can I read erotica on work breaks?

I’m off today. This was originally published in 2018. I have expanded it to slightly to include some of my additions from the comments on the original post, such as sample book titles.

A reader writes:

I came across the discussions of porn at work earlier, 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 what you’re reading is 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 graphic sexual imagery at work, even if that imagery is created by words rather than pictures or video.

To be clear, the inclusion of sex scenes doesn’t on its own make a book inappropriate to read at work.  Lots of good literature includes sex scenes. The issue would be with stories where graphic sex throughout is the whole point. [We’re talking here about the genre with titles like Busty Alien MILF Gets Punished and Amanda Meets a Dirty Priest (I made those titles up; don’t go looking for them) … not Philip Roth or Henry Miller or even romance novels.]

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 whole 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. If it’s the written word version of porn, it’s not for work.

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.  

{ 168 comments… read them below }

  1. Angela Zeigler*

    This is really helpful. A friend of mine working a lower level manager role in a customer-facing service industry seems to have a serious issue with listening to audio books that are much, much more explicit than Fifty Shades- to the point where the covers wouldn’t be considered SFW, much less the content. (The intention of the stories is very obvious from the titles and covers.) I wondered about this since an audiobook over headphones is not something a coworker or customer could overhear. But I agree that it’s probably not helping to be steeped in that kind of story, continuously, in a work environment. Especially as a manager. I’ve actually been concerned my friend has an addition due to the rate and amount of books, sadly.

    1. sadnotbad*

      For anyone considering headphones as a workaround, please keep in mind it’s absolutely possible to overhear what’s going on in someone’s headphones (and even earbuds if it’s very quiet).

      1. Iris Eyes*

        Also your headphones can get disconnected and start broadcasting whatever is playing. Just the risk of that happening is plenty enough to put it in the nope category in my book.

        1. All Het Up About It*

          I keep this in mind when deciding what music to listen to at the office! I love Garfunkel and Oates, but nobody in my office needs to hear me listening to those lyrics. Or what if I accidentally get so in my head I start to sing along?!?! Oh no. No, no, no.

          1. My+Useless+2+Cents*

            My biggest problem was Christmas songs. I just can’t stop myself from joining Alvin in asking Santa for a Hula Hoop. I created a playlist of instrumental Christmas songs for the season but that put me to sleep. Finally, I created a playlist of upbeat everyday songs I don’t sing along to just so that I don’t accidently start singing and that has worked great.

            There are a couple of podcasts that I listen to that have gotten a little NSFW but I don’t listen to podcasts at home. However, there has only been one or two times it got bad enough that I had switch to something else even though no one could hear what was being discussed.

    2. yala*

      flashbacks to working in the back at a public library while listening to the AoIaF audiobooks and it got to Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding night. There’s absolutely nothing arousing about the scene but somehow it being an audiobook (even with very quiet earbuds) made it so much worse than reading it would’ve been.

      1. JustaTech*

        Listening to the velociraptor scene from Jurassic Park on audiobook was actually way more upsetting than watching it in the movie (probably because it was way more explicit in the book than what they chose to show on screen to keep the PG-13).

        (I also didn’t choose to listen to that book, my friend’s mom was listening when she was driving us to choir practice.)

    3. OP*

      I wrote the original letter. I never would have been brash enough to listen via headphones. I would have been terrified that they would disconnect and then broadcast the words to the whole room and adjoining hallways. When I was reading it at work it was usually when I was the only person in the building, and when I wasn’t I was still the only person nearby, with my back to the wall. (If someone did arrive I’d put my phone down and be social, but I certainly only read that stuff on my phone when I had to find a way to pass the time and no one was around to catch it.)

  2. Caramel & Cheddar*

    “Busty Alien MILF Gets Punished”

    Alison, if you’re looking for a side hustle, can you please become a person who names erotic novels.

    1. Specialized Skillets*

      I initially misread the title as “BUSY Alien MILF” and was picturing this frazzled alien mom who’s just trying to keep up with life.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Wait…it isn’t? Crap

        I was imagining the harried alien mom chasing her brood of half alien, half human, children and the utter hijinks that would be detailed…

        Dang it!

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          There’s a mom who’s written a whole bunch of humor books named Erma Bombeck – slice of life daily humor, similar to David Sedaris. I have only just realized that I would read the HECK out of a sci-fi alien mom’s equivalent of that. Maybe something like Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Ender’s Game?

          1. JSPA*

            School book fair, 1976:

            “honey-child, are you sure you want that? It’s a mom’s table book, not a children’s book.”

            Yes, yes I did.

            The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.

            Don’t have any patience for O.S. Card, though.

          2. GlitterIsEverything*



            I just realized that there are people who don’t know who Erma Bombeck is, and that it’s necessary to introduce her before dropping her name.

            I’m gonna go buy some prune juice now.

  3. Midwest Manager*

    “ (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.)”

    OMG no wonder I love you. I did this same exact thing. (I also had the graphic from her Penthouse column as one (among many) things on the door of my college dorm room). Alison’s advice is spot-on here, but honestly, I think the better choice is just not to start down a slippery slope at all. There’s tons of other things to read and look at during breaks in your work day. Keep teh erotica—whatever level it is—for your personal time, and outside the workplace.

    1. JustaTech*

      My mother read “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” over the shoulder of the boy in front of her in 6th grade math class. (This was in the 50s.) It took me *years* to understand how shocking that was.
      (Confession, I tried to read Lady Chatterly’s Lover and found it so slow going in the beginning that I just gave up. Like, it’s fine if it’s going to take a while to get to the exciting bits, but could the characters at least be interesting between now and then?)

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        If you are looking for smut, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is disappointing to a 21st century reader.

        1. JustaTech*

          But the Tom Lehrer song “Smut” promised me that it was really dirty!
          “Some people have a hobby, like tennis or philately.
          I’ve got a hobby, re-reading Lady Chatterly!”

