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Guest Opinion: The Changing Face of Erotic Romance

 

The following is a guest post from Leah Braemel.  I saw her write about this topic on her blog and asked if she would be willing to post something similar on Dear Author.  She agreed.  You can find out more about Leah Braemel’s books at her website: http://leahbraemel.com/.  

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?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

39 Comments

  1. Rosario
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 04:32:05

    My personal definition of erotic romance is simply a romance where a significant part of the relationship develops through sex. Period. It can have kink or not have any kink at all, and still be erotic romance, as far as I’m concerned.

    I realise, however, that many (most?) people have a different point of view, and would be disappointed if they bought an erotic romance and it turned out to be vanilla, so most are not. And that’s basically the reason I haven’t been reading erotic romance lately. Kink does nothing for me at all.

    BTW, I think this section:

    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.

    I don’t recognise this at all. I started reading mainstream romance in the early 90s, and the overwhelming majority left the door open and described the sex, in varying degrees of graphicness.

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  2. Cindy
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 05:50:27

    I find that I am rarely picking up books in the erotica section not because of the BDSM element so much but more that the sex just isn’t important to me. I prefer the partially closed door. But this is not limited to erotica, I find more and more mainstream romances where the Hero/heroine are just meeting and falling into bed together by around page 35. I like the journey of them falling in love before hitting the sheets. But I was told yesterday at work as I was complaining about this (I work at a bookstore) that this is the way the world works now.

    As a result, I find myself reading more inspirational romance or older titles. It’s not even that there is sex in the books, as that is part of the romance, but my word, there’s so much of it. I read a really good book the other week that I couldn’t give a high rating on on Good Reads because I had to wade through so many sex scenes that really were not important to the story.

    I’m sorry to hear that EC is including golden showers. I do hope they will be including that in their warnings because if I pick up one of their books (not that I buy that many), I’m going to be really ticked off about its inclusion. That is just not sexy to me at all.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m turning into a prude. I also have issues with sex scenes being included in the teen books. I know, I know, it’s the way of teen life now, but to me it condones and encourages it. No wonder there’s so much teen pregnancy now.

    Oh and back in the day, the way erotic romance romance was classified was graphic sex described in plain detail, not using euphemisms. Erotica was a whole other ball of wax.

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  3. Bev Stephans
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 05:53:35

    A sex scene has to be well written to be well received. It doesn’t matter whether or not it is ‘vanilla’, ‘erotic’ or ‘BDSM’. If a sex scene is boring, I just skip over it. Some very good authors don’t write very good sex scenes. I think they would be better off just closing the door.

    There are two authors that come to mind that write good sex scenes: Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb) and Maya Banks. Yes, their style is widely disparate, but they do know how to wring the emotion out of a sex scene and I enjoy reading both of these authors.

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  4. jan
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 06:34:40

    I never buy anything labeled erotic romance. I like erotica. I like romance. But I generally like one or the other. I get bored when romance focuses on sex too much as it does in many novels these days, because IMO most writers can’t write it well. But they try to exclusion of plot and character.

    I end up buying a lot of older used books on ebay.

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  5. Angela
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 06:40:33

    Erotic romance to me is also where a significant part of the relationship develops through sex. Level of kink doesn’t really factor into it, for me.

    I haven’t been in a brick and mortar store books since Borders closed, so I’m not sure how my local B&N handles it, but Borders had the erotic romance mixed in with the romance. I’m not even sure my local UBS carries erotic romances – if they do, I’ve never found them. At Borders it never bothered me that it was all mixed together, my only concern was the HEA/HFN at the end and it being well written. Everything else was just variety.

    I read, and enjoy, many levels of heat (from closed bedroom door, to graphic erotic romance) and a few levels of kink (from ‘vanilla’ to BDSM). But sex for sex’s sake in a book irritates me and can ruin a good book.

    I feel like a lot of “mainstream” romances contain much more graphic sex than when I first started reading romances. Though I don’t have any comparisons to back that up. It could have been where I was, and am, getting my reading from. I do still find some that I think are less graphic, and even a few that are closed door without being inspirationals. But overall, it feels like it’s more graphic.

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  6. Mary Anne Graham
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 07:10:43

    I still find the hero’s sexual angst and longing to be amongst the sexiest parts of a romance. It’s that element of anticipation, I guess, along with the fun of reading about a man who wants a woman that much.

