Maili, in her usual Very Interesting Linkage, pointed out a couple of conversations on the Romantic Times boards in which people ponder: why erotica? Why erotic romance? Why do so many people obviously love sexually explicit romances? Why are we buying them by the bucketload?
The short answer is: Because we enjoy getting turned on.
Am I being too obvious, here?
Oh, but then these books are appealing to prurient interests! They’re nothing but PORN! some people might cry.
See, this is the part that gets to me, every time. So reading certain books makes certain nubbins perk up in interest and raises the probability of the reader engaging in hot monkey sex (or hot monkey nubbin-rubbin’) exponentially. Is that bad? It’s another sensation that’s stimulated when one reads books. Why are sexual urges especially evil or bad or dangerous?
I read books not just to learn or to edify myself, but for the emotional impact. This is especially true of fiction. Basically, I want to lose myself in a foreign body. This means feeling everything the characters do. That means experiencing their grief, their terror, their joy, and yeah, their sexual ecstasy.
Why is sexual arousal much less acceptable than the grief many women’s fiction books attempt to make you feel, or the fight-or-flight adrenaline rush horror novels, adventure stories and thrillers try to inspire? Why is it OK to watch a person die in a novel, feel his every last death throe, but not OK to watch a person celebrate life in one of the most primal ways possible?
To me, it’s just one more sensation. And generally speaking, a book that successfully makes me feel a whole gamut of emotions and sensations is a very successful book. A novel that inspires no feeling or only one predominant emotion is generally not a book I’ll want to keep around. That’s why I have never really enjoyed Susan Johnson’s work; they turn me on, but I feel nothing BUT turned on through much of the book, and by the end my brain feels numb and tired from a surfeit of this one sensation. Emma Holly, on the other hand, puts me through my paces: her love scenes are more plentiful and more explicit than most Susan Johnson novels I’ve read, but I actually care about her characters and the actual story, not just the sexy bits of the action.
Reading is an inherently voyeuristic, invasive activity. Decrying how one activity is more unacceptably voyeuristic than the other strikes me as kind of odd. It’s OK if reading about all that sweaty bump-n-grind makes you uncomfortable. We all have our thresholds, and among many cultures, sex is a very difficult threshold to breach. You don’t have to read the books—by all means, read only books rated “warm” or cooler in the AAR sensuality rating scale. There are plenty of excellent books that don’t contain a peep of sex, and I’ve read and enjoyed many of them. But calling genres that feature explicit sex pejorative names or making insinuations about people who enjoy reading about the rumpy-pumpy? That’s just being an assclown.
And we all know assclowns make baby Jesus cry.