You Know It When You See It: Romance, Erotica, and Porn

In a post 50-Shades world (and, indeed, in a pre-50 Shades world, but let’s not quibble), one thing in romance publishing is for sure: things are getting hot in here. But not all sizzle is created the same, so when it comes down to getting down, what is the difference between romance, erotic romance, erotica, and porn?

Romance: For all its bad reputation, romance is not synonymous with sex. There are whole subcategories of romance where the characters don’t have sex. There are also whole subcategories where the characters have sex, but it doesn’t get written about. There’s also romance where the characters go at it like rabbits and all the gory minutia are shared in deep, graphic detail. This is because romance isn’t defined by sex. A genre romance novel is defined by two things: a strong emphasis on a romantic relationship, and a happy, emotionally uplifting ending. If it doesn’t have these two things, then it’s not a romance.

Erotic Romance: At it’s base, erotic romance still leans heavily on the romance aspect of the novel. Sex will play an inherent role in the story, character growth, and relationship development, and can’t be removed without undermining or damaging the story. The sex is normally frequent, graphic, and often explores varying degrees of kink, but it still needs to conform to genre romance conventions.

Erotica: Erotica is often the story of the individual, discovering aspects of themselves through sex, and this is the most significant divergence from romance, where the story is focused on the development of a relationship. Sex plays a major part in the character development, and often the plot as well. Without sex, there is no story, and even if a romance eventuates, the overall focus is on the individual.

Porn: There is no expectation of character or plot development. This style of writing is designed to titillate and arouse, with the focus on sexual gratification. Good porn can accomplish more, but that is incidental, as the focus is key.

For romance, erotic romance and erotica, sex has purpose in the context of the story: it provides growth, exposition, or plot . For porn, the story is merely a vehicle to deliver the sex.

For a quick, easy reference, I really like this short definition from Janet/Robin of Dear Author:

Pornography: the exploration of the physical body through sex
Erotica: the exploration of the self through sex
ER: the exploration of romantic relationships/love (self+other(s)) through sex


Escape publishes hot romance and erotic romance. Looking for something sizzling? May we recommend the below?

24129You’ve never met housewives as hot as these…They’re wealthy and glamorous. The elite of society. But appearances can be deceiving. Bonus four epilogues, exclusive to this digital bind-up!


22577 A guarded recluse, some dirty pictures and a spark of curiosity that leads to a dangerous attraction.


20835A gripping,  blood-drenched saga about twin brothers, the men they love, and the enduring truth that true love never dies  — no matter how many times you kill it.


9692Regency England gets just a bit raunchy in this novella about a gently-raised lady who wants to feel like a woman…

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7 thoughts on “You Know It When You See It: Romance, Erotica, and Porn

  1. WE got asked at #DateNight with Jennie Jones & Juanita Kees last week how we liked our romance: “Mild” “Steamy” or “Freakin’ Hot” were the choices. Pretty sure we all went with 50 Shades of Freakin’ Hot.

  2. This argument has been doing the rounds ever since Anais Nin was around. If you’ve not heard the story, she began writing stories for an anonymous collector who wanted just the sex and none of the poetry. She told him that his request for ‘clinical sex deprived of all the warmth of love’ had nearly made them lose interest in their passion–poetry. Clearly she made the distinction that without any emotional involvement sex for the sake of sex is just porn.

  3. Pingback: So…why erotica? | The Smut Shelf

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