Shannon Stacey posted an entry on erotic romances on Romancing the Blog, and hoo boy, what an interesting furor. I started posting a comment, and then realized I was really running off at the mouth and was in danger of taking over the entire comment space with what I wanted to say. So I thought, what the hell, might as well run off at the mouth HERE. Let me excerpt some relevant passages here so you can follow my points:
“I detest vampire books, for instance, and Scottish historicals bore me to tears. But I could fairly judge those books on their technical merits. I could also judge (and, in fact, have read quite a few) books that espouse different religions from mine. Erotica is a different matter. I will not betray my moral standards by reading it.”—Brenda Coulter
Then in the comments, a reader named Donna Spago makes this very interesting observation:
I have a question for the inspirational Christian author who says reading erotic romance is breaking God’s laws.
Do you read stories that have murder in them?
Do you read stories with characters who drink alcohol?
Do you read stories with characters who curse?
If you receive any of those books in the contest to judge, what do you do with them, the ones with murders or drug use or alcoholism or swearing?
Is your moral dilemma only in reading books with sex?
To which Brenda Coulter replied:
Donna, there’s a difference between reading stories that portray the realities of life (which may include illicit drug use, killing puppies, having sex outside of marriage, and so on) and reading books primarily for sexual titillation. Let’s be honest. Erotica readers aren’t just looking for good stories. They’re looking for good stories with a lot of SEX in them.
If you haven’t read the whole flap already, I fully encourage you to so you can view the whole thing in context, because I’m just excerpting bits here and there.
So going back to Donna Spago’s comment: I agree with her. Shouldn’t Christian judges abstain from reading most romantic suspense novels? I mean, talk about REALLY building a book based on a squicky premise, which is typically violent death—actually, usually several violent deaths. Take away the death(s), and the book will cease to exist. Oftentimes the hero/heroine won’t even meet. So somehow this is less morally offensive than a book that’s has the doggy-doggy style goin’ on?
But perhaps it’s morally acceptable because the bad guy is caught and punished (read: killed) in the end. That, however, raises other questions: do we go with justice Talion Law-style as expressed in the Old Testament, or do we go with the New Testament and all that “turn the other cheek” business? But then Jesus also said (and I paraphrase) “If thine right eye offend thee, pluck it out,” so, y’know, ARGH, what to do?
And I really don’t get how a devout Christian can be offended by reading spicy sex scenes but not be offended by books featuring other religions, because the first four commandments are centered around the proper worship of God (and God, upper-case, thinks it’s very, very naughty to even THINK about worshipping any other god, lower-case), and only one commandment explicitly talks about sex, and even then it specifically addresses adultery, with one vague commandment about not coveting your neighbor’s sundry possessions including his wife (which personally I find offensive—I may have a cow-sized ass, but I’m not an actual cow, thankyouverymuch). But the reader isn’t engaging in apostasy when they read a book featuring non-Christian couples, of course. Similarly, neither is the reader engaging in adultery, unless the books inflame the person so much that she runs off to the neighbor and has some hot monkey sex with him.
Which, come to think of it, might be a pretty cool premise for some erotica. Any takers? Make the hero bisexual and throw in his hot poolboy, Andre, and I’ll be all over that book.
What about books featuring protagonists who are witches? “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” and all that. Wouldn’t those be morally offensive too?
And then there’s Coulter’s assumption that people who read erotic romances are doing so solely for the tittilation. I won’t lie: I sometimes read them for the sexual tittilation, and I want my tittilation to be well-written too. But I don’t always read romances for the sexy sexy, and I certainly can’t speak for other people. Why does Coulter think her blanket assumption that we read erotic romances solely to get our rocks (nubbins?) off is correct?
Sigh. And then, of course, we open a whole can of worms in terms of associating the reader’s morals with the types of books she enjoys. What kind of emotions and responses are horror novels meant to elicit? Are these emotions and responses somehow more appropriate and less morally outrageous than sexual feelings? Etc.
To be fair to Coulter, she isn’t condemning or trying to prohibit other people from reading erotic romances. And just to be clear: I don’t want her to be forced to read material that she finds distasteful; I respect her right to NOT read something just as I respect her right to read whatever the damn hell she wants. I just find her stance, well, puzzling and inconsistent. She does explain it further by adding this in the comments:
Would we expect a Kosher-keeping Jew to judge the pork dishes in a cooking contest? I don’t think so, because most of us understand that to a practicing Jew, taking even a single bite to demonstrate her “objectivity and professionalismâ€ would be a grave sin.
But that’s not a very good analogy for what she’s doing. She’s picking on erotic romances, and only erotic romances, as morally objectionable, when most other romance novels are built around elements that, from a Biblical standpoint, are even more heinous than the nookie. She’s a Jew who won’t eat bacon, ham or ground pork, but Spam is just fine by her.