Women's erotica scores on cellulite, fails on underwear

'EROTICA is a nicer word than pornography when you're trying to sell something,' says Fredrica Alleyn. 'Fredrica' is a pseudonym, to spare the blushes of her 17-year-old son, to whom she 'wouldn't dream' of showing her work. She is the author of Cassandra's Conflict, one of four titles in the Black Lace paperback range of erotic fiction, launched by Virgin Publishing, part of Richard Branson's empire, last Thursday. Black Lace books are written 'for women, by women'.

'It was hard work - you have to keep up such a high erotic content - but I enjoyed it,' she admits. 'You have to flick through it to find the clean bits.'

'Female erotica' is a rapidly expanding market. Bite is the latest magazine to join Women on Top, For Women, Women Only and Ludus. Next month, the US film-maker Candida Royalle's most recent video, Revelations, will become available in the UK.

Her other titles, billed as 'ground-breaking erotica, created for women and the men who love them', have sold more than 100,000 copies since their UK launch last year - 'highly successful,' says Vanessa Mellors of the distributor, MIA Video, which describes them as 'very tasteful - not slap and tickle'.

Candida Royalle promises 'a mind-boggling journey of erotic fantasy'. Black Lace claims to 'titillate and tempt, to entertain and eroticise'. But what do women really think of such attempts to get them hot under the collar?

'That's the most disgusting thing I've ever seen,' gasped Claudia, 26, an office manager, gazing in disbelief at her first erotic video. What is? 'That negligee. It's so tacky. And she's wearing blue eyeshadow - euuurgh]'

'The most gruesome collection of underwear ever,' pronounced Heather, 25, a designer. 'All that nylon - they're probably generating enough electricity to light the whole set.'

The hero, however, generated only hostility: 'Yuk. He's got hairy shoulders] And a flabby belly - and a spot on his bottom. Gross,' said Heather. 'If this is aimed at women, the men should have perfect bods. The women should be realistic, though.'

Cellulite on the female's thighs met with general approval. But there were ribald catcalls when, in the throes of passion, the male rolled off his panting partner to reveal - nothing much. Films with 18 certificates are forbidden to show an erect penis. 'Oh no, what a sad little snail,' giggled Maria, 27, a teacher. 'Well, if he's not at all excited, I don't see why I should be.'

Plot and script were equally non-existent. 'It's like Crossroads, only worse,' sighed Lesley, 28, a secretary. 'They all sound as though they're on Mogadon. Can we fast-forward, please.'

'It's quite realistic,' thought Janet, also 28, a solicitor. 'I might be titillated if I'd had a few glasses of wine.' But she, too, was distracted by unsexy details. 'Oh dear me. Those can't be his real eyebrows.'

'It's just so unstylish. A good film with proper dialogue and a story to follow is far sexier,' said Maria. Suggestions for sexier viewing included Betty Blue, 9 1/2 Weeks, Untamed Heart and Laurel and Hardy. 'I don't believe these videos would be used by couples. I'm sure they're all bought by women getting together for a glass of wine and a giggle,' said Heather. She was fascinated by a feature in Women Only. 'What is that? It looks like something for cutting up cork tiles.'

'I could read this book and feel quite turned on,' admitted Carlotta, 28, a personal assistant, of Cassandra's Conflict. 'The videos are about as sexy as a shower commercial. But with books you can use your own imagination.'

Heather was horrified by the book. 'I can't believe that W H Smith is going to sell this. The cover is innocuous, but what's inside is disgusting. There are scenes of rape and torture - that's not erotica, it's real porn.'

'These books should carry warning stickers - 'Do not try this at home',' suggested Sarah, 27, a doctor, after reading No Lady, another Black Lace title. 'There were some very nasty, violent scenes. I found it pretty distasteful and couldn't finish it. I felt sorry for the heroine. Any normal woman would have died of exhaustion by the end of chapter three.'

'None of this caters for me, but I don't want to be catered for,' said Lucy, 25, a student. 'I don't want someone at a production company to go away and come up with something they think might appeal to me. I can't believe people can get away with charging money for all this, and I certainly can't believe that anyone buys it.'

There was nearly a mass exodus when someone mentioned that Jurassic Park was opening at the local cinema. As Lucy said, 'I'd far rather see dinosaurs. They're much more appealing.'

(Photograph omitted)

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