    What I wonder is whether the whole “50 Shades” phenomenon is bringing us full circle back to “old school” romance – which I admittedly still enjoy. It seems to me that in the “old school” stories, from the beginning the man dominated physically and the woman dominated emotionally. By stories’ end, both characters were able to enjoy the physical within the context of what it meant emotionally to the relationship.

    I’ve read and written stories that go behind the bedroom door and others that don’t and I enjoy most levels of heat. I really believe that “mainstream” romance was becoming less erotic and more “closed door” prior to “50 Shades.” As much as highlighting the genre and some of the fine authors writing erotica, I think Ms. James’ book will turn up the heat level overall.

    And I haven’t read “50 Shades” yet – at almost $30.00, it’s too expensive for my budget.

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  7. Rosario
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 07:24:22

    @Mary Anne Graham:

    And I haven’t read “50 Shades” yet – at almost $30.00, it’s too expensive for my budget.

    $30?? Wow. It’s a lot cheaper over here in the UK, my friend picked it up yesterday at a supermarket for £3 (a little under $5).

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  8. Roslyn Holcomb
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 07:56:17

    I think that is the danger of focusing on sex and not story development. There are only so many ways you can insert Tab A into Slot B. When the story is only about sex you have to keep pushing the envelope and at some point it gets to be too much. The story develops THROUGH sex, but there still has to be a story. You still have to show how and why the characters fall un love, itherwise it’s just a series of sex acts. Sex acts between characters you have no emotional investment in is just boring, and kink, while it can be interesting within the context of a character’s development is just weird on its own. I’ve read some stoies where I seriously wondered if the people didn’t some type of disorder. It wasn’t erotic, it ctually was kind of, well bizarre.

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  9. Las
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 08:18:13

    I’ve never expected erotic romances to include kink, it’s just lots of explicit sex.

    I dislike romances with “closed doors,” so I actually like that graphic sex is sneaking it’s way in all over the place (I think there’s a pun in there somewhere). Not that I want all sex in Romance to be graphic, but I’ve been annoyed many times when a blurb gives the impression that there’s some sex and I end up reading something appropriate for a 10 year old.

    I’m not sure how I feel about erotic romance being mixed in with “regular” romance, though. I think it’s better for everyone if people know what they’re getting. I even wish reviewers would all have some kind of heat rating system so I’d know what I’m getting.

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  10. Eliza Knight
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 08:43:41

    I write erotic romance, and I define it as a romance, but with more graphic language and hotter sex scenes. I don’t think you have to have BDSM, anal or kink to make it an erotic story, its just hotter than a mainstream romance. To me, the sex isn’t the story–the characters and plot are what drives the story. If you take out the sex, an erotic romance should still have a solid plot. When you’re delving into sex being an integral plot point and the drive of the story, then it is Erotica. There is a difference.

    I think the reason stores are starting to combine these, and the reason contests are not having exclusive erotic categories is because mainstream romance is changing. Mainstream romance is becoming hotter and hotter. When we think of the bedroom door being closed, most often people think of inspirational romance or traditional Regencies (which by the way, Ellora’s Cave also publishes sweet romance–bedroom door closed). Think about it, YA, now has sex in it. The world itself is no longer seeing sex as something special, its become mainstream, an everyday occurrence.

    Also just to clarify, this is what Ellora’s Cave says on golden showers: “NO bodily functions as sexual activity (for example, scat). We may allow “golden showers” only in
    our Kink, Exotika, and male/male stories.”

    So this doesn’t mean all the stories will have it in there–you’ll know if its been included, there will be a warning. A couple of my E.C. books have warnings–and NOT because of golden showers, but because the book depicts public sex and another because it depicts a rape and violence (not the h/h). E.C. is very conscious of its readers’ opinions and works hard to make sure you know just what you’re getting.

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  11. DS
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 09:10:33

    Thea Devine who wrote for Zebra was I think one of the first mainstream authors to be labeled as writing erotic romance– mid 1990′s(?). The book had, I remember some eye rollingly bad sex scenes involving fake bdsm– someone being struck by silk ribbons or tied up with silk ribbons (or both). Her prior books had vanilla graphic sex and were IMO hotter than anything I read by her after.

