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Warning: This post is NSFW due to photos of phallic soap. Seriously.
As a connoisseur of internet controversies, you’re hard pressed to find better source material than Book Twitter. Specifically Young Adult Publishing Twitter, which features a heady mix of authors, publishing professionals, book reviewers, and teenage fans with very strong opinions. This week, the latest controversy relates to an irresistably attention-grabbing item: dick soap.
Just to clarify, dick soap is a piece of soap shaped like a penis. Not soap for your penis, necessarily. It’s all-purpose soap. We assume. Anyway, the dick soap in question became a hot topic on YA Twitter this Wednesday, after it was delivered to readers in a gift box for Sarah J. Maas’s novel A Court of Thorn and Roses.
This delivery box wasn’t official merchandise from the book’s publisher. It’s actually the fanmade equivalent of subscription services like Loot Crate. Book Boyfriend Boxes are aimed at fans of popular paranormal romance novels, offering fanmade merchandise, cosmetics, and in this case erotic fanart and fanfiction. That last part is an issue in itself, because it’s illegal to make a profit from unlicensed fanfic.
Once photos from this Book Boyfriend Box arrived on Twitter, the dick soap went viral. First of all, the phrase “dick soap” is inherently hilarious. Secondly, a lot of people thought A Court of Thorns and Roses was a Young Adult novel, so dick soap and erotica would be a wildly inappropriate gift for its supposedly teenage audience. It didn’t help that some people wrongly assumed the box was an official marketing item from the publisher, not a fanmade operation.
me joining YA twitter in 2012: wow I love reading books and need more recommendations!— Michael Waters (@ABoredAuthor) August 15, 2018
me on YA twitter in 2018: let me tell you why the soap dick is problematic
A Court of Thorns and Roses is actually a New Adult novel, meaning it’s aimed at college-age readers and above. It also has explicit sex scenes, so it’s pretty clearly not aimed at the YA market of school-age teens.
However, there’s often overlap between the two categories, and NA books sometimes get shelved alongside YA. To complicate matters, A Court of Thorns and Roses was published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in the U.K. So among the many people making fun of the dick soap controversy, some were genuinely concerned about kids potentially receiving pornography. (There is no evidence that any kids were sent erotic fanart or dick soap, although plenty of teens seem to have read the original book.)
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Bloomsbury employee who has to manage the YA dick soap crisis of 2018.— Margot Wood (@margotwood) August 15, 2018
We are aware of this subscription box. Bloomsbury and Sarah J. Maas are not associated with the box (and its contents) in any way.— BloomsburyUS Kids/YA (@bloomsburykids) August 15, 2018
In response to the deluge of dick soap tweets, the subscription box creator Yaira Lynn published a statement reminding everyone that the book already included explicit sex scenes, and the box was adult-rated.
“Our box of course was advertised and sold to adults 18+, we offered multiple warnings about its not safe for work and mature sexual content. The infamous soap should be taken as the joke it is: a literal Illyrian Wingspan it even says so on the label. These are sold as bachelorette joke favors in the real world. We want to clarify that they are for external use only, as instructed on the label.”
Alarming comments about “external use” aside (don’t insert the soap dick, people!), this seems reasonable. The book is adult-rated, and we all remember the inescapable influx of Fifty Shades of Grey merchandise a few years ago. That being said, we won’t be surprised if this subscription business attracts some legal trouble for selling fanfic on a commercial basis. Publishers tolerate free fanfic (which is protected by fair use law), but for-profit fanfic is generally viewed as copyright infringement.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor