What is Erotic Romance?

Romance novels have held the lion’s share of the publishing market for many, many years. A great deal of its appeal comes through its mutability. Trends surface and swell in the romance fiction industry with some regularity. The most prolific and adaptable authors are the most successful.

Graphic sex in romance is the latest “hot” trend. Readers want to see through an open bedroom door to a broader picture of how the hero and heroine interact with each other. When the aloof, intractable hero suddenly becomes playful and affectionate in bed, it says a great deal about his feelings. When the tough-as-nails, corporate raiding heroine purrs like a kitten around her man, we can see how much she trusts him with her softer side.

The term “erotic romance” describes a graphic level that is very distinct, but due to a tendency by readers and writers to interchange “erotic romance” with “erotica” and detractors usage of the words “porn” and “soft porn” it’s become a confusing morass. The true definition of these terms is often debated, but basically here is how they break down:

  • Porn: stories written for the express purpose of sexual gratification. Plot, character development, and romance are NOT primary to these stories. They are designed to incite the reader to orgasm and nothing else.
  • 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 hope you can see from this how distinct these stories are and how the “label” applied to them isn’t interchangeable. However, some publishers have begun to do that very thing—interchange the genre on their titles to increase sales. How does this affect the future of erotic romance? I’m not certain.

New readers who pick up a book with “erotic romance” on the spine and later discover that they hold an erotica title without any romance will be upset. Will this affect their decision to purchase more erotic romance? Possibly. How will they know that the entire genre of erotic romance is not the same as that mislabeled book they purchased?

Because of this, it’s important to educate the public about the differences. Articles such as this one, and romance groups such as Passionate Ink (www.passionateink.org ), which is the Erotic Romance Special Interest Chapter of Romance Writers of America, do much to spread the word. It’s my hope that the erotic romance genre will continue to grow and thrive. As it does, perhaps the distinctions between genres will become clearer and more readers will get exactly what they’re looking for in a “hot” romance.

© 2005 Sylvia Day

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