    The last time I read an erotic romance (2010) was inspired by a review of some book by Mrs. Giggles. I thought the idea of the hero being a Satyr with two dicks was hilarious. Except it wasn’t when I actually read it. It also had a lot of villain sex which was where authors used to dump anything they thought kinky, in this case lesbianism, incest and human sacrifice. There was also a regency era feel (titles and clothes) I never did understand.

    I have no objection to erotica but some of the crossover stuff seems to inspire ewwww gross rather than heat.

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  12. JacquiC
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 09:12:35

    I read almost all heat levels, though I sometimes feel cheated where the bedroom door is completely closed. But now that I’ve gotten over my initial excitement at the novelty of reading explicit sex (I came back to reading romance/erotic romance as an older adult, after being away from it for many years), I am more and more picky about the storyline.

    The sex scenes need to be well written, emotionally as well as physically engaging and serve some purpose in the overall story arc. Sex for the sake of sex doesn’t really do it for me. And all the kink (the obligatory anal sex, menages and BDSM scenes) can sometimes seem like a way of trying to hide the fact that the underlying story isn’t there. Which is not to say that I haven’t read good examples of books involving a certain degree of kink. But there do seem to be a LOT of bad ones out there too.

    I agree with the example cited — Anne Calhoun’s Liberating Lacey — as one of the best I’ve read. I haven’t liked other things she has written as much. Cara McKenna’s stuff (Curio, OMG) also fits the bill, for the most part.

    I sometimes have the impression that we, as a society, are moving more and more towards the complete commodification of sex, with a reluctance to impose any boundaries on what is or is not taboo. At the same time, there are very odd attitudes to sex from parts of society, and in particular, about the things that women should feel/think about sex. I haven’t studied this, and I’m sure others have and could say it better than I can. And maybe I’m just getting old…

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  13. Tamara Hogan
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 09:25:16

    Bev Stephans said, about Nora Roberts and Maya Banks:

    … but they do know how to wring the emotion out of a sex scene…

    This, to me, is the key point: emotion. Regardless of heat level, a love scene simply isn’t fulfilling to me if I don’t gain some insight into the characters’ emotional relationship while they explore the physical.

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  14. Ridley
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 09:31:06

    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?

    That question sums up why erotic romance is terrible. Authors, editors and readers see the sub-genre as a romance with bonus features. Just write a regular romance plot, then go back and shoehorn in gratuitous sex scenes, the more choreographed, the better.

    I hate erotic romance as a genre because it’s written so poorly. I can only assume it’s consumed by people who haven’t discovered Literotica. If you want gratuitous sex scenes in graphic language that don’t work to move a plot forward, just read Literotica’s romance forum for free. The craft level is about the same and the sex is pretty hot.

    If I were to hazard a guess, the popularity of BDSM themes in erotic romance is due to how BDSM prompts a conversation between the characters. You don’t just watch the characters bone ad nauseam, you see them negotiate boundaries and learn more about themselves through the sex scenes. BDSM forces authors to make their sex scenes purposeful.

    Personally, erotic romance bores me stiff. If I want a well-written story, I read a romance. If I want a hot read that explores sexuality in a meaningful way, I avoid the hell out of erotic romance and head straight to erotica.

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  15. Merrian
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 09:52:40

    @JacquiC:
    I really agree with your thoughts:

    “…The sex scenes need to be well written, emotionally as well as physically engaging and serve some purpose in the overall story arc. Sex for the sake of sex doesn’t really do it for me. And all the kink (the obligatory anal sex, menages and BDSM scenes) can sometimes seem like a way of trying to hide the fact that the underlying story isn’t there. Which is not to say that I haven’t read good examples of books involving a certain degree of kink. But there do seem to be a LOT of bad ones out there too…”

    I recently read Lauren Dane’s latest de la Vega Cats book. It was meh for me with both plot and the characters of the heroine and hero leaving me underwhelmed. I really liked though, the way they desired each other and the heroines openess to her own desires and her expecation of good sex as a norm/matter of course. To me that is erotic and what I want to see in a romance. I just want the world building, characters and plot to live up to it as well.

