One night at RWA, I was sitting in the bar talking with Sabrina York and Tara Sheets (GSRWA chaptermates) and somehow we started talking about erotic romance. What I remember most about that conversation was talking about reading it and Tara’s assertion that I was a closeted erotic romance writer.
She could be right.
I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten more comfortable writing sex scenes (and as I’ve read more and more smutty stuff) that those scenes have gotten a lot more…explicit. Are they Victoria Dahl/Nalini Singh level explicit? Not quite. Getting there, but not quite. Give me another few books, and I’ll probably hit it.
I stumbled across this article not too long ago, describing the difference between a steamy romance and erotic romance. The gist was in an erotic romance, the sex was the point. It was what drove the relationship forward and ultimately led to the bond between the characters engaged in the act. This goes along with what Ellora’s Cave founder Tina Engler said in an interview with Zola (and her assertion that erotic romance is more true to human nature is spot on).
I’ve gotta disagree. A few years ago, they’d be correct. But romance of late has started blurring that line, and not just with the language. Take a look at any one of the Psy-Changeling books, especially the ones between two shifters. C’mon, Mercy and Riley could barely keep their clothes on around each other. In Victoria Dahl’s Bad Boys Do, Jamie volunteers to teach Olivia how to have fun…and his idea of fun usually involves the bedroom. Entangled’s Brazen line focuses on the physical relationship between the hero and the heroine building to an emotional one, but it’s not considered erotic romance. So what’s the difference?
If I were to guess, I’d say it’s a combination of the physicality of the relationship, the frequency, and the language. Face it, there are certain words (and if I actually put them here, the spam bots will come a-runnin’, so you’ll just have to use your imagination) you won’t see in a contemporary or paranormal romance but show up with regularity in an erotic romance. The characters definitely have sex more often – Gideon and Eva don’t even bother trying to keep their hands off each other, and it was actually excessive in Christina Lauren’s Beautiful Bastard. And they often have it earlier in the relationship – in Lauren Dane’s Undercover, Sera meets Brandt for the first time when she’s informed of her new mission and then days later she’s letting him fuck her senseless.
It’s possible that in time, there won’t be a dividing line between erotic romance and steamy romance anymore. It’s not just the success of erotic romance in mainstream fiction that’s breaking those barriers. We’re a notoriously straight-laced society, but as younger generations grow up, they’re surrounded by sex. They’re more comfortable with it. They talk about it, and hopefully talk about having it responsibly. Some of those words are losing their derogatory meanings. And we’re becoming desensitized to it. It’s no longer a big deal.
As for myself, I’ll keep pushing my own boundaries. I’ve already got plans to write a book I’d like to pitch to Brazen once it’s ready. I have a super sekkrit smut project that isn’t so sekkrit, since I just told y’all I have a super sekkrit smut project, but I’ve got plans for that as well. Now I just need a way to keep my dad from reading it once it’s published…