          1. GoryDetails*

            Thanks for citing Lehrer! Who else would come up with “philately” as a rhyme for “Chatterly”? I adore that man…

        2. Phryne*

          yep. I’m sure the descriptions were shocking to an audience who until then had probably been no closer to sex in books than Lydia’s elopement but now it reads way more as a book about class and social issues after WW1 with some quite mild romance in it… Even though the book itself describes how amongst certain groups of te population, sexuality was way more free already than we now tend to imagine about that time. I think the shocking bit about the book was not that people have sex, it is that someone put it down on paper in a book not meant as smut.
          (also uses the word fuck a lot if I remember correctly, which was probably a shock too see in writing for society ladies of the time).

        3. Phryne*

          Yep. It might have been shocking at the time, but now it reads like a commentary on class and social conditions after WW1 with some mild romance in it.
          And even the book itself describes how attitudes towards sex and sexuality at the time in certain social strata/classes were a lot more loose at the time than we now tend to think. I think it is not so much the people having sex thing that was shocking, people on the whole have been a lot more prosaic about that throughout the past than is common in some parts in these times. It is that stuff like extramarital sex and the actual act of having sex were explicitly discussed in a book that was *not meant as smut.*
          Also the word fuck is used a lot. I bet that thrilled the young ladies of the day (and scandalised the prudes), even though, once again, it usage in the book proves it was probably a commonly enough word in everyday usage in the day.

        4. Phryne*

          Yep. It might have been shocking at the time, but now it reads like a commentary on class and social conditions after WW1 with some mild romance in it.
          And even the book itself describes how attitudes towards sex and sexuality at the time in certain social strata/classes were a lot more loose at the time than we now tend to think. I think it is not so much the people having sex thing that was shocking, people on the whole have been a lot more prosaic about that throughout the past than is common in some parts in these times. It is that stuff like extramarital sex and the actual act of having sex were explicitly discussed in a book that was not meant as smut.
          Also the word f**k is used a lot. I bet that thrilled the young ladies of the day (and scandalised the prudes), even though, once again, it usage in the book proves it was probably a commonly enough word in everyday usage in the day.

          (I had to repost this 3 times before I realised it was my writing full out of the F word that kept blocking it. Which is interesting in context of the subject. In my country, censoring swearwords is not really a thing unless in/on something specifically aimed at children. But in the US, even on a site with a probably 100% adult readership, you cannot just spell a word commonly spoken oud loud if it is a * bad* word)

      2. Empress Ki*

        I recommend you the Lady Chatterley movie from Pascale Ferran made in 2006. It’s French but I am sure you can watch it with English subtitles.
        It’s a very beautiful version, erotic, poetic…

      3. LPUK*

        This is my problem with D H Lawrence in general. I read Sons and Lovers at school but all i can remember now is that he wrote about 3 pages about the hairs on Clara’s arm. That’s it.

  4. Smithy*

    So I just want to say that with a lot of questions like this, I think the biggest answer to much of this is around how strong you are at compartmentalizing. And the reality is that most people aren’t fantastic or find telling assorted white lies to be stressful.

    There was the letter a week or so ago about the person who copy/pasted something from their erotica writing into a group chat thing? And again, just the slip of the compartmentalizing. And most people don’t have that super strong wall.

    There’s a strip club I’ve worked near for ages that has a lunch special, and technically I’m sure there are people who are happy to go there for lunch and a soda and then back to work. And it’s not so much about going there being appropriate or not, but it’s that kind of thing where in most offices you wouldn’t really be able to talk about where you went to lunch. For a few people, that’s a kind of compartmentalization that’s not a big deal – but I think for many more it’s hard.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Also, what is the risk if your compartmentalizing slips? Completely compartmentalizing 100% of the time is almost impossible. If you slip and accidentally copy paste a link to a Disney music video, worst case scenario is a mild reminder to not do personal things on a work computer and maybe some cheerful coworker ribbing. Slip and copy paste with 50 Shades? Depending on how that goes you might be looking at a trip to HR and potential firing. Not worth it.

      1. Smithy*

        Exactly – now if you’re reading erotica on your personal device or in physical book form while sitting in your car, sure the technical “is it allowed” dynamics may not be as heavy.

        But again, if the point is that it’s something that helps you unwind and disconnect from work – then many people may find that dynamic undone if they go back to work and have to white lie. Now if the book in question is Vegan Living for Orks and Ogres – I’m sure there are plenty of coworkers who might have side-eye thoughts. But it’s more be about whether they would or would not want to join your book club as opposed to general professionalism.

  5. Amber Rose*

    I was thinking about this letter just the other day! It’s funny to me because years later, I have realized I’m ace. I didn’t know this at the time of the original post and found myself so, so confused because I was thinking, who’s turned on by sex in books? Is that a thing?

    So if the point of the book is to be arousing, and it fails, is it still inappropriate?

    I’m being facetious of course. I don’t actually care, much in the way that nobody cares what I’m reading at lunch in my little office in the corner behind my huge monitors.

    1. A0Geez*

      I do think there’s a big overlap between fanfiction, in which a lot of the content is really, really explicit (I mean, many things are allowed on A03 that are barred on mainstream sites like Kindle Unlimited) but a lot of the readers probably aren’t there for the explicit scenes somehow. This is a quirk of fanfic. I remember wondering in the original post if that’s what OP was referring to.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Definitely sounds like fanfic, and yeah it’s interesting because the intent of even explicit fanfic often feels like “to explore these characters’ relationship in an intimate context” more so than “to titillate the reader.” Fanfic is often labeled as Porn With Plot or Porn Without Plot — for someone familiar with fanfic, that’s probably the easiest way to draw the line.

          1. yala*

            I’d say it depends on the explicit fic, but the whole point of PWP is, as Alison said, to be arousing, so, y’know. That one’s a hard no.

        1. NeutralJanet*

          It’s an interesting differentiation between fanfic and mainstream/original fiction–the same fanfic can have a complicated and intricate plot, which may or may not be primarily about a romance, and also have very explicit sex scenes. With original fiction, if there’s a real plot that doesn’t center around romance, you’ll generally have softcore kissing/touching/fade to black, certainly no explicit description of which parts are going where, and if it’s erotica, the plot will be very thin and essentially just an excuse to get the characters into bed. Fanfic can be, and often is, both at once.