    I want to leave the protagonists in a better place when I reach the end of the book, that isn’t always a HEA but it should be the result of the experiences including the sexual ones they have along the way. Actually Amy Lane & Aleks Voinov’s book ‘Country Mouse’ illustrates this. They hook up first and through the sex make a connection that opens them to the possibilities in each other and for relationship. The sex is the catalyst not the outcome but it is the thing that opens them both up and creates new potentials for them. The story leaves them at the point they recognise this and get to work on creating a relationship. I wonder if there is more opportunity in m/m stories for sex to be a catalysing experience than in m/f still?

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  16. Merrian
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 09:56:13

    @Ridley: I really agree with this great point about BDSM

    “…If I were to hazard a guess, the popularity of BDSM themes in erotic romance is due to how BDSM prompts a conversation between the characters. You don’t just watch the characters bone ad nauseam, you see them negotiate boundaries and learn more about themselves through the sex scenes. BDSM forces authors to make their sex scenes purposeful….”

    But it does leave me wondering how far we haven’t come if so much is not able to be spoken in and through the sexual elements of romance stories.

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  17. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 10:11:25

    I agree that the lines are blurring between erotic romance and other subgenres. Shiloh Walker’s Broken has an anal sex scene between the hero and heroine, for example. I’ve never read that in mainstream romance before.

    My definition of erotic romance used to be based on quantity. 50% or more sexual content = ER. But I like the idea of the relationship developing through sex. I’ve also heard that if you take the sex scenes out of an ER, the story will fall apart. Which is why I’m on the fence as to whether Liberating Lacey is an erotic romance. With fewer or less detailed sex scenes, that book would still be great. There is a lot happening outside of the bedroom with that couple.

    Beth Kery’s Paradise Rules, which I also love, would be nothing without the sex scenes. It’s not the kinkiest story but the characterization and romance is totally tied into how they relate to each other sexually.

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  18. Gillyweed
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 10:49:48

    I’m with Ridley and jan. I have no use for the erotic romance genre whatsoever. There are lots of romance authors who write the steamy, bedroom-door-open sex scenes that I prefer and they write them well (Sherry Thomas and Karen Foley!!). When I’m in the mood for something naughty and adventurous, I read straight up erotica. In that case, I find romance/relationship building intrusive. I just want the characters to get it on already!

    I’ve definitely seen sex scenes get hotter over the years in regular romance. When I was a teenager, I thought Johanna Lindsey was the hottest thing since wasabi on sliced bread. I was recently reading one of her books–yeah, it was still steamy, but the sex scenes were somewhat fade-to-black. Not at all what I remembered. I think the line between romance and erotic romance is blurring because younger readers like myself expect graphic sex. But the sex always has to tie back into the romance, otherwise you start getting sex-scene fatigue.

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  19. Tina
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 11:40:07

    I used to simply throw any book that had graphic sex scenes in it as ‘Erotica.’ However over time my perceptions of Erotica, Erotic Romance and Romance are slowly morphing into just ‘Romance’ and Erotica.

    Erotica is where the sex is paramount, not the relationship between the two. It can account for the lion’s share of the word-count or it can overwhelm any hints of a relationship trying to be built or it can just be PWP. But usually this category I tend to reserve for books where the sex is explicit, copious, all important and the relationship is nil or close to.

    But if the book has a strong central relationship, with some real romance based emotion, I am more and more inclined to simply call it Romance and leave off the ‘erotic’ qualifier. The amount or graphic-ness or type of sex doesn’t really matter as long as it is the relationship that I end up feeling most gratified about. And frankly you have to begin to have some sort of sliding scale to qualify what is ‘Erotic’ and what isn’t. Some writers write plain vanilla sex extremely graphically and some describe ‘kinky’ acts but rather more…decorously. In that vein, I think Bertrice Small’s Skye O’Malley was a lot more graphic than some EC titles.

    Also, I am glad that everyone is name checking Anne Calhoun’s Liberating Lacey because it is a great example of what I am talking about. It has a lot of sex, the couple have sex right away after meeting, but I would not categorize it as erotica. The relationship they build is incredible and the book was would just as effective without the sex scenes being as graphic as they are.

