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Ever so slightly longer but not quite as thick: Toward a quantitative literary sexology of Harry Potter fanfiction

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Introduction

Fanon is a portmanteau (Carroll 1871) derived from "fan" and "canon" that refers to tropes in fanfiction that are so prevalent as to become part of a shared, fan-created conception of the textual universe. Fanon can refer to particular character backstories, details such as locations, objects, and accents, or to certain characterisations and personal attributes. Casual observation (by the authors and their colleagues) of these aspects of Harry Potter fanfiction, specifically slash (same-sex) stories about Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, produced independent impressions that these two characters were consistently portrayed as having differently described genitals. Simply put, in fanon, Harry was more likely to have an average-sized and thick cock, whilst Draco's penis was more likely to be slender but longer. For example:


Malfoy shuddered under the touch, his breath hitching, but he continued to undo Harry’s trousers. Their eyes met. Harry slowly pushed his cotton pants down and cupped the thick weight of his cock in one hand. Malfoy looked at it, and looked at Harry steadily. Undid his own trousers and brought his cock out, too. He stepped closer and that lovely length was touching Harry’s -– ever so slightly longer but not quite as thick as Harry’s –- and the sensation was beyond words. (From "Hot Chocolate" by Silentauror)

We tested this hypothesis by collecting systematic observations on a large sample of HDS. We also took the opportunity to test the more general hypothesis that while these stories concern explicitly sexual situations, there is very little description of genitalia beyond the necessary hardness required for penetration. The vast majority of slash fanfiction is produced by women for women (Bacon-Smith 1992), as opposed to mainstream gay pornography, which is mainly written by and for men [1]. Neuroscientific studies (e.g. Harman et al. 2004) have demonstrated that men are more likely than women to be aroused by visual pornography; thus, we hypothesise that additional visual/sensory descriptors of genitalia -- both descriptions of cocks, and other male sexual targets such as testicles or the anus -- are unlikely to be common in slash fiction.

Generalisations/tropes are widely discussed in fandom communities, yet there is little examination of (1) how they arise, and (2) their perceived ubiquity. Here we present the first quantitative investigation of fanon in Harry Potter fanfiction, and demonstrate a methodology that can examine the accuracy of these commonly-held assumptions.

 

Methods

Data

We obtained our source material from five popular, randomly selected fanfiction archives/LiveJournal communities containing HDS stories: (1) Skyehawke, (2) Pornish Pixies, (3) Apres Ecole, (4) Restricted Section, (5) Merry Smutmas 2005. We selected the first 20 stories from each that met the following essential criteria: (1) Harry/Draco sexual interaction, (2) a rating of NC-17 or equivalent for explicit sexual content, and (3) an author original to the study (only one story per author was allowed in order to maximise the range of data collected).

Cross-checking revealed five duplicate authors/stories (SH15, RS16, MS04, MS17, PP11). These were then discarded and to complete the data set we added an additional five stories from AdultFanfiction.Net.

Assuming the above conditions were met, we allowed the inclusion of: (1) threesomes, (2) parodies, and (3) sexual fantasies/dream sequences. We recorded the following information for each story:

(1) URL: Online location of the story.
(2) TITLE
(3) AUTHOR
(4) COCK MENTIONED: Any instance of a term such as cock, dick, prick, erection, length etc. 
(5) COCK DESCRIBED: Any visual/sensory descriptors and the characters to which they referred.
(6) TESTICLES MENTIONED: Any term such as balls, sac, testicles etc.
(7) TESTICLES DESCRIBED: Any visual/sensory descriptors and the characters to which they referred.
(8) OTHER: Any other visual/sensory descriptors of genitals, including pubic hair and anus.
(9) PENETRATION: Any instance of anal penetrative sex.
(10) PENETRATION BY: Who penetrated.
(11) FIRST TIME: If the story contained a first-time sexual encounter between the characters.

