OK, So ... Why?
Some girls stumble upon yaoi while they're scouring bookstore shelves; others might be introduced by a friend or simply find it by accident online. They may be as young as 12 or full-fledged adults, although the fandom consists primarily of 16- to 30-year-old women.
Entire books could be written on why women are so fascinated by the fantastical depiction of homosexual sex and romance, but there are a few popular theories. Here are some of the most common explanations that yaoi fans themselves tend to give:
- Two is better than one. If Occam's Razor insists that the simplest explanation is the best, how about the idea that women simply prefer to see two men instead of a man and a woman - not unlike how some men favor lesbian porn because they don't have to spend any time staring at a guy? Some women simply prefer to be able to identify with either the dominant or submissive character as they see fit, and they prefer to admire good-looking men without the distraction of a woman they may instinctively compare themselves to.
- The freedom to explore. A significant chunk of yaoi manga features sex scenes in which the dominant character coerces or even outright forces the submissive one to have sex. These scenes are often written off later as the seme simply being unable to control his feelings for the uke, or even by announcing that the uke actually wanted it and simply didn't know it.
Imagine a manga in which a man rapes a woman and tells her he did it because she really wanted it, and she believes him and falls in love with him. Uncomfortable yet? Women don't want to advocate rape, and certainly don't want to be raped, but as many as 50 percent of women harbor rape fantasies. Some readers suggest yaoi is an opportunity for women to explore those interests (and others, such as BDSM) in a fantasy setting, keeping the reader a step apart from the characters in the series.
- The girls' club. There is very little pornography out there geared almost entirely toward women. Even most lesbian pornography is actually aimed at men, and romance novels have the unfortunate association of being junky soap operas for bored housewives.
Yaoi, on the other hand, grew exponentially more popular on the internet, and accrued a vast fan community that is, by and large, women-only. The community continues to feed itself by recommending new original titles, sharing and selling merchandise and creating fan fiction and fan art.
It shouldn't be too surprising that women enjoy having an outlet to be a bit perverted without the judgment of the world at large, though yaoi fangirls don't necessarily have the best reputation among anime fans.
- It's just different. There's nothing out there quite like yaoi, and we live in a world where novelty sells. It's generally accessible, and there are titles out there for just about any kind of yaoi fan, from the softcore to the hardcore, plot-light to plot-heavy, comedy to tragedy. Sometimes readers just want to try something a little different!
Boy-Love and the Art of Bookshelf Maintenance
Next time you're browsing the manga section and you happen to catch that suspiciously pink book with pretty boys on the cover, rest assured you've stumbled upon a genre as varied and challenging as manga itself. But, as with so many other forms of manga, just make sure you're ready for what you may encounter.
Gia Manry is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.