Ten Years in Bed with the Best: The History of ERWA

by | June 11, 2014 | General | 4 comments

By Adrienne Benedicks (ERWA founder)

difficult to write good erotica. Authors in any fictional genre have
to master the elements of the craft: plot, characterization,
dialogue, and so on. Erotica authors need to go further. They need to
depict sexual acts, situations, and emotions that are believable and
arousing. To do this, they draw on their personal insights and
images. They delve into their imaginations, lay bare their sensual
fantasies, and share those visions with their readers. Authors who
dare expose themselves via erotica are brave souls, indeed.

my delight, I find myself today surrounded by these fascinating
people: the writers of sexually explicit fiction. These are the
people who populate the virtual world of ERWA, the world we have
built together over the past ten years.

1996, when I first plugged into the Internet, I admit that the first
thing I looked for was porn. I craved sexy stories. Much to my
disappointment all I found were boring, mechanical sex scenes, and a
lot of “Oh my Gawd, I’m cumming” nonsense. It didn’t take me
long to realize that much of the adult web was simply a digital form
of male-oriented one-dimensional smut, a cyber circle-jerk. I was
disappointed. As a woman I felt left out of the dirty stuff.

thought that surely I wasn’t unique in my desire for well-written,
hot erotic stories – real stories, not just bits and pieces of fuck
scenes. So I hit the chat rooms and asked, “Where’s the quality
sexy stuff?” That was like plastering a blinking “Who wants to
screw me?” tag on my emails. Live and learn!

my next attempt, I joined the Romance Readers Anonymous (RRA) email
list. I thought that surely romance readers would be comfortable
discussing erotic stories. In those days, though, we couldn’t talk
about sex in our public posts, even though many romances were highly

few of us listers took to chatting off-list about the erotic parts of
romance. I suggested that we live on the edge and start our own list.
Great excitement greeted my suggestion, and on June 5th, 1996, the
Erotica Readers Association was born. ERA, an affectionate play on
the Equal Rights Amendment, was a sister list to RRA, and the
foundation of the current Erotica Readers & Writers Association.

that time my children were in high school, and I had the opportunity
to finish my degree in Anthropology. As a student, I had access to
various online options and with the endorsement of my professor, the
University agreed to host the ERA email list. My goal was to provide
a private, secure online space where women could comfortably discuss
erotic fiction and sexuality, away from the “hey baby, whatcha
wearing” crowd.

was by request or invitation. Publicity worked via word of mouth.
Within two months we had sixty women onboard – fabulous, fun,
curious women who were eager to talk about sexy writings, and to
discuss the joys, problems, or disappointments of their own

didn’t take long before these readers decided to try their own
hands at writing sexy fiction. “I bet even I can write a sex scene
better that!” was a typical inspiration. We quickly learned that
writing good erotica wasn’t as easy as it seemed. The general
assumption was that if you were capable of having sex, then surely
you could about write it. Not necessarily true, but that didn’t
stop us from trying. We were having a lot of fun, even when our
fictional efforts fell flat.

long, a few brave men who were friends of ERA subscribers were asking
to join. They liked reading erotic stories, and they liked the idea
of smart discussions about sex. So I opened the door; ERA became
inclusive rather then exclusive. Most women were pleased with the
change. A few stomped off the list, sure ERA would crumble into a
“hey baby” chat room atmosphere.

didn’t happen. Men brought their unique sexual insight into ERA,
and our horizons grew even more as people of all sexual persuasions
requested subscription. ERA became a dynamic robust community of
people interested in sexuality in the written word, and in their

course, we had our fair share of narrow-minded confrontational types,
rigid view points, and egos too big even for the World Wide Web.
Overall, though, ERA-ers were non-judgmental, mutually respectful and
more then willing to get along.

grew quickly that first year. Subscribers suggested I started a web
site to house all the material we were accumulating: book
recommendations, hints about popular authors, discussions on where to
buy erotica (at that time erotica wasn’t sitting on book shop
shelves). A subscriber volunteered to build a site, and the domain
“www.erotica-readers.local” became an on-line reality.

decided to be really daring, and started putting subscribers’
original stories behind a password protected “Green Door” on the
ERA web site. We felt so very sophisticated, and risqué, with our
personal secret stash of erotica sitting right out there on the Web!

continued to grow, and so did subscribers’ interest in writing
erotica. Writers were taking a serious interest in helping each other
improve. Stories were shared on the list, and critiques and
suggestions on how to improve the works were cheerfully and willingly
given. ERA was evolving, moving from its readers’ base to a
writers’ base. More and more focus was on writers helping writers.

this time, erotica anthologies were becoming very popular. The
Herotica series (Down There Press) had made a big splash, leading the
way to The Best Women’s Erotica (Cleis Press), Best American
Erotica (Simon & Schuster), The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica
(Carroll & Graf), Best Lesbian Erotica (Cleis Press), and
Ultimate Gay Erotica (Alyson Press).

site magazines were springing up like grass (and weeds). There was a
growing market for erotic short stories, and many ERA subscribers
were ready to try publishing their work. They exposed themselves, so
to speak, behind ERA’s Green Door; the experience gave them
confidence. With support and encouragement from their peers, ERA
subscribers started to submit stories to various calls for

already had a solid community feel. Subscribers really did care about
each other. We were a virtual family. Even so, I was pleasantly
surprised at how generous writers were in sharing calls for
submissions. Rather than concealing the information to reduce the
competition, ERA-ers said: “Hey everybody, look what I found! Let’s
give it a try.”

