scene pops up in a novel?

      If you’re reading with the intention of getting aroused, then you shouldn’t be doing it at work. But if you’re reading erotica or fanfic with detailed sex scenes because that’s what you enjoy, but don’t particularly get turned on by, I think that’s fine and it’s a bit stringent to try and enforce what people can and can’t read.

      Then again, I wouldn’t get embarrassed if someone caught me reading fanfic or fanfic porn, so maybe I’m just in a less of a “clutch your pearls because of the sex” category.

      1. ExcelJedi*

        In this case, erotic fanfic is definitely over the line.

        But personally, reading fanfic (especially my preferred romantic slash fic) at work generally just brings too much of my private life into my work sphere. Similarly, one of my coworkers knits for her Etsy store during lunch, and it’s fine for her, but for me personally it’s just mixing work and play too much.

        That said, I wouldn’t enforce my standards on anyone, as long as they kept to OP’s standards (on her phone, not using work wifi, etc.)

      2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        The problem is with your last paragraph, is the litmus test of appropriateness doesn’t rest with you (global you) it rests with your coworkers.

        I may have a ‘pinup’ of a scantily clad person hanging in my cube and find it totally innocuous, but if someone else has a problem with it then I’m going to be the one in trouble.

        Now, it’s true that non-graphic fiction being read on a personal device without being on a corporate network is not very likely to be casually observed by coworkers, but it’s not impossible. Honestly, this is one of those things that I personally wouldn’t have a risk tolerance for. My job and career is not worth risking over my lunchtime reading material. Surely there are other books/material that I can amuse myself with instead.

        1. Liane*

          I don’t think they make phone screens poster sized…

          As for me, I read a lot of urban and traditional fantasy novels that have steamy scenes, and if anyone at work asks what I am reading, it’s, “Yet another fantasy/sf novel.”
          If someone tries to read over my shoulder or pick up my phone without my invitation (whether I’m watching a Duck Tales episode or reading about a couple of werewolves flirting)? They–and everyone else on the same floor as the break room–are going to hear me screaming “Get out of my personal (censored) space and stop. Grabbing. My. Stuff!”

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            Of course it’s not… which is why I made the statement that it’s not as likely to be observed. But it can still happen.

            OP gets a phone call and sets their phone down and a coworker reads over their shoulder. OP hands their phone over to the boss to show a picture of the new puppy and buttons get pressed and suddenly the book is front and center.

            I wouldn’t be willing to take that particular risk. And I would highly caution anyone that has asked me to be just as wary.

            1. SpiderLadyCEO*

              I mean, these things can all happen even if you aren’t reading erotic materials at work. If you have something on your phone, that isn’t open at work, that you only view on your private time, and you hand your phone to your boss, you boss could still accidentally open that thing.

              If your concern is someone peeping something on your phone, well, that might just happen anyway, though yes, it is more likely to happen if you are viewing that material on your phone.

              I am in agreement that intentionally titillating yourself at work is inappropriate, but that’s because it in and of itself is inappropriate, not because others might see it.

            2. Amelia Pond*

              Wait, wait, wait- so even if you aren’t actively reading it at work, you can’t even have it on your phone in case your coworker/boss accidentally presses the wrong buttons on the phone and winds up on it? While I think someone shouldn’t be reading it at work, I think it’s way too far to say they can’t even have it on their device on the very off chance you hand someone your phone and they hit a wrong button.

      3. Parenthetically*

        ‘maybe I’m just in a less of a “clutch your pearls because of the sex” category.’

        This… really isn’t what people are saying at all. Please don’t call people prudes because they think it’s unprofessional to deliberately make oneself sexually aroused at work.

  8. Snubble*

    Reading fic at work is fine, but don’t read smut. It’s not worth the stress of worrying if you’ll be caught, or the risk of blushing. Like sexting – you’re techinically not doing anything your colleagues need to care about, but everyone is going to feel weird if they know, so it’s better not.

    1. IMightReadTooMuch*

      Sometimes you don’t know it’s going to be smut (or how smutty it’s going to be) until you get to the smutty part! I’ve had this happen with “literary fiction,” romance novels, fanfic, etc. If I’m in a professional or public setting when I inadvertently stumble across a scene that is graphic enough to make me self-conscious about reading it in that setting even if nobody knows I’m reading it, I either skip that scene or nope outta that book until a more appropriate time. I’m not necessarily worried that someone will read over my shoulder, but it makes ME uncomfortable to be reading explicit sex scenes in public/at work/at school — not because I’m afraid I’ll get aroused but because it just feels weird in that setting. I would not intentionally read a book at work that I knew or expected to be better suited to a bubble bath and a glass of wine. I’m usually reading three or four books at a time anyway, so I just switch to a different one if I get taken by surprise.

      Also, a not-insignificant number of people WRITE smut during work or school, and not necessarily on breaks. I don’t think that’s a very good idea, but it reminds me of Allison Janney’s guidance counselor/romance novelist Ms. Perky from “10 Things I Hate About You.” “Bratwurst? My, aren’t we the optimist!”

  9. High School English Teacher on a Break*

    Oh, the vision of young Alison reading “The Happy Hooker” in high school just gave me the giggles. Your stock is rising, Ms. Green!
    Anything to get the kids to read.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      I hope young Alison didn’t get branded as all kinds of nasty things for reading that in high school. That would certainly have happened to any girl that bold in my school.

      Of course, that shouldn’t happen. However, America slut-shames anyone who dares to be female just for not being male.

        1. Blerpborp*

          I have a board game from the 70’s based on The Happy Hooker called Xavier’s Game where the women playing are sex workers in a brothel and the men are johns….it’s very interesting!

      1. ThankYouRoman*

        You’re so over the top and worried feverishly about the horror of being slut shamed for the most asinine reasons.

        I sure hope nobody shunned her for showing her ankles either. Jeez.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I was hard-core Baptist in a flyover state as a teenage girl. That, plus a vivid imagination and a morbid personality, makes me hyper-aware of the slightest possibility of slut-shaming.

      2. Dance-y Reagan*

        Those of us who were bookish from a young age often noticed a phenomenon wherein Very Adult books slid under the radar in a way that R-rated movies, music, and video games did not. I was checking things out of the library that were really, really not appropriate for my age, and no one made a peep. At the same time, my peers were trying and failing to sneak NWA albums into their Walkmans. (obligatory Old Person acknowledgement)

            1. annakarina1*

              Nothing is wrong with it, but as my anecdote, I read the book when I was 11, thinking it was like one of her books meant for kids, and it was clearly meant for older teenagers about a teen couple having sex. It was eye-opening at the time, and something I kept secret because I didn’t want to get in trouble for having a book that was full of sex scenes.

            2. Batshua*

              I hear there’s a masturbation scene in it?

              That sort of thing was considered super scandalous in YA lit written during that time period.

              (I’ve never actually read it.)

              1. annakarina1*

                There might be, I don’t remember. Deenie was controversial because the teen protagonist liked to masturbate, albeit written in euphemistic terms, like touching her “special place” that makes her feel good.

                Forever had a scene where the boyfriend names his penis Ralph, and talks about him like he’s a third person in the room.

            3. Close Bracket*

              ‘Forever’ was HUGELY controversial. I never read it myself, not for any reason, just bc I didn’t get around to it. It featured teens! having! sex! that they liked! and nothing bad happened! And then they break up.

              Remember that this was written in 1975. It didn’t have to be very explicit for it to be hugely controversial. It continues to be controversial bc teens! having! sex! I read an interview w Bloom where she said she specifically wrote it bc there weren’t any novels about teen sexuality where it was treated as something ordinary. She said all the books at the time were moralizing, and typically there were terrible consequences as a result of the sex. She wanted something different.

          1. MissDisplaced*

            Lol! I actually got caught and called to the principal’s office in 7th grade over Judy Blume’s “Wifey” novel which was not YA. Worse, I had loaned it to my friend, who underlined all the naughty parts.
            So embarrassing! But I’ve got to hand it to my mom, who told the principal I read all sorts of things at an advanced level even she didn’t understand, and basically she wasn’t going to stop me.

        1. Relly*

          I discovered Jackie Collins in high school. Those books were gloriously filthy and I loved every second of it.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            My UNCLE gifted me a Jackie Collins book for Christmas when I was like… 14, maybe? I am 1000% sure he had no idea what kind of books she wrote.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yep. My mother, who LOST HER MIND when she found out that I saw R-rated Silence of the Lambs… as a 17-year-old, let me start reading her V.C. Andrews books when I was in elementary school.

          She also let me read Stephen King novels starting in about fourth grade, which I do NOT recommend. I didn’t sleep for a week after reading Pet Sematary.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            V.C. Andrews books are harmful, but far more for the slut-shaming of young girls for daring to be raped or develop early than for the sex itself.

            1. pancakes*

              Oh please. Lots & lots of us 80s girls read books like Flowers in the Attic (and non-fiction like the Mayflower Madam autobiography) as lurid fun without taking on-board ugly ideas about ourselves or our bodies.

              1. SS Express*

                I read those books as a kid, and looking back they have some really harmful ideas. The heroines are restrained 90% of the time and perfect sex goddesses the other 10% (and possibly feel terribly guilty about that afterwards). All the other women are either slutty and horrible, frigid and horrible, or very beautiful and therefore stupid/lazy/spoilt.

        3. Kathlynn*

          Yeah, I never had a librarian shame me for reading romance (even more descriptive romances). Though one did try to stop me from checking out over 20 books at once (I am a very fast reader. that’s maybe 2 weeks of books in the summer. Also couldn’t get to the library regularly). She stopped when I asked her if it was against the rules, because I had no problems doing so at another library before that.

        4. Lissa*

          It’s so true. The whole Clan of the Cave Bear series was just chilling in my junior high (grades 8 to 10) library and I definitely read it all! Very educational.

          1. LizardLady*

            My grandmother gave me the Clan of the Cave Bear series when I was in 9th grade! I read and loved all of them. But the next year my sophomore biology teacher saw one of the books on my desk, stopped class, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “LizardLady, why are you reading softcore porn in my class?” SO EMBARRASSING.

            1. Parcae*

              My high school earth science teacher recommended the Clan of the Cave Bear series to me! He felt they were very well researched; apparently he forgot about some other aspects of the books. I couldn’t look him in the eye for weeks.

              1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                This is true. Jean Auel is also involved in the Paleolithic research community and has lent financial support to several projects and people in archaeology. (Though of course some of the ways she has used that research in the novels is not exactly accepted academic interpretation….)

                I chatted briefly to her to at the first archaeology conference I ever went to.

                1. Parcae*

                  That is so neat!

                  I remember really enjoying the books, but I also 100% hid them under my bed so I wouldn’t have to have any awkward conversations with my parents.

        5. LQ*

          Yup. The summer before 6th grade I read every single romance novel in my library (it was not a giant library). No one ever said anything.

        6. New Job So Much Better*

          That is so true. I can remember when the original “Exorcist” came out, and I was not allowed to see it. My parents thought that was way too old for me…. years later I saw it and realized I had already read way worse than that at the time. Books do fly uner the radar more.

        7. General Ginger*

          My very well-meaning (but clueless) relative, who knew teenage me was into sci-fi/fantasy (your Asimov and your Tolkien, and the like) gifted me with a set of books found at a tag sale, with some stereotypical Boris Vallejo-esque sci-fi fantasy art on the covers. They turned out to be from the John Norman’s Gor series, which, aside from being pretty much sci-fi D/s erotica, were also exceptionally misogynistic sci-fi erotica. I slogged through them, more and more out of morbid curiosity, but I remember thinking both “these are horrible” and “relative must never know”.

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                Have you read Houseplants of Gor? It’s totally worth it, even to a person who hasn’t read ANY of the real Gor books.

        8. Oranges*

          My dad would limit my horror books to 2 per library visit (age 9-14ish). I remember trying to sneak some past him and… nope! He somehow knew… Also, I do remember him vetoing some horror books I think he let Carrie and Firestarter through but not Cujo.

          I never had limits on anything else though.

          1. SarahKay*

            Dad took ‘Alien’ off me when I was 11 – it was his copy I was reading so he knew it was gory.

