Battling the Romance Novel Stigma


Photo by Amber Madden
I don't do it often, but last year I hopped up on my soapbox in the comments section of the blog.  I had mentioned in my post on pen names that part of the reason I wanted to go with one was because I write erotic romance and I have a husband and kiddo who may not want everyone knowing what I write. Well, one of my commenters mentioned that she didn't use a pen name but that if she was writing pornography, then she probably would.


Now, I know she didn't mean anything negative in the comment but was just repeating a belief shared by many.  I did respond to her in the comments and I did the post below as a follow-up. 


Then last week I read Agent Sara's oh-so-on-the-money post over at Kat Latham's blog on Being a Feminist Romance Reader, and I got all rah-rah-go-team again. :) So rather than repeating myself I decided to update and rerun last year's post. Hope you enjoy. And definitely go check out Sara's post as well. It's awesome.


Battling the Stigma...


The genre of romance, not just erotic, has to constantly fight the stigma that it is just "chick porn."  From the days of the bodice ripper covers, women who read romance have been teased and put down for reading it.  The image of the lonely old maid or miserable housewife stealing away with her paperbacks is a familiar stereotype.


And when asked in general company what you're reading (even though over 50% of paperbacks and ebooks sold are romance, so a lot of us are reading them), women often are embarrassed to admit it's a romance or apologize in some way when they admit it.  "Oh, you know just reading one of those silly/trashy novels for fun."


And frankly, I'm over it.


Why are we made to feel that if we're reading romance we're something less than - less classy, less educated, less evolved?  Or even worse, that something must be wrong with us because we can't find a real man and instead look for them in books. No one questions people when they line up to go see the newest Romantic Comedy at the theater--and hello--what is that but a romance on screen? In fact, if you cut out all movies that had a romantic thread in them, not a lot of movies would be left. Romance is a universal theme from the beginning of freaking time.


And what about the resurgence of young adult books? Women often don't have trouble admitting they read those because, hell, everybody's reading them right now. The YA genre is fabulous. I know I can't get enough of it. But guess what? The vast majority of YA is uh, romance, with teens. If not for the age of the protagonists, many of those books would be shelved in the romance section. So are the people reading YA and romance lonely women who aren't smart enough to read "real" books--you know, the super serious tomes Oprah recommends?


Of course not.


I'm thirty-one and married to a wonderful guy.  I was salutatorian in high school.  I graduated with a 4.0 from my Masters program.  I do not read romance because I can't understand high brow lit fic or classic literature, I read it because that's what I enjoy. Reading is my escape, my entertainment. I like my happy endings. The world has enough depressing things going on in it. I don't mind a book tugging at my emotions or making me cry, but I want to see the light at the end of a book. That's my personal preference. 


If yours is different, cool. But why do we need to judge each other for what brings us enjoyment?


And as for the porn assertion so many people make, I beg to differ.  Here are the definitions from Passionate Ink's site that I used in the comments yesterday.




Porn: stories written for the express purpose of causing sexual titillation. Plot, character development, and romance are NOT primary to these stories. They are designed to sexually arouse the reader 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.

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 it 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.
What I write are those bottom two (and I read all levels except porn) - sexy (think Charlaine HarrisJR WardHarlequin Blaze) and erotic romance (think Shayla BlackMaya Banks, Berkley Heat). And yes, those kinds of stories have hot or explicit sex in them.  BUT if done correctly, they also have character development, plot, tension building, GMCs, etc.  They are at the heart - romances.  And believe me, just as difficult to write as any other novel.

Porn, on the other hand, is the half-dressed pool boy showing up on a woman's doorstep then jumping on top of her before we even know anyone's name.  It's sex for the sake of sex.  This is why most women roll their eyes at porn because we're like--who cares?  I don't know these people.

Now, I'm not saying that reading romance can't put you in a sexy state of mind.  Even YA romance can do that with nary a sex scene present (hello, Mortal Instruments Seelie Court scene.)  But what's wrong with that?  Good books evoke emotions within us.  If a book makes me glance at my husband  and instead of me thinking about how he forgot to take the trash out, I'm thinking how hot he looks, why is that so bad?  (For the record, the hubs is a big fan of my reading habits.)

And I'm not saying that sexy or erotic romance is for everyone--it's not.  If frank language and open bedroom doors make you uncomfortable (or you're under 18)--that's cool.  There are tons of levels of romance from inspirational/Christian to smoking hot/swinging from the chandelier to choose from. 

But please, if you're not a romance reader/writer, stop judging those of us who are.  :)

So what are your thoughts?  Are you a romance reader/writer?  If so, why do you read it?  What's your stance on the idea of romance just being female porn?  And if you're not pro-romance (which is fine), how come?