Saturday, May 02, 2009

Is more ever enough?

Remember when Harlequin introduced the "Temptation" line and Silhouette introduced "Desire" and "Intimate Moments"? Probably not. But believe me, compared with their predecessors, those titles contained some racy stuff. They signaled the banging open of the bedroom door. Unfortunately, Roget's Thesaurus banged open along with the door, so although readers were getting eyeful after eyeful of rapturous horizontalism, they were also being fed some really laughable euphemisms to describe the action. (Netherlips? Isn't that what the eastern and western edges of the Netherlands are called? Are they grasslands? Or swamp lands?)

Anyway, this silly sexspeak went on for a good many years. Then the bodacious Tina Engler came along and essentially decided it was time to call a spade a spade. Thanks to Ellora's rockin' Cave, readers no longer had to ask themselves, His "member" of what? The Elks' Club? And why does this member broadcast "seed"? Is he a conservationist? A landscaper? And what kind of seed? Ah, grass seed, I'll bet. In the Netherlips. All the delicate obfuscation came to an end with EC's "erotic" romances. A cock became a cock, plain and simple (and usually large and turgid), and it shot copious amounts of cum into every hot, dripping, swollen, gaping, achingly impatient pussy it could.

The dam had burst, so to speak. Once the Netherlips became as drenched at they could get, a kind of frenzied adventuring began. Erotic romance wouldn't content itself with settling in the land of explicit, one-on-one m/f sex. Nuh-uh. This was a Brave New World, by gum, and it had all sorts of raunchy regions to explore. Joyful masturbation. Happy-toys. Positions that defied gravity and rewrote the Kama Sutra. Menages of ever-increasing numbers. Hardcore BDSM. Fetishism. Sex with shifters, vampires, demons, aliens. Fantasy rape that veered this close (+) to actual rape. Double penetration. Multiple dicks. Twincest. Octucest (well, you know that's bound to turn up sooner or later!)

This exuberant progression has led me to a question, which is the point of my post. Are sex scenes and sexual relationships, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, now considered too "vanilla" if they don't contain one or more of the above elements? (I'm really getting sick of the term vanilla, like I'm sick of Oh. My. God. and Wow. Just. Wow. But I digress.) Have readers begun to expect and even demand ongoing one-upmanship? Can relationships still be perceived as thrilling and satisfying if they are made up of (GASP!) two people who just like to fuck? Or (DOUBLE GASP!) make love?

I'm just wonderin'.


Lacey Savage said...

It's interesting -- I've been contemplating this very thing. I'm afraid I don't have any hard answers for you, because I simply don't know. I do know that one of my publishers just yesterday let its authors know that while we're welcome to write M/F erotic romance, we should be aware that it's the kiss of death for sales. So I'm assuming that means readers are expecting more kink for their buck... at least when they're buying ebooks in digital format.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Lacey, and welcome! I sure don't know, either, which is why I threw this issue on the table.

So you were told that straight-up m/f erotic romance -- which, I'm assuming, means explicit descriptions but no kink -- is already dead in the water?

Man. What I find a bit troubling is that all those critics who say ER is indistinguishable from porn might be more correct than we realize.

Lacey Savage said...

Thanks for the welcome, K.Z.!

My theory (and boy, is this going to be unpopular) is that erotic romance is, in fact, porn for women. Women get off on more than just sex. We want emotional entanglement and a good storyline. But ultimately, it is about the sex. And women who buy erotic romance online are primarily in it for the same reason men watch dirty movies: to get off.

We get desensitized to the same old, same old. Good old fashioned sex, the kind we have at home, will only do it for us for so long before we're craving something more. I figure it's a little like being married. At first, the sex is great because it's new. But then it becomes routine, maybe even a little stale, and we're craving something different. A little more foreplay, a new toy, whatever. I think it's the same with erotic romance, but because it's in book form and not in real life, that "something different" isn't limited by what we'd be comfortable with in our own bedrooms.

So... that's my take on why readers want more kink. Personally, I'm burnt out on writing it. I've written menages in every combination, BDSM, M/M, forced seduction, you name it. But then again, I'm burnt out on reading it, too. So maybe there is hope for those of us who want to go back to tamer sex. Maybe there are readers, like me, who are craving emotional connections enhanced by smoking hot sex. But perhaps those readers, like me, are turning back to NY print publishing to get it. Come to think of it, I haven't read an ebook in a very long time.

Emeraldjaguar said...

The funny part of all this is that guys started looking at what their SO's were reading and though "Oh shiyt, we don't go at it like that" and started blaming women's lack of sexual fulfillment on unrealistic expectations raised by reading ER. I mean, heaven forbid a guy do something a woman might actually *like* or something. Because squeezing bewbeez til they turn purple really isn't as sexy as they thought it was. Who knew?

K. Z. Snow said...

Lacey: I think you nailed the problem for authors. Not only would we like to maintain some semblance of "legitimacy," we get burned out on playing the one-upmanship game.

I know I can only dream up so many situations before I start making myself laugh, groan, and/or gag. I'm quite content writing m/m erotic romance with some mild kink thrown in, but I wouldn't be a happy author if plot and character were reduced to little more than rickety scaffolding supporting a nonstop fuckfest. That's okay for very short stories, I think, but not for longer works.

Ironically, another blogger (kassa11 at LJ) recently posted about how trashy and substandard she thinks most m/m erotic romance is, and how m/f isn't nearly as bad. I'd always felt just the opposite! So whom do we aim to please -- all those readers who seem to want the "trashiness," or other readers, authors, editors, and reviewers who are scornful of it?

Emmy: HA! Fer sher many studs could stand some educating. Oy, the stories I could tell!

Jenre said...

I'm looking at this from the m/m sex POV. I've noticed that there seems to be an increasing pushing of the boundary in the sex scenes, especially amongst some of the authors known for explicit sex in their books. I'm not actually bothered by the use of toys, or interesting piercings etc, but I'm not keen on heavy BDSM. What I do like is for their to be some good old-fashioned sexual tension, followed by sex where I can actually see some emotion - even if it's just lust or apprecaition of a great sexual partner. That can be in the vanilla sex, or even in something extremely kinky.

I've just read a story which was mostly sex and it was the dullest thing I've read in ages because it was all about the mechanics and not about the emotion. There's a vast difference between erotica and porn and that difference is caring for the character and not just the body.

K. Z. Snow said...

I feel the same way, Jenre. I love both writing and reading passionate scenes, with or without "extras." Ultimately, though, emotional resonance and some degree of psychological depth are what make or break a story. If the characters don't engage me, whatever they do with or to their bodies sure as hell isn't going to engage me! A compelling plot doesn't hurt, either.

The pure- and even extreme-sex stories, whether m/f or m/m, certainly have their place. But I sincerely hope the majority of readers and writers never lose their appreciation for substance.

Treva said...

Writing good, intense m/f erotic romance is hard. (Pun intended, of course.) So authors of course would like to add kink to make sure it will be hot enough. But if you can do it without kink, more power to you.

Kink doesn't guarantee erotic or romance any more than vanilla does. It's a scary erotic romance world out there. Put real heat into it any way you want.

K. Z. Snow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K. Z. Snow said...

I appreciate your insights, Treva. Yup, writing romance that has a satisfying degree of intensity, whether it's erotic or not, is largely a matter of the author's skill as well as her/his commitment to the story and characters. I know it can be done--I've seen it done--but I'm just wondering if that's no longer enough to satisfy readers.

And I'm wondering, too, which came first: the product or consumer demand for the product. If the latter, how was that demand fashioned? By publishers? By popular culture in general? By the whole 21st-century zeitgeist?

And does eroticism in fiction have natural limits? What are they? Hell, even subjects that used to be universal taboos -- rape, incest, sex with minors, certain fetishes -- are being pulled under the umbrella of erotic romance.

It will be interesting to see how far the envelope's going to be pushed, and whether or not readers, at some point, say enough is enough.