Both authors recorded this information and, in cases of difficulty or difference, came to a consensus through discussion. The word count for the stories ranged from approximately 500 to 50,000 words, with an even distribution amongst shorter pieces and multi-chaptered stories. Raw data records are available from the authors as supplementary material.

In order to ascertain that the fanon trope was shared by a large number of participants in Harry Potter fandom, we conducted an online poll through the LiveJournal system[2]. The poll asked for descriptor variables on the dimensions of length (short/long), girth (thick/thin), and size (small/average/medium). There was an an additional forced-choice comparative description on the length and girth dimensions.

Analysis

Stories were scored into binary or descriptor variables and analysed using the Data Analysis Pack in MS Excel 11.1 for Mac. Descriptive statistics and contingency table scores were used where appropriate. Small sample sizes in some cases meant that parametric assumptions were violated; we discuss these results independently below.

 

Results

Poll Results

Online survey results (303 respondents) demonstrated that the fandom at large concurred with the fanon generalisation that, compared to Harry's, Draco's cock was (1) longer (72.6% to 27.4%) and (2) thinner (82.8% to 17.2%). In the free-choice question, Draco's cock was characterised overwhelmingly as long and thin. Harry's cock was consistently described as thick; although only 11.9% of respondents chose "short" as a description, 72.9% chose "average" (cf. 42.2% choosing "average" for Draco).

Descriptive Statistics

Table 1. Simple descriptors from the analysis of 100 stories across six fanfiction archives.

Variable
Percentage
Cocks mentioned in story
99
Cocks described in story
30
Harry
20
Draco
14
Uncircumcised (mention of foreskin)
9
Harry
7
Draco
4
Testicles mentioned
43
Testicles described
5
Other genitals mentioned/described
19
Penetration
65
Harry
34
Draco
22
Both
8
"First time" story
56


All stories but one contained the mention of a penis (including terms such as cock/dick/prick, or euphemisms such as erection), contrasting with less than half of the sample mentioning testicles (43%) or other genitals (19%). This difference is even more striking when we examine the counts of descriptive terms: only 30% of stories contained cock descriptors, and only 5% contained testicle descriptors. Table 2 presents some of the descriptive terms used in these stories.

Table 2. Representative phrases and words used to describe genital features.

Cock
Testicles
Pubic Hair
Anus/Other
Straight, thick, long, heavy, big one, endowed, glistening, enormous, red, nearly purple, angry heated, blood-darkened, pink, pencil dick, short, small

Hairy, soft, crinkly, tight, heavy, rolled like chinese meditation balls

Soft nest of curls, pale blond hair, wiry curls, fine, little ass hairs, soft hair at groin Darkened pink folds, quivering, grasping, wrinkled skin, tight crinkly knot, little pink crinkle, pink like lips but not wet, rosy entrance, nub of dense tissue (prostate)


We hypothesised that when cocks were described, Harry generally had a thicker cock, while Draco's penis was more likely to be described as long and/or slender. The small number of stories featuring cock description means that we are unable to make any statistical remarks about our findings, but Table 3 presents a comparison of the descriptive terms used.

Table 3. Comparative terminology for Harry and Draco's cocks.

 
Harry
Draco
Size 7 Large
1 Implied size
1 Equal
1 Small
2 Large
1 Equal
Girth 6 Thick 1 Thick
1 Thin
Length 2 Short
2 Long
3 Long
Colour 3 Red or dark coloured 5 Coloured (pink, pale, red, flush)
Other 1 Straight 1 Glistening
2 Nice

 


Figure 1. Frequency of cock descriptors. 


Figure 2. Frequency of other genital descriptors.


Figures 1 and 2 show the frequency of different kinds of genital descriptors for Harry and Draco. While the small number of data points precludes any statistical comparison, the graphs indicate a tendency for cock descriptions to focus more on Harry, and other genital descriptions to focus more on Draco. We decided to investigate this further with regards to penetration.


Figure 3. Percentage of instances where characters were the sexual penetrator, across all stories.


