Talking Point - Love and Lust
What makes erotica and erotic romance so popular among readers? Is sex necessary for a healthy relationship for anyone not asexual? Is it titilation or fantasy? Carolyn Hector, Kait Gamble and Aleksandr Voinov tell us how to walk the line between the erotic and the pornographic.
Carolyn Hector talks about the importance of personal taste and finding the right level of smexy for you.
Lu-lu-lusty novels! Thanks to a certain trilogy and the privacy Kindle offers, these erotic tales have become popular. Now-a-days they’re a step above the old Dear Penthouse letters and leave you fulfilled with a story and a happy ending—no pun intended. We’re in an era where expressing your sexuality is not taboo any more. People are comfortable with their desires and tweet about them often rather than suppressing them. Taboo back in the day for me was George Michael’s I Want Your Sex. You knew the world was changing when a few years later, Color Me Badd's I Wanna Sex You Up was a hit.
At one point in time, Erotic Romance/Erotica was taboo. Oh wait, did you know there is Erotic Romance and Erotica. Depending? In the RWA world, Erotic Romance is the one with the HEA (Happily Ever After). But let’s be honest, regardless of the definition/category/genre, we’re grabbing these novels because of the love story with the explicit sex. For me, I like sex in the books I read. I’m not a huge fan of the group sex, whips, or voyeurs, but if that’s what floats your boat, so be it. I like the idea of slipping into a world where people let go of their inhibitions and say what they want and grab and feel where they want (of course as long as both parties consent).
View on the difference, Sasha White’s article.
Sorcha Grace has a great chart.
This type of romance is here and here to stay. Why? Because there are so many different authors writing different heat levels. There is the perfect book out there for you. It took me a while to figure out what I like.
My recollection between the difference of erotica vs erotic romance goes back a long time ago.
Erotic Romance―there I was, minding my own business at the public library at the tender young age of...oh I don’t know. I see this book front and center of a revolving bookstand. The risqué cover was that of a woman in a bodice―although I just thought it was her weird bra―with her breast practically exposed and some man cradling her in his arms. Don’t ask me what the name of the book was or the title. My eyes were focused on the woman and how much she looked like she enjoyed being there. I was old enough to know that my mother wouldn’t appreciate me picking that book to read. I wanted it!
My first Erotica encounter between the pages of a err um… Well, it was a nudie magazine. We’re all adults here. We’ve all seen the naked folks on the pages. No? So I’m the only one with brothers who had stacks of magazines hidden in a brown paper bag in a grocery store bag tucked under their beds behind the cracked piggy banks just out there for anyone to see? Yes, I admit it… I looked. But it wasn’t very fulfilling. There was no story behind the scenes, just the end results. I needed to know how they got to that point, who were all the extra people and why were they there.
**Side note—As an author, I once delved into a review on one of my books where a reviewer said it was an okay book but just not enough sex for him or her. I was also published after the age of forty. My heroine was a single mother of two. Maybe I made it too realistic for the reviewer… That when you’re juggling those things, you’re not going to get a lot of sex scenes when it is her week with the kids.**
Anyway, you like it, sex at some point comes into play when you’re reading romance, but there are different levels. Of course, you’re not going to find your hot bow-chica-wow-wow sex in a religious romance book.
I like to think of your preference of steamy love—aka erotic—scenes and books the same as the great steak debate:
Tell me if I’m wrong…
The blue of ER: I would consider that your raw hardcore, picture books—aka—your nudie mags.
Rare: Just might be your group sex, sex with objects being used while the people in your books are going to have lots of sex that just might get you tingling in places (can I say that?). These may leave you turning your head to the side wondering…how?
Medium to Medium Rare: are your people are having an extra healthy dose of sex from one-to-two great scenes that are going to leave you hot and bothered and a need to change your panties.
Medium Well: you’re probably going to get some kissing and closed-door sex.
Well Done: Well, there’s absolutely no sex. Dry.
What level you like your meat cooked is up to you, either way, I don’t judge—I mean if you order your steak well-done I may side eye you, but other than that, enjoy your meat… I mean your book.
Erotic romance and erotica are huge. There’s no denying that. But why? Kait Gamble has a few thoughts on the subject.
On the surface there’s the naughty factor. People love to do things that are risqué and reading erotic stories is definitely one of those things. Feeling as though you’re doing something illicit while right underneath other people’s noses? Even better! How many times have you been on your commute reading something on your phone or ereader that makes you squirm with delight while there are others around? They have no clue what’s on the page or going through your mind. Makes you feel alive doesn’t it?
For me, the sex is just another piece of the characters’ story. I love getting to know the characters, what they think, how they feel and an intimate scene can help further that. The journey the author shares with the reader is rife with detail to bring the story to life. They tell us what they wear, what they eat, what they see and smell, and even what they feel. So why does that have to stop when things get sexy? In my opinion, all readers are voyeurs. What else do you call what we do? We jump into the lives happening on the page and want to know everything about the characters. Sex is a part of our lives so why wouldn’t it be a part of lives of the people we read’? Reading the details makes them more complete. More real.
