Erotic Romance, Not Just Erotica and Romance


by Cecilia Tan, guest blogger

Our tale begins in 1970, which is the year some point to as the beginning of the modern romance genre, with the arrival of the manuscript The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss on the desk of editor Nancy Coffey at Avon. The book would be a huge bestseller, kicking off a new era of romance publishing, and Woodiwiss was the first of the “Avon Ladies.” In that year, the average age at which American women married was 20.6 years old.

But 1987 that average was up to 23.3 years old, and according to the US Census Bureau, by 2003 it was 25.1 years, where it remains today.

Meanwhile, the percentage of female teenagers becoming sexually active rose from 30% to 40% between 1982 and 1988, and now, 20 years later, the rate of high school students who have had intercourse is close to 50%. (They don’t count it as “sex” unless you have intercourse, you know.) In short, that means a lot of young American women, who used to go into their marriages with no sexual experience, now tend to have a significant amount of time as sexually active people before they marry–most as much as a decade.

Not only that, but as the generations have progressed from the swingin’ seventies to today, the kinds of sex that women are having has proliferated. The likelihood that they have experience with spanking, bondage, multiple partners, bisexuality, and other things that would have once been considered outre is now quite high as well, with 48% of people currently in their 20s reporting they have at least “experimented” with these activities.


Is it any wonder, then, that romance novels have changed, too?

This doesn’t mean that every romance reader wants in her life–or in her fiction–non-stop sex, kinky sex, or partner swapping. But the “bodice rippers” that were a staple of past generations are now often seen as either laughable or even anti-woman by modern readers, and the breathless euphemisms that used to be standard in the genre come off as quaint or unintentionally funny. The back cover copy on Woodiwiss’s “Flame…” speaks of “…the Carolina plantation where Brandon finally probes the depths of Heather’s full womanhood!”

We might make fun of the old style of marketing, but there is no denying that whatever language is used, romances have always been about passion as well as love. And just as fewer and fewer women would find a chaste kiss to be satisfying after a romantic dinner out, and now they want the same desires reflected in their favorite fiction.

But what distinguishes erotic romance from “erotica”(a broad term in itself)? Is erotic romance just a hybrid between romance and erotic fiction? In actuality, it’s the strength of the romance genre that allows so much flexibility in what we can call “romance” these days. The two unchanging aspects are the focus on love and the core relationship, and the happy/emotionally satisfying ending. That leaves a lot of room to have different historical settings, mystery subplots, fantastical aspects. As Beatrice Small wrote in a 2007 essay on the history of the genre, “[In the 1970s] romance [grew into] a billion dollar baby for publishing. It was a two-headed baby to begin with: Historicals and Category. But then as women’s palates grew more sophisticated, baby grew more heads. Historical and Category were joined by Western, Thriller, Paranormal, Glitz, Chick-Lit, Christian, Contemporary, and OHMYSTARS! Erotic, just to name a few. And the Historical sub-genre had sub-sub-genres. Regency. Georgian. Medieval. [and so on.]”

In other words, romance is a great-looking model on which you can put any kind of outfit, whether a medieval ball gown or six-inch spike heels and a leather corset.

For me, it isn’t the amount of sex in a book, nor how graphic it is, that makes a book “erotica” and not romance. I am one of those women for whom love and sex go hand in hand in my real life. I wouldn’t dream of spending my life with someone if I didn’t know we were compatible in bed. In a love story, especially a contemporary one, I feel like I need to see some erotic interaction between the characters in order to believe that their love is real and can work. In historicals I find Unresolved Sexual Tension more believable than in stories set in the modern day, but what I am still seeking is the ultimate release of that tension. I love writers who can wind the ratchet tighter and tighter, but just like someone who is great at teasing in bed, I want them to eventually deliver me that mind-shattering release.


More sex scenes do not necessarily make a “hotter” book, the way more salt and pepper doesn’t automatically make a meal taste better. What is most arousing is when the sex is convincing, when it makes sense with the characters and when it follows a logical progression through their emotional lives.