Figure 3 shows how penetrative sex was featured in this sample [3]. Of those stories that featured penetration, Harry was twice as likely to penetrate as Draco. Another common fanon trope is that of "Bottom Draco" (for example, the Livejournal community "Bottom_Draco"), and our results support this idea that Draco is more likely to be the receptive partner in this pairing. It may then be that if the focus of the sexual encounter is on Harry's cock and Draco's ass/anus, those terms will be described more frequently for the respective characters.

We looked for associations in our data to determine if the presence of one variable (such as description) was influenced by another (such as who penetrated). Seventy-two stories featured either or both (1) cock description and (2) penetration. Chi-square revealed no statistically significant association (Table 3). We then tested for an association between the presence of penetration and the presence of description, but this was also not significant (Table 4). At present we are unable to tell if an association truly does not exist, or the sample is too small to reveal significant relationships (i.e. we have have Type I errors).

Table 3. Cock description and penetrator.

 
Description
No Description
Total
Harry
19
23
42
Draco
09
21
30
Total
28
44
72
Chi-square = 1.71, df = 1, p < 0.20 (n.s.)


Table 4
. Penetration and cock description.

 
Penetration
No Penetration
Total
Description
21
09
30
No Description
44
26
70
Total
65
35
100
Chi-square = 0.47, df=1, n.s.


One possible explanation for the infrequency of cock descriptors is that these features may be more apparent in "first-time" stories. In stories where the characters have already had sex, comparative descriptions may be less in-character. In order to control for this possible confounding effect, we examined those stories containing cock descriptors to see what proportion featured "first-time" sexual encounters.

Table 5. First time and cock description.

 
First Time
Not First Time
Total
Description
21
09
30
No Description
35
35
70
Total
56
44
100
Chi-square = 3.41, df=1, p < 0.10


Whilst not significant at the 0.05 level, there does appear to be some degree of association between descriptors and if a story features a first-time element. Given that a random story in this sample only has a 30% chance of featuring description, first-time stories comprise two-thirds of that sample (21/30). Compare this with stories without description, where first-time themes only feature in half the sample (35/70). There was, however, no significant association between the presence of a first-time theme and whether Harry or Draco penetrated (not shown).

We then examined whether the archive from which the story came had an effect on whether a story featured a first-time theme.

Table 6. Archive and first time.

 
SH
AE
RS
PP
MS
Total
First Time
8
6
11
12
16
53
Not First Time
11
14
8
7
2
42
Total
19
20
19
19
18
95
Chi-square = 15.28, df=4, p < 0.01


There is a strongly significant degree of association between Archive and whether a story contains a first-time sexual encounter. It is likely that the Merry Smutmas archive (MS) is responsible for this association; when this archive is removed from the contingency table analysis, the significant association disappears (Chi-square = 5.35, df=3, n.s.). Stories in the MS archive are the result of a Christmas story gift exchange; it appears that the "first-time" element of a story may be a common request amongst those writers/recipients participating in the exchange.

 

Discussion

We examined 100 HDS stories to see if there was a consistent difference in how the character's cocks and other genitalia were described. We found that only a third of these stories featured any cock description at all. Of that third, Harry was more often described as "large" or "thick" compared to Draco, but the sample was too small to test statistically. It appears that fanon stereotypes regarding cock size differences are thus built on a very small foundation and are not as ubiquitous as assumed.

Why does this fanon trope exist if it is not prevalent in HDS stories? The key factor here may be (in)frequency bias; that is, because descriptions of cocks (especially comparative descriptions) are so rare, the few that are encountered make a memorable impact and are projected onto HDS stories as a whole. This matches what social psychologists observe about stereotypes in general; that they can develop through "dispersion innacuracy", an incorrect judgement of the variability in a trait (Judd and Parks 1993). 