We want to connect with people, even if they only exist on the page. We want to know that we aren’t the only ones going through what we are, doing what we do. So, when we find characters who like sex the way we do or have similar kinks, it makes us feel less isolated. In a world where most of our connections are made on screen from behind carefully chosen avatars, it’s only natural to look for other ways to feel as though you belong. Feeling a link with a character in a book has to be one of the least threatening ways of doing that. It gives you the chance to explore and learn with little risk.
The spotlight on lust in these stories adds to the fantasy. It isn’t often that you meet someone who will knock the breath from your lungs or make your knees tremble. When was the last time you met your perfect match outside of your imagination? Doesn’t happen a whole lot, does it? So, when you can pick up a book and you can live vicariously through the characters and feel that heart pounding attraction why wouldn’t you? That’s not to say that, as a writer, all you need to focus on is the lust. When mixed with the right dose of emotion, it can make quite an impact on the reader.
Erotic romances can give readers a glimpse into a world that can be familiar or, if you’re lucky, give you a glimpse of something new and tantalizing. Perhaps even something that will enrich your own life. Picture reading something that gets your imagination humming and transferring that to real life. Being able to share it with someone you care about and trust could be quite fulfilling.
Or, conversely, you could learn things you definitely not want to try. Reading about a character being dominated or who enjoys exhibitionism might highlight it’s not your cup of tea just as much as it might spark some curiosity.
In the end, reading erotica and erotic romance is all about self-discovery and entertainment while, maybe, adding a little to your life.
Aleksandr Voinov has been burned by publishers confusing porn and erotica, and argues the case for emotional and visceral connection.
I remember one of my books being turned down by a publisher because it took my characters three chapters to get it on. That publisher is no longer with us, and considering how messily it went down, I count that as a lucky miss. But I was still puzzled and intrigued by the rule of “sex in the first chapter, ideally in the first scene” from a romance publisher.
I sat down and pondered whether I could cut the first two chapters and skip straight to the sex, but the truth was, couldn’t make it work. For me, personally, for sex to sizzle on the page, I need to know who these characters are and the sex has to move something emotionally and mentally―certainly if the characters involved are going to end up together. So I never responded to the “revise and resubmit” email.
Since then, I’ve written all over the spectrum―books with very “blink and you’ll miss it” or fade-to-black sex scenes, and out and out pornographic kink fests, in part because I wanted to try something but mostly because the characters I created would have sex in that particular way and it was important for me as the author to stay honest and write the characters how they would behave in bed―regardless of whether their kink or sexual hang-ups are my own or not. Some characters are not comfortable having sex like porn stars. Others can’t wait to get going.
When thinking about the “heat level” of every project, I think more of the character than the reader, to be honest, though in m/m romance, sex is still very (very) popular and I think likely has an impact on sales. I was told readers expect 5-7 explicit sex scenes for a novel and I should really keep up my side of the deal, since wide swathes of m/m seem to be driven by sex. And that’s fine―I think having sex-positive books is great, and we should all handle sex in fiction like adults. If people want sex in books, in whatever combination, with whatever kinks, all power to them (us).
And as a reader, when I really get into a character (ahem), I often think, or fantasise, about how they would have sex, what they look like with their clothes off, what they like in bed. All that sexual tension between the characters needs a release―and whether that’s in my mind or on the page (or both)―doesn’t really make much of a difference. But I also think that “being into the character” is important―I still want to know who this person is, what drives them, what they desire, what their vulnerabilities are, the things that make them blush and feel both safe and vulnerable.
If the character is not developed―if the character is essentially nothing but a well-endowed body that goes through the motions and has nothing more to say than a few lines of porn dialogue that get looped endlessly―I think visual porn is actually superior to written erotica or porn. Visual porn will always be more detailed and better at the sex and the sexual fantasy (and you can always turn down what little bad dialogue there is).
Meanwhile, written erotic material in my view stands and falls with the character―who is about to have sex, what does it mean to them, what are their issues, how do they feel about it and their partner? Erotic romance and romance can even show the progression of intimacy and emotions.
As an example, my Dark Soul series stands and falls with a couple very dangerous criminals first feeling the attraction, then acting on it, then progressing to emotional involvement, even obsession, and then it messed up their lives. I can explore why Stefano is very reluctant to get emotionally involved (gay men get vanished in the mafia), and how he navigates his bisexuality, preferably without getting murdered. I can explore gender presentation with hit man Silvio who just loves getting himself into erotic trouble and pushes certain people into victimising him because that’s how he gets off.
Still, most of the conflict and development of the characters hinge on who they are and how they got to that place and what they risk by getting involved with each other. For me, personally, that’s more interesting than showing two bodies getting off in the first scene.
So, how do you like your meat? I mean erotica! Of course. Who are your favourite erotic romance authors? Do you like a slow build or a quick...read? Have you struggled meeting the expectation, particularly on LGBTQIA+ authors? Comment below or tell us on social media!