            Mum returned ‘Lace’ to the library when I borrowed it, aged about 14. Which, when I bought a second-hand copy when I was at university, I could see why Mum didn’t want a fairly innocent 14-year-old me reading it.
            Lace has some…umm…interesting sex scenes; upon describing it to friends it went the rounds of about a dozen people, and returned to me very clearly falling open at one section. A couple of years ago I came across a hilarious blog post, and follow-up comments, on the subject called “Won’t anyone think of the goldfish?”

    2. Liane*

      And now I *fully* understand why one of my favorite high school language arts teachers not only seated me beside her bookshelf but pressed even more books from her own collection on me: She could make sure I wasn’t reading anything “shocking” or “grown up.” Or maybe not–I read Maya Angelou and Sylvia Plath because she gave me the books.

  10. Murphy*

    I’m in the minority here. I agree that if the point of reading it is to become aroused then, yeah, that’s probably inappropriate. But otherwise I actually think it’s OK, since no one will know what you’re reading. I see people reading fiction books on a regular basis, and I’ve never wondered about whether there were graphic sex scenes or graphic violence in them, which many works of fiction do, even if it’s only a portion of the story. I’m not sure where you would draw the line between what’s inappropriate and what’t not.

    1. A-nony-nony*

      Agreed with all of this.

      Arousal at work isn’t cool, but otherwise? Eh. I’m just not that into judging what people choose to read.

    2. Karen from Finance*

      You raise a point I hadn’t stopped to consider.

      Take, for example, A Song of Ice and Fire (the “Game of Thrones”) series. It is known that there is a lot of sex in those books (and due to the TV show the popular conception may think there’s more than there actually is). But no one would think it weird if they saw you reading ASOIAF during a break. I understand how novels that are labelled as “erotica” are different as they are ABOUT the romance, but I don’t know if there’s a fundamental difference really. I say it’s about the same level of appropiateness, as long as you’re not intentionally trying to get aroused.

      1. Manders*

        This is where I fall on the issue too. I think a lot of people assume that fan fiction = nothing but porn, but some of those stories are as long as a novel with very few explicit sex scenes.

        I do think it would be weird to have something really raunchy visible on your screen at work, but there’s a whole lot of sex and violence in many work-appropriate books.

        1. Liane*

          A good real-life friend and I originally met online in forums about one of our favorite Movie Series. At the time he wrote Movie Series fanfics. I eventually did his proofreading. Very little sex in those and that was offstage.

        2. aebhel*

          I think the thing with fic is that it tends to make less of a distinction; a lot of mainstream lit will ‘fade to black’ or at least keep it somewhat veiled and tasteful, whereas a lot of fic that isn’t really porny overall will include a couple of explicit sex scenes. It may be entirely plot-driven, but at moments where mainstream lit will take a discreet hop over the naked bits, fanfic often… doesn’t.

      2. EddieSherbert*

        You have a very good point about “drawing the line.” I think Alison’s idea of “would I be embarrassed if my boss knew” is a good gauge of if it’s over the line.

        I wouldn’t be embarrassed about ASOIAF! The sex isn’t really a huge part of the plot (most of the time). Alternatively, I also really liked Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series but I’d be embarrassed if a coworker googled that book (great plot line and series, but lots of sketchy sex is a HUGE part of it).

        1. Cedarthea*

          Agreed, I adore Kushiel so much (and re read the first 3 every couple of years) but yeah I wouldn’t want my coworkers googling (especially because I work with children).

          It reminds me of when I read the first Anne Bishop Black Jewels book on a family vacation in High School. The plot was compelling that I was reading it voraciously, but the sex scenes and sexual abuse/torture is so over the top that I was terrified my mother was going to “catch me”.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think, though, that that’s where my point about “if it’s hardcore and graphic as a general theme throughout the story, not just in a scene or two” comes in.

        It’s not about a book with some sex scenes in it. It’s about a story where graphic sex throughout is the whole point.

              1. Database Developer Dude*

                Just because of the content of this thread, the advertisements I’m seeing, while not graphic, probably shouldn’t be viewed at work. Nicely-built women in lingerie and bathing suits… yeah, if my task lead could see my system …

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  That’s not how it works? Every ad I get on this site are for places I’ve gone online or something vaguely adjacent, so …

                  Oh. Um. Well, this is awkward.

          1. Karen from Finance*

            I love that you posted that link because it made me so nervous to open it at work, which is so deliciously appropiate for this debate. (The difference being that what made me nervous are those cover arts, I wouldn’t be nervous about text on my phone).

            For the record I do understand the type of material that OP is referencing and how it’s different from a book where there’s just a couple of sex things. But my point was… in the ASOIAF books, there’s scenes arousing enough that I had to close the books and “cool down” before I could continue, when I was by myself at my own house. If I were to be reading that book at work and that scene came up and someone read it over my shoulder, they could presumably think I was reading erotica. Or conversely, if I were reading one of the books in the link and someone caught one or two spicy lines, couldn’t there be an assumption of innocence that it just HAPPENED to be an erotic scene?

            I don’t think there’s a fundamental difference, really, is what I’m saying, between one or the other forms of literature being more or less appropiate barring two things: no covers visible, and your point about no intentional arousal.

    3. PB*

      Yeah, this is where I am, too. I read fiction during my lunch breaks, and yeah, sometimes there’s sex, violence, or other non-PG content. I agree with everyone else that you shouldn’t be trying to get aroused at work, but just reading, on a personal device, and not using the employer’s WiFi? This seems fine to me.

    4. Tardigrade*

      I agree. If it’s not something that arouses you then I don’t really see a problem with reading romance or fanfics on your personal device during breaks.

    5. Amber Rose*

      My main concern is the risk of someone seeing it over LW’s shoulder. If there’s no chance of that, it’s probably OK. I mean, this is one of those things where it’s more important to not get caught than obey the exact letter of the law.

      1. anon for this*

        But how often is someone going to be standing close enough to OP to actually read over their shoulder? I’d find it weird if someone was close enough to OP to read over their shoulder in the lunchroom or at their desk.

        1. Zillah*

          Yeah – tbh, if someone was close enough to read a phone over the OP’s shoulder, I think that gets into personal space.

        2. Amber Rose*

          I think it varies. I work in a place where half of my coworkers have made it a game to sneak up as close as possible behind me before saying anything. :/

          1. Zillah*

            That’s really not cool at all! I’m sorry. If you’re in a position to call them out on it, you absolutely wouldn’t be overreacting to do so.

      2. ket*

        Same here. There are things I don’t read on the commute, for instance, or sometimes I just flip past those parts pretty fast… because shoulder-to-shoulder on the bus someone might see, easily.

    6. Zillah*

      I agree with all of this, and I think that it’s worth noting that outside of classic literature, books that are targeted predominantly at women are the ones that will raise an eyebrow, not ones targeted at men or that aren’t as gender specific. Game of Thrones is a good example.

      OP, don’t read things to get aroused at work, and definitely make sure that no one else can see what you’re reading. Have an answer ready if someone asks what you’re reading. But otherwise… I just really don’t see the harm in this.

      1. ket*

        Yep, this is unfortunately a real factor. If it’s by a guy &/or labeled ‘literature’, ‘sci-fi’, or ‘fantasy’, somehow it reads differently in peoples’ minds. Imagine the same scene and telling someone, Oh, it’s a futuristic exploration of technology and human relationships set on Mars in 2043, vs, Oh, it’s a Lebanese billionaire romance. I guarantee different responses.

    7. Alton*

      I agree. And I think avoiding having people read over your shoulder can be pretty easy (I usually leave the building if I want to read on my lunch break, anyway. People interrupt me otherwise).

      Honestly, I don’t worry much about text-only stuff stored in my personal phone that I read on my own time. I’m more cautious about reading comics since even PG-13 ones sometimes have sexual or violent imagery, and that’s something people can notice over my shoulder much more easily.

    8. she was a fast machine*

      Agreed. I can’t really understand why everyone is getting really really judgmental about this. If you’re reading to get aroused, probably not at work. If you’re reading for any other definition of pleasure, then whose business is it but yours? Especially if you’re doing it on a phone where there’s no visible cover and presumably someone would have to seriously be on your shoulder to catch a glimpse of the words.

    9. Detective Amy Santiago*

      A friend recently introduced me to The Babysitters Club Club podcast – where two 30 something dudes are reading and discussing the BSC books. One of them was talking about how he is glad to read them on his Kindle on the subway because he doesn’t want to know what kind of judgement he’d get if he (a 6’5″, 250lb dude) was reading a book called “Boy Crazy Stacey”.

      Which I think goes along with your point pretty well. If no one knows what you’re reading and it’s not being read for the specific purpose of arousal, you’re probably okay.

      1. General Ginger*

        Detective Santiago, thank you so much for making me aware of this podcast’s existence. I know what I will be listening to this evening!

      2. Database Developer Dude*

        I think dude is afraid people might think he’s into girls around “Boy Crazy Stacey”‘s age if he reads books like that. This is why, though I have the entire Nancy Drew collection, it’s on my Kindle, not in soft or hardcover….

        Why do I have it? For the same reason I have the entire Hardy Boys collection. Detective stories. It’s kind of my thing to read.

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Oh my goodness, thank you! That’s what I’m listening to on my commute home. (I’ve been binging “The Greatest Generation” which is “a Star Trek podcast by two guys who are a little bit embarrassed to have a Star Trek Podcast,” and irreverent and great, but I’m almost all caught up and was wondering what I would do when I was too tired for Serious Audiobooks or NPR podcasts!)

    10. Turquoisecow*

      I read things at work all the time on my phone while on break. Sometimes it’s facebook, sometimes it’s AAM, sometimes it’s novels or other books, sometimes it’s email or messages from friends or family. No one has ever demanded to know what I was reading or been the slightest bit interested, nor have they had any awareness. I’ve also never asked anyone else what they were reading on their personal phone on the their personal time. They could have been planning that evening’s sexytime session – I have no idea.

      If the reading was done on a tablet or a kindle or actual book where it was obviously a book, then I could see people asking to be sociable, or because they’re interested in book recommendations, and then it would get awkward. But on a phone? It’s not going to get seen or commented on or noticed or anything – and if it does? Your coworkers are really nosy and boundary crossing.

      I do agree that you shouldn’t be trying to get aroused at work, but if all you’re doing is sitting there reading, I don’t see how that activity is at all inappropriate, so long as you’re on a break or lunch and not working.

  11. VX34*

    I’ve always followed the rule that “if I wouldn’t want IT to accidentally/on purposes see something I’ve viewed on a work computer and have a problem with it, I do it on my personal device, unconnected to corporate WiFi”.

    I’ll join the chorus of folks who say “If it’s to achieve arousal, it’s really a bad idea”.

    But if it is otherwise not impacting one’s work, is on a personal device at an appropriate time, and is not obvious (IE no explicit banner ads of people in, shall we say, compromising positions) then I’m not really sure what the problem is here.

    Could someone “question your professionalism” if they found out you were reading it? Okay, maybe sure. But if reasonable steps are taken to mitigate that such an opportunity seems unlikely…

    You could out of an abundance of caution stop. But I’m not sure you’d be wrong to continue if it’s done under reasonable and discreet parameters.

  12. Michaela Westen*

    My employer and others I’ve worked at block sites that are related to nudity or porn. It’s a little ridiculous that I can’t shop for underwear on my lunch hour, but I think they see it as a safety thing.
    So even if it was ok otherwise, OP probably wouldn’t be able to read it on her employer’s network.

    1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

      I can do one better.

      I worked at a pool. I went to on the wifi to shop for pool equipment and staff swimsuits. The site got rejected, Reason: Images of people in swimsuits.

      AT. A. POOL.

    2. MeganAflame*

      I’m an adolescent health educator for a state health agency, who works with federal teen pregnancy prevention grants. While doing research/finding educational resources, I’ve run into websites that are blocked under the category “sex education”. That’s literally a huge portion of my job! Gotta love those block algorithms.

      1. uranus wars*

        Fellow health educator here. They tightened the reigns on us recently and some of my go-to sources are now blocked. Sometimes they can grant me individual rights, sometimes they can’t. I am getting used to it but it still blows at times.