Another explanation may be that the fanon trope, or cock stereotype, does not extend from the cock-descriptive details of HDS stories per se, but rather represents an extension of body-type cliches regarding the two characters. In JK Rowling's series, Harry Potter is poorly treated, possibly malnourished, and kept in a cupboard throughout childhood. It is therefore reasonable to assume that he is only of average stature, while his status as a sportsman leads some HDS authors to attribute a muscular yet short-to-average physique to him. Draco Malfoy, on the other hand, can be assumed to have suffered no such childhood deprivation, coming from a wealthy family. He is described as "pointy" in canon, and a great number of HDS stories present his physique as tall and slender. In the Warner Brothers-produced film series, Harry Potter is portrayed by actor Daniel Radcliffe (current height listed at 5'7), while Tom Felton (current height listed at 6'1) plays the role of Draco Malfoy. As both young men "embody" these characters in popular culture and media, their influence (conscious or otherwise) on fanon characterisation can be assumed to be substantial.

Interestingly, we found very low levels of description of other genitalia in all the sample HDS stories, even though we had selected archives and stories which were labelled for explicit sexual content. While not the focus of this study, this finding may lend support to the assertion by Salmon & Symons (2003) that slash fiction is fulfilling a desire for romance rather than for an explicitly pornographic experience. A test of this might be to contrast the findings here with an equal sample of mainstream gay pornography from published volumes or online archives (for example, www.nifty.org). Such a comparison was beyond the scope of this small study.

The low level of cock/genital description also raises questions about the value of the current fanfiction rating system within Harry Potter fandom. While a warning of NC-17 or equivalent is necessary for legality in situations where a story contains graphic sexual intercourse, an NC-17 rating is commonly used by readers as a signpost to "smut", that is, something describing sensual and sensory aspects of a sexual encounter. Some stories carrying this rating, or the equally suggestive PWP (Porn Without Plot) hardly qualify as such in that it was difficult to ascertain if penetration actually took place. However, fanfiction ratings are author-nominated, and not subject to any external criteria. We would use this as an opportunity to encourage authors to reassess their own particular use of the current rating conventions.

Limitations

There are a number of limitations to the current study. Ideally, our data set would be much larger, and we would wish to collect information on a number of other important variables such as author characteristics, age of story vis-a-vis the Harry Potter fandom, perceived popularity/quality of the story to assess its influence within HDS fandom, and further details of characterisation. However, this is a pilot study, and should be seen as a methodological contribution to the examination of fanon and how it develops.

Future Directions

Questions raised during the analysis of this data set indicate there is wide scope for further research. Below we present some of these possibilities.

Are there links between author demographic characteristics and genital descriptors?
Demographic and sexual characteristics of authors (age, gender, sexual orientation, sexual experience, ethnicity, access to pornography) may correlate with some aspects of the variation in HDS. Do authors with limited sexual experience include more or less genital descriptors in their slash stories? Do male and female authors differ in their use of genital descriptors? Do they characterise Harry and Draco differently?  Do other author-variables play a significant role in the HDS writer's descriptive choices? Moreover, are these findings borne out equally in self-reports versus survey approaches?

How common are misleading/innacurate descriptions?
Analysis of genital descriptors revealed the existence of biological and anatomical inaccuracies. Terms such as "pale cock" (describing Draco's penis) support the fanon trope of Draco's pale physical appearance but ignore the flow of blood necessary to fill and elevate the tissues of the erection. Implausible placement of the anus as implied by certain sexual positioning also occurs in these stories and requires explanation.

How frequent are other sexual/body descriptors in HDS? Do they follow any patterns?
Other sexual attributes such as nipples or buttocks were not designated for analysis in this study, although they are clearly of interest. For instance, qualitative observation of the existing data set has raised the observation that there are few descriptions of either character possessing a "great ass", a frequent sexualisation of male anatomy. Physical traits (for instance, "muscular", "delicate", "silky" as opposed to "coarse" hair) and any relationship to sexual characterisation also appears fruitful for further investigation; for example, is there a relationship between who penetrates and how each character is physically described?