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  20. kate Pearce
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 11:46:21

    I started writing erotic romance way back when it was considered terribly shocking to have a) the bedroom door fully open, b) graphic sexual words used instead of euphemisms and c) no third party involvement either male or female. I wrote the stories that I wanted to read, as there weren’t that many out there and, after I discovered EC in 2003, I ended up writing my first book for them.
    But, for me, erotic romance is so much more than about the sex. It is an opportunity to explore the most honest and raw of the characters emotions in sexual situation where they cannot hide what they desire, or who they are. I never sit down to write and go “Hmm, what kink shall I put in this book today?” The sex comes from the needs and desires of the characters, not from the author’s desire to shock.
    So as the lines have blurred significantly over the years, so has the insistence that an author needs to spice up the sexual content. Reading sex scenes which are just added for the sex alone,shows, and any reader will get bored by them eventually, which is why I see the desire for more kink, more extremism etc.
    I don’t know what the answer is, all I know is that I try and write books where the emotions, the characters, the plot and the sex are wrapped up so tightly together that they deliver not only a sexual thrill but a great love story.

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  21. This is why I don’t buy books at Big Box anymore | The Bewildered Writer
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 12:59:40

    [...] nice and let the naughtier cousins hang out. It’s not like my Big Box is the only one — Leah Braemel describes a similar shift in her local Big Box. And frankly, there are more atmospheric places to buy smut than a place that vaguely stinks of [...]

  22. Aleksandr Voinov
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 13:53:00

    Do I need kink? Well, I’m probably one of the more graphic authors out there (in the m/m space), but for me it comes down to character. If my characters are into BDSM, then I’ll write it. If the are shy and/or vanilla, then I don’t. I’ve written hundreds of pages of kink-fest that was covering territory I’d never touch in real life (knife-play, fisting, the works), but my latest mostly-finished story’s one sex scene is only alluded to, but emotionally incredibly intense (I hope. I also trust my beta, and I’m not selling this story yet because it’s not nearly ready yet). That’s because basically the character just did not want to behave like a porn star, and as a man born in 1920, had his own issues surrounding sex and intimacy.

    So, as a writer, the characters have to be into it and it depends a lot on the mood of the book, too. Some are hotter than others, some are kept together by sexual tensions, in others, sex is a sideshow (a sub-plot rather than The Main Plot).

    As a reader, I’m pretty much still along those lines. I sometimes think I can feel than an author is not actually happy with whatever heat level they are writing, and there are some authors that almost write out-of-character when it comes to the sex – be it that their publishers require them to start off with sex, be it that they are desperate for higher sales. But generally speaking, I think quality suffers if an author is not comfortable with the “openness/closedness” of the bedroom door.

    Also, BDSM is one of those things that are rarely written right. I’ve seen a lot of publishers tag pure, unadulterated rape as “BDSM”, and then everybody talks about how BDSM sells many copies, which only creates more awfully-written BDSM. I’d wish people who have no clue about BDSM just wouldn’t write it, because this makes people who live the lifestyle look really ugly (“You’re into BDSM, so you rape your wife?”).

    But whatever works for people. :)

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  23. Angela
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 14:16:28

    @Aleksandr Voinov:

    Also, BDSM is one of those things that are rarely written right. I’ve seen a lot of publishers tag pure, unadulterated rape as “BDSM”, and then everybody talks about how BDSM sells many copies, which only creates more awfully-written BDSM. I’d wish people who have no clue about BDSM just wouldn’t write it, because this makes people who live the lifestyle look really ugly…

    This! I enjoy reading well written BDSM, but finding that well written BDSM amongst the majority (in my experience) of badly written BDSM is a daunting task. And talking to one person in the lifestyle is not always the best way to get a clue about it.

    And I absolutely agree that authors should write what they’re comfortable with and what’s appropriate to the story. Not every story can handle/needs extremely explicit sex. One of my favorite authors writes completely closed door, because – I believe – she’s not comfortable writing it more open-doored. And I love her work. The intimacy is still there without the sex, and I think that’s something that would be lost if she were forced to shoehorn sex into a novel where she doesn’t want/need to.

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  24. Aleksandr Voinov
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 14:26:01

    @Angela: Amen! I have a few go-to authors for kink (like Rachel Haimowitz, who’s a lifestyler and hence knows what she’s writing about, and her collaboration with Cat Grant was absolutely scorching hot and real, though the Dom really makes some terrible mistakes), but overall, I’m extremely mistrustful of authors who write BDSM because “it’s expected” or “it sells!” There are whole publishers that I simply don’t trust when they tag their books.