There are plenty of books of erotica out there. I know, because I’ve written them. Many of them are collections of short stories, because erotica can so often be about the fling, the one-night stand, the exploration of a character’s sexual growth, but doesn’t necessarily have to be about love. Short stories are flings, but novels are relationships. And just as I found I need to see some sexual interaction between characters for me to believe they are falling in love, I also have to see them falling in love in order to believe that they are going to keep having sex for the space of an entire novel! If they aren’t, if the plot is not a love story but just an vehicle to get us from one sex scene to another, inventive and arousing as the scenes may be, I’d classify a book as erotica, and not erotic romance.

When I sat down to write my book MIND GAMES, which I’d classify as an erotic paranormal suspense romance, I had already come up with the characters many years before. I’d originally envisioned Wren and Derek as an established couple, and I was trying to write them in a kind of detective/spy scenario where their partnership and relationship were already long since established. But that idea never really firmed up. I kept asking myself how they had come to be a couple, and how did they find out that sex enhanced her psychic abilities? Ultimately I realized I couldn’t write what happens in their future until I wrote their love story and answered those questions.

It was an incredible experience writing them falling in love. After over a decade of writing and publishing dozens of erotic short stories, in places like Ms. Magazine, Best American Erotica, and Nerve, having the room to follow the characters from their initial meeting and spark of attraction, right through to their eventual emotional break-throughs, felt like a decadent luxury to me. I really was able to focus on the emotions, not just on Wren’s attraction and feelings of arousal, but also her conflicted feelings, her fears, her past wounds, and her determination to make this time different from the failed relationships of the past.

Now that I think about it, I did the exact same thing in my second romance novel, THE HOT STREAK. If anything, THE HOT STREAK concentrates even more on the relationship because there is no mystery sub-plot. All the “action” revolves around our heroine falling in love with a baseball player and learning to negotiate the ups and downs of being a “major league girlfriend.” It’s a much more light-hearted book than MIND GAMES, but again there’s that theme of her not yet having found Mr. Right, and then all the doors it opens in her heart and her life when she finally meets him.

Ultimately, this is why erotic romance is still romance, because although we want him in bed, we still want Mr. Right. It’s just romance created to satisfy the women like me who aren’t satisfied by a story that doesn’t meet their own sexual reality, and those are the women I set out to please, too. And I’m sure as the needs and lives of women continue to change in the 21st century, the heroines and stories we find in romances will change to meet them.

Cecilia Tan is the author of the erotic romances MIND GAMES, THE HOT STREAK, and the forthcoming MAGIC UNIVERSITY series, as well as numerous books of erotica and baseball nonfiction. Read sample chapters more at

“More Girls Are Sexually Active, Study Finds,” by Felicity Barrington, New York Times, November 10, 1990 (

“Facts on American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health,” Alan Guttmacher Institute, September 2006 (

“Most Americans Have Had Premarital Sex,” By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY, December 19, 2006, (

America transformed: sixty years of revolutionary change, 1941-2001, by Richard M. Abrams, Cambridge University Press, 2001

“A Brief History of the Romance Genre,” by Beatrice Small, Shorelines newsletter, August 19, 2007 (

Photo Credits: Wiros, Oneras [what about peace?]

Romance and Female Empowerment


by Jennifer Roland, guest blogger

It is no secret that we women–and some men–love our romances. As was discussed at great length in the news media earlier this year, the romance genre has been one of the few segments of the economy to thrive in the recession. Even when we are not doing well financially, we long for the escape that our love stories bring us, whether we prefer heroes who are not quite human, settings that are long past or barely dreamed of, or heat levels that would make our mothers blush.

But are they good for us? Do they further the cause of women, or do they hold us back, trapping us in traditional gender roles?

A few other bloggers have talked about the economic empowerment the romance genre offers to women, the inherent subversiveness of a genre written and read almost entirely by women, and the power romances give women over their sexuality. Rather than rehashing what these other ladies have said, I’d rather look at the stories. Does the romance narrative harm women?

For years, I believed it did. I saw romance novels as a tool of women’s subjugation. We read books that reinforced the roles society had laid out for us: wife, mother, caregiver. Romance novels have one ending: the woman finds her man, the man who will marry her and give her the security and the family she craves. Until she reaches that goal of finding a husband, our heroine is incomplete. I believed that I was more than my marital status, so why would I want to read about women who were made whole only through the object of their affection?

Then I actually read some romance novels, beyond the category romances I read as a young girl. I found a genre that had grown up without me realizing it. I encountered strong women who were whole and who didn’t need a man to complete them. Instead, they wanted a partner to share the burdens and the joys of life. Some of the stories ended with a marriage. Some ended with a commitment to raise a family together. Others ended with the knowledge that two people were entering into a relationship of equals, merging their individual lives to create something more together. Neither the hero nor the heroine quit being who they were; they simply chose to be those people together. In short, I found feminism.

Romance novels allow us to explore the myriad options available in our society. They cover different lifestyles, sexual acts, and time periods. They explore the different paths a woman’s life can take as she maneuvers through the worlds of career and family, whether her family is the heteronormative husband and wife, a committed same-sex relationship, or even a triad or other polyamorous grouping. But most important, they use the woman’s voice to explore the classic themes of literature that have in the past been explored only through a male lens. And they allow us to experience a situation that has a happy ending, something we don’t always get in our everyday lives.

That is why I love romance novels.

Jennifer Roland is a freelance writer and aspiring romance novelist. She fancies herself a new school feminist who adores a sexy vampire or shapeshifter tale, yes, alpha male and all. Keep up with her progress navigating the scary world of publishing on her blog, Jen’s Writing Journey.

It Feels Like Love and It’s Magic

by Mary Margret Daughtridge, guest blogger and author of SEALed with a Ring

Marriages of convenience—romance fans love ’em, but when I tell people who aren’t romance readers that SEALed with a Ring: Sometimes you get a lot more than you bargained for is a contemporary romance with a marriage of convenience plot, you’d be surprised how many ask, “What’s a marriage of convenience?”

Next thing you know, I’m explaining marriage plots. You have arranged marriage in which choice of spouse is dictated by parents. Hero or heroine acquiesces, more or less gracefully. Forced marriage is one in which one or both is trapped into marriage against their will. And finally there’s marriage of convenience where one party has a need to marry (that has little or nothing to do with love) and the other agrees—usually for financial gain.

All have built in conflict. All are beloved staples of the romance genre.

With women’s enfranchisement, all have become hard to pull off in a contemporary—a reason, I think, that these days you’ll find three or four times as many historicals as contemporaries.

Although in some cultures arranged marriage is still the norm, in the West the expectation is that people marry because they fall in love. Period. It’s hard to get a plot out of that.

Forced marriage (happily) has also gone by the wayside in mainstream society.  No one thinks a marriage to save a reputation or because of unplanned pregnancy is anything but a terrible idea. Marrying a girl too young, or unable, to consent is a crime.

That only leaves marriage of convenience. Once it was perfectly acceptable as long as it was aboveboard and a fair exchange. No more. I suspect many marriages today are quid pro quo contracts (witness the rise of the pre-nup) but who’s going to admit it? Marrying for money is thought “crass,” and being married for one’s money is the mark of a loser.

It’s not easy…

But I love marriage of convenience plots and I refuse to give them up. Character-driven writer that I am, I realized the difficulty of motivating a loveless marriage in a contemporary setting could play to my advantage. A person’s reasons (good or bad) for going against society’s expectations reveal a lot about character.

For the M of C plot to succeed, hero or heroine must be motivated by altruism. From the beginning they are sympathetic characters, invested with a degree of nobility. Since their goal is larger than they are, I have more latitude to make them multi-dimensional, strong yet flawed, without losing the reader’s sympathy.

It feels like love…

I also like to explore relationships—I think most women do. Unblinded by love, the M of C characters confront the details of living together and meeting the world as a unit. They consciously assess the other’s strengths, learn to read emotions, see beneath the surface. Again, a boon to the writer of character-driven contemporaries. When the two finally fall in love, the reader was there for every step. It really feels like love.

And it’s magic…

Best of all, an M of C plot (where they don’t pretend, they really get married) has inherent alchemical magic. For better or worse, marriage changes people.

Sharing is no longer optional. One’s destiny is irrevocably tied to the consequences of another person’s good judgment and luck—or lack thereof.  And suddenly, there’s little real choice about how and with whom to spend holidays. Sublime or silly, sharing can be soul shaking. For the writer, it’s another chance to delve into character. For the reader, it’s fun. The plot can take a twist at any moment.

