When friends ask, “Why do you write erotic romance?” my first instinct is to say, “Because I can.” That sounds snarky, but I’m dead serious.
Since the first cave man dragged a woman off by her hair, women have been subjugated by sex. Not sex as in making love – love has nothing to do with abuse, rape, pedophilia and other forms of victimization. Even today, in many cultures, a woman is considered the property of her husband. Young girls in some cultures have their genitals mutilated so they can never enjoy sex. In some regions of the world, a whole generation of women and girls have been raped – brutally, repeatedly — in acts of war.
I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m over fifty, which means I grew up in an era that spouted a lot of crap about free love. Some men (not all – I’m not anti-man, by any means) took that as a license to have sex without responsibility and women paid the price. Woman always do.
I’ve been shocked, but not surprised, at the number of friends and acquaintances who were raped, abused as children or beaten by men who swore they loved them. Friends who were made to feel sexually inadequate when their husbands left them for younger women. Women — I’m betting all of us — who have been groped in crowds, or worse, by jerks who think anonymity excuses their behavior, as some seem to believe alcohol is an excuse. Women who battle problems with drugs and depression, anorexia and obesity, because none of us will ever meet that perfect, and perfectly unreachable, norm.
For women of my age, it can be especially difficult because we were taught not to discuss our bodies – we even came up with cutesy names for our periods. We laughed at the smooth, sexless, hairless space between our Ken doll’s legs, but no one mentioned Barbie’s lack of a vagina because none of us admitted to having one. Because it wasn’t done to talk about these things, my generation was especially vulnerable to abuse and because we were taught sex was dirty, it’s especially painful for many women to confess they were abused. Look for your friends who are hurt, depressed and angry. Scratch the surface, and many times you’ll find a victim.
When I was growing up, the best sellers that titillated my friends included anything by Harold Robbins, plus Mary McCarthy’s THE GROUP, Grace Metalious’ PEYTON PLACE, Jacqueline Susann’s VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, Irving Wallace’s THE FAN CLUB and even Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER. The themes in those books were familiar and filled with rape and drugs and all kinds of abuse. Maybe men found them sexy, but they illustrated something to me – that sex was filthy and women got hurt by it. Porn, the stuff that is still sold behind counters and mailed in plain brown wrappers – when not blatantly viewed on the internet – doesn’t need a plot or a heart. It just needs naked bodies.
Women’s erotic romance is written by women, for women. There’s always a love story, and there’s always a happy ending. You won’t find purple prose but you will find depictions of sex that may be pretty graphic – or not graphic at all. It depends on the scene, and what’s natural for the story. These stories are written by women who know their own bodies and, for the first time in history, have the freedom to create fantasies that are both erotic and sensual, romantic and empowering. Sure, we like strong studly heroes, but don’t EVER call these books bodice rippers. Rip a bodice off a modern heroine, and she’s likely to rip the hero’s balls off. Nothing happens without consent, but it’s more than that.
Today’s hot romances are all about women discovering their strengths and finding men who can accept them as the strong, independent, sexual women they are. These are the suffragettes of the 21st century, refusing to be victims. As today’s young women know – and their mothers are learning – modern heroines don’t need a hero at their side to make them worthy or to save them. Like the authors who create them, these women can save their own damn selves.
And that is why I write erotic romance: because I couldn’t before. And now I can.