Romance is not porn.

I feel like this should go without saying, right?

And yet, not a day goes by when I don’t read some tweet, some article, some inane facebook post by someone who has never even read a romance novel, decrying “mommy porn” or “mummy porn” or “porn for women.”

And then, just yesterday, I caught this little forehead smacker on the NPR book blog (hat tip to @sesmithwrites on twitter):

“The American Library Association and Barnes & Noble were among the groups named by conservative group Morality in Media in its “Dirty Dozen List” of “the top 12 facilitators of porn.””

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/04/02/175987431/book-news-american-library-association-barnes-noble-called-facilitators-of-porn

Okay, full stops between every word required this time.

Romance. Is. Not. Porn.

This comparison does a disservice to romance writers and readers, and it does a disservice to the hardworking men and women in the pornography industry and their fans as well.

So why do we have to keep having this conversation?

Lauren Dane had a wonderful post on this subject, which I’ll link to here and encourage you to go read in its entirety, because it’s worth reading: “On Mommy Porn and Other Pejoratives”

Dane says:

Generally, it’s a thing that whenever women are good at something, successful at it, dominate it, media needs to belittle it. “Mommy porn” is a prime example of such behavior. The ways it is used against us to shame and belittle are manifold. By using “mommy” we are yet again reduced to a function. We’re not people, we’re uteruses who make macaroni and cheese and endlessly do laundry. We can’t like sex. We can’t understand books. We’re just “mommies” “Housewife porn” is much the same, only you can add in ironing of shirts and vacuuming.

Well said, Lauren.

An equally disturbing aspect of this comparison to me, is using one artist’s labor to insult another’s (and yes, pornography, especially really good pornography can be art).

Pornography is a visual medium. Porn models work hard to maintain their (pretty amazing in many cases) physiques. They allow the camera and then their audience to watch them do incredibly intimate acts as part of their work. And many of them create a beautiful product from this. I don’t know enough about the porn industry to talk about it in depth, but I recognize hard work when I see it, and I’m not about to use the work of others as a slur. Those folks work for a living, and I respect that.

I write sexy fiction for a living. As part of the love stories I write, I include description of sexual acts. Now, there are no actual bodies on the page or in my computer screen. No one had to do an insane number of crunches to achieve the stuff that happens in my books because it’s fiction. But it’s sexual. And I’m not going to apologize for allowing my characters to have a sexual life and I’m not going to apologize for indulging in that and allowing it to be part of their story.

I am frustrated by the insinuation that the two worst things a person could be are either female or sexual. There is nothing wrong with female. There is nothing wrong with celebrating our sexuality as human beings, and there is nothing wrong with reading about sex or watching two or more consenting adults doing it on screen.

So for those out there who feel the need to disparage romance as “mommy porn,” do us all a favor: go read some. If you like it, read more, and don’t feel guilty.

If you don’t like it, come up with a reason why that addresses it for its literary merits (or lack thereof). You don’t like the trope, or the language was too adverb-heavy. The hero’s best friend drove you nuts, and you can’t believe there’s going to be a sequel based on THAT guy. The author’s voice didn’t sit right with you, or there wasn’t enough conflict. Address the story. Address the language. 

But don’t make it about the author’s gender, and don’t make it about sex. Make an argument based on words. Because that’s what we’re talking about here. Words. And words are wonderful.

About Vanessa North

Author of over a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories, Vanessa North delights in giving happy-ever-afters to characters who don’t think they deserve them. Relentless curiosity led her to take up knitting and run a few marathons “just to see if she could.” She started writing for the same reason. Her very patient husband pretends not to notice when her hobbies take over the house. Living and writing in Northwest Georgia, she finds her attempts to keep a quiet home are frequently thwarted by twin boy-children and a very, very large dog.
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27 Responses to Romance is not porn.

  1. Nickie says:

    Here, here! Your words rock my world, so keep using them and I will, for sure, keep reading them.

    To the misinformed and ignorant who make the comparison between porn and erotic fiction I ask them to look at the quality of the words used in erotic fiction and compare them to the words used in typical porn. No comparison. And that’s because they are not the same thing!

  2. Jianne Carlo says:

    Amen! Well said. I agree with every word. BTW, I love the ‘full stops’. Thought I was the only person left in the world who uses that term instead of period.

  3. Parker Kincade says:

    I second Nickie’s “here, here!” Excellent post, Vanessa. Thank you for sharing this topic and saying what needed to be said. This is a post that needs to be shared over and over and over. And over.

    • awww, thanks. Can you tell this is something I feel strongly about? One thing I love about writing romance is the absolutely empowering nature of a sex-positive society. One that allows us to not only “admit to” but embrace our sexual nature and the fact that men and women both can be sexual creatures and there is nothing wrong with that!

  4. Heather says:

    Excellent post from both yourself & Lauren Dane! It saddens me that authors now have to defend their words.

    • Yes, Lauren’s post was excellent and has given me a lot to think about! While I agree a lot of the backlash against romance is gender-oriented, I think a certain puritanical (ZOMG they write about SEX) attitude is part of it as well.