I liked putting a contemporary spin on an old plot so much, I think I’ll do it again sometime.

How about it? Do you love M of C? What is the appeal? If M of C isn’t your fave, what is? Cinderella? Secret Baby? Reunion?


She’s got it all…except the one thing she needs most

Smart, successful businesswoman JJ Caruthers has a year to land a husband or lose the empire she’s worked so hard to build. With time running out, romance is not an option, and a military husband who is always on the road begins to look like the perfect solution…

He’s a wounded hero with an agenda of his own

Even with the scars of battle, Navy SEAL medic Davy Graziano is gorgeous enough to land any woman he wants, and he’s never wanted to be tied down. Now Davy has ulterior motives for accepting JJ’s outrageous proposal of marriage, but he only has so long to figure out what JJ doesn’t want him to know…

Buy: SEALed with a Ring


Mary Margret Daughtridge has been a grade school teacher, speech therapist, family educator, biofeedback therapist, and Transpersonal Hypnotherapist. She is a member of Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Romance Writers of America, and Romancing the Military Soul, and is a sought-after judge in writing contests. She resides in Greensboro, North Carolina. For more information, please visit

So what makes a book a romance?

by Jeanne St. James, erotic romance writer.

I love the romance genre. I should. I write it. Well, to be more exact, I have published two erotic romances: Banged Up, a m/f erotic romance, with Liquid Silver Books, and Double Dare, a m/m/f interracial ménage, with Loose Id. In addition, I have published a gay erotic novella. I’ll repeat that again… an erotic novella. I did not mention romance.

When Phaze Books had a special call for submissions for their “rebel”-themed Heatsheets (short stories), the only requirement was that it be about a “rebel” and it be short. So I decided to write my first strictly gay novella and decided to keep it short by using one scene – one interaction between the two characters – for the story. So the story (one night in the two men’s lives) involves them going back to a school reunion and exploring (sexually) the secret crush they both had on each other back in high school.

Rip Cord’s Blurb:

Gil Davis hated high school. Ever the geek, he has no intention of attending his 10th year class reunion. The last thing he wants is to relive the taunting and teasing he received during his teenage years. However, there is one thing he missed from high school: the star Varsity football player. The one he had a crush on since the first day he laid his eyes on him.

The last thing he expects is the now pro football player to come back to their home town to attend a lame high school reunion. Known as the Bad Boy of the NFL, Ripley “Rip” Cord, not only shows up, but shows up without a date and an eye for Gil.

Since the novella is only about 12,000 words, I was limited on plot. I wanted to use an already established relationship – Gil and Rip being classmates – in which the two discover a hidden attraction – a secret crush. That allowed me to throw them into the story a lot quicker.

So, my point is… I’ve been getting mixed reviews on Rip Cord. People either love it (5 star) and want a sequel or say it’s so-so (2 star). Why? Well, I’m guessing it’s because someone is reading it thinking it’s an erotic romance. It’s not. The difference for me between erotica and erotic romance is the ending. The ending on Rip Cord is not HEA (Happily Ever After) like my erotic romances. This little story has a HFN ending (Happy For Now) that means things were left up in the air at the end. The men had plans to meet up again in the future, it’s just not known where or when. Of course, they are both “satisfied” sexually during the book but there isn’t a complete emotional connection. No “we’re getting married” or “we’re having a baby,” for example, like a typical romance.

Because of that, I do not consider Rip Cord an erotic romance. That’s why I label it erotica or an erotic novella. Two men thrown together having hot, steamy man love and then each go on their way — at least at the end of THIS story. It doesn’t mean they won’t hook up again or eventually achieve that HEA.

Here’s a review in which the reviewer “got” what kind of story it was:

From Seriously Reviewed:

“Well, I sat down to read and burned dinner! I couldn’t stop reading. The story is fast. Gil attends his high school reunion. And we all remember how enjoyable that is…not. But with a hot jock like Rip, at least he’ll have someone to stare at during dinner. But wait. This is hot gay erotic romance. So when boy sees hot football star, boy lusts for football star, and holy shit, the football star has game of his own. The sex was raw and brazen, the dialog refreshingly natural and the ending pleasantly simple and satisfying.”