Terminology and euphemism in HDS
How often is "cock" used instead of "dick", "prick", or "penis"? Are HDS stories with more cock descriptors more likely to use creative euphemisms such as "member" or "length", or to use plain language? Is the choice of terminology consistent within a single story, for a single character, or within a body of work by a single author? What physiological terms do authors feel require explanation? For instance, in 08042002 by Frances Potter, we find the following description: "[t]hen the same finger pushed between his buttocks. It was this caress that started Draco's erection. Harry scraped a nail over his anus and spiralled the tip of his finger over Draco's perineum -- that diamond-shaped area between anus and cock."

Rituals of circumcision and safe sex in the Wizarding world
Is there significance to be extrapolated from the slight predominance of an "uncut" Harry Potter, where foreskin is used as a cock descriptor? Ethnicity and nationality of author variables are sure to influence this feature. Moreover, debate exists as to whether Purebloods would be more or less likely to circumcise than Muggle-borns (nowhere debated more vociferously than between the authors) and we require examination of a larger number of stories to uncover any trends here.

Only one of the HDS stories examined contained any practice of safe sex. In this story, a condom was worn by Harry when he penetrated Draco, but Draco used no protection during his penetration of Harry. The difference may be related to matters of Muggle versus Wizarding upbringing, but this is a single instance and we can make no generalisations. The significance of the absence of both condoms and protective spells in the data set requires examination.

The frequency and origins of other fanon tropes
Fanon tropes do not just focus on the cock n' balls. Other HDS fanon worthy of further study include: Draco's "silky" hair and leather pants, Harry's perceived sexual inexperience as compared to Draco, and Draco's homosexuality as compared to Harry's bisexuality.

Conclusion

The origin and development of fanfiction stereotypes invites great speculation, but few studies exist of the discrepancy between percieved versus actual instances of a fanon trope. We invite correspondence to further illuminate the issues presented here, and more importantly, strongly encourage other researchers to take up the investigation of so-called fanon stereotypes in a quantitative manner.

 

 

Notes

[1] For comparison, in two recent anthologies of gay erotica, 45 out of 48 authors are male (Labonte 2000, Labonte 2004).

[2] The guidelines for participation in the LiveJournal poll specified that the respondents would be familiar with HDS. The poll was advertised on the LiveJournals of both the authors in order to gain a high number of varied respondents.

[3] The "other" in question was a snake.

 

References

Apres Ecole (2006). Online. Available: http://www.queerasjedi.com/emma/recs/posthw_hd_fics.html

Bacon-Smith, C. (1992). Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Carroll, L. (1977 [1871]). Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Frances Potter. (2006). 08042002. Online. February 10, 2006. Available: http://www.restrictedsection.org/file.php?file=67

Hamann, S., Herman, RA, Nolan, CL & Wallen, K.  (2004) Men and women differ in amygdala response to visual sexual stimuli. Nature Neuroscience 7, 411-416

Judd, C., & Park, B. (1993). The assessment of accuracy of social stereotypes. Psychological Review 100, 109-128.

Labonte, R. (ed.) (2000). Best of the Best Gay Erotica. San Francisco: Cleis Press.

Labonte, R. (ed.) (2004). Best Gay Erotica. San Francisco: Cleis Press.

Merry Smutmas. (2006). Online. Available: http://community.livejournal.com/merry_smutmas

Pornish Pixies. (2006). Online. Available: http://community.livejournal.com/pornish_pixies

Restricted Section. (2006). Online. Available: http://www.restrictedsection.org

Rowling, JK. (1997). Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. London: Bloomsbury.

Salmon, C. & Symonds, D. (2003). Warrior LoversErotic Fiction, Evolution, and Female Sexuality. New Haven: Yale University Press. 

Silent Auror. (2006). Hot Chocolate. Online. Available: http://silentauror.livejournal.com/127614.html

Skyehawke. (2006). Online. Available: http://www.skyehawke.com