I have always loved books with edgy concepts. When I was in grade school that meant checking out Judy Blume books, hiding away in my room learning about puberty from characters in books. In middle school, I checked out edgy books like Flowers in the Attic, and in High School I read banned books like The Clan of the Cave Bear.
I discovered romance books as an adult. I checked out hundreds of books from the library and haunted thrift shops and garage sales. The jacket covers proudly displayed strapping men without shirts and women with heaving bosoms. The women’s clothes seemed close to slipping off and they wore expressions of ecstasy on their faces.
The heroes of these books were dominant and forceful. They had positions of power, and whatever brand of masculinity they possessed, they were the highest and best of their kind. If the hero was a duke, then he was the highest ranking, if he was a Seal, then he was the team leader and if he was a cowboy he was the only one who could ride the untamed horse.
The heroines were often young women thrust into compromising situations. They were the governess who found herself in employ with the widowed duke, damsels in distress that were rescued by a handsome seal, and mail order brides who traveled across the country to marry a cowboy. The heroes had a hard emotional shell that was almost always pierced by the gentle love of the heroine.
The heroine was often a virgin, and there were scenes of what we would now call forced seduction or dubious consent. They were surprised by their sexuality, and as they explored their desires they almost always ended up owning it. They overcame their fears, they adapted to their situation and they story ended in “happy ever after.”
Somewhere along the line, romances changed. Heroes became more sensitive, they still were masculine, but they had different professions. Heroes were bankers, and doctors as well as the duke, the seal and the cowboy. Heroines were older, they had sexual experience and they were not waiting around for their happy ever after-they went out and got it. Their relationships were more equal and reflected the demographic of women who were breaking barriers in the real world.
Readers flocked to these new books for their witty dialog, their masculine but sensitive heroes and their strong sensible heroines. I fell in love with the new style romance too. The book jackets were different too. Gone were the heaving bosoms, they were replaced with a stylized image of a high heeled shoe or a crumbling castle.
I’m not sure if my favorite authors of old, pioneered this new romance style or if they followed the trend of the newer authors, but pretty soon I found that many of my favorite authors had changed too. I read and loved their new books as well, but pretty soon I realized that I couldn't find stories similar to the ones I had loved in the beginning.
I kept my older books, and reread them whenever I wanted the Scottish lord to ravish the young woman he had captured in a raid.
One day, while browsing an online book store, a new kind of book came into the feed marked, “you might also like.” It was a whole new genre of romance books to me. The jacket covers had pictures of women with almost exposed bosoms, half naked heroes and sometimes more than one hero. Intrigued, I clicked the buy button. I found my new love, erotic romance!
I think what I love about the romances of old, and some of the new erotic romances is women discovering their sexual appeal, their sexual identity and sexual prowess. Through reading, I can explore my own desires and discover out what I find sensual. I can become the scared young girl, captured in a Highland raid, who explores her sexuality. I can become the high powered executive who submits to a Dom, and when he pushes her sexual boundaries she realizes she doesn't have to give up her self-identity. I can become the girl who doesn't have to choose between two men, I can have them both!
Labeling is a constant in our lives. The label bodice ripper was meant to denigrate the reader and the writer. The term holds up the book in a negative light, not acknowledging the romance, not validating the growth of the character but assumed that the whole premise of the book was sex.
Erotic romance has a different derogatory term, “housewife porn.” I have a problem with that on many levels, since I love erotic fiction and am a stay at home mom. I write and read stories about love, romance, and characters who have sex. Hot sex, steamy sex, and fulfilling sex. I’ll tackle my objections to the term “housewife” in another blog!
I am a sexual being with desires and fantasies. I explore those desires and fantasies by reading and writing about them. I’m not sure why we have to put a negative label on books and stories that feature passion and love.