A lot of people poo-poo erotic romance, and romance in general, as fluffy rubbish, and in some cases they’d be right. However, as a generalisation it’s deeply wrong to make the assumption that all romance and erotic fiction is just about sexy titillation that involves little intelligence to read and less talent to write.
Poo-poo to that assumption, I say.
Lots of people ask me, ‘why do you like to write about sex?’
The answer is simple. I don’t write about sex. I write about people. Or more importantly, I write about eros between people – erotic love – which isn’t just sex. If I just wrote about sex I’d be writing pornography. Purely mechanical descriptions of tab A into slot B don’t do much for me or most other women I know. I think it’s time we made clear the distinction between what people THINK we’re reading and writing and what we actually ARE reading and writing.
Western culture, with it’s over simplified language, often stupidly gets sex and eros mixed up. These two concepts are related in terms of their physical expression, but they are poles apart in terms of lived experience. To demonstrate let’s have a look at dictionary definitions:
Eros – sexual love or desire
Sex – sexual activity, in particular sexual intercourse.
By definition sex doesn’t involve love and herein lies the key difference between it and eros. Anyone who’s been around the block a few times will tell you they absolutely know the difference between a purely sexual and an erotic experience, and most will tell you they much prefer the later, in life and in fiction.
I like a good roll in the hay as much as the next girl, but I like it a whole lot more if my partner is actively connecting with me emotionally. The whole experience is transformed from an exchange to a communication when eros enters the scene. Suddenly there is meaning and intention in each kiss and caress and it’s the quality of focus that eros brings to the interaction. It changes the ordinary into the magical.
Eros is the key to great erotic fiction (and great sex). The characters must be emotionally engaged, which means one or both have a longing that runs deeper than a lusty, ‘Corrr, gotta get me a piece of that...’.
Contrary to popular belief, fictional heroes have to be so much more than a handsome life support system for a dick. He has to have real, believable feelings. He must care about his partner, his need for her (or him) can’t be just about lust. It has to be a salient longing for the whole person. Desire between the two characters must be non-negotiable, powerful and cause them both divine agony.
It’s this strange combination of pleasure and pain that makes erotic love (in fiction and lived experience) so compelling. It engenders what is termed ‘divine madness’ – the acute state of suffering brought about by being in love. And it underpins all the great love stories, no matter how they end – happy ever after or tragically apart. As long as the journey has been wrought with passion and torment we can close a book (or roll back on our pillow) feeling deeply satisfied.