      2. Bromaa*

        I thought then and still think now that “curated content with basic HTML, no external links, and no ads” means AO3.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      Fellow ace and for a long time, I thought porn was sort of like the adult version of stuff like smoking as a teen, something people read because it made them feel cool and rebellious or something. It didn’t occur to me that they actually found it arousing.

      Now that I think about it, that makes absolutely NO sense, but it wasn’t something I particularly thought about to any great extent and to the extent I thought about it at all, I assume it was just the amusement of reading something “forbidden.”

      And I find the reputation of fanfiction amusing, since the fanfiction I read and write (or did) rarely even had romance in it.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        There are many things in the world where I assume everyone thought the same as me and was just basically faking for coolness including but not limited to liking the taste of alochol and the effect it has on them.

        Alcoholic beverages all taste unpleasant to me even the ones people claim doesn’t taste like alocohol at all. Who wants to get out of control and lower their inhibitions? They must be trying to be cool.

          1. Phryne*

            To the point where I prefer to drink alone sometimes because I want to enjoy it without the social ramifications of the alcohol in public…

    3. Ace of Space*

      Also ace here, was just wondering that same thing!

      With visual porn that feels easier to clearly be able to say “okay this does Nothing for me, but there’s junk on display, clearly not okay at work”. But then with written stuff, assuming like, no one is able to read over your shoulder or something like that… that feels harder for me to easily gauge whether it’s okay to read in public. Not that I think I should get a free pass to read whatever, wherever – I definitely wouldn’t want to get myself in trouble or anything, but it does make it a lot harder for me personally to easily tell what’s okay or not.

  6. Hamster Manager*

    I used to listen to the My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast AT WORK and while absurd, it’s also very explicit. Luckily I never had a “headphones not plugged in all the way” moment, whew!

    PS very funny/awkward podcast, recommend! Not at work though!

    1. NeutralJanet*

      This is a good example of a piece of media that passes the “is this primarily meant to arouse you?” litmus test but is still inappropriate for work, partly because it contains a book that is (maybe? probably?) supposed to arouse you (and is inappropriate for life). That said, if you’re listening privately, and you’re certain that no one will overhear (maybe you sit in your car at lunch?), then I’m not sure if it would be inappropriate! It’s a weird borderline case, I think.

    2. Joielle*

      Once they read a letter from a reader where he was listening to the podcast at work, and his headphones did come unplugged, and he got fired for it! So definitely a risk at work. But an amazing/hilarious podcast nonetheless.

    3. Kat*

      I listen to this at work all the time! My coworkers tease me about it, because I have told them all about the podcast and how hysterical it is.

    4. Alex*

      This is a perfect example! I’d always leave it off the list of podcasts when work folk asked what I listened to, just because it seemed like it’d be awkward to explain or if someone walking past just overheard a word or two, that might get misunderstood. Then, a couple years ago, they had a live show in my city, and I spotted three or four coworkers in the crowd!

  7. Inthepast*

    I worked at a horribly toxic job several years ago where I had a standing Friday morning meeting with my 3 bosses that usually no one would show up for except me-but even so I was required to sit alone in the conference room for an hour in case any of them decided to stop by (which they almost never did). So I sat alone in this room for an hour, and essentially wasn’t allowed to do any of my work that was piling up. It was so demoralizing. So I decided to read erotica on my phone as petty revenge no one knew about-because it meant that technically they were paying me to read erotica on my phone and it made me feel a little better about the whole situation. But yeah, that’s the only time I’d really do that at work.

    1. Quickbeam*

      That’s so awful…standing dreadful meeting where people don’t show. OMG, that would give me such anxiety.

    2. Mr. Shark*

      That’s just…bizarre, that you would have to just sit there for the whole hour.

      I can see why you’d want to have your petty revenge. Haha…

    3. Phryne*

      Now I have to re-evaluate my opinion about porn at work if it is an act of petty revenge… hmmm

  8. Temperance*

    Get a Kindle! That way, no one knows what you’re reading, and there is a ton of cheap smut available on Amazon.

    I like to read horror comics and a lot of crime books, and rather than answer questions or get weird looks, I just pop up my Kindle.

    1. A0Geez*

      See what I think is interesting about this answer is not that it’s okay if you can get away with it; the point is, it’s not a great thing to be doing during work hours on work premises.

    2. Lilo*

      I actually find it a bit annoying that my lockscreen for my kindle can have ads for smut. I just looked it up at it costs $20 to remove that, which is annoying.

      1. A0Geez*

        Yeah, I hate that about kindle. And I find it drains the battery faster. I hate that we accept purchasing devices that have features like that (it’s not like the original device or the KU membership is free).

        1. last but first*

          You don’t have to put up with that – there are other e-readers (pocketbook, nook, etc.) and you can find lots of free fiction on smashwords.

          1. Dinwar*

            Libby is a free library app. If you have a library card you can download books for 14 days and read them on your phone, tablet, whatever. And as long as you don’t specific request erotica, you won’t see any.

            I don’t know that every library is part of it, but a lot of them are.

            The other option is Internet Archive. Their app is broken, but their website works.

            For audiobooks I prefer–it’s free, and everything is public domain. Lots of good classical stuff there, both fiction and nonfiction.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Your local library almost certainly has an ebook lending service available. It may not be Libby specifically, but hoopla and 3M Cloud Reader are commonly used library apps that provide similar services.

              1. Lady_Lessa*

                In Cleveland, I can get Kindle books easily. For tangible books, I have access to 5 counties worth of libraries, not sure how purchasing ebooks works for the system.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I have a cover but it’s still on the screen when I open it/drop it/forget to close it so I just don’t bother with it.

      2. JustaTech*

        I’ve found if you put your kindle in airplane mode and leave it there (and transfer your books only by downloading them to your computer and using the USB) the lockscreen ads will default to “authors you’ve read”. So I’ve only been getting ads for the Anne of Green Gables books (I read one a year ago, but that’s what it’s defaulted to), rather than all the romance and thriller books I used to get ads for.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Anne of Green Gables is one disturbing book, reading it as an adult: The story of a girl who was traumatized in childhood and spends the rest of her life learning to cope. Notice how desperate she is to stay with the Cuthberts, once she concludes they are unlike to abuse her further.

