Am I Wrong About Erotica?

I have read a healthy handful of erotica novels, and the only reason I’ve done that is to identify the trends of romance readers. As a romance writer, it’s good and necessary to see what is popular. A more daunting task, however, is trying to figure out why those things are popular.  It’s sad to say it, but if erotica is the way of the future for the romance genre then I am afraid my time as a romance writer will be short-lived indeed.

Erotica. Okay, clearly the explosion of readership in this genre transcends the simple notion of a “trend.” I mean, I read the other day that the first book in the 50 shades trilogy has outsold all of the Harry Potter books combined in the UK. If you don’t realize how huge that is then you must have slept through the Harry Potter decade. I am deeply saddened (as a mother of a daughter) and even more outraged (as a woman) that these books are so easily accepted and lusted after and I am sickened (as a writer) that they are considered literature. And why don’t I like erotica books?

No. It’s not what you all think. I am not a prude and I don’t have any problem with “kinky fuckery.” While I may not understand the…um…adventures… of others in the bedroom, I don’t really care, and I don’t have a problem with two consenting adults getting their kicks behind closed doors. What bothers me is that the erotica novels I have read are full of abusive heroes (and I say the word “heroes” with a heavy eye roll and sarcastic turn of the tongue, because to me these guys are anything but heroic).  The men of these books are…well…for lack of better terminology – they are narcissistic ass holes. They are possessive and controlling, to the point where if any woman of my acquaintance were in a relationship with one of these guys I’d be pulling an intervention real quick! They make their women cry…ALL THE TIME. Why are the women crying? Because they can’t seem to reconcile these men who give them multiple orgasms and then turn around and treat them like dirt when they’re out of the sack. Hmm…..what a dilemma! I see your point, ladies. What’s not to love?  And that leads me to the next thing I don’t like about erotica…the women.

I am a personal fan of gutsy leading ladies (think Maureen O’Hara, Katherine Hepburn, et al). Those are the gals I dig. Personal preferences aside, I can also get behind an awkward, goofy, beautiful-in-a-gauche-way girl as long as she has some spine. And I mean real spine, not I’m-going-to-cower-in-the-corner-and-chastise-you-in-a-shaky-voice-hoping-you’ll-hear-more-bravado-than-really-exists kind of spine. Where are the feminist voices out there? Yes, yes, yes, I’ve heard the arguments that erotica is a huge thumbs up to female empowerment, allowing women to unashamedly explore their own sexuality. To that I say….what the hell are you reading? Because it sure ain’t the books I’ve been reading.

Possessing and controlling women (in and out of the bedroom), grossly disrespecting women, heavily blurring the lines of rape (girl: I don’t want to do that, boy: oh, you’ll like it. I promise, girl: I really don’t think I want to do that, boy does it anyway, girl: umm….maybe I like it. I’m not sure, but you said I would like it so, I guess I’m supposed to like it. Hmm…yeah that sounds about right. I guess I like it) erotica appears to be sexual manipulation in its highest form. The women in these novels can’t seem to get past the bedroom with their guys. Of course, the guys are always gorgeous and hot (the most overused word in erotica), and in a most cookie-cutter fashion the men are high-power, rich executives. That’s all the women need to know. Could a more shallow, weak leading lady be written?

But perhaps the greatest downfall of erotica for me, is the utter and complete lack of love. Now, as I’ve said I have read a heavy handful of erotica. That is probably about twelve books and I am well aware that there are thousands. If I could give one tip to erotica writers it would be this: just because you have your characters say “I love you” over and over again, does not make the discerning reader believe it. I swear the formula is the same:  mind-blowing orgasms, cold cruelty, pools of tears, declarations of love, confusion, mind-blowing orgasms. That’s it. Rinse and repeat. I guess  if you only care that the stories begin and end with mind-blowing orgasms and the in between doesn’t matter, these are the books for you, but these are not my ideas of love or romance or passion, and I would be absolutely horrified to find my little girl in any relationship like the ones I’ve read.

There is a line between passion and possession, between love and obsession. Love and lust should be intense, life-altering and mind-blowing, but in an uplifting way, not in a manipulating, demeaning and depraved way. Real love changes us. Real love is not controlling or commanding. It is more than physical. It is redeeming and self-sacrificing and served by mutual respect. It does not come from physical passion but enhances it. At least, that is my humble opinion.

So, back to the title of my post. To all of you readers out there who love erotica – have I got it all wrong? Did I just unluckily pick a dozen of the worst erotica novels written?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Am I Wrong About Erotica?

  1. Right..well, I don’t think its erotica per se, but I do see a shift in which the “perfect hero” character is diminishing. I don’t see many writers depicting the male lead as the Fabio anymore, its more real. I don’t know if many people will like my male lead.

  2. Thanks for the response! I don’t have a problem with imperfect characters. In fact, I prefer them more colorful that way. And real is always better. Moody, reticent, jaded – all well and good. Abusive, though? I guess it just depends on a person’s idea of abuse.

  3. paganalexandria

    I posted this on Goodreads also:
    Sawyer, your post was thought provoking, but there is more to consider. I am a long-term devotee of the romance genre and a new fan of contemporary romance driven erotica. I must cry fowl at blaming the abusive hero trope on the new popularity of erotica. I have been reading a version of that hero in bodice rippers, without the hardcore sex for over twenty-five years. You also can’t blame Fifty Shades when it was originally created as Twilight fan fiction. If you take out the sex, the “hero” in the YA blockbuster was just as controlling as Christian Grey. Considering that book was marketed to impressionable young girls, it should be much more disturbing than the new mommy porn offerings. This is just the new version of the alpha hole, really nothing new here.

    • Thank you for your response as well. I’m totally open for discussions on this topic and hearing opposing viewpoints, hence the post. I didn’t mean to suggest that the abusive hero was a new creation. I remember when the trend in romance novels was for the “hero” to rape the leading lady, who would then somehow fall in love with her rapist, and I couldn’t get behind those stories either, and they died a natural death in the 80s. I have to admit that I never read Twilight or cared for the movies, but I did hear that Edward in the books was far more controlling than he was presented in the movies, and believe me – I do find that disturbing as well. So, it’s not the existence of the “alpha hole” that disturbs me, it is the mind-blowing popularity of him as an ideal mate that blows me away and that his abusiveness is somehow excused by his unsurpassed skill in the bedroom. I don’t “blame” 50 Shades or Twilight or any writer. I am critical of them, for sure, but my post is more a discussion on why 70 million people worldwide think this type of love is ideal. I don’t know if the popularity can be attributed to the existence of e-readers, the fact that people can read these books discreetly or what, but I find this popular notion of love disturbing. Just my thoughts.

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