Why I Read Erotic Romances

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.

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    AngieW says:

    Candy, you said it exactly like I’ve always wanted to. You nailed (excuse the pun) the reason I love erotic romance and will not ever agree that it’s porn (don’t even get me started on that arguement again). Good on you, girl, for saying it just right!

  2. 2
    Stef says:

    I read the posts…I will state as I have on many lists that I have had it up to my ass with the misconception that all erotica is nothing but sex strung together with a hackneyed plot.

    I’ve mentioned before there IS erotica out there like that, but a lot of us actually spend the time putting out good books with real plots that just happen to have a lot of sex. Just because we not only fling the bedroom door wide open, but also hand you popcorn and a slicker does not mean the quality of the writing has to decline exponentially.

  3. 3
    emdee says:

    My thoughts exactly Candy!  I’d much rather read a good story that contains details about acts that are essentially creative rather than about those that are destructive.  I’ve never understood why this culture prefers depictions of violence over sex.  Most of the romance I read is of a more erotic nature.  It’s what I prefer.

  4. 4
    Trace says:

    Assclown!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHHA!!!!!!!

  5. 5
    Sarah says:

    It’s astonishing how we are so inculcated against the very idea of sexuality that the mere mention of erotica makes people start to twitch in their seats. Yet we do not flinch at violence and bloodshed, murders and mayhem. I mean, one of my biggest problems with “Dream Man” was the subtle message that the heroine’s agony, horror and fear was a turn on for the hero – much like a rapist who is getting off on the power, never the sex act itself.

    It is such an almighty fucking shame that we are so uncomfortable (We being Americans, by and large) with our bodies, our sexual natures, and our own sexual proclivities that we cannot accept even the idea of learning about them through fictional stories.

    Personally, I read erotica for two reasons: one, I got me some hormones right now. Two, I’m fascinated by sexuality, and what turns people on. While I do not wish to read about bestiality (Note: RWA, that’s sex with animals, and not ‘beastiality’)or pedophila (shudder) I am happily curious about multiple partners, partner switching, swinging, homo and hereosexual adventures, and props, toys, and games.

    I’ve been to many a naturist resort where there were swingers in residence – including on our honeymoon – and while I didn’t want to participate, I saw no reason to judge them for doing what seemed to make them happy. Would I ever do it – no. Am I curious about the wherefore and why of those who do? Yup!!

  6. 6
    Tara Marie says:

    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.

    I actually agree with everything you’ve said, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate. 

    Does erotica ever cross the line into porn? Where is this line?  Or is it like comparing apples and oranges?

    I once heard a fairly popular romance author say she used to write those “You’re not going to belive this, but it really happend to me…” columns for a popular mens magazine (I don’t remember which one).  When she writes for women it’s romance/romantica but when she writes for men what do we call it?

  7. 7
    Candy says:

    For me, the demarcation between porn and romantica/romance novels lies thusly:

    Take away ALL the sex. Do you still have a story left that can function more-or-less independently, with characters who interact meaningfully with each other above and beyond the humping? Or is all that’s left a giggly blonde greeting the cable guy buck naked?

    And as for erotica, the focus IS typically on sex and sexuality more than the love relationship. I think the biggest difference lies in the writing style. The Sexual Life of Catherine M. is classified as erotica, not porn, and it’s a biographical look at Catherine Millet’s sex life. The sex scenes are astonishingly clinical. Other erotica I’ve read veers waaay to the other side of the spectrum: bizarre and purple and in love with metaphorical conceits.

    In short, the three-part guideline as to whether something is obscene is probably the best rule of thumb when it comes to judging whether something is pornographic. To wit:

    An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;

    The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and

    The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

    It’s that last bit that’s usually the kicker.

  8. 8
    Tara Marie says:

    The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

    It’s that last bit that’s usually the kicker.

    Ah, who actually determines this, hmmm that’s the question. 

