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Has Erotica Become the Beige Granny Panties of Romance?

EverAfter Romance

I first discovered erotica when I first discovered ebooks. I loved erotica for the same reason I love reading in general: I love the escape and the ability to live through the fictional lives of others. At that time I was a young mother with a stressful job and financial issues. Reading was great, but erotica was exciting and new and, not to mention kind of dirty and forbidden.

Then Fifty Shades of Grey happened and erotica became a bit more mainstream. It wasn’t hard to find a book with BDSM elements or with an Alpha Billionaire and a naive young protege. Taboo wasn’t taboo anymore; it was everywhere. People were actually asking me about erotica (albeit in hushed tones) at church. Erotica was easy to get and I was reading it as often as I was reading mainstream romance novels.

And then I wasn’t and I’m not.

Why? Because it all started to read the same. No longer was erotica the sexy, bright, red thong of my reading wardrobe, it became the beige granny panties. Just a boring same old-same old in which an Alpha billionaire/MC president/rockstar/DEA Agent/MMA fighter/sex club owner/shifter of some kind meets a naive ingenue/single mom/investigative journalist/uptight sex therapist/curvy entrepreneur and teaches her about the darker side/emotional healing power/feminist truth of pleasure. Over and over and over again. For me, erotica became the Groundhog Day of reading.

I also found myself constantly rolling my eyes at the storylines and plot points. Maybe it’s because I’m more mature (that pains me even to type), more cynical or simply in an erotica reading slump, but I just stopped being able to buy what erotica was trying to sell me. How many times can a female protagonist be whisked away to a secluded location with little contact with friends and family, before it starts to read as more abusive than sexy. I have found it increasingly difficult (as in I feel a sudden desire to throat punch anyone within punching distance) whenever a male protagonist describes his desire to “breed” the female protagonist. And, maybe because I better understand the struggles of unemployment, I find it hard to root for a female character who throws her chances at gainful employment in her chosen profession out the window for a changes to be banged on the conference room table by the brothers that own the company she works for.

This doesn’t even take into account the fact that now that mainstream romance has embraced some of the less intense elements of erotica, erotica has had to up its game to differentiate itself. This can be good as authors are able to to stretch themselves and their storylines, embracing new themes and types of characters or it can be bad as plot elements become ridiculous. Too many times have I given up on a novel because authors have written a male character that has crossed the line from Alpha male to plain old asshole male. Then there was the series that took sex toys to a new level of crazy with a physiologically improbable, multi-orifice probing machine that descended from the board room ceiling or the novel that took dirty talk too far when the Alpha male DEA agent referred to his partner’s vagina as a “pink gash.” C’mon now!

This isn’t to say that I haven’t read any erotica in the last several years. I’ve read and liked some, but not nearly as many as I used to read. Kresley Cole’s Game Maker series, Charlotte Stein’s Sweet Agony and Jennika Snow’s Ravish Her Completely are my most recent favorites in this sub-genre. It’s just that all of the issues I’ve mentioned, plus the fact that I can now find many of the elements I found desirable in erotica in mainstream romance with (usually) more diverse storylines and characters, are why I don’t really read erotica anymore. Which is kind of sad because I used to love it

Are there genres or sub-genres you’ve given up on?
Are there any erotica titles you love and think are worth a read?
Tell me what you think!

Sisters in Love Melissa Foster

27 Responses to “Has Erotica Become the Beige Granny Panties of Romance?”

  1. BrooklynShoeBabe

    I like that erotica has spilled over into more traditional/mainstream romance. Although I like the ocassional erotic novel, I really like overtly sexual mainstream romance. It’s kind of like the difference between an NC-17 film and a X-rated film. I get to see full frontal but I can enjoy imagining the money shot instead of seeing it. lol .

    • Sara Horney

      I get to see full frontal but I can enjoy imagining the money shot instead of seeing it.

      I love how you put that!
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Scarlett Parrish

    I agree that so much erotica is same-old-same-old. You’re criticised for criticising romance these days, but it’s true; alpha billionaire CEO doms with troubled pasts are everywhere and it makes me wonder — do working-class people not deserve love too? I’ve often joked about writing “The Dom in the Dole Queue” but I’d love to see less-than-impossibly-perfect characters find love.

    I see nothing attractive in domineering men who tell the heroines what to do, who to see, what to eat. So much for female characters having any autonomy or the right to say no and be listened to!

    I’m not against BDSM in erotic romance, far from it. I’m against abuse being marketed as BDSM.

    I don’t know. It just seems like too many writers are trying far too hard to be shocking.

    Ordinary folks deserve love and romance too. I’d like to see more of that.