          1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

            This is why I bounced off it as a kid. I couldn’t deal with how hard Anne’s life had been no matter that it was getting better now. (Apropos of nothing.)

          2. JustaTech*

            Huh, I didn’t know that. I actually have only read the very last book in the series, where all of Anne’s kids go off to WWI (I needed a “coming of age” book for our library’s summer book bingo). It was a total sobfest (as expected) but everyone seemed pretty well adjusted (all things considered).

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              In the first book she is an orphanage in a really and truly terrible system that farmed kids out to families looking for cheap/slave labor. This is how she ended up with the Cuthberts, but they were looking for a boy. Anne being sent was a mix-up, and the Cuthberts at first figured on sending her back. She quickly pegged them as non-abusers, and frantically set about ingratiating herself to them.

              It is easy to overlook this, especially if introduced to the book as a kid. A few years back Netflix (IIRC) put up a series that made the child abuse parts explicit. A lot of people were dazed and confused about where that had come from. It was there all along. All the series did was to convert subtext into text.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, “Anne with an E” was disturbing, but more than that, they changed key parts of the plot enough that I stopped watching after the 3rd episode. Nowhere in the book is there a hint of Anne being ostracized by the other kids at school for being an orphan, for example. She also never ran away from the Cuthberts in the book…

                I would have hated to live in Anne’s world, but I do enjoy reading the books. You don’t necessarily have to spell everything out.

      3. The Person from the Resume*

        That’s a valid marketing plan used for a lot of streaming services. If you don’t want ads you have to pay for the ad-free version.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, sure. That said, a decent service provider should give the customers the ability to opt out of genres they aren’t interested in reading and/or find embarrassing/offensive. It doesn’t benefit the provider to show smut ads to readers who’d never read that kind of literature. Of course, this option won’t help a reader who enjoys reading smut in their own time, but would prefer that their coworkers remain ignorant of that fact.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Fun fact: in 2008-2010 when eReaders were just starting to take off, sales of romance novels spiked because now people could read their regency romance on the bus and not have to worry about other people judging them over the cover art.

      That being said, I still don’t think work is the right place for erotica. I do sometimes listen to romance novels while I’m doing rote tasks at work, but a book with one or two sexy scenes where the focus is still mostly on emotions/character development is different from erotica where the premise of the story is more inherently sexual. I save those for home/personal life time.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        That also was when self-publishing was taking off, with romance a major part of it. This led to an explosion in very cheap and frankly often disposable fiction.

      2. hbc*

        Weirdly, I started reading romance novels on the bus. I had a horribly long school bus ride in middle school, my bus driver kept a couple with her for waiting times, and somehow we both thought it was a fine idea for me to borrow them for the length of my journey. I probably read 70 bodice rippers from 7th to 8th grade and then no more until my 30s.

    4. Dark Macadamia*

      They’re already reading it on their phone so it’s not about a raunchy cover/visible title. The problem is that you shouldn’t be sexually aroused in the workplace.

      1. A0Geez*

        Yeah, that is Alison’s point: even if you can demonstrably never get caught or make anyone around you uncomfortable, it’s still not okay to read erotica at work.

    5. Laney Boggs*

      Why does he need a kindle? He reads (free) books on his phone. He’s covered so far as devices go.

    6. The Person from the Resume*

      So I assumed the LW was reading fanfic and they very explicitly said they were reading on their phone so it is the equivalent of reading on a Kindle. The cover is not your problem.

  9. Lilo*

    The update includes the LW referring to themselves as a guy and without putting a fine point on it, that means can be more noticeable if they get aroused at work.

    This is a firm just don’t do it for me. You need to keep those boundaries up.

    1. Lilo*

      (Assuming the LW has male anatomy, whichI know is not a given. It’s still a bad idea either way.)

    2. June bug*

      Right. I was disappointed to see in the update that he just continued doing it. Someday that’s going to go horribly wrong…

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Did I miss something in the update? I read that he planned to switch to reading “AAM comments section, tvtropes, webcomics, and other short form media” during his work breaks but that was made moot by changing jobs to one that had less break time and he started using the break time to deal with some things in his personal life.

  10. Dinwar*

    Unless we were in a job that involves sexually explicate material, this would definitely make me wonder about the person’s understanding of professional boundaries. A scene or two is one thing–sex is part of the human condition and has been involved in stories for as long as there have been stories (see Lysistrata). But actual erotica? In a work setting? I don’t judge anyone who reads it, having a few favorite stories myself, but work isn’t the place to do it. That’s the sort of thing best left at home, in my opinion.

    Now if we’re in an adult store, that would be different. It’s part of the business, after all, and it would let customers know that you have some knowledge about the products. There’d still be limits–you can’t really go full-scale Halloween Town–but one can hardly object to an employee reading literature one is selling.

    I actually had a similar experience. I was doing a paleo monitoring job, and during my lunch break I was reading a book on archaeology of human remains–basically 500 pages (with full color photos) of how to dispose of bodies. Archaeology is the only way to get good info on experimental taphonomy, and there were questions related to taphonomy on the site, so it was work related. That said, spending my lunch break reading an illustrated how-to guide on how to get rid of a body meant I ate a lot of lunches alone!

    1. Ann Ominous*

      That’s a really interesting and nuanced point about reading the literature you’re selling.

      On one hand, I’d assume the same rules would still apply – don’t go around getting aroused at work unless getting aroused is a part of your job.

      On the other hand, yes, it is important to be knowledgeable about what you’re selling. Curious how this could be resolved?

      1. Dinwar*

        I’ve only been to a handful of adult stores, but all the staff were women. So it resolved itself. And honestly, I imagine that after a while it just becomes another job. When you’re surrounded by something for eight hours a day, five days a week, it resets your concept of normal. This is especially true when your focus is the technical details.

        It’s like ER nurses. At first seeing the stuff they see disgusts them. After a while the attitude becomes more “Major ulceration, need to get the decon crew on that and this’ll push into lunch.”

        1. NeutralJanet*

          I’m not sure how the staff being all women means that the issue has resolved itself? Women should also not get aroused at work.

          1. Dinwar*

            They shouldn’t be, but if they are it’s less visible.