    This is always a personal line, I don’t have a problem with someone calling something “Porn” even if I don’t agree with them.  It’s their demarcation line not mine.  Let them voice their opinions, unless they’re threatening to ban books—who really cares?

  9. 9
    Stef says:

    ‘Take away ALL the sex. Do you still have a story left that can function more-or-less independently, with characters who interact meaningfully with each other above and beyond the humping? Or is all that’s left a giggly blonde greeting the cable guy buck naked?’

    EXACTLY. That is it, IMO. That and proper editing.

    ‘This is always a personal line, I don’t have a problem with someone calling something “Porn” even if I don’t agree with them.’

    I think part if it is having a sense of humor about it. Like some of my authors call their stuff ‘smut’, but it’s meant affectionately. I do get a bit tweaked about it, because we don’t do porn. Porn doesn’t go through extensive editing and proofreading. But I suppose the comparison is inevitable.

  10. 10
    Lilith says:

    The trouble is that porn, erotica, and romance are different for every person.

    IMO, one doesn’t really need to define what porn, smut, erotica, etc., is. What’s important is that we have the discussion itself about what those different words mean to each of us. It’s the discussion that fosters openness and a climate congenial to artists.

    Of course, I read erotica (though some may call my erotica “porn”, that’s all right with me) to imagine doing things that turn me on that I never would do in real life. I’ve never been tempted to turn any erotica books into real-life situations, mostly because I understand the difference between fiction and reality.

    (slight digression) Those that spout about porn “making” people do “bad things” are talking out their asses. People are going to do “bad things”, it seems endemic to the human condition. If they didn’t get their ideas from art and fiction, they would get them from television, films, paintings, or urban legends. It’s ridiculous to censor ourselves because of nutjob criminals; it is also ridiculous to censor ourselves because other people think our “erotica” is “porn.”

    (stepping down off soapbox) Rant’s over. Thank you for a fantastic, wonderfully clear post.

  11. 11
    Candy says:

    This is always a personal line, I don’t have a problem with someone calling something “Porn” even if I don’t agree with them.

    True. And as a corollary, I’m also free to not like it and to call these people assclowns :lol: . I know, I’m not elevating the discourse. But screw elevation. I like to get down and dirty.

    And yes, the definition of porn (especially the bit about “artistic value”) is quite inherently subjective. I have no doubt that the more conservative factions find most mainstream romance novels pornographic. As Lilith noted, the discourse is even more important than actually nailing down a concrete definition.

    What bothers me the most is how it’s insinuated that people who enjoy sexually explicit material (whether pornographic or not) must be morally degenerate or solely trying to get our nubbins off.

  12. 12
    Lilith says:

    I think the problem is that most repressed assclowns feel guilty about getting their nubbins off, especially since they are generally repressed moral dwarves. That means they think anyone else who gets their nubbin off must be a moral dwarf as well. They literally can’t imagine a healthy nubbin-job.

  13. 13
    Stef says:

    ‘What bothers me the most is how it’s insinuated that people who enjoy sexually explicit material (whether pornographic or not) must be morally degenerate or solely trying to get our nubbins off.’

    Which comes back to the basic point that’s been mentioned—people think sex is nasty, consequently, anything sexual is nasty.

    God forbid a woman have a healthy sex drive, or enjoy reading about an absolutely normal function that PRODUCED THEIR SANCTIMONIOUS ASSES. Horrors.

  14. 14
    Destruction Angel says:

    I like erotic romance when I’m in the mood for it. When my hormones are raging, when I’m horny, whatever, that’s what I want to read.

    It’s a damned shame that the RWA has a problem with it because erotic romance is just romance that has plenty of sex and dares to go outside the boundaries of the conventional.

    Not every woman is curious. Not every woman fantasizes about having sex with two men at the same time. But there are those of us who do. Lots of us, if not, Ellora’s Cave, New Concepts, eXtasy, all these publishers couldn’t have taken off.

    The RWA claims that it’s purpose is to advance the interests of professional romance writers via networking and advocacy. Well, I’d say to keep themselves relevant, they ought to be networking with publishers of erotic romance and advocating the creation of a erotic romance chapter!

  15. 15
    Stef says:

    Speaking of the RWA, they’ve posted their “amended standards”. Kind of them, right?

    They’ve posted them in the Member’s Only section on a write-protected page so they can’t be pasted. Nothing like keeping us informed.

  16. 16
    E.D'Trix says:

    Duuude. Candy used a smiley. A LOL smiley. I shant ever recover…

    Holy Crap! My capcha is youre45—now that is just COLD. I am nothing of the sort!

  17. 17
    Candy says:

    Duuude. Candy used a smiley. A LOL smiley. I shant ever recover…

    %-P

  18. 18
    Maili says:

    I think the problem is with old romance novels, sexual boundaries were all neat and tidy, nothing too kinky. A rape here, a hint of anal sex there, but mostly vanilla sex will do. And now? It’s free for all.  Mainstream romance is jumping on the bandwagon, which confuses a lot of people.

    With erotic romance in the picture, the line between erotica and romantica is being shifted again.

    So I think people are trying to find a new definition – or rather, re-definition – of the romance genre. It’s not surprising, really, because it happened before:

    Evidence A: romantic suspense
    Evidence B: romantica [this was before erotic romance comes along]
    Evidence C: chick lit

    Erotic romance is just the latest kid on the block, IMO.

  19. 19
    Candy says:

    They’ve posted them in the Member’s Only section on a write-protected page so they can’t be pasted. Nothing like keeping us informed.

    Fuck that noise. Take a screencap. As far as I know, there’s no way to protect against a screecapture. Alt + Print Screen is your friend.

    Or go View > Page Source, and the text should be there, though you’ll have to wade through a buch of HTML junk.

    And Maili: you’re right. I don’t remember as big a brouhaha being made over Romantic Suspense or Chick Lit, though. But then I did live under a rock for a couple of years as far as romance communities were concerned.

  20. 20
    Stef says:

    I’m not a member, unfortunately, so I can’t get into the Members Only bit. Bad old erotica pub and all.

  21. 21
    Amanda says:

    I’m not a member of RWA & so can’t view the ‘amended rules’ or whatever. Is someone willing to post them on a blog or webite or whatever so others can see the amendments?

    Another take on the erotica conversation- why are Anais Nin & DH Lawrence shelved in Literature & not erotica or romance? The arguments being used against erotica now are the similar to arguments back in the day. Nin & Lawrence were said to appeal to baser instincts & had no redeeming literary value etc. etc. etc. Yet today these writers are considered modern classics.

    Nin’s

    Delta of Venus

    is great stuff. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover while tame by today’s standards, was considered HOT when new.

    Times change, society changes & yet women still view sexuality as titillating- not something to be enjoyed. Could it be our lingering Puritan heritage? The rise of religious conservatism?

  22. 22
    Amanda says:

    Oh yeah- Mario Puzo’s books are considered ‘literature’ & he’s written in plenty of hot steamy burn your fingers off sex.

  23. 23
    Anne E says:

    I’ve read D.L. Lawrence and Henry Miller, as well as parts of the Victorian erotic classic, which, if I remember correctly is called “My Secret Life.” I don’t mean to offend anyone but the erotica/romantica books I have looked at are not in that league.

    When I was younger, married, or otherwise involved, my SO and I would watch so-called X rated movies together or read literature out loud to each other. I truly believe that there is a very fine line between this “new” genre and porn. Does it bother me? Hell, no! If people want to use it to enhance their sex life, with or without a partner, that is none of my business. What would bother me is if it were to start running out other types of romance novels—realistically I doubt that is going to happen, however. I do think that it is interesting that the more big glossy ad space purchased by publishers of erotica in RT Magazine, the more review space the magazine seems to be devoting to the genre.

