Does Erotic Romance Still Hold a Stigma?

“Oh, you write those kinds of books.” Many romance writers, and those who write spicier works especially, have run into comments like that over the years. Since romance is predominantly written and read by women, this could be a carryover from when literature was male-dominated and the “scribblings” of the softer sex were considered fluff. The truth is there’s probably the same proportion of truly brilliant books to not-so-brilliant in the romance genre as in every other genre, heat level notwithstanding. In a modern society that has also brought us R-rated movies, thongs, and Viagra, I suspect the population of prudish readers has diminished. I’m curious, though, to know if erotic romance still holds a stigma. My personal answer would be yes, but it’s diminishing over time. I posed this question to some author friends to get their take on the issue, and here is what they had to say:

Rosanna Leo:  Thanks so much to Allie for having me here. I’m so excited to talk about people’s attitudes toward romance novels and authors, as I have a fair bit of experience with this topic.

As well as being an erotic romance author, I work in a library, and love it there. I adore being surrounded by books of all genres and love my customers. If only they were a little bit more open-minded about the romance genre.

Because my library has celebrated my writing work (I’m a lucky girl), many of my customers know what I do. Several have been complimentary. Others, not so much.

I can see it now. They ask what I write, with bright interest in their eyes. I tell them romance. Suddenly, shadows flit across their faces, and they usually say something like, “Oh. I don’t really read that fluff, dear.” Conversation over.

When I check books out at the library, a lot of folks check out romances. However, they all blush when presenting them to the librarian. Many are proud to read romance. Others, apologetic. I never question someone’s book choices, but people feel the need to justify them to me. They say things like, “These are for my mom, NOT for me!” Or “My wife reads this trash. Give me a David Baldacci any day.” Or “I just need something mindless for my vacation.”

Mindless. Where did we get the impression these books were mindless, thoughtless? I know I put a great deal of thought into mine.

It’s usually at this point that I say to the customer, “Well, I LOVE romance, and I write them too!” I try to show them people don’t have to be embarrassed to enjoy romantic literature. Heck, we have our roots in great works of art by folks like Charlotte Bronte. I will never be ashamed of loving love.

So the next time you glimpse a shy reader, hiding the book cover with the gorgeous dude on it, smile and let him/her know you enjoy romance lit too.

Wendi Zwaduk:  Erotic romance holds a stigma and yet it doesn’t. For me, it doesn’t bother me. I write hot stories, plain and simple. My stories feature second chance romance that has lots of kink and romance. But there are instances where my work isn’t welcome and I’m looked at as a pariah. I never shout about what I write where my tot goes to school, but there’s another author who does. Her covers are very plain–a piece of fruit or another inanimate object. My covers are much hotter and explicit. Where her work is welcomed–even though it’s very hot–mine isn’t. I get the ‘ooh, that’s kinky’ response. “I can’t read that because it’s…dirty…”

Sex is a very healthy thing to do. How the characters decide to do it is up to them. I write hot, so people think I do all the things in my books. I’ll never tell what I do or don’t do. Grin. But when people in certain circles talk about what I write, they show their disdain. What’s in the bedroom should stay there, in their opinions. Me? Hey, whatever works as long as it’s legal. Lots of people have sex, otherwise the population wouldn’t be quite so high. Go forth and read hot. It’s so much fun!

Jackie WegerIn light of Fifty Shades of Gray does erotic romance still hold a stigma?

I know a half-dozen women who bought, read and adored the trilogy Fifty Shades of Gray. All are over the age of fifty. The heroine appealed to them. They liked the Happy Ever After ending. In essence Fifty Shades is a modern Cinderella story. Rich prince in industry; naïve klutsy waif gets her man. The story worked because it was told from the woman’s POV. While the sex titillated, had the reader been privy to the dark side of the hero’s mind—we might not have liked him. What triggers sadism?

Not a single one of the erotic stories I’ve read would work if the male character was from the dregs of society. Writers are glamorizing dark and different sex. Readers want it. Writers provide it. Every business course I’ve taken suggested the entrepreneur identify a consumer need or want and fill it.

Makes good business sense to me.

Dark sex has always been with us simply because the forbidden appeals.

Yes, eroticism will continue to hold a stigma because lust and sex often get people into trouble. Political sex scandals will see to that. Recall Eliot Spitzer. He liked kinky sex. It was splashed all over the news. All of America despised him. Getting caught destroyed his career and marriage. Scandals of all stripes are where much of the stigma arises. There was no way to glamorize or fantasize how Spitzer besmirched and betrayed his wife, children and constituents.

I believe that women who would never dream of walking into a bookstore to buy a hard copy of an erotic tale are comfortable downloading to an e-reader. No brown covers, no embarrassment. I think that’s fabulous.

I don’t see the erotic romance genre going mainstream. But the publishing industry is changing—so I’m not certain what mainstream is anymore. Perhaps as time goes by more books similar to Fifty Shades will rise to top best seller lists creating a niche in the mainstream market. Fifty Shades sold millions of copies, which means the market for eroticism is there waiting to be tapped.

I put my name on everything I write from romance novels to reviews of erotic reads. I’m not ashamed to do it. I believe in supporting my sister writers. I’d love to write erotica, but I don’t think I have the talent and mindset—or right this minute—the time to learn.

Do some people still look down their noses at romance writers?

Yep. People who have never read a romance novel trash the books and the writer. Romance novels are often equated with sin and sex. I wrote the first black character novel Harlequin published. I got a lot of press in the Houston Chronicle, my local daily and USA Today. The next Sunday I went to church. The pastor spotted me and started right in about the sinfulness of romance novels. I don’t even want to mention the hate mail because my characters were black.