Now, she considered this HFN ending satisfying. Someone looking for a HEA might not. So what makes a book a romance? My opinion (and this is only my opinion) is the HEA ending. But rest assured, both the HFN and HEA story can be a pleasurable read. What’s YOUR opinion?



Gil Davis couldn’t believe it had been ten years since he’d last walked through these doors. Where had the time gone?

When the invitation to his class reunion had come, he almost tossed it out, just as he had with the notice of his fifth year reunion.

He was not into reliving his high school years.

No way, no how.

But something on the invitation had caught his eye… this time they were holding it at the school. So instead of immediately pitching it, he had thrown the invitation on his kitchen table. Unfortunately, Katie, his best friend and roommate, found it and hounded him relentlessly until he agreed to RSVP.

And, of course, Katie insisted on being his date.

Which thrilled him to no end… Not.

Now he wasn’t so sure if he wanted to go in.

He wasn’t sure he was ready for a night of teasing from his former schoolmates.

Yet, here he stood, just inside the double doors of his old high school staring at the registration table by the gymnasium doors.

Someone grabbed his elbow. Firmly.

“You’re not chickening out are you?”

Gil just shook his head and swallowed hard. “Did you find the restroom all right?”

“Fine,” Katie said in her little no-nonsense tone. “Let’s go.”

The harder she tugged on his arm, the more he dug in his heels. He didn’t want to leave his little corner of safety yet. “Hold on.”

“No, Gil. It’s not going to get any easier. You look fine. We’ve – okay, I’ve worked really hard to get you to this point.” She smoothed the hair back from his eyes. Gil was surprised she hadn’t spat on her fingers first like a hovering mother hen.

The problem was, he was still a nerd at heart.

“Now, get your shit together and let’s go!” She gave his arm one last hard yank and dragged him over to the table.

Sucking in a breath, he steeled himself for what was to come.

The two women sitting at the table wore big predatory smiles.

“Gilbert? Gilbert Davis is that you?” the toothy piranha on the right asked. “I swear I didn’t recognize you without your bottle-bottom glasses and pocket protector.”

Those glasses were long gone thanks to Katie dragging him years ago to the optometrist for contacts.

Gil leaned forward to read her name tag. Bonnie (Trusk) Smith.

Bonnie Trusk. He remembered her. She had been part of the Homecoming Court their senior year.

And had accidentally run over his foot one day in the parking lot with her Eddie Bauer Explorer. Why? Her excuse had been she hadn’t seen him. Yeah, he had been the invisible man, “invisible” to all of the popular kids.

“Just Gil,” he corrected her.

She laughed and waved a hand toward him, clearly dismissing him.

The other woman, Patti Petroski-Harrison, shoved a “Hello! My name is… Gilbert Davis” sticker at him. “And your hair! It looks…” Gil expected the next word out of her mouth to be “normal.” Her face showed her internal struggle. “Nice.”

He was a geek. He knew it. He had been one ever since he could remember. And his classmates had always teased him about it.

She sized up Katie. “Are you his wife?”

Katie laughed and patted Gil’s arm. “Oh, no.”

Gil gave her a quick warning look.

Katie just gave him a sugary smile and a noisy kiss on the cheek.

“Well then,” Patti said. “When you go through the doors, Gilbert, there will be a table with place settings. Find your name and that will tell you where you’re seated.”

“Just Gil,” he corrected again, but by then both women were flashing their beaming smiles at another couple who had come up behind them.

Katie tugged him to the side to avoid being crushed by the new arrivals’ hugging and squealing. Gil didn’t recognize the newcomers. But then they had probably been a part of the “in” group.

Gil had been a full-fledged member of the “out” group, but not the “out of the closet” group.

A woman’s shrill scream shot a bolt of pain through his head.

“Did you hear Rip Cord is going to be here? Can you believe it?” the one called Patti asked, her question ending in a squeal. She looked as if she would bust a vein.

Gil stumbled back a step from the table, barely avoiding Katie’s toes.

Holy hell, he never should have agreed to come to this thing. Especially if he’d known Rip would be here.

Gil had a crush on Rip since high school. Unfortunately, Rip was definitely of the heterosexual persuasion. Being captain of the football team, he’d had every girl in school chasing after him, one way or another.

