Yaoi is a genre of hentai that portrays an explicit male on male sexual relationship, as opposed to shounen-ai which portrays a non sexual one. However shounen-ai is often sold on bookshelves under the genre Yaoi, in part because that's how it is in Japan, and also to make things simpler.
Yaoi is considered to be written for women, much like most yuri is written to appeal to men. This explains why often softer censoring effects are used, like making the penis a glowing rod.
Even though the genre is written to appeal to women, there are others attracted to it. Predictably, many gay or bi-sexual men are attracted to yaoi, but also straight men, and there are genres of yaoi specifically written for men. It's notable that straight males are usually more attracted to the bishounen (androgynous males), almost never bara (muscled men).
Themes In Yaoi
Yaoi contains many themes that run concurrent with other hentai, and some all its own.
Bara, or Barasui is a category used in both shotakon, and yaoi. It essentially means muscle men. One, or usually both, or even more males are usually portrayed with muscles like are presented in Dragon Ball Z. It's a genre of yaoi often credited as being created for men.
A popular yaoi fantasy is one in which a straight male is attracted to or doted on by a gay one. Sometimes it contains a straight male, or a male who's never been attracted to anyone, eventually realizing his love for another male. It almost always ends up with the two parties together. The straight male is also usually a bishounen.
Unlike in shotakon, cross-dressing is more rarely used. This could be because in yaoi the males bodies are more developed, thus making it less likely they would look stereotypically attractive in them. Even so it's still used in some scenes, generally in a forced capacity, or simply to satisfy a fetish.
In many cases the two males in a yaoi relationship are put into sub/dom categories. More often those are referred to as Uke/Seme. Many fangirls also use the term uke or seme for themselves to describe their ideal role if they were a male in a gay relationship.
Uke and Seme Types
There are considered to be many types of Uke and seme, and there are even tests online based off the definitions. Even with the different types of uke and seme, they can be summed up in two broad definitions.
Uke (lit. receiver) are known as the submissive ones in the relationship. Even when they're being manipulating, or devious, or demanding they are considered to be "The Girl" of the relationship.
Seme (lit. attacker) are considered to be the dominant ones. They generally are the ones in control, or more dominating. There could be a seme who is easily manipulated, or not very interested in manly things, but it comes down to if he's the dominant one in the end.
Tops and Bottoms
Another term used in Yaoi fiction is Tops and bottoms. It's again used to refer to simple sex. Who is on top, who is on bottom, the person on the bottom being the submissive one. This confuses a lot of people.
Need For Ukes and Semes
Terms like uke, bottom, or submissive are used often in yaoi fiction, and outside of it, but aren't at all needed. Some people are entirely confused by how there can be a relationship between the same sex without one being in charge, but others argue that would be a simple relationship. There are many examples of yaoi that contain even sided relationships with neither person taking the dominant or submissive role. Some men are even offended by the idea of being force categorized with the terms, or the constant use of them.
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