  3. Mel Thomas

    Great blog post! I couldn’t agree more. I, too, used to read a lot more erotica than I do these days. Granted my first foray into the genre (at 17ish) was via Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy, so that set the taboo bar quite high for me. Probably explains a lot about me, huh? 😉

    These days, it’s a Fifty Shades explosion of suck. I only managed to make it through two (well one and a half really) of those books before I was ready to bludgeon myself with them. I have never in my life read such horribly researched drivel. To see that people are actually reading those books and think they know what BDSM is drives me batty.

    As you mentioned, there is some great erotica out there, but those books are few and far between. Kresley Cole’s Game Maker series is one of my favorites and I am sinceriously itching for Dmiti’s book. Granted that woman can do no wrong in my eyes, but still. Tiffany Reisz is another author that I think is a benefit to the erotica genre. Mostly because she knows what the hell she’s talking about.

    Books that are trying to be taboo for taboo’s sake aren’t fooling anyone. Also, that machine coming out of the ceiling kinda scares me and I don’t spook easily. I would have quickly put that book aside.

    I’m not sure if erotica has become the beige granny panties of romance, but I certainly love the analogy.

  4. Lise Horton

    I can only say I’m sorry you haven’t found some of the wonderful erotic romance (and stunning erotica) that I have discovered and enjoyed so immensely. BDSM erotic romance with grit and heart and reality, even with billionaires! Fairy tale kink doesn’t especially appeal to me either, as I like my romance grounded in reality to the extent it can be. As for erotica, with the breadth available (even in BDSM erotic fiction), I remain in a blissfully sated state, erotica-wise. Fortunately those kinky erotica authors who were publishing before FSOG are still creating great stories to arouse and entertain. May you discover them and have your enjoyment rekindled!!!

    • Sara Horney

      Thanks for commenting Lise!
      I haven’t given up on Erotica completely and this is certainly one of the few cases I’m happy to be proven wrong.
      Are there any particular authors you recommend?
      I’m always looking to add to my TBR pile.

  5. Chelsea

    Great post, Sara!

    I think this is the same problem any popular genre faces. It’s much like how there were approximately eight billion teenage vampire novels following Twilight’s success. You had so many people trying to cash in on what Stephenie Meyer made special, that it took a lot of work to find the real gems in the pack (in that case Richelle Mead, PC Cast and Claudia Grey stood out for me).

    Fifty Shades did the same thing to erotica. We lived in our sweet little bubble with Charlotte Stein and Cara McKenna and only talked about *those books* with others we knew read them. While it’s great that we no longer need to use hushed tones to recommend erotic romance, we’re stuck with the revolving door books — where we’re starting the same journey over and over. It certainly can suck the fun out of it.

    With you, I’m finding my favorites, but it takes sifting through the pile to find the real gems.

    • Sara Horney

      Thanks, Chelsea!
      You’re right too. The fun is completely sucked out of any genre when book after book is just “meh”.
      I’d rather read 1 good book than 5 mediocre books.

  6. jaymzangel

    I think you get burned out after reading too much of a particular genre, especially if you are reading mediocre or crappy books. I had to take a break from paranormal books for over a year because it started to feel like I was reading the same thing over and over again. I have since been able to read paranormal again, just more selectively, and have found some amazing authors. As someone who read erotica in the 90s, I do think today’s version is a lot different but I still love it as long as it’s well-written.

    • Sara Horney

      You’re probably right. In a few years, who knows? I might be back to reading more Erotica.
      I’ll definitely be more selective. I don’t want this to happen again.

  7. Bryce Calderwood

    When I first decided to write smut, I thought I was going to be writing straight-up erotica, but unless I was going to be writing short stories that were nothing more than an encounter or three held together by a formulaic niche context, I realized I wouldn’t be writing much. Instead, I ended up writing erotic romance. In erotica, the story serves the sex, but in erom, the sex serves the story.

    But there was no way I was gonna write another Groundhog Day book, to use your wonderful analogy. But this leads us into the difference between niche and kink vs. the storylines themselves, both of which you’ve put under the spotlight. An unusual niche, such as what I write (futanari, girls with both sex organs) doesn’t really have the potential to sell very well.

    But anything with an original story and that’s not eye-rollingly bad has a chance. I wrote a story about a futanari girl falling in love with an octogirl (like a mermaid but octopus instead of fish tail). It’s never going to be a best-seller but I sure am having fun writing it, and I’m getting more and more fans over time, so who knows?

    No granny panties, here! 🙂

    • Sara Horney

      I totally just learned something new! Thanks, Bryce!

      I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment. Whatever the genre, niche or kink, it’s the story that needs to be the focal point.

  8. Martha Sweeney

    I know that I haven’t read near as many erotica books as you, but I got the same general notion each time I read a blurb about one. I expect more from a story too which is what caused me to write my first series. Neither character tries to own or dominate the other and I hope readers see the overall message to the story. Are there explicit sex scenes? Yes, and that is why I labeled it erotica a side from the main characters exploring sex together, opening themselves up to each other while learning and growing from it. I hope to inspire women with my characters in many ways, sexually and non-sexually.

