My First Smut

Guest Post: Gil Reads Books talks Smut, Sex, and Secret Reading Habits

My First Smut is a recurring feature where we talk about our formative smut experiences. These short confessionals may include such details as: What book did you read? How old were you? Were there other people involved? What made the experience special? What role does smut play in your life?

This week, we are super-excited to feature Gil of Gil Reads Books.


First romance novel you read:

Thea Harrison’s “Dragon Bound”, which was the first of her Elder Races series.

How old were you (or what life stage were you in)?

Huh, actually, it wasn’t too long ago… I remember it was early 2016 when I picked it up, so I must’ve been around 21 then. I remember the year more clearly because we were on a trip at the time I started reading it, and it was the sort of trip where everything was scheduled to the letter, so I was getting to bed at 12 and waking up at 6. Still, that didn’t stop me from shaving 1-2 hours of my precious sleep just to finish “Dragon Bound”! I went on to finish 4 of the Elder Races book in that 10-day trip. I remember both the trip and that reading marathon very fondly.

How’d you get your hands on the book?

Oooh, okay, this is going to be a long answer, because I have some backstory to this. Before I read “Dragon Bound”, I was already reading smut online from AO3, FanFiction.net, and FictionPress.com. It was the only way I could get away with reading smut, since I come from a very religious family. While I love my parents for encouraging my reading, they were also the kind of parents who bought me encyclopaedias, almanacs, and classics like Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth”… which were not exactly the kind of books that a hormonal teenager wanted to get her hands on. Other than that I also read a lot of YA fantasy (most of which I bought with my allowance money), where french kissing was the wildest they got. Anyway, one day in the summer of 2016, before I graduated college, I fell into a really bad reading slump. I wanted smut, but I also wanted proof-read, well-written smut, which you can barely find in fanfiction. I also wanted smut with fantasy elements, because at the time I was sick of reading “Literary” stuff and I wanted something fun and immersive. It was out of the question for me to browse the bookstore and get a physical copy, because I’d die of embarrassment if my mom found it. (I still live with my mom – it’s part of our culture here in Asia.) So my only option was Google. I don’t remember the exact combination of search words that I tried – something with “romance”, “paranormal”, “fantasy”, and “smut” – but “Dragon Bound” kept coming up, and it caught my eye because out of all the paranormal romances it had the most diverse cast of creatures, featuring dragons, faeries, vampires, and so on. Plus, one of the reviewers said the sex was hot. I was sold. I’m not proud of this, but I was able to find a website that allowed me to download the ePub version of the book for free on my iPhone. I just wanted a trial of sorts because I wasn’t sure if I would like it. Well, I practically gobbled “Dragon Bound” up. From there I was hooked.

What was the reading experience like?

Oh, wow. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that reading “Dragon Bound” was an eye-opening experience for me. It’s like living in a pond all your life, thinking it was the ocean, and then seeing the ocean for the first time. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but until now I find “Dragon Bound” to be the perfect mix of smutty romance and fantasy, with a good amount of mystery and action thrown in. And it was so well-written! Harrison never over-explained her world; she jumped into the action from the start, and introduced the world slowly so as not to info-overload the readers. It’s the kind of immersion that I prefer. If I could have, I would shut myself in the hotel room until I could finish the book. It was only knowing that we were spending money for the trip that compelled me to stagger my reading, but it was really difficult, since I was torn between two great experiences. Anyway, reading “Dragon Bound” was eye-opening because it made me realize that 1) romance novels exist! and that 2) they’re actually *good!* Of course, later on I realized that romance novels must be the precursor of internet smut, but having grown up with the internet, I never knew that. Also I got really excited after reading “Dragon Bound” because now I could look forward to reading good, smutty romance, and I wouldn’t have to wade through the crappy smut on the internet again. (I mean, I know now that there are also badly written romance novels, but most of them are grammatically correct, at the very least.)

What role does smut play in your life?

Interesting question! I’ve thought a lot about this myself. For me, smut is a means of escape and a safe space to learn about my sexuality.

First, when I talk about smut being a means of escape, I mean smut as nested under the larger umbrella of the conventions of the romance novel. What I love about romance novels is the 1) focus on the growing intimacy between two characters, and 2) the optimistic and hopeful endings. I like that romance novels are a space where the character’s inner lives are consistently richly portrayed, especially the heroine’s. I tried getting into epic fantasy before but couldn’t because of the lack of complex female characters, and some contemporary fiction, with all their stylistic experimentations, don’t always deliver on this in-depth psychological portrait. But you can always count on reading about the characters’ inner struggles in a romance novel. This is the genre that really focuses on the reader getting to know the characters as the characters get to know and accept each other, flaws and all, and it’s very comforting to watch people reveal the most vulnerable sides of themselves to each other and ultimately be accepted for it. Of course, this all can’t just be on a purely emotional level; smut is essential for me because for me an expression of love isn’t complete without an expression of physical affection, of wanting to be close to the person and intimate with the person in every way possible. I also read romance for the optimistic and hopeful endings. I notice that I tend to reach for smut when I’m feeling stressed or anxious or just down in general, because in romances, no matter how bad the characters’ circumstances are and no matter how distressed they are because of them, they always pull through in the end. It reminds me, in an oblique way, that my own dark moods will pass. I mean, sure, I can just tell myself that, but the emotional catharsis that comes from reading a romance novel is far more satisfying and convincing. So I read romance because it’s where I can completely forget my own inner struggles for awhile, and instead immerse myself in the inner struggles of someone else.

Reading smut is also another way to explore my sexuality with zero risk. I grew up in a very conservative Evangelical Christian household and in a small Evangelical Christian school. I was never even given “the talk”, and to this day, my mom still thinks women don’t masturbate. At school, we never had sex ed, because we’re not allowed to have sex until we’re married in the first place. So as I grew up, I internalized the Puritan attitudes my parents and my school had towards sex because I didn’t know anything else. But I was in a bind because I was fascinated by sex. I read a lot of YA fantasy and wondered what happened after all the kissing. I wondered why it was so bad when all you wanted to do was to express how much you liked the other person. And then I stumbled on smut online, and later on in romance novels, and I was so surprised at how normal they made sex seem. It was from reading smut that I learned it was okay for girls to have sexual desires, and that it was normal to want to masturbate and try all sorts of kinks. Ironically, it was also in romance novels where I learned about safe sex, and how to properly communicate what I wanted to my then-partner instead of just expecting him to know what to do with my body. So, in this sense, smut is pretty empowering. Of course, not all smut is like this, but in general smut helped me to normalize and articulate my own sexual desires.

Okay, that was my mandatory long-winded and hopefully thoughtful response. My top of mind answer was really just that I read smut for fun! I like that when I’m reading smut I can roll with the most ridiculous premises. A hot, famous, genius CEO-billionaire of some startup finance/tech company falling in love with his broke assistant? Sure, sounds like a good story. Human females mating with blue aliens with tails and horns and having babies with them? Completely implausible, but sign me up. Smut is a welcome change of scenery in reading for me where I can just sit back and not take things too seriously. There are a lot of studies now that talk about the benefits of reading, but smut is one of those things I read solely for the pleasure of it. Nothing beats that. 🙂


Book lover, avid runner, and aspiring psychologist. You can find me on Goodreads, or at WordPress at gilreadsbooks.wordpress.com.


Have an early smut experience you’d like to share with us? If you’d like to see your story featured, send us an email or fill out our questionnaire and we’ll post it in an upcoming week.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Gil Reads Books talks Smut, Sex, and Secret Reading Habits”

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