that time, the ERA web site was still a small dot in the adult web,
but there was no doubt our growing resources and stash of sexy
stories was drawing in a smart crowd. I took the plunge, and with a
lot of help and suggestions from the community, gave the ERA site a
new look that was sensual and classy, as well as easy to navigate.

didn’t realize the obvious: being out in the Web made my private
email list, nicely hidden and hosted by the University computer
center, suddenly quite visible. Subscription was still by request or
invitation, but now inquiries came pouring in. People landing on ERA
web site liked the resources they found there, and wanted to know
more. Subscriptions grew, the site grew, and soon ERA was pulling in
more then 13% of the university web traffic. ERA had to go, they told
me, and gave me two weeks to find another host.

the price of success! Fortunately, an Australian subscriber
volunteered the help of her husband, who ran his own ISP service.
Kevin hosted ERA for free for several years until we once again grew
too big and had to move on to our present home, a major adult web
hosting company.

2000 ERA had grown so large and had such a varied focus that things
were getting out of hand. The sheer number of emails on the list
caused confusion and havoc. Writers were frustrated in their efforts
to have their stories critiqued because their works were lost in the
deluge of chit-chat emails. Questions and concerns about publishing
and marketing went unanswered because busy subscribers didn’t have
time or patience to dig through hundreds of emails, and were simply
deleting it all.

the amount of information on the site was overwhelming. The
organization was on the verge of losing itself in too much of
everything. It would have been an ironic death by popularity.

this point I understood that ERA was no longer a simple hobby. Good
erotica had become a worthy pursuit. Erotica readers were hungry for
the good stuff, and publishers were geared up to provide it. I wanted
the ERA web site to be the place where erotica readers and
writers would come for the information they needed and where editors
and publishers would come when looking for talented writers. I wanted
ERA to be the premier web site for quality erotica. Finally, I wanted
to continue to provide an email list where erotica readers and
writers could network, and where people could comfortably discuss

first step was to change the Erotica Readers Association name to
better reflect what we had become: the Erotica Readers & Writers
Association (ERWA). The second step was to create a flexible
infrastructure for the site and for the email list, a foundation with
enough latitude for future changes. Here’s where ERWA subscribers
came to the rescue, once again. Suggestions poured in, and I followed
through. The evolution of ERWA was, and I suspect always will be, a
community affair.

became three distinct parts that made up the whole: ERWA email
discussion list, ERWA web site, and the humorous and informative ERWA
monthly newsletter, Erotic Lure, currently written by the editor of
this anthology, Lisabet Sarai.

ERWA web site retained its basic design. The richness and utility of
the site grew as publishers and editors recognized ERWA’s
potential. No longer did I spend hours searching for viable markets.
Calls for submissions now came to me.

story galleries became a source of quality erotic fiction. Editors
routinely mined the galleries’ content for their “Best Of”
erotic anthologies. Renowned erotic authors came on board as
columnists, providing advice in our Authors Resources section. The
luminaries of the adult literary world offered provocative articles
on hot sexual topics in the Smutter’s Lounge pages.

divided ERWA email discussion list into four opt-in sections; Admin
(for news related to ERWA, calls for submissions, events, and other
items of interest); Parlor (an open forum with a social ambiance);
Writers (dedicated to authorship and related issues); and Storytime
(an informal writers’ workshop where authors share their stories
for comments and critiques). The very best of Storytime works are
placed in ERWA Erotica Galleries, and many of them are showcased
right here in this volume.

the Erotica Readers & Writers Association hosts an email
discussion list of over 1200 subscribers. Our newsletter goes out to
more then 5000 readers, writers, editors and publishers. The web site
is accessed over six million times each month.

has been favorably reviewed by Playboy, Elle magazine,
AVN online magazine, Writer’s Digest, and recommended in a
host of books and articles as the premier resource for erotica
readers and writers. Every month, we entertain, educate and inform
millions people from all over the globe who are interested in

we’ve grown tremendously, ERWA’s strength is still in community.
We are diverse and far-flung, but tightly connected. The result is an
ongoing effort to understand and accept all persuasions, lifestyles,
and expressions of sexuality. We want to bring the very best of
erotica to readers, partly by helping writers excel in a genre that
is making headlines and causing the entire publishing industry to sit
up and take notice.

I’m amazed at what we’ve built together, and extremely proud. Now
I can say to those frustrated folk who are searching, like I was, for
sex writing that is simultaneously intelligent and arousing: here we
are. Search no further. Welcome to ERWA. You’re home.

[This article is an afterword from the erotica anthology Cream: The Best of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association (Running Press, 2006, edited by Lisabet Sarai). Of course this written was almost a decade ago, and a great deal has happened since then. Still, the spirit of ERWA remains vital and – dare I say it? – lusty as ever. ~ Lisabet Sarai, blog coordinator]



Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Spencer Dryden

    Very interesting. Thank you for posting. This story of evolution puts some perspective on the squabbles that occur among subscribers. I have benefited greatly from my participation.in ERWA.

  2. Daddy X

    All writers know how difficult (and /or expensive) it is to get an honest opinion on their work, let alone more sophisticated critiques. Multiply that by some factor for those who write sex. It's pretty rare to pick up an erotica anthology these days that doesn't include something by an ERWA member or alumni. DX

  3. Anonymous

    Wonderful article. Amazing to think that it will be almost 20 years in just a short while

  4. Valentine Bonnaire

    This was great! Thanks, Adrienne — for founding the place, for all of it.

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