Erotic Romance is NOT Erotica!

Lately, I’ve noticed some erotic romance authors referring to their genre as smut, or dirty, and to themselves with various similar titles — smutkateers or naughty authors, or various other titles, with the emphasis on the sexual content of their stories, and the beddable quality and sexual prowess of the heroes they write about.  I confess that these author sites leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve been writing and publishing erotic romance since 2003, which puts me in the vanguard of the erotic romance genre.  I’ve seen the genre through its entire evolution and I think its safe to say that it’s here to stay, and that I have a pretty good idea of what erotic romance is…and is not.

I can also say that I believe it’s still one of the most misunderstood genres inside one of the most misunderstood industries in publishing today.  Romance in general has always been utterly denigrated and misinterpreted by outsiders.  And now, even romance insiders are missing the point when it comes to erotic romance.

Erotic Romance

Erotic romance is a subset of the romance genre.  It is not a different species.  This is a critical point to remember, because everything else spring from this key definition.

Erotic romance is a romance, first and foremost.  It just happens to have an explicit and arousing sexual storyline to go along with the romance storyline.  Think of erotic romances as normal romances told with the bedroom door thrown wide open.

If you were to take out the romance storyline, you couldn’t tell the story.

And the reverse also holds true.

If you were to take out the sexual storyline, the story would also collapse.

A properly told erotic romance has character and romance elements entangled inside both the romance and the sexual storylines.  Taking either the romance or the sexual storylines out of the story wrecks the book.

Think of your own personal love story.  When you fell in love, you learned a lot about your new lover when you were in bed together, didn’t you?  And that learning didn’t just include sexual preferences.  You learn a lot about another person in such intimate circumstances.  Well, erotic romances acknowledge that fact and explore a romance properly, with the bedroom door open for the reader, showing a realistic romance.

Many erotic romance also have additional plotlines — romantic suspense, paranormal, mystery and more — and these storylines are balanced and interwoven between the romance and sexual storylines.


Erotica, on the other hand, is a genre of fiction that is completely unrelated to the romance genre…and therefore is completely unrelated to erotic romance.

Erotica has no romance in it.

Erotica has no additional plotlines in it.

Erotica is purely about the sexual activities of a protagonist, and any plotlines that exist in the story are built purely to titillate and arouse the reader.  Erotica is designed to be 100% a sensual experience for the reader and nothing else.  Language, plot, character, imagery, everything that happens in the book occurs purely for this goal.

As you can see, there is a vast difference between erotica and erotic romance.  That is why I find it troubling when erotic romance authors focus so heavily on the sexual content of their work, to the exclusion of the romance and storylines of the novels they’re writing.  Yes, sex is great, but it’s not the sole focus of erotic romances, which are still romances at their core, and always will be.


9 thoughts on “Erotic Romance is NOT Erotica!”

  1. Tracy, great post–I completely agree with your definitions of erotic romance and erotica. That said, I do think that most of the authors I’ve read who label themselves “smutty” or “dirty” or “naughty” do seem to do so in fun, playing with the sexual side of their stories a bit. I don’t believe I’ve seen that their stories are less romances, but it’s possible they might find readers who pick them up for the sex and stay for the story. At least, that’s what I’d hope 🙂 Your stories are wonderful examples of erotic romance–keep on writing and spreading the word!

    1. I hope you’re right, Fedora — that the readers come for the sex and stay for the story.

      I just think that these sites are conveying the wrong impression about erotic romance, which isn’t helping the genre’s reputation at all…and it certainly isn’t helping separate it from erotica in anyway. And I think erotice romance should be doing everything it can to define itself as different from erotica, and align itself as romance first, and erotic second, in order to help offload some of the crap and garbage that gets heaped on it because of misunderstandings about the differences between erotica and erotic romance.

      But…that is my opinion, and I know my opinion isn’t the only one.



      1. Excellent points, Tracy–I’m not sure what the fix is, partly because I think that there will still be readers who won’t touch romance, period, because of the negative connotations *that* genre has… Ugh! I guess I’m not personally bothered by readers who won’t try it because of the “sex” connotation because I think many of them who might not read it anyway, because of the more explicit nature of the stories, even though the type of story is completely different. Anyway, just blathering! 😉 Thanks again for the thoughtful post…

        1. Hi Fedora:

          Yes, you’re dead right. There are always going to be readers who won’t touch romance just because they have preconceived ideas and have “heard” what romance novels are like and therefore have decided that romance is garbage, or whatever (“light summer reading” is a phrase that makes me grind my teeth, for instance).

          And there is another set of readers who will never touch erotic romance because based on the name alone, they will prejudge it as “sinful” or whatever.

          Many of the readers from those two groups will be the same readers.

          Many of those readers will confuse erotic romance with erotica.

          It doesn’t matter. These readers are never going to be reached, converted or swayed because their minds are closed. You could talk at them, publicity campaign them to death, brand romance as the literature of the 21st century and have libraries endorse it…it still wouldn’t matter. These readers have stopped listening and no one will ever change their minds.

          I’m more interested in making sure that the (now) 55% of all readers in the world, who DO read romance, don’t get the wrong impression about erotic romance. I also want to make sure that new readers (teenagers and young adults who discover romance; new English speakers; foreign language speakers who are gaining access to our novels as they are translated and made available around the world; the friend you lend your most favourite romance novel to because she’s never read a romance before and she’s curious — all these people: I want to make sure that THEY don’t get the wrong impression about erotic romance and are repelled before they have a chance to dip into the sub-genre.

          The romance genre in general is steadily converting readers at a greater and greater rate. The romance genre is the great ice-breaker in the world of e-books. If erotic romance isn’t aligning itself with its parent genre (and sometimes it looks like it would rather be considered erotica, than not — which is the point of my post) then it will lose a great many of those readers.



  2. Oooooh, Tracy, you hit exactly what has been troubling me. I REALLY believe most people don’t understand the difference. I find it very troubling when writers refer to themselves that way. AND I believe there are many readers who DON’T try erotic romances because they believe they are erotica.

    This is an excellent explanation of the difference!

  3. THANK YOU!!! I’ve written a couple of erotic romances and get annoyed when someone tags them as erotica. NOT! The two terms are so confusing to many readers though.

    1. You’re welcome, Laura. It IS annoying to be lumped in with erotica. There’s nothing inherently wrong with erotica, except that the purpose of erotica is entirely different, and the reader picks up an erotica story with a completely different mindset, than the reader who picks up a romance. The line between erotic romance and erotica is very distinct and should be held so.

      I find it disturbing that many writers think that erotic romance is just a milder form of erotica.



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