Once the romance market was opened to American writers we got a lot of flack from academia and feminists—which annoyed me because I’ve been a card-carrying feminist since the Sixties.

For years I fired off letter after letter defending romance writers, family values and romance readers. Writing was my day job.

I will tell you where I did get respect—from my banker and my CPA. My contracts were golden—and collateral.

There’s a real disconnect even within the publishing industry though. When Nicholas Sparks writes a novel, it’s mainstream, trade paperback, woman’s fiction. If a woman wrote the same story it would be labeled romance and shelved in the romance section in books stores and Amazon.

Becky Black:  I believe there is still a general stigma and snobbery. Fifty Shades of Grey is probably a temporary effect. Every few years an especially saucy book hits the big time and people get all amazed and shocked that women read about sex! Meanwhile erotic romance continues to sell steadily without anyone making a big fuss about it. It mostly stays under the radar. Books like Fifty Shades are outliers. But it was very intriguing that despite what people keep saying about ereaders selling well because they allow people to read sexy books without anyone realising, it was interesting to see people quite happily reading Fifty Shades in public. Maybe it helped that the books have quite simple, classy covers, not obvious erotic ones

As for me, I used to be very shy about it, kept it secret that I was a writer. But eventually I told my family, and then my work colleagues found out. And while there’s plenty of banter about it at work (we are British after all!) it was kind of a relief in the end, how much it didn’t matter. It’s just sex, let’s be grownups about it.


Nobody squirms in their seat or hides the fact that they watch movies with nudity and sex scenes, but for some reason a lot of people are still embarrassed about reading material with the same content. After learning what these authors had to say about the issue, I think the consensus is that romance and erotic romance do still hold a stigma but, like the writing industry as a whole, this may be changing. It will be interesting to see how this genre continues to evolve and adapt to the market. In the meantime, I’m with Rosanna, Wendi, Jackie, and Becky on this: we’re adults, we can read what we want, and it’s okay to love romance!

19 responses to “Does Erotic Romance Still Hold a Stigma?

  1. Wonderful post, ladies! I completely agree with your points and am curious to see what the future holds for erotic romance!

  2. Great Post, Ladies! What gets me irritated is when authors belittle their own work, calling it porn or smut. It just continues degrading our work as a whole and the more people who hear us talk about our work like that, carry it forward.

    Thanks Allie!

    • Good point, Lynn. As writers, we’re constantly branding ourselves and our books. Referring to work as smut or porn, even if meant lightly, is still part of that branding.

  3. I think we need to be very careful with our branding. Right now more erotic story lines are being accepted but things shift back and forth.

  4. I enjoy both genres equally, along with all the other genres. I will have to say, though, that I don’t post erotica level work on my blog. That is the mommy card having to trump my reader card, because my older kids read my blog and my younger kids like the space/science pictures I put on there.

    • That is a good point. Most of us who post mature material include a warning (I’ve got mine in the upper right hand corner here), but the fact that we need to do that – that our work is not suitable for minors – could be seen as a mark against erotic romance writers.

  5. They always have to analyse and even pathologize women’s reading choices too. What does it mean that women want to read sexy book? Maybe it just means they like them. Simple as that.

  6. As a writer of SF&F erotic romance (and M/M pairings along with M/F) I get sidelong looks not only from mainstream but from SF and het romance folks. It’s okay. Finding the SF Romance genre opened up a completely new outlet for my work. I get to write the kinds of stories I like to read, and find other authors who rock my world. No more coy fade-to-black sex scenes. No skimping on plot twists or worldbuilding. So while I may cringe at some of the erotic romance best-sellers, I’m happy to see how they are helping build public acceptance for our genres.

    As for my blog, I have a large disclaimer right up front about possible adult content. NC17 posts are also marked with individual content warnings. Anyone who gets upset deeper into the blog content has only themselves to blame. I’m neither a hero, a teacher, nor a role model: I’m a writer and an artist.

  7. Allie–you did a magnificent job putting this piece together. The skinny is: women write for women. Erotica is not a fad. Men and women enjoy being titillated. Men seem to prefer visual erotica, while women have the ability to use our brains and imaginations–and the keyboard. I write two flame, one flame and the candle went out romance novels. I still get asked, “When are you going to write a real book?” There continues to be a double standard In the publishing industry. My favorite book is the African Queen by C.S. Forester. It’s an out and out romance, the plot is the trip down the Ulanga. One-hundred-thirty six pages published in 1935 of a man and a woman alone in the jungle. Even if written today, the book would not be shelved with romance novels. We just have to keep supporting one another. I have to add this caveat. If I discovered a man was doing to one of my daughters what that guy did to the heroine in 50 Shades, he’d be facing the business end of a snake gun.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective on this topic, Jackie. Yes, the categorization of romance novels is a whole other can of worms – an issue I plan to voice my thoughts about in a post I have planned for a couple of weeks from now. Mixed genres make the lines between categories especially blurry, and I think the line between Romance and Erotic Romance has become nearly non-existent.

  8. Brilliant posts ladies! I wonder how attitudes will change in say, the next ten years!

  9. Sorry for jumping in a bit late, Allie! I was at my library all day yesterday! Thanks for having me, and I really enjoyed all the posts.

  10. I’m late, but I’m here. I loved all the responses. This was a great idea for a blog post! Thanks for having us!

  11. Pingback: Sexy Saturday Round-Up | Lady Smut

  12. One of the crime writers I know was congratulating herself on “getting rod of those romance writers” she had apparently accidentally friended on Facebook. Ha! Little does she know my many hats. But writing in a variety of genres I find it annoying that most genre writers a) complain about the lack of respect their genre gets and b) turn around and sneer at other genres.

  13. “rid of” >_<

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