    And, yes, I believe authors have an erotic comfort zone and it’s a crying shame that editors and publishers push them out of it. I know several authors who tried hard to get into one of the big e-publishers, but were well aware that that e-publisher requires “at least” one explicit erotic scene in the first chapter (or so the rumour goes – I haven’t subbed to them, so I don’t know this first-hand). So they rewrote their books and crammed in sex to appeal to that publisher, only to end up hating what they did to their characters. I do believe we can all tell the difference if the sex was pushed in or whether it arose (ok, bad pun) from the characters’ deepest needs and desires.

    And you don’t even need sex to sell. Kirby Crow’s “Scarlet and the White Wolf” series has extremely limited amounts of sex and is hugely popular.

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  25. Lynne Connolly
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 15:00:10

    IMO there is no erotic romance genre. I write historical romance, contemporary romance and paranormal romance, some of them to an erotic level, which means that the sex is an integral part of character development, story development, or both. Yes, you can do a story about sex, for instance where one character has been damaged by rape or has never explored that part of themselves.
    If the story doesn’t need that kind of input, then I don’t do it.

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  26. hapax
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 16:52:16

    As one of the ones who has no particular objection to graphic sex in a romance, but is usually bored by it because there is no narrative need or emotional connection, yeah, I pretty much skip anything labelled an “erotic romance.”

    Which is a pity, because I do think that BDSM or other kinks can be very effective characterization or part of a story line — whether they are described graphically with charts and maps, or just alluded to over muffins in the morning.

    Which is why this quoted statement from EC:

    We may allow “golden showers” only in our Kink, Exotika, and male/male stories.”

    annoys the heck out of me.

    Why is m/m always assumed to belong to the category of “kinky” and “erotica”? Why is it so outre to think that two men (or two women) can have a loving romantic relationship that can be depicted in “sweet”, “inspirational”, and “closed bedroom door” kinds of ways?

    I like reading m/m and f/f mostly because (when well-written) it doesn’t come with the sort of icky gender-based power issues that plague even many otherwise stellar m/f romances. Why do publishers assume that I’m only reading it to get my freak on?

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  27. LisaCharlotte
    Apr 24, 2012 @ 19:47:36

    Open door sex in romance isn’t new. I started reading romance in the mid to late 70s and there was some pretty raunchy stuff back then (including anal- R Rogers and B Small). Every time someone says “but i wouldn’t want a teen to read the erotic stuff” I have to wonder if these adults were that sheltered as teens. I didn’t discover anything reading romance that I hadn’t already heard about thru gossip and non romance reading already.

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  28. Merrian
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 00:04:10

    @Merrian: I also meant to say that five years ago both these books would have been listed in erotica/erotic romance categories and these days they are what they should be ‘romances’

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  29. Merrian
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 00:06:39

    @hapax: Really agree with this concern

    “…Why is m/m always assumed to belong to the category of “kinky” and “erotica”? Why is it so outre to think that two men (or two women) can have a loving romantic relationship that can be depicted in “sweet”, “inspirational”, and “closed bedroom door” kinds of ways?…”

    I think it highlights the fetishisation issue that is of real concern with the m/m genre

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  30. cleo
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 07:51:54

    I prefer to read erotica / lots of hot sex in short story or novella length. There are exceptions, but it seems like it’s much harder to erm, sustain all that hot sex plus a believable plot, good character development, etc. I’ve never really understood the erotic romance category, so I’m not sure if it’s changing or not.

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  31. cleo
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 07:55:28

    @hapax:

    I like reading m/m and f/f mostly because (when well-written) it doesn’t come with the sort of icky gender-based power issues that plague even many otherwise stellar m/f romances.

    Exactly. I’m really new to reading m/m and f/f, but that’s what I noticed right away. I didn’t get the m/m trend until I read my first m/m and I noticed how easily it bypassed a lot of cultural baggage m/f romance doesn’t.

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  32. ReadingPenguin
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 08:38:20

    @Bev Stephans:

    But just as there are good authors who write bad sex scenes, there are authors who write great sex scenes but are terrible at everything else. What I’ve noticed, and this is unfortunate, is more and more authors getting published who only know how to make to characters boink. They have no idea how to build an emotional journey or meaningful dialogue. It’s a shame.