    3. Cat Fan*

      Wouldn’t that only apply if you’re trying to use their Wi-Fi? I’m currently not using my company’s Wi-Fi because they block AAM.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Yes, the “personal websites and blogs” block gets some but not others. I can read AAM (thank God!) but I had to give up The Careerist, a blog for attorneys, when I started working here because it’s blocked. And it’s not a personal blog. It’s an industry one!
        Yes, only the company Wi-Fi or network. I never use my employer’s wi-fi with my phone because I don’t want them tracking me. I’ve seen enough hostile corporate managers to be super-cautious.

        1. uranus wars*

          I’ve gotten around that on a few industry sites that I noticed were http:// by retyping https:// but that might not work on every network.

      2. Blerpborp*

        I ordered books for a public library and my area was sexuality and I was blocked from viewing the Amazon page for a relevant book…a book it turned out the library did already own!

    4. Michaela Westen*

      I’ve had these things blocked:
      – Plain white organic cotton underwear
      – An attempt to buy fleece-lined winter stockings
      – Garter-style stockings I wanted to buy for a friend (ok, maybe that makes sense… but really, it wasn’t a porn site…)

    5. Jersey's mom*

      I’m a wildlife biologist. My company IT has blocked the following searches and associated websites: pussy willow, pussy toes, dikes, bats, and a whole bunch of anatomical bits (weirdly, one was “flesh”).

      It’s finally gotten to the point where I send an email it IT, and they respond “oh, it’s you” and unblock sites.

      It also makes me wonder what my coworkers are looking up.

    6. A Tax NERD*

      I am currently on my own private rampage at work because of this!! My workplace blocks the Spanx website but not numerous different men’s websites that sell exclusively underwear. Like no, I’m not really trying to buy underwear at work (maybe leggings – spanx are the BEST) but c’mon have some consistency!!!!

    7. Mike*

      I remember once doing a legal translation and had to look up a point of French law. I ended up at a blog called Notary’s Necktie, though in French. (I’ll let the curious knock themselves out for that.) It said in the intro to the site that they chose such a salacious name basically to drive up hits. “Salacious? Huh?” I thought. So I searched on the name. I’m surprised the IT people HADN’T blocked that search term, but then again we weren’t in one of the Francophone offices. The things you learn nailing down details of the law of hypothecs, I tell ya what.

  13. Amber Rose*

    OK, confession time: In my free time for fun, I read graphic written works that are intended to be funny rather than arousing. There’s this slash fic involving Pikachu and Voldemort… anyway, that’s not the point.

    It doesn’t turn me on (or anyone, I hope) but it’s still not acceptable for work because it’s super graphic. Also we have a specific rule in the employee handbook that nothing like that is permitted on the premises. Obviously the intention behind that rule is that people won’t be looking at porn, but it’s written so that it covers everything explicit, because… well.

    And I say this as someone who is in a workplace where people talk openly and loudly about sex related things.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      “It doesn’t turn me on (or anyone, I hope)” – See Rule 34.

      I come down on the side of read what you want, so long as there’s no physical evidence of your arousal if it happens. (Now singing “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” in my head.)

    2. Arielle*

      Yeah, I was thinking about this scenario because I frequently listen to the podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno on my drive into work, but would never listen to it AT work. It’s quite graphic even though it is the opposite of arousing.

      1. Murphy*

        Huh, I didn’t even think about podcasts. I listen to Risk, which is sometimes very explicit (and currently, because I’m listening to it right now) and I never thought that maybe I shouldn’t do that at work. (It’s headphones and my phone stops playing if the headphones accidentally become unplugged.)

      2. Heina*

        Early on in their run, the MDWaP got a letter from someone who lost his job because his headphone jack unplugged from his device at work and the podcast played aloud. That’s why I wouldn’t.

      3. Swales*

        I wonder about MDWaP too! I admit, I do listen at work sometimes (with headphones, only when the new episode is already downloaded on my phone, etc). “Belinda Blinked” is clearly written with the intent to arouse, even if it fails hilariously, so I probably oughta save that one for my commute.

        1. Marion Ravenwood*

          I can’t even listen to MDWaP in public any more after I snort-laughed my way up a Tube station escalator listening to it. (And not even a ‘dodgy’ part; it was Alice doing a terrible East London accent and going ‘Pete! Pete!! OI LAVH YOU PETE!!!’ at the end of an early episode.) Now husband and I save it for Monday evening listening while we make dinner.

      4. Free Meerkats*

        Or “Two Girls, One Mic: The Porncast” podcast. Yvette d’Entremont (the Science Babe) and Alice Vaughn (actress and producer), dissect the plot holes (hah!) in porn movies.

      5. media monkey*

        i was listening to that on the train to work and giggling my head off. a guy sitting opposite me caught my eye and held up his phone so that I could see he was listening to it as well. awkward…

      1. Amber Rose*

        I mean, I’m not sure if linking would be super appropriate, but it’s called To Ride the Electric Serpent and is pretty easy to find.

    3. wickedtongue*


      It’s been a decade and I have not forgotten. I remember hearing about it through fandom word of mouth, I think?

      1. Amber Rose*

        Hahaha! I found it years ago through a Livejournal community dedicated to bad or weird written erotica. Some of it was just bad, but some of it was too funny to lose track of so I have some saved links and stuff.

    4. Blerpborp*

      Well, you have a specific rule. Most workplaces don’t. While I personally don’t usually read or listen to super graphic stuff at work I know I’ve received texts/emails that were very sexual and I read those on my phone at work and got aroused. I didn’t do anything weird that let anyone I work with know I was aroused so it can be done! It doesn’t seem the OP is trying to get turned on by reading their stories but I’m having trouble understanding how reading something to laugh/be sad/be thrilled is different than reading something to be aroused if you can maintain yourself (no cackling laughter, sobbing OR visible arousal!)

  14. Labradoodle Daddy*

    I read a lot of true crime books and always feel SUPREMELY AWKWARD whenever my boss asks me what I’m reading.

    1. Owlette*

      See, I was going to ask this as well. I enjoy mystery and crime books and some of them have graphic violence. Is this any different from reading erotica at work? I would be embarrassed if I happened to turn a page and someone saw a gory scene over my shoulder, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s wholly inappropriate for work?

          1. Sylvan*

            The biannual, quintessentially American question: “Did I just hear fireworks or gunshots?”

            (stolen from Twitter tbh)

            1. londonedit*

              What? I live in London and I’ve never thought to question whether it’s fireworks or gunshots…(spoiler: it’s fireworks).

              1. SarahKay*

                Oh, no, definitely not the fireworks/gunshots bit; like you I assume fireworks.
                I was actually replying to Labradoodle Daddy about the social acceptance of graphic violence vs sex. In particular I was thinking of the Joker’s pencil-vanishing-trick in ‘The Dark Knight’ Batman film, which was released over here as a 12a rating.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I love mystery and spec fic, but I pick the less graphic stuff for work. Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Georgette Heyer, Margaret Maron, Elizabeth Peters, the current crop of ‘detection + female hobby/job’ (cooks, secret shoppers, etc). I’ll risk the ‘woman with a pink book is too fluffy’ bit, esp since I usually balance it with regular spaceships / planets.

        The ‘too sexual’ line for me is around Catherine Coulter, and I wouldn’t bring any horror or any of the more intensely violent writers. Too distracting – it’s hard to get back into the work mindset if you’ve got Hannibal Lector on the back brain.

    2. Manders*

      Yes! I’ve definitely listened to some very graphic true crime podcasts at work, and even recommended some to my colleagues.

      I do think there’s a line there, although I’m struggling to define exactly where it is. I’ll talk about true crime podcasts and podcasts with some dirty jokes like MBMBaM, but I don’t think I’d recommend about a podcast that was just someone reading erotica to my colleagues.

    3. A-nony-nony*

      This is why I’m not too bothered by this. Should I be embarrassed because I read Sci Fi & Fantasy novels? Or the Outlander novels, which have quite a bit of sex? Or like YA lit? Is it only acceptable to read the number one bestellers, lest we be embarrassed or shock our coworkers by our varied taste in reading material?

      Yeah, if a book has a cover that’s overly erotic or gory or something like that, keep it out of sight at work, but on your own phone on your break? Totally none of my business.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        If anyone sees you with an Outlander novel they will only be impressed by the length of the book! (the paper version).

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        I wouldn’t bring Outlander to work – the sex or threat of it is regular and pervasive. Kinda like Clan of the Cave Bear. But I have Miles Vorkosigan in my bag right now, Steven Brust’s Jherig last week, and Bellairs’ _House With A Clock In Its Walls_ the week before. I’d bring in YA stuff every day (Garth Nix is Tha BOMB) if they would just stop with the dystopian stuff, and vampires. I am so over vampires. But there is a risk of being stereotyped, so I keep that in mind.

        For this particular OP, the distinction ‘sex as regular, repeated part of the book, which is written with the goal of titillation’ seems to me to be the relevant distinction.

      3. Humble Schoolmarm*

        This may also be a know your workplace situation. I like to show my students (7th graders) that I read a lot and read for pleasure when I have a free minute. One day, I was reading Outlander while keeping an eye on some kids who wanted to study in my room over lunch. One student wandered by my desk and asked what I was reading. I told her the title (I knew that this kid was a good reader, but not super precocious so I figured it would be fine). “Oh,” she said “My Mom read that. She really liked it but said there’s a lot of sex in it.” Me: Ummm, ahh well I hadn’t read that far… Changing The Subject!!!!!!!!!!!
        Reader, I never took Outlander out where the kids could see it again and I always make sure I have a good, but very inoffensive title to give if a student asks what I’m reading.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts during the day.

      On headphones.

      Luckily, no one ever asks what I listen to.

  15. animaniactoo*

    Yeah, Jacqueline Carey’s stuff is very sexual and is a celebration of sex as a driving part of life. But while it CAN be arousing [fans self], the reader’s arousal is not the obvious primary purpose of the work.

    Stuff that might be published on a site like literotica dot com is. Also some of the stuff in the Harlequin Blaze series “romances” [blink blink blink]. Those are NOT your (grand)mother’s Harlequin books…

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I should have scrolled more before posting – I mentioned her as one I love (and not even for the sexc) but wouldn’t read at work.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I did – well, actually, thinking about it I mostly read it on the train to and from work – but I suspect my lack of embarrassment had to do with the fact that I was just as likely to be reading the latest in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series at the time, so it wasn’t like it was my sole focus of reading material? People who saw me reading it were just as likely to see me reading something by Mercedes Lackey or Stephen R Donaldson’s The Gap Cycle, and probably would not have drawn a lot of conclusion other than that I read a lot of stuff.

    2. Operational Chaos*

      You’re not kidding about Carey’s work. The Kushiel Series blew my brain as a teenager, lol.

  16. Third username*

    I think Alison is pretty spot on here. I think it comes down to the plot of the story. If the story stands alone without the sex, you are fine. If the story centers around sex and sex moves it forward, without another plotline-it’s not appropriate for work. Sex and work don’t mix. Also, I might be pretty prude, but I just don’t want to know any of this about my coworkers even accidentally. It’s pretty normal for me to ask someone what they are reading, because I love to read, and very innocent normal question shouldn’t be met my an awkward stare at work.

  17. earl grey aficionado*

    I write romance and erotica semi-professionally and this is such an interesting question to me, especially because there’s a new push in romance and erotica publishing to write “lunch break” books. Obviously that doesn’t mean you *have* to read them on your lunch break, just that they’re short enough to be read in that time. I think all of Alison’s litmus tests are spot-on, but do know that you’re not the only one walking this fuzzy line. I think the fact that romance and erotica are being read more openly than ever before means new norms will be drawn up around them soon, but right now it’s a gray (er, Fifty Shades of Grey?) area.

  18. Observer*

    OP one more thing you may want to keep in mind. If your employer has a micro-cell in the building to make sure that there is good cell reception, they may have access to information on the traffic. You wouldn’t necessarily know that you’re connecting to it. So, if you are reading anything you don’t want your boss to know about find out.

    Unless you have a good relationship with IT, in which case you might be able to causally ask them, your best bet to find out would be to download an app that tells you where the nearest towers are.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Heh. I wonder how many faux-casual asking-for-a-friend enquiries a large IT department fields in a typical week…

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      They could also be using it to monitor employees’ personal cell phone use. So another reason not to read erotica at work!

