What is Erotica? How is it Different from Romance?

Romance and erotica sit on a spectrum, and both serve various purposes. Before we get to better understand these purposes, let’s begin by getting the definitions of both right.

Erotica is about sex; it’s meant to either incite arousal and/or explore the nature of sex and sexuality. In erotic fiction, the use of sex to move the plot and advance the emotional exploration of the characters is the material difference between it and romance, which focuses on the exploration of relationships and happiness.

Erotic fiction suits shorter formats for its purpose, and to illustrate what I mean, my blog explores sex, kink, and emotion in this form. Erotic fiction doesn’t need to be plot driven and is flexible, but its genre conventions mean it should have a HFN (happy for now) and a positive ending.

“Erotic romance” explores relationships through the use of sex and romance, both of which are intrinsic to the work. That is to say, removing the sex would be detrimental to the plot itself. For example, in my novel Saving Suzy the couple at its centre discover their love, sexuality, and self-understanding through the sex scenes and physical intimacy. Of course in any romance, the one hard rule is that there should be a HEA (happy ever after.)

“Steamy romance” is more centred on the couple and plot, and while there is sex—sometimes a lot—those scenes don’t necessarily push the narrative forward, but are an enjoyable aspect of character exploration. For those interested in reading something along these lines, one might consider Rosanna Leo’s A Good Man.

Then, of course, there are romances without sex. These might be described as “low heat” or “sweet.” Sometimes sex of physical intimacy is “fade to black” or sometimes not even referred to. The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor figures among titles I would consider to be sweet romances, and this novel in particular remains one of my favorite comfort books to this day.

There aren’t always defined lines for these categories, and how we individually classify books will vary. Much of it is about individual tastes and expectations.

All of these are valid.

Romance is a varied genre; it offers a happy ending and hope to its readers. In periods of poor health, emotional difficulty, and times of crisis, romance can offer a safe place where the reader has a guaranteed outcome where they won’t be harmed. People also read erotica or romance while questioning their sexuality or seeking to understand kink and past trauma. Having books without sex are important for those who might be sex repulsed, have suffered trauma, or just don’t like to read about it. Reading for enjoyment is as valid as any other reason. Whatever our reasons for delving into any of these genres, they ought to be respected.

Stefanie Simpson is an author and contributing member to Thursdays at Pornucopia. For more from Stefanie, you can find her on Twitter or through her author page on Amazon.

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