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  33. Leah Braemel
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 09:39:36

    I’ve never really understood the erotic romance category

    @Cleo Erotic romance means there is a happy-ever-after ending for the couple(s) where erotica can have the participants going off on their own way with no guarantee of an HEA at the ending.

    five years ago both these books would have been listed in erotica/erotic romance categories and these days they are what they should be ‘romances’

    And yes, @Merrian, that’s exactly what I’ve been noticing as a reader/buyer these days and what prompted my original stream-of-consciousness post on my blog after a discussion of that very issue with my local romance bookclub members.

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  34. Jane
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 09:48:42

    Leah, thanks so much for allowing me to post this. I’m with Ridley, Jan, Gillyweed. I need more emotion in the bedroom scenes. One reason I have stopped reading novellas for the most part is because erotic novellas do not give enough attention (for the most part) to an emotional arc.

    One of the reasons why I think 50 Shades resonates with many readers is because of the emotional arc that is accompanied by the sex. The couple doesn’t have much sex but there is a ton of talk about it; a ton of discussion regarding intimacy issues and trust issues. As Ridley points out, BDSM is the same way. It gets into the headspace of characters.

    One of the few novellas I’ve read recently that I felt really nailed the emotional arc while still bringing the sexy is Maya Banks’ Four Play. When I re-read the book, I often skip the sex scenes and definitely the ones that don’t include one male not part of the foursome but she does a super job in exploring emotional connectivity vis a vis the physical connection. Anne Calhoun excels at this as well.

    I disagree that you could take the sex out of Liberating Lacey and still have the same story. The whole dynamic rested upon Hunter believing he could only handle a physical relationship and Lacey spreading her metaphorical wings in that regard. Sex was a huge part of their initial connection and the emotional arc.

    In some, I don’t think BDSM is a huge fantasy for the majority of romance readers or even erotic romance readers. It is just that in those books, there is a lot of emotion between the characters.

    I was reviewing my notes for Lust in the Library. I’m polishing up my review. I was struck at how mechanical all the sex scenes were and how lacking in any emotion there was. The stark lack of emotion makes it read like bad porn. Even the sex scenes lacked any kind of emotive value.

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  35. SAO
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 10:12:22

    I don’t read hotter romances because too often I find prolonged and repeated sex scenes boring at best and often a turn off. Not even mentioning anal sex, which sounds as erotic as an enema, with repeated sex scenes, there’s often a focus on making them different. So they do acrobatic contortions that sound uncomfortable or apply sticky food to odd body parts or do stuff in public that anyone with decency wouldn’t embarrass themselves or their fellow restaurant patrons by doing.

    In fact, the too frequent, too long sex scenes often seem like the waving of the sequel bait. Something that you have to get through before the plot starts moving again. I do enjoy good sex scenes, but it’s a rare book that has more than one good scene.

    I don’t mind closed doors or hints, if you can write a good book but not a good sex scene and it’s certainly preferbale to elbow-sucking foreplay as a prelude to contortious or anal sex, but now the genre is so codified that the heroines of the less explicit books tend to be either naive immature waifs and/or tediously prone to prayer.

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  36. Lynz
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 13:23:41

    When Harlequin decided to get rid of their Spice line and work its erotic romances into their HQN line, I ended up buying one of them, not knowing about the change. I think I lasted thirty pages.

    I have liked some erotic romances, but those ones were romances with explicitly erotic elements, not erotica with a romance storyline thrown in. Sex scenes for the sake of sex scenes piss me off, regardless of genre – any scene in any book should be moving the storyline along, and pausing to boink doesn’t do that – but there are way more of them in erotic romances. Which is why I avoid them unless they’re been recommended by someone I trust.

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  37. sunnygirl
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 15:37:22

    I’m pretty uncomfortable with the idea that erotic equals bdsm. Especially since bdsm so often equals male dominant (@hapax ‘s comment – “icky gender-based power issues” just about sums it up.)

    ‘Categorization’ of books (erotica, erotic romance, etc. etc.) comes under a lot of criticism, but I think that it really does serve a purpose in allowing readers to choose what they want to read about and to that extent I hope there continues to be differentiation.

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  38. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Left behind linkity
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 13:50:17

    [...] Leah Braemel on the changing face of erotic romance. [...]

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