      1. Michaela Westen*

        This is why I don’t use my employer’s wi-fi on my phone. My personal use is none of their business, even though it’s not anything a reasonable person would object to.

        1. Lau*

          I go off wifi on my phone if I need to do/search anything I think they wouldn’t like. Then I hop back on because data$.

  19. animaniactoo*

    re: The Happy Hooker – bwahahahaha. You know, it never occurred to me until just this moment that openly reading that as a teen in school might have been problematic. [shrugs] Too late now!

        1. animaniactoo*

          Okay, I chanced the amazon search for “Xaviera Hollander” since that involved keywords that were likely to be a tad more obscure… it was “Xaviera! The continuing adventures of…”

          Apparently there have been a few more books since then, including one written by the Silver Fox about living with Xaviera.

    1. Liane*

      The person who just proudly admitted to reading fantasy novels with R to X scenes is now blushing (in shame!) as she ‘fesses up to never even thinking about reading The Happy Hooker in a high school class.

  20. Amber T*

    Add me to the list of – as long as you’re not doing it to get turned on, I don’t see an issue (as long as reading on your downtime in general at work isn’t a big deal). Just have a good/non awkward answer to the “what are you reading?” type questions.

      1. Arjay*

        Or just pretend to have a brain cloud like me. I read on my Kindle app and it doesn’t show the title of the book on the reading page. People ask me what I’m reading and I have no idea of the title. “Uh, it’s one of those lawyery-mysteries like John Grisham writes.”

  21. Binky*

    I don’t know that I agree that the line should be whether you’re embarrassed to tell your boss about it, because society shames women for reading romance novels endlessly, so it can be very embarrassing for anyone to know what you’re reading. Also, some people embarrass really easily.

    I also think what genre of book you’re reading is a red herring. Because tons of books include sex scenes, and no one is going to tell you not to read Ken Follett or Game of Thrones or Dan Brown (hmmm, what do these authors have in common?). Ultimately, the question isn’t really about what exactly you’re reading, but rather whether it’s distracting you to the point that you shouldn’t be in public. Whether that means you can’t read make-outs in Twilight without blushing, or you can read anything at all because you just don’t get that engaged by the written word, that’s all about you.

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      I’m not sure I agree about “embarrassed to tell boss” either. I read a book (completely off the company’s network – it was already downloaded to my ereader) at work that had a stand alone plot completely free of sex, but then there was one scene that could probably at best be called a touch gratuitous. I did NOT see it coming (at least not in that much detail!) and I was massively embarrassed by it. As soon as I twigged what was going on (taking embarrassingly longer than it should), the ereader went into my bag and the chapter was finished at home. No arousal, and, yes, it was MY issue.

    2. OP*

      I’m actually a man, though I wanted to see the gender neutral response before getting responses based on my sex/gender, largely because I thought it would be more useful to other people if I didn’t immediately color people’s perceptions.

    3. tbooger*

      That’s a really good point — everyone’s different and it has as much to do with your level of reaction as anything else. One friend during my teen years would blush if she looked at somebody she thought was cute (the poor girl — she had the kind of skin that goes shiny tomato, too, she hated blushing so much). I react more visibly/strongly to romance scenes than I do to sex scenes, personally. I’m more likely to blush and giggle while reading a Georgette Heyer romance than anything rated NC-17 on AO3.

  22. Liet-Kinda*

    I’m going to disagree with the distinction being drawn around whether it turns OP on or not. I don’t think it matters. There are certain things – online shopping, personal grooming, reading erotica – that you just don’t do at work, even if nobody but you would know. It’s just…not appropriate.

    1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

      I literally did my online supermarket shop at work this lunchtime. My boss, sitting next to me, was browsing hiking boots online at the same time.

      1. Dankar*

        Hey, it’s REI’s November sale and the deals are good! It was the first site I went to this morning (after my email) so that I could check the deals on and off as my workload ebbed today.

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        I wouldn’t shop for underwear online at work. I don’t want my co-workers knowing about my taste in private items.

    2. cam*

      But certainly you can place an Amazon order on your personal device on your lunch break…. If OP were doing it on work time I don’t think there’d be any discussion.

    3. ThankYouRoman*

      I buy concert tickets at work…I’m not going to miss out when they go on sale at 10am…

      I agree with not clipping your nails and saving the clippings to be found in in your drawer. Not so much that up shouldn’t shop online.

    4. Elizabeth Proctor*

      Online shopping? Who doesn’t online shop during breaks? I did not realize this was a Thing Not Done at work…

      1. Liet-Kinda*

        I was thinking more on the work computer and during non-break work hours, but yeah, I was off base – never mind the online shopping thing.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      If the Lord didn’t want us to shop online at work, He wouldn’t have created Cyber Monday.

    6. Michaela Westen*

      If I didn’t shop on my lunch hour, there would be no other time I could do it.
      I also make calls to my doctors, landlord, hairdresser… I have my own office so I can close the door.

  23. anon for this*

    Every single office I’ve worked at, from part time jobs in high school and college, to corporate companies years later has had shared bookshelves in the lunch room, and all of them have included a handful of erotica. No one has ever made a fuss or fainted because they existed in the workplace.

    I feel like if you’re reading these because you enjoy them, but you’re not looking to get turned on by them, it’s not a problem. Anyone who makes a stink about reading something with sex at work is kind of prudish imo, because if that’s the case, then by these standards a good number of non-erotica would also be considered inappropriate. If you’re not going around talking in depth about the erotic scenes in the book, then it’s more their problem of being uncomfortable with the mere idea of reading a book with sex scenes while at work.

    And tbh, I think it says a lot about people who would judge a woman for reading a romance novel at work and immediately jumping to the conclusion that she’s looking to get aroused at work. Women already get heavily judged for reading romance novels, and we really need to stop with the idea that women who enjoy those books are people to be judged as lesser or problematic.

    TL;DR: if you’re not getting turned on by them and reading them because you enjoy the books, I don’t think it’s a big issue.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not talking at all about romance novels. I’m talking about stories where the entire point is graphic sexual content. Romance novels = not a problem.

      1. Has read a looooot of romance*

        But…I feel like ‘entire point is graphic sexual content’ is kinda a red herring because this can also be a subset in the incredibly broad romance genre. Like, there’s entire reverse harem romances where the whole point is obvs graphic sexual content, but it’s still a romance because there’s a story arc center around the hero/ine finding a partner(s) then a black moment and finally the HEA (happily ever after, for those not well versed in romance speak).

        I’m of the mind of read what you want on your break as long as nobody can accidentally see it and it doesn’t affect your ability to do your work professionally.

        1. Avasarala*

          This sounds like a good time to use the “quickly change the channel when your mom walks in” tactic. If a romance book gets too steamy, shut it and save it for later.

  24. Amethystmoon*

    My rule of thumb: if you feel the need to get permission, especially from someone who is from outside your job, you probably shouldn’t do it. Good thing there are other types of books one can safely read, and be caught reading, on one’s break.

    1. Kathlynn*

      Which is not a good rule of thumb for a lot of people, because of their level of anxiety, and over concern about getting into trouble. (I could never live by this rule it would feed into my anxiety rather then reduce it)

          1. Sylvan*

            (Because I just became concerned that you would think I was making fun of anxiety: I have GAD and panic disorder.)

      1. OP*

        Letter writer here. That is why I sent it in. I’ve been known to freak out about whether I’m doing the right thing. My internal reactions have historically been similarly self-critical whether I’m deciding to quit a crappy night crew retail job with a full three weeks’ notice, cheating on a test, or bombing while talking to someone on tinder. I can also be clueless about social expectations and am not personally bothered by many things others are (though I trust others when they say it’s a problem). Put those together and it’s hard for me to trust my own judgment about whether I’m doing something wrong, unless it is extremely obvious (such as the cheating example).

        1. tbooger*

          Are you me? (Especially that bit about “not personally bothered” — I frequently ask my husband, half-jokingly, “Does it make me a bad person that (I think x/thing y doesn’t bother me/whatever)?”

          I like to say that I developed algorithms for personal interactions and appropriateness litmus testing. Always gets a laugh but sadly it’s pretty accurate for my brain.

          1. OP*

            We do sound like kindred spirits, haha. I’ve developed frameworks for social interaction that rival Sheldon Cooper’s friendship algorithm, and I don’t care about the smell of microwaved fish (as an example).

      2. Alton*

        Yeah, it’s not an intuitive line for everyone. I also feel like it’s a bad generalization sometimes since not everyone is coming from the same background in terms of being able to avoid judgment for things that actually *are* innocuous. I once had a coworker get visibly flustered because I was reading The Advocate (an LGBT news magazine) on my break. There was nothing sexually explicit about it.

  25. Faith*

    I remember a couple of months ago I was dealing with a super boring project at work that required a lot of mindless review – literally picking up document after document and checking each item off against a template. It was so mind numbing, that I started listening to audio books on my phone (using headphones). One day I dropped the phone, and the headphones came unplugged, so for a couple of seconds my cube neighbors could hear the narrator. Thankfully, the part that was playing at that particular moment was innocuous, but the book I was listening to was “Fear” by Bob Woodward, and the language used by some of the characters in the book was rather colorful. I was really glad that I didn’t drop the phone in the middle of one of those dialogues where the f-bombs were flying left and right.

    1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

      On a road trip with my boss, I plugged my phone into the car to charge it…and my audiobook automatically turned on and started playing through the speakers. Thankfully it was a totally mundane passage from a totally mundane book. In the future, though, I will be waaaaaay more careful about which audiobooks come with me to work than text-only downloads!

  26. CaliCali*

    I think one rule of thumb may be to determine, if someone asked you what you were reading, how comfortable you’d be with disclosing the contents to a coworker or your boss. I think books that happen to have adult content (like the ASOIAF comparison above) wouldn’t make most people bat an eye, but even 50 Shades might.

    1. Blerpborp*

      Why is the standard “it would be make them uncomfortable if they knew what I was reading!” when there is no reason for them to know what I am reading? If someone asks, you can just say “oh a fan fic” or “romance novel” or whatever the reader wants to tell them. This idea that our coworkers (or even our boss) has a right to know what we’re consuming/thinking during a break seems pretty beyond the pale to me- if I’m able to get a little thrill from reading a dirty book without anyone knowing then it is a complete non-issue. No one feels uncomfortable if no one knows!

      1. Avasarala*

        It’s not about actually confessing to your boss. It’s about imagining it, noticing the resulting feeling, and using that as a judgment guide when calculating the risk. If you’d feel really awkward telling your boss about it, maybe you shouldn’t read it at work. If you feel fine, and you think your boss would be fine, then it’s fine. The general idea is to calibrate your expectations with what is cool at your workplace.

  27. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    I’m firmly in the no-getting-turned-on-at-work camp. I occasionally listen to audiobooks while working on some of my more mundane tasks. They’re regular novels with occasional sex-scenes and I sometimes listen through them, but if they get lengthy I start to get uncomfortable (probably especially as it’s audio format!) and I will just fast forward over them. I’d probably opt for the same if I were reading, rather than listening at work.

    1. Kathlynn*

      Yeah, I’m much less likely to buy Steamy audiobooks then ebooks. Because listening to sex scenes is very different from reading them for/to me. And living with my grandma it’s like “yeah not going to listen to this now”. Like what if I accidently turn it on during a sex scene without headphones in.

  28. JustaTech*

    “Would you be embarrassed if your boss caught you reading it at work? ” This is a hard question for me because while I don’t read erotica at work (don’t read any books at work anymore) I did once run into my boss on the bus while I was reading a brand-new hardback fantasy novel that wasn’t in the Game of Thrones family. I didn’t know my boss that well and we both felt the need to make small talk so he very politely asked me about my book with the Snow Queen on the cover. There was literally no sex in that book (romance, yes, sex, no), but for some reason I was absolutely mortified. (Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms series, for context.)

    So I guess I would only read things at work where I could comfortably describe the plot of the book to my boss. Or I should get over all the times I was teased about my reading choices as a kid.

    1. Rachel Morgan*

      See, that question wouldn’t make me bat an eye. I’m a librarian by trade (actually, the boss librarian in my organization) and I literally don’t care what my employees read on their own time. Fifty shades of Grey? Song of Ice & Fire? Black Jewels? Sherrilyn Kenyon or Kim Harrison? Not an issue. Some have more graphic scenes than others (violence and/or sex), but really, I don’t care.

