Erotica author, aka Elspeth Potter, on Writing from the Inside

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Defining erotic romance, romance, erotica

I've now read dozens of definitions and discussions of romance and of erotica and of erotic romance, and after all my reading, I've come to the following conclusions, none of which have anything to do with the quality of the writing or the style of the writing or who is reading it and for what purpose.

Erotic romance, in my mind, is just romance. I don't care how much sex is in it, or how that sex is portrayed. When I read "erotic romance" I read it as if it's romance, with those genre expectations in mind: happy ending and focus on the growth of a couple's romantic relationship (and sometimes a threesome's romantic relationship).

Erotica, to me, includes plotless or "stroke" fiction which is sometimes termed pornography as well as literary erotica. Mainly, though, I think of erotica as any work in which sex is a major component. The story doesn't have to focus on the development of a couple's relationship; it might focus on a couple, or it might focus on several groupings of different types. The story does not have to have a happy ending. It may include couples and happy endings, but it doesn't have to.

I think of erotic romance as a subset of erotica, not the other way around. To me, erotica is an inclusive term for the literature of sexuality.

Your mileage, of course, may vary considerably.

Related post: Erotic Journeys and Bodice Rippers.


  1. I agree with your definitions, but I tend to think of erotic romance as a subset of romance, and erotica as an entirely different creature because its focus is different.

    Good post!

  2. Thanks! I get frustrated with all the defintions, sometimes, and had to think it through for myself.

  3. I don't think of it as subsets, exactly, more an intersection. If Erotica and Romance overlap, you get erotic romance. In that sense, it's a subset of both, I suppose. Because Romance may or may not include sex, and because it REQUIRES the HEA, it is sep. from Erotica for me.

    But to me it cannot possibly be romance without that HEA - or a strong HFN - so I agree with your assessment there.

  4. Perhaps we need intersecting sets. Any mathematicians out there?

  5. For me, erotic romance is focused on the growth and development of a relationship between a couple (or more than two people) with explicit sex, and erotica is about the growth of an individual (usually the woman) through her (explicit) sexual journey. So it's about the single character's relationship with herself and her sexuality.

    I don't really see either of them as subsets of the other because of the difference focuses, but have a similar target audience (and they both have explicitly described sex).

  6. Makes sense, Crystal.

    Hmm, the result of the erotic journey could be "she lives HEA with herself" OR "she lives HEA or is about to live HEA with partner/s." Could also end tragically, but that doesn't happen often in erotica intended to arouse. Classic ending of "Penthouse"-style story is an implication of future encounters between couple. Maybe happens more in erotica with a "literary" sensibility.