June 14, 2015

Talking Shop: Why Write Erotic Romance?

I had a brief flirtation with the “bodice rippers” when I was in junior high and high school, as I think most young women do. I hid a few racy books in the back of my closet, pages dog-eared, and snuck them out late at night to read under the covers. I knew, though, even then, that romance books were “silly”. They were a stereotype of bored housewives and idealistic romantics. They were the very epitome of guilty pleasure.

Even when I started writing my own romance and erotic romance fiction, I distanced myself from it. These were the stories I wrote “for fun”. The ones I’d probably never publish, and maybe not even share with friends. They were a guilty pleasure. Who would take me seriously as an author?

http://www.amazon.com/Big-Book-Orgasms-Sexy-Stories-ebook/dp/B00E257UUW/ref=la_B00H34YFJ8_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1434336409&sr=1-1Discovering erotica matured my view on this, at least a little. Erotica wasn’t “silly romance”; it was real stories, real sexuality, new sexualities, a hundred new facets of our deepest intimate selves. Reading erotica opened my eyes to subjects that didn’t come up in the escapist tomes of bodice-ripping romance: polyamory; same-sex stories; men who were beautifully effeminate and women who were unapologetic in their quest for sex, not love, but sex. Erotica offered stories about toys and props, BDSM, oral and anal sex, public sex…so many, many different stories about sex!

But not just sex, but who we are as sexual beings. Before I started reading erotica, I honestly believed no one wrote romance stories for LGBT or transgender characters. I thought only highlanders or billionaire philanthropists could be the leading men in a romance. And I didn’t think a story about sexual heat could be serious.

These days, I’m an avid proponent of erotic romance becoming recognized as a serious genre, and taking it back from that world where the Harlequin bodice-rippers lead the way for young women to hide dog-eared books away where their friends and family won’t see. I want to break the stereotypes that follow readers of romance. And, most importantly, I’d like to blend the frank, curious, and celebratory sexual nature of erotica into the sweet indulgence of a long romance.

A little background on me: I’m 32, a cis-gender bisexual woman in a monogamous heterosexual marriage. I grew up in a Christian Reformed household, but these days I identify as being “in a Christ-based spiritual faith”, as I’ve never lost my belief in a higher power but I have a lot of problems with institutional religion, not the least of which are their proscriptions on human sexuality in just about every form. My educational background is in English Language and Literature, and I spent the full back half of my educational years studying, analyzing, discussing, and writing about literary theory, grammar, and books. I naturally enjoy delving into stories—written or in film and TV—to analyze all those things they can tell us.

With this in mind, I think erotic literature has a lot to teach us, as individuals and as a society. These are the stories that accompany sexual revolution and discovery. I spent the better part of a decade learning how books like Lord of the Flies, A Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Handmaids Tale and To Kill a Mockingbird have challenged and shaped societal norms and viewpoints. Even “escapist” genre literature like Lord of the Rings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dune, Dracula and Frankenstein have been studied in classrooms and found to be rich with messages beyond mere entertainment. If that’s the case, why can’t the romance genre also be taken seriously?

Of course, there are titles out there, recognized and respected by the mainstream, which are romance and sometimes erotic romance. I’ve already named at least three: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Great Gatsby, and Dracula all turn on ideas of romance, gender, and sexuality. So many of Shakespeare’s plays are erotic in nature, and so are some of The Canterbury Tales. Sexuality pervades some of our most important classics, and some of our most celebrated contemporary literature. Even children’s literature is praised when it explores themes of sexuality, love and gender, but not if it is presented as part of the romance genre.

And why do romance authors write romance? Why do we write erotic romance? Because people are beautiful creatures, and some of their greatest and most faceted beauty comes through in the revelation of their deepest, most intimate moments. While our sexuality and sexual natures are not inherently our only intimacies, they are some of our most vulnerable and most joyful intimacies.

It is my experience that we discover so much about ourselves when we begin to truly think about who we are sexually and romantically. I favor the blending of erotica and romance to bring a frank and beautiful treatment of sexuality to the stories of great love. This means romance novels with more bisexual and homosexual pairs, more polyamorous lovers, more transgender individuals, more exploration outside the bedroom or with new partners, and—imagine this!—more solo romances. Can you imagine a “bodice-ripper” where the main character’s plot arc is defined by their journey to sexually engage and fall head-over-heels in love with themselves?

And of course there’s the sexual indulgence side of this equation, where the “NC17” side of erotica tips our sweet bodice-rippers into a steamy hot tub and makes them lightheaded on champagne and dirty talk. Because those of us who read romance under the covers late at night have no reason to be afraid of sex toys, bad words, multiple orgasms, bi-curious adventures, restraints, nipple-clamps, or graphic masturbation. We could use fewer of those “typical” tropes and a more fresh sexcapades. We can love a story where the great romance blooms in a total power exchange relationship, or between one woman and two men, or a gender-fluid individual. We don’t need more of the same old dog-eared Harlequins…bring on some steamy—and deliciously emotional—tales of new, modern love.

Let’s bring romance out of the closet, and be proud to add it to our bookshelves.

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