The Changing Face of “Erotic” – How Hot Is Too Hot ?

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When I sold my first novel in 2006, it was deemed erotic women’s fiction. In spite of the standard heterosexual pairing and lack of toys, games or envelope pushing, it premiered on the top ten at the very respected and establish e-press where it was published.

Book cover by Alex Kent for Phaze Books

A couple years later and a further three books published through the same press, my fifth submission was channeled to a sister imprint because it simply was not deemed ‘hot’ enough. Same heterosexual pairing, same language, pacing and voice.

Our reading culture is changing. Erotic boundaries are being pushed to a galaxy far, far away where few men (or women) have traveled before—until now. My third and present publisher still categorizes my stuff in their hot imprint, but even the reviewers are beginning to say ‘wonderful writing, story and pace, but definitely not ‘erotic’. My November release will be in the mainstream imprint.

What think you gentle readers? Are your tastes becoming jaded by vanilla erotic? Do you want it hotter and hotter? Are you craving stories of people and places, creatures and fantasy that would have been termed lude, or have the dreaded reference as ‘pornographic’ the romance genre so diligently fights? Is there any such thing as ‘Too Hot’?

My novel, Leap Of Faith is an entertaining, international story that combines a romantic love triangle sorted out in the midst of great personal trial on the part of the heroine. She is coming to terms with a neurological challenge that is much maligned and misunderstood now and through the centuries. So strong are our cultural misconceptions she is willing to turn love away for fear of passing this challenge onto her children. “Real”? You bet.

Book cover by Alex Kent for Awe Struck Publishing

Is there sex in the story? Yes. Is the bedroom door closed? Nope. Is sexual interaction a natural development in the lives of the characters? Yes. Monogamous, heterosexual, but what would have been burned in bonfires outside churches across the country not even half a century ago.

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Yes…the times my friends, they are a’changin’.

Good or bad? Is it not through exposure, debate and education that we each are best equipped to make our own decisions as to what is right in our fiction as well as our reality? Where is the line drawn? In present day American romance fiction, we still disallow:

* Bestiality (By ‘beast’ is meant any non-intelligent, non-reasoning being)
* Pedophilia. None—Period.
* Necrophilia or anything close
* Bodily waste products
* Incest/Twincest
* Underage characters in sexual situations
* Serious injury, rape, or snuff portrayed in a positive light
* Hate literature and positive portrayal of negative stereotypes

“Thank God” I hear you thinking. Not so worldwide. In Europe the age of consent is sixteen. So a book that has as theme the very real and common situation of attraction and sexual contact between a student and her teacher would be rejected in the United States if that student were not eighteen or older. Some/many Europeans would call that puritanical hypocrisy. Students and teachers have paired for centuries. What college student has not heard of a professor dating a student? What if that adult professor or teacher’s aid happens to be dating a soon-to-turn eighteen year old freshman and he is twenty five? Happens all the time. Great potential for angst and discussion. Not allowed in an American romance.

What about all the child abuse/pedophilia portrayed daily on television? Is it better to see fifty graphic murders on the tube every week and nearly as many dead bodies, chests cracked open on a cold autopsy table? (C.S.I. all three, House, Dexter, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Law and Order Special Victims Unit etc…)

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It’s not just the States that loves violence.

But I digress. Does it bother you that mainstream romance (and other genres of fiction) contain sex? Too much? Too little? Do you have to read an inspirational to feel ‘safe’ from the onslaught of the erotic? Do you want to slice this very natural aspect of human nature from your reading and your reality?

If fictional art is to offer insights into human nature as illuminating as those the physical sciences disclose, can the real be served by looking the other way when sex becomes a ‘real’ part of the storyline?

Fiction: an implicit worldview that infiltrates every aspect of social life…including our sexual beings and nature.

I put it to you that the best stories, the ones that stick in our hearts and minds, are the ones that reflect life as it is, not as we wish it were— or weren’t. The ones that bring us up close and personal are ones that ring true and shape our world. Sometimes the significance of a piece of work is not just in the work itself but in the memories each reader, and each writer, brings to it and takes away from it. The thought, the essence of growth possible whenever a reader suspends the ‘real’ for the fictional is boundless. And if this does not include our sexual beings, we are fooling ourselves. We are diminishing what it means to be human. We are impoverishing our existence.

How hot is too hot? One might just as well ask how violent is too violent or how funny is too funny? It is what it is. Is our ever changing subjective rating system able to keep up with a culture that changes at the speed of light?

Is the world passing you by as a relic or is it ‘about time’?

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4 Responses to The Changing Face of “Erotic” – How Hot Is Too Hot ?

  1. Hey Christine…Good Question, and as an author and reader of erotica fiction, I get what you're talking about. It is an ever evolving rating system.Do you think it will go full-circle and start all over? *grins*

  2. Dang, I wish I could answer that, Kay Dee. If the far right were to rule the day, we would start all over, never to see the nightlight of a bedroom again. If the government were to get involved we would have a rating system not unlike that in film. "X" considered the kiss of death as far as wide distribution. I believe some sort of standardization would be very useful. Whenever human-generated indices are instituted there will be debate and disagreement–not a bad thing. It is what keeps us growing and moving forward as a culture.

  3. Kaye Manro says:

    Hi Christine, What great insights and perceptions you bring out here.As a SFR author (sci-fi romance) I truly love the erotic aspect. It's all part of the emotional relationship development. My characters tend to be from different evolutionary backgrounds where erotic flavors serve to enhance the story. I'm sure It's the same for authors who write erotic in other genres as well. Yet we do need to change with the times, maybe let our characters experience even more heightened sexual enjoyment, but still stay true to the context of the story/characters we are creating. And yes there is too much visual violence in TV/movies these days. So what's the biggie about sex?Loved you post!

  4. Kaye, Thanks for your insightful comment.What does it say about our society when we allow murder, mayhem and gore daily on TV but censor anything even approaching explicit sexual demonstrations of love?Love the fact that you bring romance and sex into your Sci Fi. Why should it not be so, as such an integral part of being human? I expect that other genre readers are even less accepting of anything erotic. At least in the romance genre it is expected/tolerated/demanded (depending on the reader)."It's all part of the emotional relationship development" Amen.

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