    2. Jessen*

      I had thought of that – I read religious literature sometimes, preferably on my phone more so no one thinks I’m doing it at them or trying to make a point. But I’m not sure it’s something I’d particularly want to explain (although I’d be ok with quickly indicating that it was a religious text).

  29. Beth*

    One of the unusual things about reading fanfic on work breaks is that, if anyone actually finds out what you’re reading, you will almost certainly get a stinkeye simply because fanfic is still sneered at by the majority of co-workers, about the same as if you were caught reading comic books at work.

    But at least this is balanced out by the odds that very few co-workers will show any interest in anything you’re looking at on your phone — especially if they think you’re reading. They’re more likely to avoid asking and look at their own phones.

    1. Cat Fan*

      Hey sicko, you should be viewing O’Keefe in a public place like a museum or library, not in the privacy of your office.

  30. LSP*

    This just makes me think of the scene from The Office when Phyllis was listening to the audio book of 50 Shades of Grey, and they had to dump a bucket of water on her to get her to stop.

    Personally, I wouldn’t think reading something that just happens to have a sex scene in it would be too much for a break at work, but I agree that if the point of the book as a whole is to get you sexually aroused, it’s probably not work appropriate. I think 50 Shades would fail that litmus test, but most romance novels would likely not.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      Ew. I’d dump a bucket of water on the speakers of anyone listening to 50 Shades of Cray, but that’s because it’s terrible literature and normalizes abuse. BDSM is not supposed to be that way.

  31. aa*

    Again, I think this is a cultural thing.

    I am seriously disconcerted by the idea of “inappropriate reading” for work. The OP has clearly stated that she will be reading the stories during her breaks, not while she works. What she chooses to read then is her own damn business, and no one else’s.

    And yes, I understand that it’s advisable not to advertise the fact that you are reading erotica, because that’s very likely to cause reactions in other people. But as long as you are not displaying the cover and are doing it discreely, I really can’t see why not.

    1. Rachel Morgan*

      This. Who the f cares what you read? If you’re that worried about describing the plot, knock it down to one line: Oh, it’s another book about a princess in trouble! etc.

    2. Avasarala*

      How would you feel about a man watching porn during his work breaks, equally discreetly?
      I think people are coming down on this differently because written porn is more popular with women. When really the standard should be no. porn. at. work. Seriously, how hard is it to save it for when you get home?

      1. tbooger*

        As long as they’re doing it with the same level of discretion and lack of outward reaction, eh, sure. During actual work time would be one thing, but breaks are breaks. Watch five minutes of porn or do your banking or finish an Amazon order or play a game on your phone or read or write or stand on your head. As long as you’re not impacting other people, I don’t see why it’s a thing.

      2. aa*

        As long as it’s a discreet thing, sure, why not. None of my business.

        Maybe it’s because I live in Europe, but I fail to see why porn is such a big deal, as long as it’s private.

  32. Eliza Jane*

    If it wouldn’t be inappropriate to read a war novel or a high fantasy novel with graphic violence or a true crime book, it is not appropriate to read romance, even if it’s sometimes graphic. We need to stop looking at books for women as if they’re somehow embarrassing. Romance novels are available in libraries. Kids can check them out. It is NOT the same thing as pornography, just like novels about killing orcs are not the same as looking at gory, violent images.

    1. caryatis*

      Women read all kinds of books. I’ve got to object to conflate porn (and yes, romance is porn) with “books for women.”

      1. Dankar*

        Yes, and many other genres that are popular with women are judged for other, equally charged reasons. Just look at “chick lit” and YA novels. Both are some of the most popular genres out there, largely because of their female readership, and they’re often held up as embarrassing reads or “not real literature” or whatever.

        I don’t see the issue with reading whatever you want on your break, OP, as long as you’re using your own data to download it, and are not showing your screen to any and everyone. It does seem a little thought-policey to say that some genres are only acceptable if you’re not having a specific response to them, since the only person who should really know is the one reading.

      2. Eliza Jane*

        You’re right, and I apologize.

        What I meant was that there’s a cultural idea that romance novels as a genre as for women, and that it’s therefore okay to mock them. Reading romance novels has for decades been looked down on as “not reading real books,” and I don’t think it’s an accident that this applies to the genre that has such a large percentage of its audience as female.

        I read a lot of romance novels. So do my friends. But there’s this sense that we need to be apologizing for reading them which I need to fight. It’s cultural baggage, and I do think it’s gendered.

        1. Avasarala*

          But this isn’t about whether women should apologize for reading romance novels in general. It’s about whether people should consume media with graphic sexual content, media intended to arouse the viewer, at work. Personally I wouldn’t read anything with graphic violence, or even a graphic sex scene, at work because that’s my workplace. But I’d be super uncomfortable with a coworker (male or female) consuming media with graphic sexual content at work, whether that’s Outlander or Chuck Tingle or Game of Thrones. Just do it at home.

      3. tbooger*

        ….how is romance inherently porn? Like… you know there’s a HUGE market of super-light romance sans sex, swearing, or anything else remotely objectionable, right? Sure, Jacqueline Carey’s books, those are porn (and romance, and adventure, and… kindasorta philosophy?), but I have trouble imagining the massive collection of Amish romance books at my local library qualifying as porn by anyone’s measure.

  33. Seespotbitejane*

    OP you’re talking about fanfic right? I think you’re fine. Alison is correct that if it’s so titillating that it’s going to disrupt your focus when you go back to work you probably don’t want to read that at work. I mean, I certainly don’t. It’s really uncomfortable. But the bulk of the fanfic I read at work (ymmv) is more romance-y even with the graphic scenes. If your boss asks what you’re reading just be vague, or lie. I’ve only ever had coworkers ask me what I’m reading when reading a physical book. On your phone it could be anything and it’s nobody’s business.

    1. Rachel Morgan*

      Fifty Shades of Grey is fanfic and one of the bestselling books for a year or two, so honestly, it shouldn’t matter.

        1. ElspethGC*

          It was written as Twilight fanfiction and published online before it got grabbed by a publisher, names switched around, then published for real. There are plenty of books that were originally written as fanfiction of something else, but 50SOG is the most famous.

          1. Nonsensical*

            That I didn’t know. I have read some decent fanfiction and I know some current authors I started following on fictionpress before they became famous.

          2. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impaired Peep*

            A lot / all of Cassandra Clare books are HP fanfic. IMO, it wasn’t good fanfic to being with and she’s got her own ways of being a problem that one can Google (Cassandra Clare + plagiarism). However, I’m also of the mind that all stories are some sort of fanfic / 7 stories mindset which I will try to remember to bring up in the weekend thread.

    2. OP*

      Not all are fanfics in my case, though some are. It’s a similar range of levels of graphic content, though.

    3. Blerpborp*

      Finally, a standard I can agree with! I don’t think “is it written to make you aroused” is a fair standard because books and stories elicit all kinds of feelings in people and it’s weird to police just that one because the thought of someone privately having a sexual thought at work makes people uncomfortable for some reason (which feels very uptight to me; if no one is behaving inappropriately then who cares?) BUT if you do get so aroused you can’t get back to work because you’re flustered or distracted, then yeah, that’s not appropriate for work…I can’t think of anything I’ve viewed or read that would make me unable to function at work but maybe I haven’t found the right reading material yet!

  34. ThankYouRoman*

    Is your phone on the work Wi-Fi? That’s my only concern because then it’s still tied to the network.

    As a former teenaged fic writer, it’s no different than reading dime store novels. I saw some VC Andrews in a waiting room awhile ago.

    Just be lowkey and don’t discuss it. I register that someone is reading and have no desire to know what it is.

    1. "Messed Up" Fanfic 4evr*

      I found a bodice-ripper in a military airport lounge as a teen, and it kick-started a long love of those paperbacks.

      1. ThankYouRoman*

        Oh my!

        I’ll take all these things over the gross hunting magazines I see at the mechanics. I’m more damaged by dead animals than knowing Betty in painting likes erotica.

  35. Quackeen*

    OK, between the story of you reading The Happy Hooker at school and the example titles you gave (“Busty Alien MILF Gets Punished” and “Amanda Meets a Dirty Priest”), I’m loving it.

      1. Liet-Kinda*

        Sure, but there’s got to be some other genre and topic matter in the wide world of literature which OP also enjoys and could appropriately enjoy at work.

    1. OP*

      If I’m reading a conventional novel or other book, I like having a long stretch of time (i.e. over an hour) to read several chapters in one sitting. For shorter stretches I read articles or stories, and the articles are usually ones that friends have sent me or from infrequently updated blogs. So I read other things, but the things I read when I will have to put it down soon after I pick it up have a high likelihood of explicit content.

      1. Blerpborp*

        Not that you had to explain yourself but I think that’s the way a lot of people read since fan fic stories and/or a lot of the short erotic novels on Amazon are fast, easy reads versus a literary novel or even a traditional length romance novel that is more satisfying in longer reading chunks. I think you can read whatever the fuck you want even if it is highly sexual because you’re on your break, you’re not going to act out sexually at work because of it, and we’re all entitled to some kind of mental escape while on a break!

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Some of us like the supernatural subgenre… urban fantasy…and lately the plots tend to be as hot as blazes.

      1. Amelia Pond*

        Bingo. And there seems to be this idea that books with erotica don’t, or can’t, have plot, which is soooo wrong. Sure, some of them are light on plot, but not all. Hell, I wouldn’t even say the majority don’t have plot. I love erotica but I definitely need mine to have plot and many of them do. 

  36. anon for reasons*

    One time, I texted a couple of AO3 links to my spouse, with a short description, e.g. “this one’s sooooo good, but this other one is just ticking me off.”

    (AO3 = fanfic repository, and the stories were definitely in the romance category.)

    A couple of minutes later, spouse says, “Did you send it? I didn’t get it.”

    So I pull up my messages and discover, to my outright horror, that I had actually sent those texts to my manager.

    1. "Messed Up" Fanfic 4evr*

      I’ve had daydreams about FBI agents pulling up my self-emailed AO3 links, and my response is always….”ok but did you like them”

    2. Parenthetically*

      I think I once read every Johnlock fic on AO3, and thus I literally just said, “Noooooooooooooooo, nooooooooooo!!” aloud. *cringes forever imagining accidentally sending my boss links to Johnlock fics*

    3. Dankar*

      Noooooooo! An honest-to-God nightmare…

      I second the daydream of what I would say to the FBI agent assigned to me. That’s a great meme, and really gets you thinking about how weird all of our browsing habits are.

    4. Jennifer Juniper*

      OMG! What happened? I hope you didn’t get fired or put on a PIP for that, anon for reasons.

    5. anon for reasons*

      Sorry, here’s the requested follow-up!

      I sent my manager a very eloquent text explaining that I’d clearly sent those other messages to the wrong recipient and apologizing for any inconvenience. And heard nothing back. And panicked.

      This was a Saturday, so I spent the rest of the weekend agonizing over exactly how much trouble I was in and/or whether my boss now thought I was some kind of weirdo.

      I get to work Monday and he cracks a joke about whether I’m sending bizarre texts to everyone I know, or he’s just special. He said he didn’t click the links because he had no idea what I was going on about, and decided he didn’t want to know. I told him that was probably an A+ decision.

      So I wasn’t fired or in trouble. Just teased a bit. And now when I send texts, I am hugely paranoid about checking the recipient before I hit send …

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Whew! After reading about so many dysfunctional workplaces, I’m glad your boss didn’t act like a Puritan!

  37. "Messed Up" Fanfic 4evr*

    Everybody here has good points about the distinctions, but I’ll just let you know that you’re not alone. I’ll read anything that’s simply text at work. AO3 links for days. Even the “weird kinky” stuff. (The Venom movie just came out, I’ve got a lot of new content lined up…)

    Is it right? Probably not. Is it a risk? Sure, but one I’m comfortable taking. Life is short, I do my work well, it affects no one else. Live and let live.

    1. Nicotene*

      Yeah, Alison is always going to give the *best* answer for your career in a perfect world, but an individual can choose to live their best life and cope with the risk / take the hit if it ever comes up. I remember one letter writer loved to knit during meetings, another one wanted to bring baked goods, even though we all agreed the *best* thing would be to avoid this.

      I do skirt the line with what I read on my own phone during breaks and I totally hear ya that it would be better if I only looked at wholesome/work related stuff all day long, but it’s my own device and my own breaks and I guess I’ll take my chances.

    2. MonkeySeeMonkeyDo*

      I honestly WRITE fic on my phone during my lunch break and some of it is definitely in the category of “weird kinky stuff”.

      One of my coworkers once asked me about it and I told them that I was working on “trying to figure out a particularly sticky plot point in the novel I’m writing” so now my office thinks I’m an aspiring novelist. I’ve had a couple of people ask if they can read it and my answer is “Sure, once it’s published!” with a wink and a grin.

      No harm, no foul.

      1. tbooger*

        As someone who’s finished up more than a few procrastinated challenge fics (oh Yuletide exchange fic, why do I always put you off) at work, high five.

        (Granted I worked at a library. My coworkers were well aware that I’d self-pubbed erotica ’cause I bought physical copies to put in the collection :P nobody cared much about me bashing out a thousand words on my lunch break.)

  38. sourgold*

    To add: it also really depends on the work culture. I’ve worked in an office where discussions about sex were relatively common — it was a small office, everybody knew and trusted each other, and one coworker once did a dramatic reading of a chapter from 50 Shades, with voices, to grand applause. Then we condemned it for its poor representation of safe BDSM. It was fun. I miss that place a lot.

    I’m a teacher in high school now. There is no way, shape or form I would risk reading even a historical romance with a few mildly risqué sex scenes, not even in the teachers’ lounge.

    So read your office, I guess? But, when in doubt: you always run the risk of being seen reading PWP fanfic or the self-pub bestseller Taken By The Millionaire Centaur, especially if someone peeks over your shoulder. I don’t think that’s a risk worth taking.

    1. "Messed Up" Fanfic 4evr*

      Sometimes it’s the high school’s fault. Lol, I just remember Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty books (which Wikipedia calls ” erotic BDSM”) being on the approved reading list for our books reports. The teachers didn’t pick, it came from the *county*, so they just told us if we picked one of those books, we were not allowed to pick the presentation option instead of a written paper.

      1. Anon for this, I guess*

        I first read those because they were in my high school’s library, right next to her other books (they were the Rice-writing as-Roquelaure editions, so not mis-shelved). It’s how I read Belinda, too, and let me tell you, reading that as a 16 y.o. was very different than trying to re-read it years later as an adult; I was kind of horrified at teenage me for having enjoyed it.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I tried reading Belinda as a teen, but got grossed out at the thought of a 16-year-old sleeping with a 45-year-old man. YUCK.

            1. tbooger*


              I totally dug that age gap…. when *I* was 16 and didn’t have a kid. Now the thought of an adult pursuing even a mature teen is just….


              noooooooo *shudder*

      2. Going anon for this*


        I read the Sleeping Beauty books online (they may have been pirated by the site? I don’t know) as a teen. They introduced me to a lot of…interesting concepts. Let’s just call it that. It was the beginning of an awakening. But not because I was told to read them by the school!

  39. Lexi Kate*

    I was a claims adjuster at a large insurance company when I started my career and we all used to listen to audio books while adjusting claims. I had moved into management my third year there when 50 shades of gray came out, and OMG it was awful. Any room with a door was at your own risk to open it, going to your car to go to lunch keep your eyes straight ahead, and using the bathroom was not somewhere you wanted to be. It was like these people lost their minds. So no, no erotica in the office.

  40. Alli525*

    FWIW, I occasionally read erotica during my breaks at work, but ONLY on my phone, never on my work computer. I suppose there’s always a possibility that they could “find out” by looking at a wifi/IP usage log, but if they’re looking that hard, they’re looking for someone doing something far more overtly egregious than what I’m doing.

    1. "Messed Up" Fanfic 4evr*

      The IT guy at one job who tried to be too friendly with me would tell me about the stuff he found on people’s computers. Fanfic/erotica would have hardly made waves compared to the stuff he described. Depends on the workplace, obviously, but sometimes that bar for what they’re actually going to address is…far higher than you might imagine.

    2. Nonsensical*

      I am actually reading one right now and do not care. It is on my phone and I only do it discreetly when no one else is looking.

  41. EmKay*

    I will not even listen to certain *songs* (with my headphones) at work because they might get me a little hot & bothered (for reasons).

  42. Dust Bunny*

    Even though lunch breaks are my own time, I’m still not in my own home environment, so anything I’d normally do/read behind closed doors I wouldn’t bring to work. It’s not that I have a problem with the content per se, it’s just that not everything needs to be brought to a work environment even if you’re not using it on the clock.

  43. Anon From Here*

    I’m in a profession that depends a lot on reputation (lawyering), so TBH I won’t bring to my workplace recreational reading materials that aren’t “serious” or “literary” or “continuing education.” If it’s paper, I don’t want people seeing me with a romance novel or celebrity magazine. If it’s my phone or e-reader — man, that sh-t can get misplaced or stolen, and people do read over people’s shoulders, and offices are places where everybody does end up knowing your business, sometimes, and then people know what I’m reading.

    I’m an outlier about this kind of thing, though. I mentioned on Friday’s open thread that I’m careful about having photos taken of me when I’m holding a drink, too, for reputational reasons. I don’t want to be “the lawyer who drinks to excess at Applebee’s on Fridays.” I’d rather be “the lawyer who’s brushing up on trends in her practice area all the time.”

    1. loslothluin*

      Insofar as it getting lost and stolen, out a password on it. It’s not like it can’t be locked down and a privacy screen protector put on it.

    2. ThankYouRoman*

      I completely understand this mentality, especially when you’re developing your reputation!

      I take my time in all places before knowing how unveiled I can be. I roll in as conservative as possible until I know the surroundings, then suddenly everyone knows I’m a nerd who likes wrasslin and celebrity gossip, etc.

      But I’m also in a world where quirks are expected and I’m not ever going to deal with politics or high profile situations.

      1. Anon From Here*

        At this point in my career, I’m not developing my reputation so much as I’m making sure I don’t blow it on something dumb and superficial. It is deeply stupid to have someone pre-judge me by whatever novel I pull out while I’m waiting in the security line at City Hall, but it happens.

  44. nnn*

    Another possible litmus test:

    Imagine your creepiest co-worker, or your co-worker whom you find the most sexually repulsive.

    Imagine they’re sitting in the next cubicle over reading something of similar graphicness, in which the protagonist is of Creepy Co-worker’s demographic, and the love interest is of your demographic.

    Does the situation feel creepy to you?

    1. Lissa*

      Not if I have no idea it’s happening! I go for plausible deniability here. I think people should behave as though Alison’s rules are good, and that way if they end up breaking them they’ll make an extra effort to be subtle.

    2. ExcelJedi*

      To be fair, Creepy Co-worker (as you describe them) would only have to stand in my office doorway waiting for me to finish the sentence I’m typing before I give him my full attention for me to find him creepy. Hell, sometimes all a creep has to do is breathe for my skin to crawl – much like the BEC phenomenon.

      “If a creep did this, would it make your skin crawl?” is a pretty bad litmus test for all behavior – even before making their behvior inexplicitly about us by adding in demographic cues.

    3. General Ginger*

      It doesn’t matter what my creepiest coworker did — I would find it creepy by default, as they are ‘creepiest coworker’.

  45. nnn*

    In terms of practical advice, can you find something to read that is comparably entertaining but isn’t erotic? Comedy? PG-rated fanfic? Autobiographies of famous people you’re interested in?

  46. squirreltooth*

    Considering I edit these kinds of romance novels for a living, I can’t imagine not getting to read sexy books at work. :)

  47. loslothluin*

    If you’re worried about someone seeing your screen, get a privacy screen for your phone/tablet/whatever you’re reading on so no one will see it.

  48. Very anon for this one*

    OP, thank you for this question! I read a fair amount of hard core (often kinky) fanfic. I’ve occasionally read a bit on my phone at the office, and wondered if I was as bad as people who watch porn at work. It’s good to hear it’s not quite as over the line, though I still usually choose not to do it. But occasionally I get caught up in something resembling a plot and want to finish the chapter!

    I also usually avoid reading anything explicit on my commute if there’s any chance someone else might see my screen. I catch glimpses of other people’s phones on the train all the time, much more than in the office, and I’ve also run into coworkers on my commute. Not worth the risk unless the train is half empty and there’s no one around me.

  49. Jaybeetee*

    I’ll be honest, I occasionally read fanfic on my phone during work breaks, and I’ll occasionally read *racy* fanfic on my phone at work. But generally not, because I do get a bit paranoid about it. But realistically, someone would probably have to come right up to me and start reading my phone over my shoulder to see any of that, and it’s unlikely anyone here knows/cares what I read/do with my phone as long as I’m not surfing it when I’m supposed to be working. I also think it’s different from watching videos on your phone, which would naturally be more eye-catching to passerby than “colleague reading some wall of text on their phone”. There’s also plenty of more innocuous stuff I could be reading that could have a sex scene, or mention sexual/anatomical things (hell, this webpage says “erotica” and I have it on my work comp), so if someone did glance at me reading, saw a word or phrase, and then freaked out about what I was reading, that would seem… rather much. I guess to me it differs from videos because pr0n videos are super visible and obvious. No one’s going to know what you’re reading on your phone unless they’re REALLY nosy.

    That said, I agree with AAM that it also depends on the purpose of the reading material. Am I reading something that happens to have a sex scene? Or am I reading this for more… adult purposes? We tend to think of men more than women when this becomes a problematic thing, but really, no one wants visibly aroused (or worse) colleagues of any gender.

  50. GreenDoor*

    Anytime you’re reading/looking at something, even on a personal device, you run the risk of someone coming up to you with “What’cha readin’?” or “What’cha lookin’ at?” How quickly can you recover from that question? If the answer is “not very” that’s another good reason to stop reading this type of material. Also, are you absolutely 100% sure you keep a poker face as you read? If there’s any chance of any kind of facial expression, squirming in your seat, or vocal reaction to what you’re reading, that’s also a good reason to stop.

    Sidenote: I read the Mayflower Madam’s biography in high school. It was an all-girls Catholic high school run by nuns. I, too, was a brash child. But what can I say? My Grandmother recommended the book.

  51. Paul Morel*

    Maybe if you’re old enough to be in the workforce, you should put away the erotic fan-fic and start reading books for adults.

    1. Czhorat*

      That’s the opposite of helpful.

      Chuck Tingle has gotten multiple Hugo nominations and, apparently, quite a career for himself writing weird erotica (yes, I know the reasons for his Hugo noms. Point still stands; he’s even oddly respected).

      You’re allowed to read erotica, you’re allowed to read fan-fic, you’re allowed to watch superhero movies.

      It’s not our place to judge what others do for fun. That said, I’d not read them at work.

    2. loslothluin*

      Oh, and FYI: S.E. Hinton (of “The Outisders” game) has admitted to writing Supernatural fanfiction.

      1. General Ginger*

        Wait, the same SE Hinton who bitterly complained about fic, and people having queer takes on Outsiders characters, and/or shipping them?

  52. Dr. Pepper*


    That was my honest first thought about a colleague reading erotic literature at work. Yes, I know you’re on break, but you’re still physically there. While it’s unlikely that anyone would find out what it is you are reading, if they did… well, ew. I would not want to know that about a coworker. I do not want to know anything about what might turn you on.

    1. CheeryO*

      Yeah, I can’t get past the non-zero chance that someone would surreptitiously read over your shoulder, or you’d put your phone down to go do something else without thinking to lock it and someone would look to see what you were reading. People are weird and nosy, and it’s just not worth the risk.

  53. Database Developer Dude*

    Here’s something I haven’t seen yet in the comments at all….

    It’s my perception that many of us are perceiving the OP to be female. I just re-read the letter Alison posted, and nowhere in there does the OP disclose their gender.

    How do we know OP is a woman? What if OP is a man? Does that change your answer? Should it? (my answer is no, men shouldn’t be doing it either). If OP was a man, would there be any speculation here about whether or not he is reading erotica at work to get aroused or just because he enjoys it?


    And for the record, while I will freely admit to joining everyone else here in assuming OP is female…if OP is male, my take does not change: This isn’t something to be done while physically at work, breaks or no breaks. While not wrong per se, this isn’t the hill you want to die on. It’s not something I’d ever want to police, and if I’m not a supervisor or manager, I’m going to be ignoring anything that may come to my attention…and definitely NOT seeking it out.

    Having said that, *I* am not trying to police anything, and if a peer was harassing ANYONE for what they’re reading on their own break, my response would be Jason-like (MMPR reference). I am not, however, a supervisor or a manager (at least in my current position). I don’t have the ability to protect any peer from someone who is, and decides to have an issue with this.

    1. OP*

      Good catch. I am male, but I wanted a general answer before people got into gender-colored specifics. Thanks for the nuanced response too.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        I think the worry, if you were female, would be that your male colleagues would creep on you. Since you’re a male, the worry would be more your female colleagues thinking that you would creep on them.

        Plus at least some people would think you have weird taste for enjoying chic lit.

        1. OP*

          I’m used to having weird taste in a lot of things. Your point about making colleagues worry is what drove me to ask the question, though. All that talk of porn=hostile work environment made me rethink what I had thought of as a relatively harmless, if odd, guilty pleasure.

          1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

            To be safe, just skip it, I think.

            If you were risking being creeped on, you’d be paying the price if someone noticed. If you’re risking worrying your colleagues, they would be the ones who loosing out.

            I do think you’d have gotten some useful responses if you’d mentioned you were a dude in your initial letter, but on the other hand it’s kind of fun to see the assumptions that the commentariat make. I’d love to see Alison repost your letter next week with, “by the way, I’m a guy if it matters,” at the end.

        2. Jennifer Juniper*

          Or you could be perceived as LGBT, which, at worst, can lead you to being fired in certain backwards states in the US.

  54. Elle Kay*

    I read explicit fanfiction at work all the time.
    I mean, I don’t flaunt it but no one should be able to see it on my phone and it’s never been a problem!

  55. wickedtongue*

    Allison’s story about high school reading reminds me of my own…which was a lot more embarrassing! I read and reread the Clan of the Cave Bear series in high school and brought them to school on the regular. This probably would have slipped under the radar entirely…if another (male) friend wasn’t also reading the books at the same time. This led, perhaps inevitably, to an incident in a boring English class with a distracted teacher where my friend

    1) ratted me out to our neighbors for reading a dirty book
    2) grabbed the book, flipped it to find a particularly sexy passage (this was a later book, not CotCB itself)
    3) it got passed around to everyone in the vicinity with everyone giggling over the passage in question

    Somehow we didn’t get caught? I was mortified, but because I was very obviously a “smart nerd girl” who seemed very innocent there was never any blowback that I remember. I was just known to read sexy books about cavemen and occasionally teased for it. It never occurred to me that it might not be appropriate at the time!

    1. ThankYouRoman*

      That’s a filthy book? LMFAO it’s one of my dad’s favorites, I never read it because I hated Lord of the Rings and assumed it was just as boring. This gives me great amusement. I even bought him another book in that series if memory serves me right, oh I live for this kind of awkward stuff.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        From what I recall, there is one or two explicit sex scenes, but I wouldn’t say it qualifies as ‘dirty’.

        (caveat: I read it in 9th grade which was… longer ago than I care to admit)

      2. RacingTurtle*

        Clan isn’t smutty. Its sequels, on the other hand…(At one point, there is mammoth role-play. I may forget the other billion sex scenes, but I will remember the mammoth role-play until the day I die.)

        1. wickedtongue*

          Oh, it was one of the sequels…Plains of Passage, iirc. OMG the mammoth roleplay, I nearly forgot!

          The sequels are frequently explicit! Definitely part of the appeal for a teenager, although I didn’t know what I was getting into at the beginning, I just wanted to read about ancient humans and Ayla, The Woman Who Invented Everything and tamed cave lions, horses, and wolves. The sex education was a bonus.

  56. TakingTheFifth*

    (This is probably where I should confess that in high school, I once openly read Xaviera Hollander’s The Happy Hooker in an English class where I was bored. A paper copy, with the cover clearly visible. I was a brash child.)

    Fanny Hill in 8th grade science ;-)

    1. Mike*

      When I was doing AP History in high school, my teacher gave me the extra-credit project of reading selected chapters of Mein Kampf and selected parts of a couple of his predecessors (Gobineau and Chamberlain) and writing an essay on it addressing a couple of questions. Reading that book probably raised a few eyebrows.

  57. Uncertain*

    You’re an adult. Read whatever you damn well like!

    Lots of people in this thread are talking about having sexual thoughts at work as if you’re breaking some sort of law. It’s all just stuff in your head.

    We have very few private spaces left in this world. Don’t let people dictate to you what you can or can’t think about.

    1. tbooger*


      One of the things that’s been popping into my head as I read the comments is when I started seeing my boyfriend this last April. It’s a pretty physical relationship and combined with new relationship energy, damn straight I was thinking about him and what we got up to a lot. Even when I was at work. It’s not something I could easily stop doing. I still got my work done. It didn’t impact anybody, unless me zoning out on my break was somehow harmful.

      There are people in the world who get turned on by… idk, sneezes, or balloons. Aciddentally aroused or unintentionally, long as they’re not making me aware of it, I don’t care if they’re at work or on the train or standing in front of the Pope.

  58. fiverx313*

    one time at work my coworker insisted i needed to listen to old george carlin routines, and that no one would care if i did it at my desk while i worked, as long as i used my headphones. i was in the middle of the third routine when someone a few cubes down stopped by to let me know i’d gotten my settings screwed up and it was actually playing over my speakers as well, very loudly, and i just hadn’t been able to tell.

    fortunately it was a pretty laid back office and i never heard anything about it after that… almost died of embarrassment tho.

  59. Disconnected*

    I had a couple of young temps listening to 50 Shades of Grey audio books while working. Honestly my only issue with that was we’re not really supposed to listen to anything that requires you to pay attention to it to make sense while working. Though it did explain why they’d get a bit flustered when I had to come over and ask questions.

  60. ThankYouRoman*

    The slut shaming is now hilarious because OP is a dude. Ah sweet internet tears and pearl clutching ways, you never change.

  61. slick ric flair*

    It’s really bizarre to me that the comment section that is completely against normal office things like potlucks, awards at work, occasional happy hours, coming in on time, or sharing something about your weekend, is broadly in favour of reading erotica and watching porn at work.

    OP and anyone else reading, my recommendation as a successful professional is: don’t watch porn or read erotic novels at work. Anyone who finds out, especially in this (correct) climate of increased pressure on sexual harassment in the workplace, will find it incredibly inappropriate and could get you in lots of trouble.

    Read something else.

  62. Avasarala*

    Honestly I feel really bad for Greg, who got JUMPED on for suggesting that men could watch porn at work if it was discreet, the office was OK with it, it didn’t interfere with work/was only on breaks, and nobody found out.

    Now multiple people are suggesting that it’s actually OK…as long as the porn is written, not visual.

    People are confusing this issue with “Is romantic fiction/fanfic always porn, and if so, is this because it’s popular with women?” “Is it porn if it doesn’t turn me on personally?” “Is it OK to read graphic material in public?” “Is it OK for women to enjoy romantic/sexy stories?” “Should employers ever look at their employee’s phones?” These are not what is being debated. The question is “Can I consume media intended to arouse at the workplace?”

    If you said no to porn, you need to say no to this. It’s not less of a problem because it is text and not images–this just makes it harder for you to be caught. In principle, you just shouldn’t bring sex to work–you shouldn’t talk about it, you shouldn’t read about it, you shouldn’t look at it. You really shouldn’t think about it either, at least not with intention. I feel like people are treating this issue differently because romance lit is more popular among women, and therefore less gross because many commenters are women? And maybe not realizing this opens the door to gross Fergus watching porn in his office during lunch. What, it’s not like it turns him on, after all he watches it so much he is desensitized to it. Why is Fergus opening the door to sexual harassment but this is not?

    It’s not pearl-clutching to not want people openly consuming sexual media in the workplace. Just do it at home. If you still choose to do it, that’s your choice, just like it’s your choice to ask your coworkers about their political/religious views, question their dietary choices, share your detailed medical stories, and whatever else breaks the social contract and makes people write letters to AAM.

    1. The Principal of the Thing*

      Yes, absolutely.

      And further to that, it could easily cross the line into making others involved in your sex life without consent. I know this is a stretch, but if it’s not appropriate for you to talk about how *insert porns cliche* here is interesting to you (turned on or otherwise), it’s not appropriate for you to be consuming media related to that in the workplace.

      I’ve also had the experience with sharing a lunch room with two teachers a few years ago, and one was reading 50 Shades, the copy lent to her by the other. I didn’t need to know how much they were enjoying it, and yet I did. I really did. :(

    2. Alton*

      I think there can definitely be a double standard, and that it’s important to be aware of that and think about where we draw lines and whether it makes sense. But I also don’t think it’s always a direct 1-1 comparison, or that it’s always easy to define porn once we start talking about broader categories of explicit works. I think a lot of why people are very confident saying that watching porn isn’t okay is because it’s usually very recognizable as being porn and viewing porn is seen as a sexual act.

      But I’m looking at it from the perspective of how I’d feel if I noticed that someone was watching something like “Secretary,” “9 1/2 Weeks,” or, hell, “Caligula” at work. Movies with heavy sexual content/themes but that aren’t considered porn. And I think I’d question the person’s professionalism and wonder why they thought it’d be a good idea, but I wouldn’t necessarily assume they were watching for sexual gratification, and it wouldn’t come across as them engaging in a sexual activity at work to me. It would just seem like a poor choice for work, and inappropriate if people could see/hear it. I see a lot of erotica as being similar. I also think we have some stricter limits sometimes for what audio/visual stuff is okay in public/work vs. text, because images can be much bigger and sound can carry. The comic Saga isn’t porn, but I wouldn’t read it in public as a rule because there are pages that are just as graphic as what you might see in a porn comic. But I wouldn’t think twice about reading a novel with a similar level of sex scenes.

      Just like with movies, erotica includes straight-up porn and stuff that has other forms of artistic value. I think that “Is it okay to consume porn at work?” and “Is it okay to read/watch graphic media with sexual themes?” are two different questions. The answer to the second question can still be no a lot of the time, and a lot of the concerns are the same, but there’s also some nuance.

  63. Avalon Angel*

    Anyone else remembering the gals at Cooper Draper Sterling Price passing around “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” in the break room?

  64. Jennifer Juniper*

    Just don’t. That can leave you, OP, open to all kinds of questions about your professionalism, not to mention gossip about your sex life. If you’re female, this goes double. You don’t want creeps to be targeting you.

    1. Karen from Finance*

      I wonder what in the post made you reach this conclusion? Nothing suggests that there’s any reason why anyone would ever find out in the first place.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Some nosy person can read the OP’s phone over OP’s shoulder. Also, many workplaces have rules forbidding the use of cell phones altogether.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            See yesterday’s letter from the poor OP getting slut-shamed for having open-toed shoes! If people can be shamed for their footwear, reading erotica is orders of magnitudes worse!

            1. Jennifer Juniper*

              Of course, neither should be happening. I have learned, however, that it is possible to be punished for anything, especially if you’re female at work. That’s why I’m urging this OP to just not.

                1. ket*

                  Labradoodle Daddy, totally agree that it’s easier said than done. But I’m a woman in a STEM field. My very existence in this office, typing away, doing math and physics while breasts are attached to the front of my body, is an affront to some people. So whatever. If I’m going to get anything done before dying, I’m going to have to get in trouble.

                  Might as well read some romance on breaks.

              1. Elizabeth*

                “I have learned, however, that it is possible to be punished for anything, especially if you’re female at work. That’s why I’m urging this OP to just not.”

                So, because women are more often unfairly punished and accused of things, the best response is to continue conforming to these sexist rules? I think not.

                If a woman reading erotica means that a man is going to start sexually harassing her, then newsflash: It’s not the woman’s fault for reading erotica. It’s the man’s fault for being an entitled, lecherous cretin and assuming that her reading a romance translates to desiring him.

                Also, there is a man that harasses me at work. I don’t read erotica, dress provocatively, wear excessive make-up, or even wear open-toed shoes for goodness sake. But it still happens. So, who are we going to blame then?

              2. ThankYouRoman*

                Ah the old “but she wore a “short” skirt, she should know better than to draw attention to herself!” swerve.

                No. Not even a little. Flush this advice down the toilet.

                1. Laurelma01*

                  Wish as I female I didn’t have to worry about it. I had a creep (they got rid of him two years ago) that I worked with that if you wore a necklace and the pendant would sit on your breasts, he would pick it up to look at it. He got by with it once, but never again. I was on alert after that. He was smooth, he was good about keeping things in grey areas. But he overstepped with a student, that was 17 and they got rid of him. But just early retirement, not termination for cause.

            2. Karen from Finance*

              The response to slut-shaming is not “just don’t do it”, is to put a stop to the shaming. And the way to do that is to have no shame when no shame should be had. Otherwise you’re just perpetuating an opression. In yesterday’s post, the response is to ignore the comments, not to stop wearing whatever shoes she wants as long as her managers say they’re ok.

              In this case, she’s reading it on her phone where there’s no reasonable assumption to be made about somebody seeing it. The debate is about it is appropiate REGARDLESS of people finding out. There’s quite a jump from there to people sexually harassing her in her own office (or as you put it, “creeps targeting you”).

              1. Database Developer Dude*

                If this was over something she was wearing/doing/saying at work, Karen, I would completely and totally agree with you. Unfortunately, it’s about something she’s reading on her breaks at work.

                There are plenty of things we SHOULD be able to do at work, but can’t, because either our employers or our coworkers will have issues with it. It sucks, but is this the hill you really want to die on at work??

                1. Karen from Finance*

                  I mean, yeah, maybe?

                  But this is not about too much cleavage for example. This is something her employers or coworkers wouldn’t even find out about unless they were crossing some serious boundaries of their own.

                2. Database Developer Dude*

                  Okay, it shouldn’t be an issue, I completely agree… but lots of things that are issues shouldn’t be. Where you’ve got me on board is that she’s reading it on her phone… so anyone finding out would cross serious boundaries of their own. In that case…let the chips fall where they may.

                  Just be aware that when serious boundaries are crossed, you need to know the environment at your workplace because things that come up may or may not still get taken as issues. I was working somewhere where someone was rolled off a contract because they were a Satanist….not dressing anything less than professionally, not talking about religion at work, but when they were pressed to join a lunchtime bible study, cited their religion as an excuse to decline… and all hell broke loose……

                3. Dankar*

                  I agree with Karen from Finance. If someone knows what OP is reading because they’re invading their space to read from her screen, over her shoulder, without telling her that they’re there… I don’t really think I could muster up too much righteous indignation.

                4. Michaela Westen*

                  “when they were pressed to join a lunchtime bible study, cited their religion as an excuse to decline… and all hell broke loose……”
                  Ah, working with Christian fascists – they’ll never be satisfied with less than total submission and conformity. Are there still laws in this country about forcing religion at work?
                  It may have worked better for the Satanist to just say “no thanks, I’m non-religious” – but that might not have worked either, depending on how extreme the bible-study people were in their quest for total domination and disrespect of anyone who disagrees with them.

              2. Jennifer Juniper*

                Also, the open-toe shoe-wearing OP needs to document her co-worker’s nasty comment, in case a pattern of sexual harassment starts/escalates.

          2. Database Developer Dude*

            It may not happen as often as people think, but if a woman is found to be reading erotica at work, I can guarantee you SOME man, somewhere, will think it’s okay to try to creep on her, even if she’s not ever shown interest in him before.

            I’m a man, and I just do not read material at work, even on breaks, that could be sexually questionable even in the slightest. That’s just opening up a can of worms. While the potential blowback for me would be less onerous than that for a woman, I’m sure I’d get some. I wouldn’t get hit on, I’d get looked at as a potential harasser.

            And yes, unless you’re discreet to the max, people will find out. People as a group are nosy about stuff that’s none of their business.

            1. ket*

              I’ve read romance that shades into hot&heavy at work every now & then on breaks (only if it’s a really great book!! like a Duke by Default recently!) and no one has ever noticed. They also don’t notice if I’m reading comedy unless I laugh out loud, or anything else. I do however work in a very autonomous environment.

            2. Murphy*

              It may not happen as often as people think, but if a woman is found to be reading erotica at work, I can guarantee you SOME man, somewhere, will think it’s okay to try to creep on her, even if she’s not ever shown interest in him before.

              I think that’s probably true, but I don’t think the idea that if someone finds out, that person might be a creep and might act inappropriately is a reason not do to it. Tell him in a businesslike manner to back the eff off.

              1. Laurelma01*

                I really agree with the statement. As a women, you show just a slight glimpse that you’re a sexual being … just 1 – 2 % opening of a door per say. A creep will take it as an opportunity to walk through it.

                I recall a lawsuit years ago where a woman that had abnormally large breasts, wore sport bras under her clothes, blouses up to her neck was fired because of her appearance. She did everything to flatten them out, and they fired her because of her appearance. Worked in car sales. Do not recall the result of the lawsuit, saw her interview on TV.

              2. Lissa*

                Yeah I agree, I just don’t think “creeps might creep on you” is a reason to not do a thing. If someone personally feels more comfortable because of it, OK! But I feel like reading erotica on one’s phone… I mean, the chance that a creep specifically is going to find out what you’re reading and then use it as an excuse to creep is there, but it seems verryyyy low to me that there’s going to be that much conflation of events. Compared to all the other reasons a creep might creep.

            3. Karen from Finance*

              Let me tell you something, as a cis woman.

              If a woman EXISTS, I can guarantee you SOME man, somewhere, will think it’s okay to try to creep on her.

              That’s all.

              1. Tara2*

                Yes! There is no magic combination of doing/not doing things that will stop all men from harassing you. It happens fairly often to me, and I don’t do anything that could even be construed as maybe sexual (I’m a bit prudish when it comes to myself). I don’t even wear makeup. Nothing you do matters, some guy somewhere will creep.

            4. BethRA*

              I can guarantee you that SOME man, somewhere, would decide it’s ok to creep on her because she smiled while passing him in the hallway, or accidentally bumped into him in the copy room, or because it’s Tuesday. There are good reasons to avoid or at least think twice about reading racy novels at work, but trying to avoid being creeped on isn’t one of them.

            5. LadyPhoenix*

              And you shoud know, as a guy, that women are gonna be creeped on for just about anything and everything and even nothing.

              So maybe the better answer is to look the creeps dead in the eye and tell them to eff off in your best Gordan Ramsey style possible, if you want to help us ladies so much.

              Otherwise you’re part of the problem by policing us.

            6. Czhorat*

              I can guarantee that some man will creep on her at work regardless. Men suck.

              I don’t think it’s appropriate, but “What will the menz think?” or “How will the boys look at her/treat her”? are NOT good reasons to not do something.

        1. A-nony-nony*

          Unless the OP has her phone on the largest font possible, someone would pretty much need to have their chin on her shoulder for someone to realistically read text on her phone over her shoulder.

          It’s highly unlikely anyone will know what she’s reading, so I’m in the “what’s the harm” camp, but I agree with Alison if the point is to arouse at work, that’s quite a bit iffier.

          I can’t imagine wanting to be aroused at work, but that’s just me.

          1. Karen from Finance*

            > I can’t imagine wanting to be aroused at work

            If this blog’s taught me anything, is that some people are into some weird sh*t. But that’s far from this topic.

            1. Blerpborp*

              This came up on another question (I believe it was someone wondering if they should hire someone who admitted to being fired for looking at porn at work) and it really makes me wonder if I am some kind of freak- I get bored at work sometime and daydream and sometimes those daydreams do arouse me! I’m a woman and so I don’t have to worry that I get a visible boner that would make someone else uncomfortable so I am lucky there but I truly think as long as you’re in control of your behavior, it’s kind of wild to be like “must control your thoughts at all time!” at work. Work specifically and life generally can be dull and unexciting, read a naughty book a get a little thrill (again, only if you can control any outward manifestation of said thrill.)

              1. LadyPhoenix*

                I think having an unconcious boner/lady boner is fine so long as you shake it off.

                But purposefully getting hot and bothered is not.

                1. Karen from Finance*

                  Hehe, “shaking it off” when talking about boners/lady boners makes for a funny visual, one that would definitely not be appropiate for work.

                  But I kid. I agree, of course.

                1. SarahTheEntwife*

                  Maybe Blerpblorp has a boring job, or one that alternates busy periods and downtime? I’ve definitely caught some weird thought trains when staring at numbers for too long and realized I needed to go get some coffee.

          2. Blue*

            Yeah, especially if you’re in a discreet location/have your own office. I eat at my desk in my private office, and I wouldn’t think twice if I was reading something (on my phone, off wifi) that turned explicit, because the odds of someone figuring out what I’m reading are very slim.

    2. JokeyJules*

      this reads very “victim-shaming” to me…

      I don’t think she should be reading it at work, but none of your scenarios came to mind.

      1. LadyPhoenix*

        Yeah. We ladies will attract creeps for no reason whatsoever because creeps will be creeping. Let’s not give them another reason to justify their creepiness when they are really entitled lil turdheads.

        1. dawbs*

          Back up with me a tic here. Bbecause I heard a record screech in my head when u read this.

          What part of “bringing erotica to work” excludes her from being a (as of yet hypothetical) victim?
          Cuz i read it as you saying by virtue of what she’s reading at work, if Creepy McHandsy bothers her, she’s not a victim.
          But I’m hoping I misread intent.

        2. LadyPhoenix*

          “But she’s wearing a skirt”
          “But she’s drinking.”
          “But she’s walking alone at night.”
          “But she’s a sex worker.”
          “But she’s flirting with him.”
          “But she’s smiling at him.”

          Do you wanna include some of those while you’re on your sex/rape shame tirade? I could go on.

        3. JokeyJules*

          you’ve never had something in your purse you probably shouldnt while at work? ever? if a woman keeps a condom in her purse she’s “bringing condoms to work”. Is that her immediate consent to anything? no. it isn’t. Please consider your comment.

        4. Delphine*

          Fairly certain that Kelly is saying outside of the hypothetical we’ve made up about what might happen to the OP if she’s seen reading erotica at work OP is not a victim.

        5. sourgold*

          She’s not a victim insofar as the hypothetical scenario that some creep might target her hasn’t, to our knowledge, happened. Thankfully.

          But what is the relation between that and your second sentence? Why are the two related in this logic?

          1. Delphine*

            She’s not a victim, she’s someone who has brought erotica into work, and so discussing the consequences of that action (e.g., the things she’s seen reading may impact her professionally) isn’t victim blaming.

            1. sourgold*

              But the conversation in this thread has shifted from ‘these are the possible professional repercussions’ to ‘some creeps might decide to use that to their advantage’. That’s where the ‘victim’ part comes in.

    3. AnonMinion*

      I agree 100%. We had a gal do this at work once. She left the book out and someone snagged a picture that made its way around. She hasn’t worked here in years and people STILL talk about it. I don’t think it is worth it.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Y’all, the slut-shaming discussion has taken us way off-topic, so I’m asking that we leave it here. (And I’m moving it down on the page so it’s not the very first thread.)

  65. Questions and no answers*

    Is anything I would be embarrassed by if my boss sees it inappropriate? I’m very active in online communities discussing abortion care and birth control (support groups and giving advice) and I often comment on them during my breaks. Obviously, I don’t get aroused or anything, but is this OK?

  66. boop the first*

    I’m kinda surprised by the passionate debate tbh.
    Wasn’t there recently a huffle about a man watching porn at work (on a phone even), and how intentionally arousing yourself at work just isn’t okay? Porn is porn, there isn’t a debate there. And correct me if I’m wrong, but it seemed like that situation didn’t matter if it was seen or heard, boners = nope?

    Is it because she doesn’t have a visible boner? Is it a penis issue? Is it a physical strength issue? Why the passionate defense? If it’s not an issue, I would have expected it to bring about a shrug and a MEH… and yet…

  67. Big Biscuit*

    If it’s really just the written word, I think OP should do want she wants. Is anybody really going to notice or care in this day and age with everyone on their phones for everything anyway? Maybe not logistically doable, but she could go out to her car and read on her lunch or break if she’s concerned.

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