  24. 24
    Amanda says:

    My point is not that Lawrence & Nin are in the same league as current erotica or romantica. My point is that similar comments & critiques were leveled against these authors- namely that their novels were without redeeming social value of any kind. Simply because they contained sex scenes. Yes, tame by today’s standards- but OMG- look how little progress we have made. No offense taken, BTW.

  25. 25

    RT gives reviews based on purchase of ad space…if you buy ad space, you get so many guarenteed reviews.

  26. 26
    Amy E says:

    I’m a RWA member and I can’t find the new standards.  The link to Graphical Standards has been unlinked, or however people who know shit about HTML describe words that you can’t click on. 

    All I know about HTML is that it gives me a migraine.

  27. 27
    Jenny K says:

    but, but, but, Candy….we’re girls!!!

    We’re not supposed to like sex.

  28. 28
    Beverly says:

    As Lilith noted, the discourse is even more important than actually nailing down a concrete definition.

    Ah, to a point. Frankly, I’m still confused about the distinction between romantica and erotic romance. Someone on Maili’s blog comments tells me there’re the same then Maili completely muddies the issue with this comment here:

    With erotic romance in the picture, the line between erotica and romantica is being shifted again.

    Read at least one way, that sounds like we’re talking about two different things. Which is it?

    Definitions are important when someone wants to know what they’re getting into . . . otherwise how are you going to get converts? (BG)

  29. 29
    Maili says:

    Uh, OK. I need to provide a bit of background to explain that comment of mine. [Disclaimer: I’m high on coffee, so excuse typos, steep curves, etc.] 

    It has mostly to do with Robin Schone. At the time there wasn’t really anything like her books. Well, there were, e.g. Susan Johnson, Virginia Henely, Bertrice Small, etc., but not in a style like Schone’s.

    [Note: I’m not talking about her later Cartlandesque books.]

    If I remember correctly, her early books were some kind of a marriage/hybrid between erotica and romance, somewhat the first of its kind. Romances at the time focus mostly – regardless of sexual going-ons between the h/h – on the emotional aspect of a relationship between the h/h. 

    Schone’s AWAKE MY LOVE somewhat focuses on the sexual aspect of a relationship between the h/h, but it’s her next book THE LADY’S TUDOR that caught a lot of attention. That the plot itself mainly revolves around the heroine’s sexual journey to her HEA. That she’s taking an active role in her own sexual awakening.    This is pretty much the basic core of romantica.

    You can read more about it in an AAR interview with Schone about her book, which results several discussions about sexuality, bias, boundaries and definitions of erotica and romance. I believe [my memory is shit, sorry] this opened a door for other authors to push boundaries a bit. Somewhere along the line, romantica – a combination of ‘romance’ and ‘erotica’ – was born.

    But somehow [I don’t know how it came about] Ellora’s Cave managed to trademark the term ‘romantica’, so I think because of that, the term was quietly changed from ‘romantica’ to ‘Erotic Romance’. So, really, there’s no real difference between ‘romantica’ and ‘erotic romance’, just a legal issue. 

    Anyway, at the time, the RWA tripped a bit over ‘romantica’ [untrademarked], but IIRC, it slowly accepted because, I believe, it was merged *into* mainstream romance, as opposite to becoming a sub-genre.

    This is what I think is happening:  erotic romance is branching out of romance genre, that it’s trying to become a sub-genre in its own right. The problem is what defines ‘erotic romance’? Hence another round of hand-flapping fights. :D

    I’m not quite sure if my take is right at all, to be honest, but that’s what I’m seeing. For all I know, I could be talking out of my elbow. :>

    Sorry for being so long-winded, but there you go. :D

  30. 30
    Beverly says:

    Fascinating.

    That the plot itself mainly revolves around the heroine’s sexual journey to her HEA. That she’s taking an active role in her own sexual awakening.  This is pretty much the basic core of romantica.

    And this “active role” can only happen when erotic activities are involved?

    (That’s an honest question that seeks information without passing any judgment, good or bad. I am very curious to read the responses . . . then I’ll tell you why I asked it.)

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