            And to be clear, I should have said the front-of-house staff. I know in one case the IT was male, but he was more frustrated about their point-of-sales system that day than anything else.

        2. JustaTech*

          My in-laws used to work in the adult industry and they and their staff were just … utterly blasé about all of it? (They were condom distributors, but there was still plenty of advertising materials around.) Like, the way that anyone ever described the big product shows in Vegas could have been really any industry.

          The only issue they ever had with people being aroused at work were actually the delivery drivers who would use the bathroom, where they kept the sample “magazines”. Someone noticed the delivery drivers were taking a really long time in the bathroom, so they changed the magazines and the problem went away.

    2. Not really a Waitress*

      Who wrote that book about disposing bodies? I would like to have more alone time at work.

      1. Dinwar*

        It’s an academic text on human remains, written for archaeologists. I get into it because I was curious about how to identify remains that had been partially burned (forest fire caused by volcanic ash flow; sort of like the Florissant Formation), and someone recommended this book, as cremation mimics what’s seen in forest fires.

        It’s extremely technical. But the pictures are….well, of graves and the results of various ways of disposing of bodies. The goal for archaeologists is to figure out what happened based on the bones, after all. Of course, anything that says “In these environments osteological remains tend to degrade rapidly” can be rephrased “If you want to get rid of a body, do it here”!

        1. Bread Crimes*

          I have long said that archeologists would be the most effective serial killers because they all carry knives and know a lot about how human remains are lost, found, and/or examine for cause of death.

  11. Janeric*

    I… read a lot of fanfic that, while not erotic, I’d still be embarrassed to describe to my boss.

    I’d suggest “oh, just some fanfic!” instead of “it’s… more hurt/comfort Stucky but with a spaceship?”

    1. A0Geez*

      Yeah, I had a similar feeling. Somehow, even explicit fanfic seems different than “erotica” to me, but I’m sure there would be no distinction to anyone unfamiliar with the whole concept.

    2. SarahKay*

      Confession: as another fanfic reader, now I want to know if Stucky is a real pairing, or just one you made up for your comment.

        1. SarahKay*

          Ah-ha, thank you, and to Sienna and King Friday XIII. My head had gone down the NCIS route of Ducky and…. but couldn’t find a likely match, and then of course my brain refused to think of other fandoms.

    3. King Friday XIII*

      Yeah. I mean, I’d rather not explain The Untamed to my coworkers, but the shameless flirting is way less concerning than the necromancy to me. “Are you okay explaining this to your boss” is a metric that makes sense on a practical level but in terms of whether something is too explicit, just in terms of “because you might have to do that.”

  12. Student*

    A big part of why it’s generally recommended that one not get erotically aroused at work is because it tends to spill over into work, even if you don’t mean it to. It’s a bit like microwaving fish; in theory eating fish for lunch is no big deal, but microwaving fish a work is frown upon because that fish smell suddenly becomes everyone’s business – it just can’t be contained well.

    I’ve worked with some horny people, and with people who look at erotic material during their breaks at work. Just like that microwaved fish, it’s more noticeable than you think, sticks around longer than you think, and it drums up resentment and/or awkwardness from your co-workers when it impacts them.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah there have been studies on how this can impact your mood and perceptions. You really need to try to stay as neutral-mooded (?) at work as you can.

  13. Night Owl*

    This is yet another area where I think the shift to working from home gets interesting! I would never have read erotica at work when I was working in an office, but now that I work 100% from home I often will if I have some down time. It’s a great way to recharge my brain and obviously there’s no way any of my coworkers could be aware of it.

    1. A0Geez*

      Yeah, as long as you’re on a totally separate non-work device, I agree with this; it’s way less likely to influence any coworkers. I guess there’s an argument to be made that you’re not focusing on work to your absolute max ability if you’re taking breaks to read erotica, but to be honest, that’s not really the standard I hold myself to (and my job definitely doesn’t try to compensate me to their absolute max ability, that’s for sure).

      1. Night Owl*

        Yes, always a separate non-work device! I can see your point about the focusing thing, but that’s not the standard I hold myself to either and I actually find that I tend to be more productive overall if I can take semi-frequent breaks where I completely turn my brain off from work for a few minutes (another reason I really love working from home). For what it’s worth, I’m salaried/exempt and my bosses have always been happy with my productivity and output. If I were blowing off projects to read erotica then that would of course be an issue.

  14. Richard Hershberger*

    James Joyce’s Ulysses was banned in the United States as being obscene. Bennett Cerf, the president of Random House, visited Joyce and bought the US rights on the cheap, then carefully prepared a copy by pasting literary reviews inside the cover. This was so those reviews would automatically be entered into evidence at the trial. He then arranged for it to be brought in on a specific ship, carefully timed so that it would arrive in New York when the specific judge he wanted would be on duty and therefore assigned the case, and with the press alerted to the upcoming event. The scheme almost failed because the customs agent didn’t care. He was going to let the book pass through until persuaded to confiscate it. The ban was thrown out at trial, allowing Random House to ride the free publicity.

    That being said, if someone catches you reading Ulysses at work, and if they recognize the book, they will think you are odd. Obscenity, however, won’t be the issue.

    1. Executive Whimsy*

      But if they catch a glimpse of your screen or overhear an audiobook during that last chapter, they will probably just think you’re on AO3 anyway.

      “yes I said yes I will

  15. CRM*

    I have been listening to Dan Savage’s podcast (the Savage Lovecast) at work for years now, and I always wonder whether it is appropriate. It’s an advice podcast, and he does a great job keeping things neutral and direct even when talking about sexual activities. It’s very informational and I don’t feel turned on when listening to it. That said, it is extremely explicit, and I would definitely not be comfortable broadcasting it to my entire office. These days I am mostly remote so I can just listen to something else when I’m in the office, but I still wonder if I should keep the Lovecast to after-hours only even when working at home.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      Speaking of “things you read in high school” my youngest had to read a biography/autobiography the Summer before some high school year (10th?). She picked Dan Savage’s The Kid: What Happened When My Boyfriend and I Decided to Get Pregnant and wrote her book report dutifully. Fortunately, her teacher was delighted, after having read twenty two essays on “I am Malala” (a worthy book), it was a relief to read an essay about two guys who met in a men’s room, committed to each other, and decided to adopt – one of whom is the world’s foremost gay sex advice columnist. (The book is really good – its very Dan Savage).

