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Hockey smut and the search for sexual literacy

Copy Chief Skylar Sena passionately displays her love for spicy literature. Smut captivates readers with stories like no other. TIM GIORLANDO/THE STATESMAN

There are literature snobs everywhere, from the desk next to you in a lecture hall all the way to the messy world of online discourse; and of course, they make their opinions heard. Especially in recent years, with books like Colleen Hoover’s “Ugly Love” gaining traction on TikTok and in many bookish communities, smutty books have entered the literature conversation — and they deserve to.

Smutty romance novels, or novels that are sexual in nature, are often less respected than other forms of literature. Sure, E.L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey” may have given the genre a bad rap, but it certainly isn’t representative of smut as a whole.

One series that has redeemed the genre for readers on TikTok is Elle Kennedy’s “Off-Campus.” To celebrate the newly-appreciated role of smut in modern online culture, we’ll rank the series’ novels later on. 

While many of these books — the “Off-Campus” series included — aren’t of Shakespearean quality, they don’t need to be to offer a great story. In fact, the stories must be appealing, since TikTok book recommendation videos that contain tags like #SmutRecs have garnered more than 138 million views.

So why does smut get this type of global internet attention? Because they’re the books that are written for women, by women.

When it comes to sexual media, pornography is often the most prevalent; and yet, it isn’t as enjoyable for women looking for erotic material as it is for men. A 2015 study by the Journal of Sex Research found that in pornographic material, women were more likely to be used as sex objects than men, had more facial close-ups and received more sexual violence, which is rarely met with negative reactions. This is likely because of the gender of those who create pornography; the porn industry tends to be male-dominated, particularly in the areas of writing, directing and producing.

The smut industry represents a stark contrast to its visual counterpart. Duke University’s Unsuitable publication notes that 84% of romance readers are female, as are the vast majority of romance writers. Smut content is inherently directed towards women, as those who create it are crafting their stories in such a way that it caters to “the female gaze” — a term to describe content that caters to the romantic or sexual ideals of women.

Additionally, the narratives offered by smutty novels achieve more than just detailing erotic scenes of the chains and whips Rihanna taught us about back in 2010. It has been noted that smut can guide readers through their own sexual discovery and allow them adventures in their own sexuality, which they may not be able to find in less niche media.

Because of the versatility of smut — spicy scenes can be set anywhere from a college football locker room to a magical forest — readers can delve deeper into their own preferences and fantasies, as well as strengthen sexual confidence both for themselves and their romantic encounters. 

These books want readers to feel seen and heard, and explore new ideas either pertaining to themselves or their communities. Smut gives readers an escape from a world they may not feel fits them. Smut inspires — just like any great novel should.

In honor of smut’s well-deserved place in the modern literature world, let’s rank the novels of one of TikTok’s favorite smut series: “Off-Campus.” The set of four novels is dedicated to the lives — and spicy sexual exploits — of a group of college hockey players at the fictional Briar University. And, yes, there is a fifth book that serves as a sort of epilogue for the series, but it simply doesn’t compare.

  1. “The Goal”

In this political climate, the accidental pregnancy trope feels more like a genuine concern than a fun surprise — and for anyone looking to escape reality and find sexual pleasure in their smut, this novel might not do the trick. However, when Sabrina, the uptight, incredibly sassy pre-law student, gets together with tender Tucker, who only wants to break down her walls, it’s a perfect match. Kennedy’s affinity for “sexy alpha heroines” only makes this book better.

  1. “The Mistake”

When Logan leads on and dumps the shy, beautiful Grace just to be met with inescapable regret, it can make this novel’s title feel a bit on the nose, and the storyline a bit predictable. The plot may seem a little dry, but the intimate scenes certainly don’t. With Logan’s untamable desire to do anything to win back Grace’s love, you can only imagine what spicy scenes lead up to the climax (no pun intended). A run-of-the-mill mid-series novel that works as a standalone, “The Mistake” is a great quick read to get any reader out of a slump.

  1. “The Score”

The spiciest of the whole series, Allie and Dean’s story is as carnal as it is captivating. The “we shouldn’t” trope works well here, as the endless pining of known ladies’ man Dean and freshly-broken-up-with Allie makes for a tension-filled story that flows effortlessly. The plot of finding oneself and following one’s dreams — and how it can complicate a relationship — only adds to this already-compelling piece, complete with sexploits in every room of a New York City penthouse.

  1. “The Deal”

As the first book in the series, perhaps it simply holds a special place in the hearts of smut readers everywhere. But the story of Garrett, the incredibly popular and charismatic team captain, and Hannah, the shy singer with a traumatic past, is too hard to deny.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that the fake dating trope, a fan favorite, weasels its way into the novel as well. The book’s careful balance between spicy sex scenes and compelling plotlines makes for a perfect romance story that’s impossible to put down. 

Now, these novels are far from perfect. Eyebrow-raising jokes, tropes and cliches are bound to make their way in, as they do in any novel. But for smut, perfection is never the goal — just pleasure.

Pleasure is at the heart of all literature, whether it’s being read for information, inspiration or entertainment. Clearly, smut is no exception. Smut has the literary values of connection and provocation at its very core, and just like the oft-revered poetics of Shakespeare and Homer, it simply hopes to tell a good story — only with a little extra spice.

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About the Contributor
Skylar Sena, Managing Editor
Skylar Sena is a Managing Editor of The Statesman, as well as a contributing Arts & Culture writer; she previously served as Copy Chief and an Assistant Copy Chief. Skylar is a third-year journalism major and creative writing minor. She is also a Success Navigator at the ASTC, helping freshman navigate their time at Stony Brook. When she’s not working or editing, you can find Skylar crocheting at Druthers Coffee.
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