Erotic Romance…What It Is, and Is Not.

Unmade Bed

Erotic romance first crept into the publishing industry at the turn of the millennium. Fast forward nearly fifteen years, and it’s one of the hottest genres in town, thanks to books (and now movies!) like Fifty Shades of Grey.

But despite fame, fortune and a decent dollop of notoriety, there are still a huge number of readers and even authors and editors, marketers and agents, who still don’t fully understand what erotic romance is.

…and what it is not. The most common misconception about erotic romance is that it’s just romantic (read “emotional” or “sappy”) erotica. It isn’t. Erotica is a quite separate genre with very little in common with erotic romance.

Erotic romance is many things, but it is not a sub-genre of Erotica.

Erotica is a specialized form of storytelling with very different aims from those of erotic romance.

Its primary function is to arouse and titillate the reader using language, metaphor, imagery and more. Everything in the book, including word-choice, is designed to provoke a physical response in the reader, and to stir their sensuality.

Erotica may have a coherent, linear plot. Then again, it may not have anything resembling a story at all – it could be a series of vignettes, scenes or “moments” all compiled with the sole objective of stimulating the reader’s physical responses. Viewpoint characters can change without notice, and there may not be a lead character at all.

There is a strong argument in favour of classifying Fifty Shades of Grey as Erotica – and not erotic romance.


Erotic Romance is a sub-genre of Romance

Erotic Romance began as a (very) racy sub-genre of romances. Romance authors were drawn to the freedom of story-telling available within erotic romance, as well as the unique (back then) method of telling a romance via the sexual sub-plot, plus all the very different types of stories that could now be told with the bedroom door wide open. Broad-minded readers loved them.

There are a great many rules and conventions that the Romance industry and its devoted readers expect to find within the pages of any romance. Erotic Romance meets every single one of those expectations…and delivers more, besides.

  1. 1. There is always a hero and a heroine. Sometimes there is more than one hero, but there is always at least one.
  2. 2. A romance always develops between the hero and heroine…and it always, always, always ends happily. (Thus disqualifying a huge number of stories that the non-romance reading public consider to be romances, including Gone with the Wind, and the Fifty Shadesseries).
  3. 3. There is romantic conflict. The happy-ever-after ending is always put in jeopardy in an Erotic Romance, just as it is within the pages of a “normal” romance – although often, the conflict is played out via sexual issues (but not always).
  4. 4. The hero(es) is/are always to die for. J
  5. 5. And often not acknowledged: Just like any other popular fiction genre, romances tell a story. There is a coherent plot, conflict, and a happy resolution.

Then there are the bonuses that Erotic Romance brings, including:

  1. 1. More adventurous story-telling. There are very few limits on what erotic romance readers are willing to try.
  2. 2. Sex! In all its steamy glory, described in loving detail.
  3. 3. Because the bedroom door is left open, the reader gets to see the romantic relationship developing through all its stages, from awkward (often hostile) strangers, through all the intimacy and trust that develops through sex , to the final conclusion of the romance. All the little by-plays and fun relationship building stuff that happen in a bedroom (or anywhere else!) the reader gets to share, too.

Erotic romance is a mature market

Erotic romance, when it first became popular, inched its way into the hearts and minds of romance readers a step at a time.   The very first erotic romances (including a few of mine) were considered racy and risqué, and for most of the romance industry, quite shocking with their frank language and imagery. But now, fifteen years on, those early erotic romances are just sexy romances. They don’t qualify as erotic romance anymore.

Those tamer, older erotic romances’ frank sex scenes barely raise eyebrows, while the other end of the erotic romance spectrum has extremes of BDSM, multiple partners, and much, much more. Erotic romance authors keep pushing the limits, experimenting and having a great time telling new, fresh stories.

Erotic romance has been absorbed into romanceland and now, quite often (and especially for the milder version), there are no warnings about hot sex, and the erotic romance is shelved amongst its tamer cousins, instead of being stuck in a discrete corner with plastic wrap and R-Rated labels slapped on it.

In other words, erotic romance is now just another sub-genre of Romance, like paranormal, romantic suspense and historicals. You get to pick and choose according to your personal reading tastes.

Makes you wonder what the inventive writers of romance will come up with next, huh?


This post first appeared on Bitten by Romance, May 2014

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