Yet again, someone has asked me why anyone would bother to read certain things, complete with many assumptions. So, let's cover it.
First of all...
Why read paranormal? Several reasons.
1) Paranormal is a complete escape from daily life. Paranormal has characters who are both more than and less than human, in their own ways. The problems they face are typically not the same ones you do. If they face the same ones you do, they face ones you cannot imagine on top of it. And, it's not just a rehash of the old movie monsters. These are humanized and have their own unique world rules.
2) Since the characters have abilities humans do not, it allows for story lines and situations that you won't find in a "real world" romance. In a paranormal, the vampire or psychic that can read thoughts can know precisely what his/her partner wants and provide it. No awkward sex there. And, even in loving relationships in the real world, there are awkward moments, in and out of the bedroom. It also allows for a delightful forced seduction scene, since both parties know precisely what the other wants. Takes the guess work out.
3) Paranormal allows a certain whimsy and dark edge (yes, both) that may be achieved without it, but perhaps not as simply.
There's more to it, of course, but those are the baseline reasons.
Why read erotic? Again...several reasons...
1) You already have a healthy sex life, and reading books that stop at the bedroom door is rather annoying and condescending. After all, if you enjoy sex, why not read books that don't beat around the bush about it? Now, that doesn't mean that's all these women read. Many, like myself, will read the full range from sweet through erotic. Many (again, like myself) read straight genre work, as well as romance and erotic.
2) You've HAD a healthy sex life, but you are currently partnerless or unable to have sex for some reason...perhaps health-related. I see a lot of this, as well. I've met grandmothers in wheelchairs, who read erotic books, because they remember what they had but cannot currently engage in said activities. In that way, they are vicariously experiencing what they so fondly remember...
And, YES. Not nearly everyone who reads books are disassociated from the experiences. It is not uncommon for women (and some husbands) to report that they read, get aroused and either climax to the book or (more commonly) go find their spouse or significant other to engage in some hot sex. Some husbands tell me they purchase erotic romance and erotica books for their wives specifically to illicit this response. It's a different sort of foreplay. Since women experience sexual arousal first in the mind and then in the body, this isn't a bad plan overall, and it's helped many marriages, in my experience.
Back to the subject...
3) Experimentation. Perhaps the reader is trying to learn what appeals and wants the safety of testing it in the mind first. Perhaps the person is not experienced, partnerless and not into one-night-stands (sensible)... There are a lot of reasons to read that stem from this same root. Basically, it's a way to gain safe knowledge and a feel for what excites then file it all away to use later.
4) Dual arousals. There are some things in erotic books, even some things I've written, that I wouldn't want to try in real life (probably wouldn't arouse in real life). Still, they are arousing, in some manner. There's nothing wrong with an active fantasy life. It's a departure from real life...things you don't mind contemplating but don't really want to experience. Everyone has a line. Whatever that line is, once you've exceeded it or hit that nit, it's not going to work for you in the written word, any more than it would in real life.
Side note... The primary consumer of erotic romance and erotica for women are women aged 35+. These are mature women who know what they want to read. That doesn't mean that is the only audience for erotic romance and erotica for women. Some of my readers are men. Some of them are much younger.
Another thing... The erotic work of today rarely bears any resemblance to what you read years ago. I was reading erotica in the 80s...Hottest Blood series books. Aside from the dark, edgy, paranormal bent (currently growing in the mainstream romance and erotic romance markets, at the moment), there is little to connect them. Basing what you believe women's fantasies are on any one book, especially an old one, is likely not going to help you much. Even if everything you read was new, you'd want a wide range.
For instance here... Some get off on extreme BDSM, and some run screaming from it. Some like one type of kink, some another. It takes all kinds to make this world spin round.
The bottom line here is, what arouses one woman will repulse another. There's no single thing I can point to and say "THAT will arouse a woman." It's not possible. Some are acceptable in the mainstream. Some aren't. Some acceptable in the mainstream repulse me personally; others the mainstream shies from are more acceptable to many women I know.
A further note...you cannot effectively lump all erotic together. If you've seen my post about the difference between sensual romance, erotic romance and erotica, you'll notice that they are very different in focus and (to a lesser extent) in content.
I would disagree that you don't see bestselling authors having characters eat at McDonald's. In fact, I can name one that did recently. Sherrilyn Kenyon's UNLEASH THE NIGHT shows Wren going to a McDonald's (or some other fast food, though I think it WAS Micky D's) drive through, because he's been in a jail cell all day and is ravenous. Grinning... Whether or not someone is billed as a real person along the way has nothing to do with what else happens in the book. Going to McDonald's does not a boring book make.