On my soapbox: Thoughts about erotic fiction, porn and respect…

My husband jokingly once told somebody we’d just met, “my wife writes porn.”

Privately, I took him aside and told him, “You shouldn’t tell people that. They may not know you’re joking, and they might really think I write porn.”

He promised not to do that again.

I don’t write porn. I write erotic romance. Sexually explicit, often kinky, erotic romance. I write romance that titillates, yes, but also that entertains, and in some cases, even has a message.

Too often, I see other erotic romance authors refer to their work as “porn,” and “smut.”

“Fill your Kindle with smut. Buy my book,” they tweet.

Friends and readers familiar with their work know they’re being tongue-in-cheek. But their other 10,042 Twitter followers don’t. And the message that goes out into the world is erotic romance = smut.

I can’t speak for people of other English-speaking countries, but we Americans are screwed up about sex. We live in a country with a strong moralistic Puritanical streak in which porn thrives but sex is still seen as something shameful and dirty or something to be hidden or forbidden all together. Where movies and video games of people being murdered or mutilated shock less than a flash of naked boob or a twerking woman in a body suit. Stuff like this can be seen on websites like fullhdxxx.com.

Say what you will about Fifty Shade of Grey, but this “mommy porn” as it was dubbed in the press (see!) went a along way toward bringing acceptability to reading erotic fiction. For many people, Fifty Shades was their first introduction to the genre. And they liked it. They want more. But when the average reader tells you she read that book, she does so with an embarrassed laugh (and not because she thought the writing was poor). And I feel like a lot of inspiration for this comes from websites like tubevsex.

Recently, a neighbor asked me what I did. I told her I wrote erotic romance. She laughed. “Really?”

“Yes.”

If I had said I was an accountant, or a neurosurgeon, or an author of mysteries, religious books, or computer manuals, would she have laughed?

I doubt it.

I believe we must continue to educate the reading public that it is okay to read about sex. If we refer to our work as porn or smut and snicker about it, we feed the belief that sex is shameful.

If you believe that what you write IS pornographic, then by all means market it as such. Porn has its place too. Like on websites similar to hdpornvideo. But if you see erotic romance and erotica as something different from porn or smut, then don’t denigrate it. Lead by example. Show your work the respect it deserves.

Then perhaps others will respect it too. The market for all of us will benefit.

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30 Responses to On my soapbox: Thoughts about erotic fiction, porn and respect…

  1. Casey McKay says:

    I guess it all depends on your connotation of the words “smut” and “porn”. I don’t mind calling myself a smut writer or saying what I write is smut. It doesn’t seem negative to me and “erotic romance” is a mouthful to say (or a handful if you are typing).

    I guess if people were just meeting me and I were being up front about what I did (I am not at the moment), I wouldn’t want them to think I am demeaning what I do. Because I like being a smut writer. And that is what I really think of myself as and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    I have thought for a long time that society is really messed up in the amount of violence we show on tv and movies, but nakedness is still taboo. It’s a stupid way of thinking.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thank you for weighing in, Casey. For me, personally, there is a qualitative difference. Porn is definitely one thing, erotic romance is definitely something else.

  2. Some excellent points here, Cara, as always. I wonder, based on Casey’s comment above, if the word ‘smut’ might have different connotations to different generations.

  3. Sue Lyndon says:

    I hate the phrase “mommy porn” more than anything. Whoever came up with that phrase needs a good spanking, imo. I always tell people I write erotic romance, and they usually snicker and ask “really?” just like your neighbor. It’ll be interesting to see how erotic romance will be perceived in ten or twenty years. Hopefully there will be less snickering and more respect. Good and thoughtful post, Cara.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I think in general, people denigrate what women like/do. Romance has always been dissed. And now erotic romance? Of course, it gets labeled “mommy porn.”

  4. I always say erotic romance as well. I used to say just romance when I first started coming out about what I do but in Holland, they refer to all fiction as romance (Romans) so they’d ask what kind, misunderstanding, and I’d end up telling them anyway. Now I just say it, get the moment of quiet or the little laugh and then that is it. Few follow up with ‘how is work’? 🙂

    Personally, I don’t like referring to our work as smut. I know for myself, I’m not just writing the hot scenes, I’m telling a story – or trying to – and the emotion involved as well as the plot itself is just as important (for me) as it is to have hot and explicit spanking and sex scenes and that takes too much effort to label it as smut. I guess for me, smut does have a quality that lessens what we write.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I would think that area with legal prostitution would be less shocked.

      And I agree, I’m not writing smut, I’m writing a story with a plot that contains sex (and spanking).