    • Sara Horney

      I like that you see the potential to inspire readers with erotica. Inspiration is a powerful thing.

      Thanks for commenting and good luck.

  9. Vida

    If I might be so bold, is it possible that you’re just reading the cheap crap? Because the good erotica that was always there before everyone and her wife decided they might get rich like EL James by writing stories with sex in on Amazon is still out there.

    • Sara Horney

      I do love a good bargain. So, that may be one element of my current discontent although I’ve found some exceptional books in the discount bin, but I don’t think price is 100% of the problem though.

      Publishers both traditional and indie found something lucrative in Fifty Shades of Grey and jumped all over it. So I blame marketing, poor editing, bandwagon jumping and a number of other issues as well as my penchant for extremely cheap books.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • shawny J

        This was what I was going to point out. The blame for granny panty erotica falls squarely on publishing and the business of writing. In another 10 years (it’s a long time, but that’s how long it will take), we’ll stop comparing every thing vaguely erotic to 50 Shades, and the publishers will have moved onto the next big thing.

        • Sara Horney

          Yuck! I don’t want to wait 10 years, but you’re probably right.

  10. OstensiblyA

    I don’t think erotica needs to up its game, I think romance needs to go back to being romance and not erotic romance. If I wanted to read erotica I would read erotica. There is no shortage of it. I read romance for romance. For actual love. Not sexfests conflated with love. Not a constant stream of cataloging body parts, and thinking of sex, having sex, what these thoughts are doing to their body parts and then sex sex sex sex sex sex sex. Or starting out with the sex and then cycling back through the above.

    I shouldn’t be so giddy-excited when I come across a book where there’s an actual date before sex, even if it’s just one. I want my characters to actually get to know each other, to learn more than just their backgrounds, to give me some reason why they end up loving each other beyond great sex, how they’ll have a future together so it is a believable HEA. I can’t even count how many times they get to the I love yous in a book and I’m all, WHY THOUGH?!

    I want actual sexual tension—and no, the constant barrage of what I described above is not sexual tension, it’s like the difference between a conservative spritz of cologne and those dudes that bathe in the Axe body spray. When actual sexual tension is built up and done well then THAT is when the sex is satisfying to read.

    I love romance but it is so frustrating to read now because I don’t want sex all the time. I don’t want explicit body part terms and euphemisms. I’ve become one of those people that skip sex scenes when they don’t add to the story at all. That thieving piece of Twilight fan fiction cr*p has been mentioned a few times and I wish people would not look to the inexplicable success of that fanfic and more toward the success of, say, Nora Roberts, whose sex scenes are far more along the lines of what I think is satisfying in romance. I want there to be a clear difference between romance and erotic romance.

    But I’m like a broken record about this and it’s probably just me.

    • Sara Horney

      I don’t think it’s just you at all.
      Those of us who love Romance love it passionately and we hate to see what we love about it (the story, characters, etc) messed with.
      I hear you and agree.
      Keep commenting on blogs and writing reviews. I guarantee you’re not alone in your opinion and maybe, if those of you who feel this way continue reaching out in these ways, publishers and authors will get the message.
      Thanks for commenting!

  11. Christine Maria Rose

    I think that for every 10 writers out there who are publishing mediocre erotic romances, there are some real gems, like Megan Hart, Anne Calhoun, Charlotte Stein, Cara McKenna, Jeffe Kennedy, Lynda Aicher and Claire Kent to name a few of my favourites. Synopsis that read Billionaire X and Virgin Y definitely don’t entice me to pick them up but these ladies mentioned always bring something fresh and exciting into the mix.

    • Sara Horney

      It does seem to be a bit of a needle in a haystack scenario right now, but there’s definitely still some great authors doing new and exciting things in the genre.
      You mentioned a couple of my favourite erotica authors in your list.

      Thanks for commenting and for giving me the names of a couple new authors to try.
      Cheers!

  12. Marie

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’ve read my share of erotica and erom, and I just don’t understand what people find so ‘sexy’ or ‘high heat level’ about them. The content is VERY vanilla and softcore. Like the kind of porn you see on HBO or Showtime. I think some writers need to watch Japanese hentai and really get some ideas of crazy, hot, taboo, sexual encounters for stories. Because the mainstream erotica and erom stories I’ve seen out now is Sesame Street in comparison to hentai. Yeah, BDSM can be hot and panty-soaking, but I don’t think these books have yet to cross the limits in this area.

    And there are tons of other erotic subjects out there besides BDSM. I really want to see more kinks and fantasies observed, but it seems like BDSM is the default meaning of erotica and erom, mainly due to Fifty Shades. I want to see more authors go beyond this one subject.

    • Sara Horney

      Absolutely! Variety is the spice of life, so we should be encouraging authors to mix things up and publishers to be bold and give something new a chance.

      Thanks for commenting!

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