I love erotica. I think I have made that pretty clear to everyone. I enjoy reading about it in all forms. M/M, M/F, and sometimes M/F/M. Erotica is nothing more than extremely sexually visual romance. Or, as an author friend of mine noted, “Erotica is determined by the number of times the P and C word is mentioned.” No fade to black scenes or anything left to the imagination. We are given the full monty, so to speak, and I, for one, enjoy reading every single word.
What I enjoy reading in erotica—or really any genre—is the equality between the protagonists. One may be more sexually experienced than the other, but neither are pushovers. Emotional angst notwithstanding, I enjoy seeing two people having safe, fun, consensual sex.
But lately I've found a problem with erotica. It started with E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey and has continued to snowball. My problem? The characters of the broody damaged controlling alpha male and the sexually inexperienced and overly emotionally heroine. Like the audience at a magician’s show, we are given the illusion that we are reading something new and intriguing. But it’s really the same story, only told with different names and locations.
In a lot of these newer books, the hero is rich and controlling. He demands trust without the ability to give it himself and gets angry when the heroine isn't forthcoming. This kind of hero seems to believe sex is a cure all for all physical and mental ailments. He sees nothing wrong with stalking the heroine because only he can keep her safe (regardless of the fact she has managed to live twenty some years by herself just fine). Rough sex and new sexual experiences are often introduced in a way that feels more like punishment.
The heroine is equally disingenuous; we are often told throughout the story that she is an intelligent person yet from the moment they meet, she melts into a puddle of gasps, moans, and bottom lip biting. She occasionally objects, in a vague off hand manner. She can’t look at him without her panties disintegrating into a sopping, wet mess. We rarely hear a single coherent sentence from her as their relationship progresses and it seems her ability to say no is easily wiped away in a series of orgasms. Both Sylvia Day’s Bared to You and Sylvain Reynard Gabriel's Inferno are two examples of erotics that this model.
I’m also disappointed that BSDM erotica seems to be following this trend. Being in a D/s relationship doesn't mean you lose all self respect for yourself. It doesn't mean you obey blindly. You must facilitate a relationship built on trust, and if you blindly hand all your trust to someone after knowing them for only a few days, then I question the legitimacy of the relationship. And the story as a whole. The relationship should be pleasurable for both, not pleasurable at the expense of one or the other.
While I enjoy the alpha male, I don’t enjoy the overbearing alpha male—the one who expects total obedience from a lover whom they have just met, the one who pushes a lover new to the world of BDSM, demanding extreme experiences, without taking the time to explain this world to them. This is also the one who insinuates that using a safe word or limits is for posers and claims that using a safe word will end the relationship right then and there because trust has been broken. A Dom who uses coercion to engage in a sexual relationship with their intended partner also makes me see red, or when a Dom knows his partner has suffered a traumatic and/or abusive sexual experience and rather then get them professional help, they rationalize they can dominate them to wellness.
What happened to the romance in erotica? (And no, sex, no matter how hot it is, is not romance). What happened to equal partners? Why does a newbie to BDSM or a younger partner need to be portrayed as weak and malleable? Since the release of Fifty Shades, it’s as if only a romance mired in a mind boggling emotional mess is a true romance. Abuse is not only acceptable, but encouraged and expected. I understand this is fiction. I understand the need for emotional turmoil. No relationship can be 100% perfect, and there are always ups and downs, yet why the need to drag the couple through the mud multiple times in order to find their HEA? Why the need for cruelty and yes, abuse, in the relationship? Because no matter how you try to wrap a pretty bow around it all, stalking your lover, monitoring their cell phones calls, tracking their credit cards, and secretly putting GPS in their their car is abuse. Demanding complete obedience and telling the reader it’s really protectiveness is not romantic.
Let's talk about some erotic authors who keep the balance between characters equal. Megan Hart writes emotionally heartbreaking erotics, yet you’d be hard pressed to name one where either protagonists are intentionally cruel, masking it as love.
Lorelei James is one of my favorite erotic romance writers because her characters are strong, intelligent, and independent people. They are equals. Any dominance is clearly approved by both parties and you never feel one is being really coerced by the other. If one acts out of line, the other will call them on it, quickly. Plus, the fun factor is there. I never read one of her books without feeling they’re are having the time of their lives with each other, in and out of bed.
Charlotte Stein and Cara McKenna both write super steamy, very naughty erotics that may have emotional conflicts, but you aren’t bogged by never ending drama. The protagonists are portrayed as individuals. Neither’s existence is contingent on the other’s. You never doubt that they like each other for more than just sex. And maybe that is my main complaint here—in some of the new erotics being offered, I don’t feel like the couples really like each other. There is no doubt they need each other (at least that is how they are portrayed), but you rarely see them interact in a non-sexual situation. Even if the scene isn't sexually based, it will either turn sexual or be inundated with sexual thoughts and dialogue.
Another new-to-me erotic author I enjoy is Sindra van Yssel. Her novella series, titled The Bondage Ranch, reveals an honest view of BDSM with some sexy scenes and wonderful characters. Written like a primer to the different aspects of BDSM, her short stories gives us the basics of the club scene and the ins and outs of a D/s relationship with glimpses into different lifestyles. In here, we get clear explanations and a showing of what a healthy BDSM lifestyle should be. Safe words are given the proper respect, and while the Dom may push at the sub's limits, we and the sub aren't made to feel like they are a failure if they choose to back away or not submit.
Regardless of my misgivings, I haven't given up on erotica, but I find myself becoming increasingly picky about who I choose to review or give my money too.