  5. Siobhan Muir says:

    I hate the term “mommy porn”. It’s dismissive of women having sexual desires and dismissive of the writing itself. I never refer to my writing as anything but erotic romance or paranormal romance. Just recently I was telling someone “I write paranormal romance and romantic suspense. So if it bites or is chasing you, I write it.” Marketing is tricky depending on who you’re speaking to, but I’m clear. It’s not porn and it’s not smut, and it’s not shameful. I sell it to men by saying “It’s kick-ass adventure with hot sex.” Works every time. 🙂

  6. Karla Doyle says:

    Bravo, Cara. I agree with every word.

  7. To me, “smut” and “porn” mean something very different from erotic romance. I, for one, write romance. It just happens to have erotic (and to some folks, kinky) parts. It might be a generational thing. I think words have power. If you label yourself a porn writer, you lump yourself in the “Debbie Does Dallas” category. It it’s okay with you to be associated with that type of writing, more power to you, but if you want to be associated with Johanna Lindsay and Danielle Steele, you had better put “romance” in your appellation. The word “erotic” has as many meanings as there are kinds of relationships. I don’t think it’s a dirty word, and I believe more and more mainstream readers are beginning to accept it as a legitimate part of genre fiction. It’s still a subset of romance, and probably will always be, but I don’t think anyone needs to blush when they admit they write it.

  8. S.J. Maylee says:

    We Americans are screwed up about sex. I most definitely prefer calling myself an erotic romance author. Great post, Cara.

  9. Lucy says:

    I agree, Cara. I’ve corrected my husband more than once when he tells people I write porn. We’ve had many conversations about “I write erotic romance” or “I write romance” if it’s too much for him to remember. I don’t view my writing as smut or porn. It’s storytelling with romance, steamy language and a plot. Period. It’s frustrating when people view it as trashy. I’ve read trash and know the difference.

  10. AMBuxton says:

    An extremely thoughtful and interesting post!

  11. Rollin Hand says:

    If I ever tell someone what I write, I call it steamy romance or erotic romance or erotic thriller or something like that. But I’ll never characterize my own works as smut. That’s because, to me, smut is all sexual encounter without plot or characterization, really without the human element.
    That said, some of my books bear a resemblance to stuff that was sold in adult bookstores back in the 70’s. And those books are steady sellers. But I still think (1) there is art in what I do because I take time to actually tell a story, and (2) eroticism in its own right is an art. Anything that appeals to the senses is an art form. Cooking, massage, music, painting—so why not writing that stirs our sexuality?

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I’ve read some of your stuff, and I would not call it smut either. You do tell a story. And sex (erotica) does not equal smut.

  12. LB Grant says:

    Thank you so much for writing this, Cara. I agree with every single word. Even within the Romance Writers community, I sometimes feel like I have to apologize at times for writing the ‘racy’ stuff as if our genre is somehow less important or serious. I have read all of your books and without a doubt, you are an erotic romance author at it’s finest.

    Your mention of Fifty Shades reminds me of the most important thing I learned from that series. While it may never win a literary award for style, it certainly was a winning combination. I am very grateful for the attention is has brought to the erotic romance genre and I know it is responsible for a boost of new readers who are finally not afraid to seek out, talk about and recommend the kind of stories they love the most.

    I’m hoping to meet you at RT 2014 as I see you will be there this year. I’ve been a lurker on FB and fan for years.
    ~LB Grant

  13. Cassi Carver says:

    Wonderful post, Cara! I whole-heartedly agree! 🙂

  14. Dakota Trace says:

    My hubby is good about calling my work erotic romance but my siblings call it smut…and my middle daughter says I write nasty stories. After correcting them a million times, I give up. Although I agree with you about the difference…I have better things to do than fight with them over a label – like writing more sexy stories.
    Dakota

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Privately my husband still refers to my work as porn (he calls the Romantic Times conference the “porn prom”), and I’m okay with that. My issue isn’t with him or close friends who know me and know what I write. My issue is how we authors present ourselves to potential readers, to the world at large.

  15. A hearty “Bravo” Cara… Your thought and ideas so clarify my own thinking and I would think many in this field… And I do agree that when readers unwrapped and opened “50 Shades” it did give this prudish country we live in a tangible and perhaps second look at the many talented and vested Erotic Romance Authors out there that they may have been overlooked for cause in the past…

    This post should be must reading for so many, not only in the field here at hand, but the overall literature field in general… Thank You !

  16. Barb says:

    I read all genre of romance historical to erotic, paranormal to futuristic. If the writing is good, quality work then it’s a gift … not porn or smut. I live with someone who calls what I read my “smut book” keep in mind I don’t harp on them for the Amish books they read.Books are like relationships – to each their own. If you don’t like what I read, that’s fine. You don’t have to read it. But don’t talk about it if you do not understand what it is I’m reading.

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