A reader and graduate student named Kate emailed me this question:
“Intrigued by the concept
of well-written, professionally published erotica, I downloaded some of your
recommendations. After sampling several I found a pattern that bothered me
and yanked me out of the story.
All of the male characters – and sometimes the
females too – are described physically, right off the bat, as being tall,
handsome, and having perfect sinewy muscular bodies that I’ve certainly never
seen anywhere besides Michaelango’s David. I understand that romance and
erotica are designed to be fantasies, and that the reader is assumed to be a
heterosexual female who is inserting herself in place of the heroine and
fantasizing about this male.
I don’t know where they got their information as to
what real women want, because they certainly didn’t talk to me. My current
boyfriend is overweight, and past partners, while running the gamut from skinny to round, have never possessed rock-hard muscles or perfectly chiseled features. *I’ve* never had sex with a guy who looks like that – why would I want to?
Perhaps if I found one who was a great match for my personality, I might, and
I’m sure I’d find his body attractive, but I’m insulted that the industry
assumes that this is all I want to read about. I might be able to look past it
and enjoy the plot, but I’m likely to skip past the sex, as I don’t get much out
of picturing a Playgirl model (or two) screwing a blonde, either in terms of
arousal or placing the scene in the progression of the plot. It’s just so far
removed from my actual sex life and what I’ve learned to enjoy.
I’ve been dealing with body image issues in women as part of my graduate research, and I’ve often had to help my imperfectly-bodied partners feel secure and wanted – I hate being a consumer of the kind of cultural material that makes so many people feel inadequate.
There’s been discussion on SBTB about romance novels with plus-sized heroines,
so the matter of “imperfect” bodies has been raised before, but I don’t think
it’s been raised in the context of either the hero’s body or erotic romance. Is
there anything out there (either romance or erotica) for those of us who
actively dislike overt physical description of the “ideal body”?
I realize that I’m unlikely to find an erotica writer explaining that her hero weighs 300
pounds, but there are alternatives to descriptions of lean muscle – I recall the
hero of Spymaster’s Lady being described as “a big man,” and there’s also the
option of limiting the description and letting the reader fill in the blanks.”
I think Kate asks a very good question – the erotic-romance men are often very, very perfect, in ways that often don’t seem real.
I think erotic romance is very much about reader fantasy, and can be more liberally dolloped with idealized figures, both on the covers and in the books, particularly when it comes (ha) to the men. I think the male standards of beauty are just as damaging as the female standards, and are slowly growing in pervasiveness,
Why do you think the men in erotic romance are so often muscularly and sculpturally perfect? Do you prefer erotic heroes to be written that way? Can you recommend quality erotic romance titles that feature more realistic men, at least, not chisled angular men of perfection?