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Erotica Versus Erotic Romance: What's the Difference?

In general, Erotica focuses on sexual fulfillment, the stories revolve around sex, and if you take the sex out of the story, you don't have a story. There are varying degrees, but essentially that's it. The couple(s) involved can wind up in a committed relationship—or not. The sexual journey of the main character(s) is what's most important and at stake.

With Erotic Romance, the story is primarily a romance, even if it's a short romance in the form of a novella or short story. The sexual relationship is vital to the characterization and plot development, and often the story opens with a sexual hook. Often, the characters think they're looking for a solely sexual relationship, however, by the end of the story, they discover they're wrong. They might want a hot sexual relationship, but they also want intimacy on a deeper emotional level than is necessary or even desired in erotica.

In traditional (non-erotic) romance, the development of the non-sexual relationship usually leads to the sexual relationship. Often the characters acknowledge—if only to themselves—that they are in love with the other before physical intimacy occurs. In erotic romance, it's the other way around: the development of the sexual relationship and the sexual act itself leads to the romance/falling in love. However, in an erotic romance, if you take away the story's sexual components, you'd still have a full romance occurring over the course of the story. Internal conflicts (the character's personal baggage) and the emotional conflict between the two main characters (what's keeping them apart emotionally compared to an external force or external conflict that might also be at play) are essential...however, perhaps not as essential as they are in a third sub-genre I like to call sexy romance.

Sexy Romance is also referred to as "hot romance" or "spicy romance." Sexy romance usually has fewer sex scenes than erotic romance and generally revolves around the romantic relationship and conflicts to a greater degree than does erotic romance. The stories don't necessarily open with a sexual hook or goal, and the characters don't necessarily think they're primarily after a sexual relationship. Sexy romance is a lot like traditional romance, but with more love scenes—and they're hothothot!!

That's not to say some stories and authors don't straddle the lines between erotica and erotic romance or erotic romance and sexy romance, because they do. And, like many aspects of publishing, the differences can be subtle and open to interpretation. In other words, it's subjective. One writer or reader might consider "erotic romance" to occur only between two people. Once intercourse occurs, the hero and heroine remain monogamous throughout the story. If they don't remain monogamous, then it's not erotic romance, but erotica. Or is it? Maybe these particular characters choose not to be monogamous, however, in their minds the sex act and their emotional feelings for their primary partner are separate issues. They might feel completely capable of remaining faithful to one partner-of-the-heart while exploring their sexuality with more than one partner. Or, as an element of his or her character growth, maybe a character needs to experience sex with multiple partners before realizing he or she does want a monogamous relationship. However, in an erotic romance, you can pretty much count on a "happy" ending in the form of a committed relationship, whether that relationship culminates in a commitment between two people...or three, or four. In erotica, the characters are much more likely to leave the story happy to have learned something about themselves or their sexuality that they can take to their next relationships and adventures.

© 2007 Kate St. James

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