Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Do women need erotic literature?


Before 50 Shades was steaming up commuter Kindles, before Jilly Cooper, even, Shirley Conran gave us the gift of Lace, the original bonkbuster par excellence.

A Mills & Boon-y whirlwind of Swiss boarding school chicanery, bed-hopping champagne heirs and sleazy Parisian photographers, Lace was surreptitious sex-ed at its most entertaining.

On the occasion of this major classic's 30th anniversary and republication, Conran tells Stylist's Amy Grier what women want from erotica.

Words: Shirley Conran / Amy Grier

"I wrote Lace in the days when most men thought the clitoris was a Greek hotel. It started life as a non-fiction book for young girls, explaining sex from their point of view but women respond best when there is a story involved, and that’s how Lace took shape.

Back then, female erotica or pornography was almost non-existent. It wasn’t something people spoke of – men were the ruling class and most of girls were completely bewildered by sex. One of my favourite passages of Lace is when one of the characters remarks on what she thought of a man’s penis the first time she saw it. “It was very ugly, she thought” was what I wrote. Well, it’s not the most aesthetically beautiful object in the world is it?

It was a subversive book to have written and women responded to it in their thousands. To write a book saying ‘look guys, you haven’t got it right’ was controversial. People called it ‘the book that taught men about women and women about themselves’ but I didn’t set out to smash any boundaries. I set out to inform.

I think that’s my main issue with 50 Shades of Grey; you don’t learn anything from it. The heroine is not empowering, Christian Grey’s history is never properly explained, and you have to wait until page 200 until the first spanking with a hairbrush - until page 400 to see her get walloped with a belt. I was interested in the description of the dungeon; but then I’d be interested in a description of Prince Phillip’s bathroom simply because I’ve never been in it.

The amazing financial success of that book though shows what I’ve always known: literature is the form of pornography that women respond best to. But that’s only because visual porn for women hasn’t been properly explored. All we get at the moment is cheaply made male fantasies. The one exception I think was the TV adaptation of Belle de Jour. I found that very erotic.

Women are sensual creatures and the aim of erotic literature should be to create situations that women respond to but also feel empowered by. Lace was about getting women to trust themselves: if they feel it’s sexy, then it is sexy. If they don’t – it isn’t."

The new edition of Lace by Shirley Conran is out now priced £7.99 (published by Canongate).



40 must-see erotic films and books


Twenty things men are asking about Fifty Shades of Grey


Fifty Shades of frustration?



Harry Potter fans, there's a Roald Dahl collaboration in the works

Are you ready for a magical Willy Wonka prequel?

by Kayleigh Dray
20 Oct 2016

Sarah Jessica Parker is launching a new line of fiction books

She’s channelling her inner Carrie Bradshaw…

by Kayleigh Dray
20 Oct 2016

New Ladybird books for grown-ups are all our work woes

Old pics, new problems

by Anna Pollitt
18 Oct 2016

These are the UK’s favourite pearls of Winnie-the-Pooh wisdom

He’s far more than a bear of very little brain, you know.

by Moya Crockett
14 Oct 2016

Bridget Jones's author on life, love and the importance of friendship

“No one can have it all”

by Sarah Biddlecombe
12 Oct 2016

There's now going to be a Good Sex in Fiction award

“We have laughed enough”

by Amy Swales
12 Oct 2016

Meet the winner of Stylist’s gothic short story competition

The big short

by The Stylist web team
10 Oct 2016

9 important life lessons from cult feminist Instagram poet Rupi Kaur

Happy National Poetry Day.

by Moya Crockett
06 Oct 2016

Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz to star in adaptation of Disobedience

They will bring Naomi Alderman’s debut novel to life on the silver screen

by Kayleigh Dray
05 Oct 2016

Watch eerie trailer for Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events

We’re sorry to say that the trailer you’re about to watch is extremely unpleasant…

by Kayleigh Dray
05 Oct 2016