So he’d admired the well-built, handsome jock from afar. Very afar.

Hearing Rip’s name brought all those old feelings back to the surface.

All the insecurities.

Gil certainly had never expected his secret crush to come back to town for a ten-year class reunion. Rip had become way too famous for that.

Gil grabbed Katie’s arm and, with her squeaky protest, dragged her through the double doors into the gym.

“Jesus, Gil. What’s going on?” she asked as he pushed her against the wall just inside the doors.

“Did you hear that?” He struggled not to hyperventilate.

“What?” Katie peeled the backing off of Gil’s name tag and slapped it onto his chest. Not so gently either.

“Rip is going to be here.”

“Rip?” She wrinkled her nose. “What the hell is rip?”
“Not what. Who!” Gil swallowed hard and blew out a long breath. He realized then he was squeezing her upper arms. Way too hard. He relaxed his fingers.

“Okay, okay. Calm down. And let up a little more please.”

He released her and wiped his sweaty palms along his slacks. He never should have worn slacks. Slacks were nerd-wear.

Why didn’t Katie talk him out of wearing them? He should have worn torn jeans or leather pants or —

“So is Rip a band? I would’ve thought they just would’ve hired a DJ. It’s cheaper.”

“Wait. What?” Gil shook his head. “First of all, why would they need music?”

Katie pointed a finger upwards. “Hear that, nerd-o? Music. You know, it creates atmosphere and gives you something to dance to.”

“Dance?” Gil swallowed hard. He cocked his head. He did hear music. He hadn’t noticed it because he’d been too panicked about Rip being there. “Okay, just don’t ask me to dance.”

“No can do, Gilly. We will be dancing. I didn’t come along to be a wallflower.”

“Katie, you know I can’t dance,” he hissed inches from her face.

She had the nerve to laugh. As if his lack of rhythm was something to laugh about. His coordination left something to be desired. Gil considered it a handicap – maybe not one recognized by the government. But no one should make fun of the handicapped!

Gil frowned. “I didn’t see anything on the invitation about dancing.”

Katie sighed. “Gilly, don’t worry, we’ll fake it.”

“Don’t call me Gilly here. It’s bad enough people will be calling me Gilbert.”

“Okay, Gil. So if Rip isn’t a band then who or what is it?”

A low murmur throughout the room behind him caused Gil to look up. Coming through the doors…

Gil pressed a hand to the wall to steady himself. His legs had suddenly lost all strength.

Coming through the doors was…

“Him,” was all Gil could get past the lump in his throat.

Buy link:

Top 50 Romance Blogs, part 3

It’s past midnight – that makes it the next day right? I just couldn’t wait to share these amazing blogs!

Get your pointer fingers ready to click on some great sites. I fully expect you to spend a few hours getting sucked into their blog posts. Don’t forget to bookmark!

Without further ado here’s the next ten blogs in our countdown of the Top 50 Romance Blogs:


  1. Much Cheaper Than Therapy– No, they’re no psychologists, they’re a group of authors blogging for our enjoyment.
  2. Night Owl Romance– Book reviews, excerpts, chats, and more. Be sure to check out the main site also!
  3. Racy Romance Reviews– Reviews, reflections, and commentaries on the genre. Jessica tends to write with a slant toward feminist ethical criticism.
  4. Ramblings on RomanceKatiebabs Kristie is like me addicted to reading, reviewing and writing. lol 😀
  5. Reading Adventures– Marg enjoys lots of genres but mainly Historical Fiction, Romance, Cozy Mysteries and Young Adult fiction
  6. Reading Romance Books- Written by lovers of the romance genre who like to read and give their opinions.
  7. Rip My Bodice– Reclaiming the term bodice ripper one book review at a time!
  8. Risky Regencies– The original, riskiest, and forever friskiest Regency Romance Blog.
  9. Romance Author Buzz– A romance reader’s musings about books and authors.
  10. Romance Bandits– Stories that will steal your heart. Viewpoints from a number of 2006 Golden Heart finalists on life, love, romance, the writing industry and various forms of chocolate.

I’ve been getting some good recommendations from readers – keep them coming! I’m going to build another list out of your favorites that didn’t make the original Top 50 list!

Top 50 Continued: