Special Edition: Blurring Lines – The Difference between Erotica and Romance by j. leigh bailey

Romance and Erotica are two of the highest sellers on Amazon, and with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we thought it would be great to have an expert come in and explain the difference between these two steamy genres.

jleighbaileyj. leigh bailey is an office drone by day and the author of Young Adult LGBT Romance by night. She can usually be found with her nose in a book or pressed up against her computer monitor. A book-a-day reading habit sometimes gets in the way of… well, everything…but some habits aren’t worth breaking. She’s been reading romance novels since she was ten years old. The last twenty years or so have not changed her voracious appetite for stories of romance, relationships and achieving that vitally important Happy Ever After. She’s a firm believer that everyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation or paranormal affiliation deserves a happy ending.  Now she writes Young Adult LGBT Romance novels about boys traversing the crazy world of love, relationships and acceptance. Her first novel, Guyliner, comes out in 2015 from Spencer Hill Contemporary.  www.jleighbailey.net  | www.twitter.com/JenniWrites  | www.facebook.com/JLeighBailey

Blurring Lines – The Difference between Erotica and Romance by j. leigh bailey

First I’d like to take this opportunity to thank 5Writers for letting me join them today. Especially since I get to talk about one of my all-time favorite things. Romance novels!

I’ve been reading romance since I was ten years old. I started with Penny Jordan and Johanna Lindsay and never looked back. The last 25 years haven’t changed my addiction to all things romance.  Recently, I’ve noticed things have been heating up on the pages of my romance novels.  Love scenes are getting more explicit, pushing conventional boundaries and taking on more prominent roles in the romantic storyline. This increased level of sensuality in romance has prompted some to wonder about the differences between romance novels and erotica.

To start, here are a couple of definitions:

According to the Romance Writers of America (www.rwa.org), there are two basic elements that comprise every romance novel:  a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimist ending.  So, no matter what else is going on in terms of plot and character development, the romance is the story. And there will be a happy or happy-for-now ending.  (http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=578)

About.Com provided the best definition of erotica for my purposes today. “Erotica is a genre of literature that includes sexually explicit details as a primary feature. Unlike pornography, erotica does not aim exclusively at sexual arousal. Though the distinction is blurring in modern works, erotica traditionally contains more sexual details than romance novels.” (http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/glossary/g/erotica.htm)

It used to be that a reader could draw the line between erotica or romance based on the use of graphic sex or explicit language.  Nowadays, though, graphic sex in romance is a popular trend and readers would rather have acts and body parts described in less florid terms and avoid some of the euphemisms of the past.

Ultimately, the difference between a sexy romance and erotica comes down to the purpose of the sex in the story. 

Let’s face it, outside of romances categorized as “sweet” or within the Inspirational subgenre, most adult romance (and even some Young Adult and New Adult) novels have sex on the page.  Readers don’t want the closed door love scenes. We want to see it and experience it with the characters. Not because we’re perverts or looking for titillation or thrills, but because love making is a critical part of any couple’s relationship. It means something. It changes the dynamic of the characters’ relationships. It causes conflict and tension and moves the plot forward. Sex scenes reveal character and the arc of the relationship. The scenes might be casual or tender, sweet or kinky, depending on the mood of the moment and at what point the characters are at in reaching their Happy Ever After.

In romance, the sex, as important as it is, is only one component of the story. The sex scenes could be “toned down” or even removed without damaging the storyline.

ROMANCE: The couple’s relationship is the point of the story.

In erotica, the stories are written about the sexual journey of the characters and how this impacts them as individuals. Erotica is not designed to show the development of a romantic relationship.  The Happy Ever After required in a romance is NOT an intrinsic part of erotica. (Please note: while these pieces are not required, they may be included in erotica, but if they are, they are not the main focus or purpose of the story.)  The sex scenes in erotica cannot be removed or toned down without altering the storyline.

EROTICA: An individual’s sexual journey is the point of the story.

Just for kicks, let’s look at erotic romance, which could conceivably be construed as that fuzzy middle ground between Romance and Erotica. According to New York Times Best Selling author Sylvia Day—who is arguably one of the all-stars of the erotic romance subgenre—erotic romance includes stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. As in erotica, the sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. And as in romance, the Happy Ever After (or at least the Happy for Now) ending is required. (http://www.sylviaday.com/extras/erotic-romance/)

EROTIC ROMANCE: Develops the couple’s relationship through sexual interaction.

The boundaries between romance, erotica and erotic romance are blurring. Some things that were once relegated to erotica automatically, are finding their way into the more mainstream romance and erotic romance novels. Based on my own reading and interpretation, these erotic elements showing up in romances include:

Multiple Partners/MénageThere was a time when more than two was taboo. You probably won’t find many traditional romance novels with multiple partners, but more and more erotic romances are being published that bring together three (and sometimes more) partners into a loving, committed relationship. Because the purpose of these stories is achieving the Happy Ever After, they can’t be construed as erotica, but the content is a little too hot for a standard romance. This type of novel falls straight into the Erotic Romance category.

ToysI read an average of 500 books a year, all romances. I can tell you that toys are starting to make an appearance on the pages. Generally speaking, though, you’re not going to find them in a typical romance. There might be references to sex toys, but the use of them will generally stay off the page.  The toys will primarily be found in your erotic romance and erotica.

BDSMEven before the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, elements of BDSM (Bondage/discipline, Domination/submission, Sadism/masochism) were finding their way into our books. Whether these books are defined as erotica, erotic romance or romance mainly depends on the intensity, for lack of a better word, of the scene. Standard romance novels may play with some of the elements, but will not delve into the actual BDSM lifestyle. The more hard-core elements, pairings and activities will generally fall into the erotic romance or erotica.

That’s the short and sweet of it. The lines between romance, erotica and erotic romance are blurring in many ways, but there are some intrinsic differences, particularly in the novel’s purpose.

The relationship/HEA (no matter the extent of the sexiness) =Romance (or erotic romance).

The character’s sexual journey to personal growth and understanding = erotica.

I would love to hear your comments or thoughts on this!

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  1. #1 by Elia Winters (@EliaWinters) on February 13, 2014 - 11:22 am

    Great post! As an erotic romance author myself, it’s interesting to watch as the categories continue to blur.

  2. #2 by Melanie Neale on February 13, 2014 - 12:35 pm

    This was awesome–thank you! This was very timely for me, as I’m just beginning a new, related writing adventure (and loving it…I have been writing for years, but very little has ever felt as “right” as this to me).

  3. #3 by Priscilla B. on February 19, 2014 - 8:37 pm

    As a writer of fiction I have been wondering for some time the difference between erotica and romance, and now I found there is an erotic romance genre! This is great. Thanks for the help! I found this article extremely helpful. It also informed that my novel is in the erotic romance e genre and that makes me feel a little more at ease. Not saying there is anything wrong with erotica I just don’t want to be known as THAT writer.

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