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Hmm… I did the Autobiography of Ben Franklin*, when I was in high school. He was a pretty racy guy, but still… I have a kid in high school. I will suggest the Savage, should he get this assignment.

        * I lobbied for C. Northcote Parkinson’s biography of Horatio Hornblower, but the teacher rejected it on the grounds that Hornblower was a fictitious character. I did not see how that was relevant.

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          Be aware of your audience. Starting the semester with a teacher who was offended rather than delighted would have been tough….

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            The kid read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States while in middle school, and entered high school eager to be a total pain in the butt to his history teacher. (Did I mention that my wife teaches social studies at the same school?) My guess is that the English teacher would sigh in resignation, but not be the least surprised by the kid staying in character.

  16. Rain's Small Hands*

    So I spent most of my career in IT. I have watched a LOT of people walked out the door for porn….including a guy who was using the company computers to write it (apparently, his typing would get quite frenzied at certain times, which is when his cubemate got very suspicious. A head of eSecurity who had child porn (he assumed no one would look at his PC/internet use when we did our standard searching for that stuff?) And a guy whose internet searches for hot Asian redheads gave him away (when browsing images you shouldn’t be at work, porn is second to shoes, by the way – we had software that would catch the images and then if you saw something you shouldn’t, you’d click and find the culprit. It did mean someone would have to turn it on and wait for porn to show up – and had to see a lot of shoes). And the guy who thought that it was OK to decorate his cube wall like some sort of skanky freshman dorm (he was a new hire that lasted all of one day).

    I’ve read my share of erotica, but at work my romance novels are of the sweet Georgette Heyer variety instead of the bodice rippers. Work is no place to walk around aroused with a BDSM fantasy stuck in your head.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Is shoes a euphemism for something, a typo, or were people at your workplace just doing a LOT of shoe shopping online?

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        Apparently, they do a LOT of shoe shopping online. This was about 2002 or thereabouts, so surfing at work may have changed – certainly images have, back then there were just a lot fewer images on sites. But there were lots of shoes.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          At a previous job, our reference desk computers were connected to the staff printers at every branch. So if I had a customer looking for a book we didn’t have, but was in stock at another branch, I would take a screen shot and send it to the printer of the branch that had it, so they could go pull their copy for the customer to come pick up.

          The number of times I received a printout of a book to pull with a shoe store website in the background was much higher than you would expect.

      2. Squidhead*

        If the tool is keyed to certain types of images, a lot of shoes are the same color as a lot of flesh, plus certain words like ‘leather’ cross over between categories. A friend used to run the porn trap for an ISP and said the trap would find a lot of woodworking images (legitimate craftsmanship, not a euphamism) for the same reasons.

  17. Swivel Servant*

    I have to confess to not reading the comments for the initial or update letters, but I’m assuming that it should be equally if not more offensive to be reading, at work, fiction centred on violence, no matter how well written, right? The Road? Fight Club? A Clockwork Orange? Titus Andronicus?

    I say this while being in complete agreement with Alison’s advice but smile at my and what seems to be a societal double standard where it comes to the mainstreaming of violence and prissiness over sex.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        And if you get excited by violence, you probably shouldn’t be reading Titus Andronicus at work. I don’t think its a double standard – don’t read material that is going to have an effect on your emotional state that is not conducive to a work environment.

        1. Swivel Servant*

          Totally get the point and by no means advocating for more inappropriate material at work. As a manager and manager of managers, regardless of effects on readers, I’d take a harder line about the *presence* of explicit material in the office, even if cover was not opened, from the POV of employees’ reasonable expectation not to be exposed to materials like that in the workplace.

          As other noted, what’s in an E-reader is harder to monitor and folks who are walking around buzzed on arousal at the office = not great.

          I was commenting on my own amusement when I realised my own double standard in the way I would react to sexually explicit material versus, say, a Walking Dead graphic novel on someone’s desk. I appreciate as always the ability of folks here to provoke introspection!

        2. King Friday XIII*

          “don’t read material that is going to have an effect on your emotional state that is not conducive to a work environment.”

          I don’t know how other people read fanfic, but I’m way more likely to end up sobbing over something that’s technically Safe For Work, and that’s definitely not the emotional state I want to bring to the office either. ;)

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      It’s not about what’s offensive, it’s about being sexually aroused at work. Presumably people aren’t reading The Road to prepare themselves for an apocalypse or Fight Club because they want to actually fight at work. If they’re reading instructions on like, building a weapon then yeah that might be similarly problematic.

    2. HufferWare*

      I don’t think “double standard” applies when workplace sexual harassment is so common. Not to say that violence in the workplace isn’t a thing or a problem, but compared to the overwhelming amount of inappropriate, sex-based workplace behavior, and the fact that women are overwhelmingly the victims of this behavior, there is a difference.

  18. Not really a Waitress*

    My daughter is now 22, but a few years ago she made a comment about 50 Shades of Grey (Which she had not read) that solely based on what she heard. Knowing she hadn’t I asked her if she had read it. She responded “NO! Have you?” Not expecting my answer to be yes.

    She responded “You did? But I have never seen the book in the house? or seen you read it? ”

    I then explained how just because my nook cover was a Jane Austin book cover, that did not mean I was only reading Jane Austin.

  19. Turingtested*

    To me this falls under ‘behavior at work should never need to be explained.’ For example, you don’t wash your feet in the break room sink; or build castles out of post it’s; or work in the drop ceiling not because those are morally wrong or unsafe, but because if someone catches you they’ll want answers and it will be difficult to supply them.

    1. just another queer reader*

      Your first example is an interesting one. Muslim employees at my former company used the bathroom to wash up before prayers until proper facilities were built.

      1. Turingtested*

        Bathroom is fine! Break room is different. And of course there are always exceptions: religious ones as you point out; or actually the post it castle is a model for a client; or someone pranked you by hiding your stapler in the ceiling. But in general I never want to explain myself if it’s not directly work related.

  20. So incredibly anon for this*

    I’m gonna be dead honest, I don’t fully get the answer on this one.
    I’m going to assume the prohibition is on becoming aroused and staying aroused? Because otherwise… I can’t for my life understand what’s wrong with an adult taking their lunch break to. er. release tension. Assuming we’re talking about a private place (especially in the work-from-home era) and no coworkers are in a position to walk in, etc. etc. caveats.
    Maybe this is a warped norm after my own toxic job, though? Because let me tell you. There were days when the tension and frustration were too much to bear, and sometimes five minutes in the single-user bathroom (they all were, I walked to one of the far ones no one used) could prevent what would otherwise become a fit of screaming or crying and I have a really hard time seeing why that’s a problem.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I think this boils down to: in a non-toxic job, you should not become aroused at work (certainly not through seeking out arousing material).

      If you’re in a toxic job and only have one method of avoiding a screaming/crying fit: that is a symptom of how toxic your job is, and you should focus as much time and energy as possible on finding a non-toxic job.

    2. HufferWare*

      I may be reading your comment wrong, but if you are at a job in which you need to masturbate in an office bathroom in order not to scream or cry, that is indeed a toxic workplace and an unprofessional coping mechanism. Frankly I would be very disturbed to learn my coworker was doing that in a bathroom shared by multiple people including myself.

    3. So incredibly anon for this*

      well yes, naturally, ideally a job shouldn’t be making you so tense that this is a problem. But is this one of those things that no one’s going to explain, just assert that it’s bad for no definable reason? (Yes I’m on the spectrum, and a woman if it matters.) Isn’t what we do in the bathroom private until and unless someone else has to clean up after us? What is less professional about mastrubating on a lunch break than going off site to go shoe shopping, which is also not a professional activity? What if I were at home and not in an office? Literally why is this something that is judgable and not something that’s no one’s business? Yes this is an honest question. I genuinely thought the problem was with maintaining the state of arousal into the rest of your workday (since people were talking about having it affect your colleagues and your mindset, which it wouldn’t if you were over and done with)

      1. HufferWare*

        You are engaging in a sex act at work. Masturbation is not the same as shoe shopping for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the purpose of shoe shopping vs. masturbation. Just as it would be inappropriate to make out with a coworker in a supply closet, so is engaging in this act in the bathroom. This isn’t about “maintaining arousal”. It is about the behaviors you’re exhibiting in the workplace and the necessary division between one’s professional life and sex life.

      2. Yellow+Flotsam*

        If you honestly need to ask the question about whether it is ok to masturbate at work – then you need to know that you cannot trust your judgment on issues of sex in the workplace.

        So let me give you a rule that you can follow. Do not discuss sex at work. Do not engage in anything sexual at work (no kissing, touching – yourself or others). Do not read books, websites, magazines etc that are sex related or sex adjacent (because you cannot trust your ability to tell when the line has been crossed). Your workplace bathroom may legally be a private space but you should only use it for essential toiletting and vomiting. If your workplace provides showers you can use these (doors/screens always closed, no nudity partial or full in shared spaces) for cleanliness purposes only.

        Have a trusted friend or medical professional let you know if any stims are workplace inappropriate.

        The thing is, the lines aren’t as clear as that – it really isn’t that straightforward. It also varies in different workplaces. I have two jobs – one any sexual discussion outright inappropriate, the other sexual innuendo is normal with lines you cannot cross. Knowing where the line lies is nuanced (it’s not a line – it’s a multi-dimensional surface), and it is impossible to give a formula. If picking up on those nuances is not a skill you have (you’re asking about masturbation at work – you do not currently have that skill) then you need to err on the side of extreme caution and avoid sexual topics and activities entirely.

      3. So incredibly anon for this*

        Cool so yes, this is a taboo that people can’t articulate a reason for. I was genuinely asking for people to provide logic and reasoning. I’ve gotten out of that workplace, thanks. I would never, EVER involve anyone else in anything sex-related in the workplace. I’m actually ace, and I work for myself now.

        But yes, I don’t intuitively agree with the statement “It’s completely not okay to ever be aroused in the office” and I was hoping people would be willing to engage with why they feel that way.

        Is it a “during the workday” prohibition, or an “at the workplace” one? Does working from home change anyone’s minds? I find these to be really interesting questions. If a couple who worked from home together took their lunch break together to leave all their work behind (let’s say there’s absolutely 0% chance of any microphone or video slipups) and go for afternoon delight, is this still completely unprofessional? WHY is sex in a completely different category from any other unprofessional activity one might engage in during unpaid, non-company time mid-day?

        But I appreciate the shame.

        1. allathian*

          Speaking purely for myself, WFH with my husband when our son is at school during the day has its compensations. His and my lunch hours are unpaid, what we do in the privacy of our home at that time is our business, nobody else’s. I’m also not expected to answer the phone or read emails during my lunch hour.

        2. Coconutty*

          People ARE articulating the reason, and you did so yourself in the beginning of your first comment. It’s not appropriate to intentionally become aroused at work. Period, end of story. No matter how discreet or private you think you’re being, you don’t have complete control over whether or not another person will unwillingly and unwittingly discover what you’re doing. If you genuinely don’t understand the difference between sexual behavior and non-work activities like shopping or watching videos, then you should probably be seeking out more formal professional guidance than the comments section of an advice column.

        3. HufferWare*

          You are asking questions about the appropriateness of your behaviors and people are answering you honestly, you just don’t like the answers you’re getting. No one is “shaming” you, this is a natural response to learning something you’ve done in the past was not okay.

        4. JenB*

          Look at it this way – you should not be masturbating anywhere you wouldn’t have sex involving another person. It isn’t about being at work, but more about being in a public space. I get that we all spend a lot of time at work, and it can become a place you feel very comfortable, but it isn’t your house. I feel like this is on the same level as a bathroom at the mall, the library, city hall, church, the grocery store, etc. (I know that people do have sex in public bathrooms, but for the most part I’m assuming that is about thrills, exhibitionism, etc. and you shouldn’t do that at work, either)

      4. RagingADHD*

        Please re read your own analogy – *leaving* the office to go shoe shopping is, by definition, not something you are doing at work. And if you went home, or to a hotel, or any other place off-site to have your “release,” then you would not be doing it at work.

        To extend your analogy, if you brought a shop’s worth of shoes to set up in the work bathroom and go shoe shopping in there, it would also be inappropriate.

        1. So incredibly anon for this*

          So the taboo is just about being in the office? In that case, could the employee in the original letter read erotica in her car?

          1. Rain's Small Hands*

            To me that (as well as lunchtime quickies with the husband when you work from home) would depend on how much carryover you have, and what effect that carryover has. If I have a lunchtime quickie with my husband and then he immediately has to get on the phone with a client – that’s probably not great – his client calls take a lot of mental energy and focus – and I know he doesn’t task switch that well. If we have a lunchtime quickie and then he goes at works on a presentation – he might not be as focused and get as much done as normal, but it isn’t impacting anyone other than it will take him longer to do the presentation.

            We’ve talked about napping at work, and most people don’t think its appropriate to nap at work (some offices might have a wellness room that lets you lie down for a bit, but putting your head down at your desk, snoring and drooling isn’t the most professional thing). But I know a lot of people who go grab a nap in their car (safely, with a window cracked) over lunch once in a while. And I’ve spent lunch reading in my car because its quiet unlike the lunchroom and unlike my desk, I wouldn’t be disturbed. Again, keep in mind what the after effects are – if you nap in the car and then return to work groggy and untidy, you need a different plan.

          2. RagingADHD*

            Maybe, but based on your question and follow up comments, I worry that I need to say this part: I highly recommend you do not have a wank in your car in the parking lot at work.

            It is not private and you run the risk of getting arrested.

            1. Rain's Small Hands*

              Point taken. A quickie with the husband in the parking lot at work also not advisable. Cars aren’t private.

      1. So incredibly anon for this*

        I’m not saying it *is*, I was hoping someone could articulate *why* it isn’t.

          1. So incredibly anon for this*

            It’s clear, it’s just not a reason. It’s a tautology. It is because it is. WHICH I ACCEPT, FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK, I just thought it was an interesting question that backfired spectacularly on me so thank god I didn’t use my name.

            1. elodie*

              If you’re going to play Fun With Logic, you really need to examine your equating sexual activity with shoe shopping.

            2. Rain's Small Hands*

              Sex is a private activity that its not necessary to do during the work day – unlike other private activities (peeing, pooping, changing your tampon, taking a call from your doctor, injecting insulin) that are necessary. We make allowances for the stuff humans have to do that can’t be ignored during your eight to ten to fourteen hour workday….we don’t usually make allowances for stuff you can do at home (sex, bathing, sleeping, shaving, eating an entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s while crying, arguing with your partner on the phone).

              If the activity is 1) considered by most people to be a private personal thing you wouldn’t share with acquaintances like coworkers (and in the case of reading erotica, wouldn’t want to be asked ‘hey, whatcha reading’ because people are nosey) and 2) something you can delay until you aren’t at work, then don’t do it at work. There are exceptions, there might be showers at work for those that run over lunch, for instance. And sometimes you need to take that call from your partner – but find a place you won’t be overheard.

            3. PlopPlop*

              I appreciated your comment and understood your intent….just an interesting discussion wondering where the lines are drawn and why – not whether or not it’s right/wrong/good/bad or whatever.

  21. Jenny Islander*

    I am pretty sure I know at least one of the archives that OP was reading from. I’m eating lunch in my office, and I have it open in another tab right now.

    With that in mind: My cutoff is, “If my boss is reading over my shoulder, how much do I want to explain?” So when I read over lunch on workdays, I set up the search filters at that archive to disallow things that I do not find titillating but other people might find shocking. That way, if somebody wanders by and sees the name of a popular character on the monitor, I can say, “Did you watch XYZ movie? No? Well, the ending is sad for XYZ character, and this is a story by somebody who wanted a happy ending instead. It’s very romantic and sweet, and the author is great at writing action too,” without also having to add, “And the author often uses sex to illustrate intimacy, vulnerability, and joy.”

    (Apropos of other discussion in these comments about the place of explicit scenes at that archive: I have, no word of a lie, read fics in which the explicit sex was ironic. As in, all parties consenting, but nobody in the bed had a clue what the other person thought of them, and this was the setup for a romantic or tragic payoff later.)

  22. Humble Schoolmarm*

    Once I had some grade 8 students eating lunch in my classroom and I was reading Outlander, which I felt erred on the side of suitable for public reading. The following dialogue ensued.
    Kid: What’cha reading Miss?
    Me: Oh, it’s a book called Outlander. It’s about time travel.
    Kid: Oh, my mom read that… She says there’s a lot of sex in it.
    Me: …err Oh, really? I haven’t gotten that far…
    Reader, I never brought Outlander to work again.

  23. Luna*

    50 Shades Of Grey was never overly explicit. I think I have written more explicit stuff when I was 12 than that thing. I never saw a problem with reading text-based erotica, but I also used to read Manga Love Story (localized title here in Germany, original title is Futari H!) in public, which is a manga following the lives, including lots of sex life, of characters. Though most of the sex scenes were not meant to be titilating, more informative. Think medical slice view of internal organs.
    Though I stopped reading it because it seemed to focus on more porn-esque dialogue later on, and I found Makoto’s reaction to being told “No, not tonight” by his wife to be… infuriatingly immature, not comically exaggerated, as probably intended.

    For the most part, I think it’s okay. As long as it isn’t, say, niche fetish kink stuff and 90% of the story involves sex, it’s okay to read something that has racier moments in it. And as long as it doesn’t end up distracting you so much that it remains on the front of your mind after your break.

  24. Some Bunny Once Told Me*

    I once got written up at work for having a romance novel in my locker. I would snag it on my way out the door for my lunch break and then stash it when I got back, but my manager found it on a random locker search for stolen merch (yes, the job was toxic as hell) and decided that, due to the cover, it counted as pornography. Friends, the cover featured a fully clothed couple holding each other, not even kissing, but his hand was “too low on her back”

    I quit two weeks later. I just could NOT stay there.

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