Guest Opinion: The Changing Face of Erotic Romance
When I started reading erotic romance back in the early to mid-2000s, erotic romance meant “bedroom door wide open”, the author would use graphic terminology that most mainstream romances wouldn’t. The act of love making between the hero and heroine was captured in all its glory, so to speak, instead of closing the door until the couple were in the cuddling after-glow stage. There were some books where the hero was dominant (not with a capital D), and some where there was a certain kink factor. Especially when the paranormal was involved — the ones that immediately spring to mind is Lora Leigh’s Elizabeth’s Wolf or Kate Douglas’ Wolf Tales series.
I’ve been told that a true erotic romance should be about the sexual journey of the characters more than an outside plot. A great example of this is Anne Calhoun’s Liberating Lacey. When Jane reviewed it here at Dear Author, she said “the eroticism comes primarily from the graphic nature of the sex scenes. There is little to no kink.”
But over the years has the envelope has been pushed to include more kink? It’s pretty much a given nowadays that anal sex will be included. The ménage a trois has become passé to have only three partners and not more. Bondage is a given. Spanking and flogging also. Ellora’s Cave is now allowing golden showers in their novels, something most other publishers, and many review sites, refuse to consider. Then of course, there’s the ubiquitous BDSM novels to the point where I’m wondering if the tide has shifted so anything labelled erotic romance must include BDSM.
Is an excursion into the realm of BDSM the only journey left to explore these days? Is everything else too “vanilla”? Are erotic romances without BDSM elements no longer considered erotic romances but mainstream?
The industry is already changing its definitions of erotic romance. The Romance Studio doesn’t even have an erotic romance category in their CAPA awards anymore, now there’s only a BDSM category. In previous years, the Electronic Publishers Industry Coalition (EPIC) awards separated the erotic romance books to their various genres so there was both a contemporary erotic romance category, along with a contemporary romance category, same for paranormal, etc. This past year, they changed their definition of romance to: “Romance…must conform to the romance genre convention, that is, your bunnies find true love; they may be chaste (spiritual/inspirational), boff behind closed doors (sweet), boff energetically (more spicy), or boff themselves silly in interesting ways (erotic). Some erotic romances involve multiple lovers…but as long as they find true love, it’s a romance.”
The Romance Writers of America RITA awards have never had an erotic romance category, so its single title judges receive all heat levels in their bundle of books to be judged within the individual categories.
As a judge in various contests, I’ll happily read any heat level, and any pairing, but I know there are others who are uncomfortable reading door-wide-open graphic terms or multiple partner encounters. (Judges can and should return books that make them feel uncomfortable so they can be sent to someone else for an unbiased appraisal, but it doesn’t always happen.)
My local brick-and-mortar bookstore recently dismantled its erotic romance section and now shelves all romance books alphabetically, regardless of heat level. I like that I can find my favorite authors such as Maya Banks or Jaci Burton or Lauren Dane’s books all together on one shelf instead of having to search two separate aisles, but it bothers a bookclub friend who preferred to head straight to the erotic romance section, knowing the book she’d pick up would be hot enough for her personal tastes. (I think it’s a little easier buying books online, as you can check the tags associated with the books, or the category it’s placed in.) What about the reader who wants that door left partially closed but picks up a book that used to be shelved in the erotic romance section?
Yes, it’s all about how the story is written, but if you like reading erotic romance, do you consider a story with graphic sexual terms and little kink still an erotic romance, or are you looking for that kink factor? What about those of you who prefer the bedroom door partially closed, are you finding more and more graphic sex creeping into your regular romances?