One of the great things about reading is that [the reader] gets to experience life without leaving home. That’s a wonderful learning/teaching opportunity that people don’t always take advantage of. Including me.
Being an avid reader, I often get “jaded” regarding the myriad adventures and “lives” I’ve lived as a reader. I don’t always take the time to explore my feelings: what touched/bothered me and why? I just close one book and crack open the next.
Recently, I read The Heat is On by Elle Kennedy and Seven Day Loan by Tiffany Reisz. I had different reactions to both stories as they are different sub-genres – but they both helped me to learn a little something more about myself. I’ll post a more detailed review of Seven Day Loan later – this post will focus on my feelings in relation to Erotic Romance, Erotica and the act of sharing a sexual partner.
Erotic Romance vs Erotica: There IS a difference
While I have always known that there is a difference between erotic romance and erotica, I never really cared about the difference. At the time I was reading anything with on-page sex in it so it didn’t make a difference. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become pickier about my book consumption and that “slight” difference between erotica and erotic romance became a gulf the size of the Grand Canyon.
As always, let’s start at the beginning with my favorite: definitions!
What is Romance (as a genre)? (From the RWA)
Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.
A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.
Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.
So, we’ve narrowed down Romance as a story that focuses on individuals falling in love and ends with optimism and the creation of a relationship (HEA). That’s a decent start, IMO. Notice that there is an emphasis placed on “an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending?” I can’t speak for everyone but for me this equates to an intended permanent relationship (what we call the Happily Ever After or HEA). Which means that stories that do NOT end with an HEA are not quite a part of the Romance genre even though they may have a lot of the hallmarks of a Romance novel. This does not mean that the story cannot be romantic, it’s just not technically meeting all of the requirements for the Romance genre.
So, what IS Erotica?
Erotica/Erotic Literature – according to Wikipedia – comprises fictional and factual stories and accounts of human sexual relationships which have the power to or are intended to arouse the reader sexually. Such erotica takes the form of novels, short stories, poetry, true-life memoirs, and sex manuals.
Notice that there’s nothing in the above definition about romance or permanent interpersonal relationships? Erotica is, by definition, a personal journey or experience about sex that can titillate.
Comparing Erotica to Erotic Romance
So how does Erotica compare to Erotic Romance? There are several sites that give great definitions of Erotic Romance but I felt that Sylvia Day had one of the best comparisons of Erotica vs Erotic Romance vs Sexy/Steamy Romance.
Erotica: stories written about the sexual journey of the characters and how this impacts them as individuals. Emotion and character growth are important facets of a true erotic story. However, erotica is NOT designed to show the development of a romantic relationship, although it’s not prohibited if the author chooses to explore romance. Happily Ever Afters are NOT an intrinsic part of erotica, though they can be included. If they are included, they weren’t the focus. The focus remained on the individual characters’ journeys, not the progression of the romance.
Erotic Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. The sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After is a REQUIREMENT to be an erotic romance.
Sexy Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship that just happen to have more explicit sex. The sex is not an inherent part of the story, character growth, or relationship development, and could easily be removed or “toned down” without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After is a REQUIREMENT as this is basically a standard romance with hotter sex.
I really like Sylvia Day’s take on Erotica vs Erotic Romance. I feel it clearly shows a difference between the different “heat levels” and categories. For me, it also helped me to re-categorize Seven Day Loan.
My readings of both Seven Day Loan and The Heat is On really made me confront my feelings about erotica and the sharing of sexual partners. I’ve learned that I really don’t care for sharing sexual partners. And I am not sure why!!! I would hazard the guess that it’s due (in part) to my nature: I am a very jealous and protective person by nature. My jealously issues are an occasional joke between my husband and I – mostly because he’s just like me.
For some reason, some types of sharing doesn’t bother me as much as other types of sharing. I really hated the sharing in The Heat is On: there was no relationship of any kind between the heroine and the added sexual partner; the heroine’s motivation for the sharing was more based in a desire to harm the hero emotionally rather than about the sex itself.
Of course, being human I have some inconsistencies: I had no problem with the sharing that takes place in The Scientific Method by Joey W. Hill. Why did I not have a problem here? I’m not sure, to be honest. Maybe it’s because there was no penetration, only sex play? Maybe it was because I was literally swamped under by the huge wave of emotion that The Scientific Method contained? I don’t know but that one is surely an exception.
I also have no issues with menage books – in fact, I love reading menage romances. As I was reading The Heat is On I noted
I love reading menage books…but The Heat is On taught me something: I only like menage when the
couplegroup is working their way toward a committed relationship. I could give a shit if the romance starred one woman and seven bull shifting brothers – as long as the group is monogamous. Or polyamorous. Or what the fuck ever you call a huge group of people who only have sex with each other. I don’t give a shit, I just want the committed relationship and all the feels attached.
Seven Day Loan by Tiffany Reisz also made me confront a few things. The difference between erotica and erotic romance as well as the whole sharing situation. In Seven Day Loan the heroine is left by her Dom for a week with a [male] stranger, the hero. During this time she is expected to obey [the hero] as well as to perform sexually if he so chooses. I really felt the story was fascinating but by the end I felt it should be classified more as erotica vs erotic romance. The hero and heroine did show character growth BUT there was no emphasis on relationship – the H/h did not have a relationship. The heroine was simply “on loan.”
The emotions I had at the end of Seven Day Loan really drove home my aversion to erotica (and helps me understand why I’ve avoided reading The Story of O). I could (and did) enjoy the story but the ending and the implications of the ending really bothered me.
I want that HEA. In a way I need that HEA. It’s the whole reason I read Romance and I feel…cheated when I don’t get it.