      Sadly, I think writers who write work with sex in it–a natural part of human relationships–have been on the defensive since long before “mommy-porn” became the favored pejorative of the media. A century ago, D.H. Lawrence was heavily censored–which continued posthumously–for his use of words such as “fuck” and “cunt” and his depictions of sex in his books.

      Honest, positive depictions of human sexuality are a difficult thing for a society in which a woman’s perceived chastity is more highly valued than her self-actualization.

  5. This was my first time visiting your blog Vanessa. What a great post! I write romance also and have a post entitled “Coming Out of The Romance Closet” where I give people a glimpse into my experience with finally vocalizing that I was a romance writer. I have heard some pretty horrible misconceptions about writing romance and would like to think of myself as thick skinned, but when it comes down to it we are all people and we all feel no matter how hard we try not to. Being a romance junkie I especially connect with emotions on a much deeper level. Once again, loved the post. I hope you will click on my name to check out that blog post in my archives on my site. Would love to have you stop by. Have a great day :)

    • Hi Laurie, thanks for visiting us, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Yes, it does take a thick skin sometimes, doesn’t it? But you’re doing it, you’re living the dream and doing something that makes you happy, so it’s worth it!

  6. Vanessa — You rock, girl friend. It is really sad that we still have to fight the stigma of being writers who write romance with honestly depicted sex. No one makes the male thriller-mystery-suspense-horror writers who write about violence and depraved acts (some of them sexual) feel guilty about their use of such. It is a sad commentary on our society that violence is more acceptable as a topic of fiction than romantic love and sex.

    • Agreed! I grew up reading in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, and often read very bloody, graphic battle scenes–how odd that such violence was acceptable, accessible, and highly praised reading material for a tween-age girl!

      • Ezra Solomon says:

        V, your reply made me think of Mercedes Lackey and other female authors for the fantasy YA crowd in the late 80s and the 90s ’cause I too grew up reading in the fantasy and scifi genres. There was often quite a bit of violence in these + some romantic elements, but I thought they were overall good because they had determined heroines that were much better role models than *cough cough* Bella from a certain series. Those fantasy YA series earned my respect and I loved one author in particular.

        But in the scifi series I read when I was a tween and teen (which seemed to be mostly aimed at boys but were read by both boys and girls), the graphic battle scenes were definitely at the forefront and the female characters often played more minor roles than the male characters. I didn’t notice this as a young un, but yep, some of these books, both fantasy and otherwise, were pretty violent. :) There were, however, a few books my parents tried to censor from me before I reached about 11-12, mostly because the blurb on the back sounded too violent or horrific (even though these books were aimed at the tween and teen crowd!). It’s weird that violence is so acceptable in this culture, isn’t it?

    • Ezra Solomon says:

      I agree. As an aside, the only horror author I can think of who had trouble with having too much depravity and violence in his books was American author Richard Laymon. At the start of his career in the 80s, few publishers wanted to consider his books. He then made a killing (no pun intended!) over in the UK and his books were repubbed in the US later. Now he is a relatively well-known horror author to US readers (even though he’s, well, dead) and no one cares about how violent the books are or bothers to ban them. But I don’t see horror being belittled nearly as much as romance in the US, which many people still think of as fluff and mommy porn, and that does push my buttons and get me riled. :) It is like some folks think that a book which includes more focus on romantic love and sex is meaningless or less well-written and that is the part that gets me steamed.

      • Yes! They are VERY violent. I remember graphic dismemberment scenes in one particular series I read–and I’m pretty sure my parents gave me the book!

  7. I agree. I write about adult relationships, and guess what people–Adults have sex.

  8. Every time I hear someone call what I do “Mommy Porn” I want to do violent things to them. I think that is the most disgusting term ever. Do we call anything “daddy porn?”

    “My husband and I had some really hot sex last night after watching daddy porn.”

    Kinda sounds a little gross, huh?

  9. Rhea Rhodan says:

    Thank you so much for posting this, Vanessa. You and Lauren Dane nailed it.

    Regarding your reply, here, regarding violence: After living for Germany in several years and seeing lots of nudity on TV (any time of day, including commercials for every day products), and quite a bit of sex (after 9:00), I became quite used to it. What I wasn’t prepared for when I returned to the U.S. was how I’d been de-conditioned to violence. For example, the German release of “Total Recall” included a scene with Sharon Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger having sex, but no graphic violence whatsoever, and several of the more gratuitously violent scenes omitted altogether. They simply don’t tolerate it. Why do we?

    • Sigh. I so wish I had an answer for that, Rhea. I don’t understand why our (American) culture fetishizes violence and deplores natural sensuality. I noticed the same when I did my study abroad in France–sex–healthy, beautiful sex–was everywhere. Violence? Notsomuch.

  10. Pingback: Because the voices say so | Jaye Em Edgecliff

  11. Jaye says:

    Reblogged this on Jaye Em Edgecliff and commented:
    A perfectly wonderful post.
    Just as nudity isn’t sex, romance isn’t either — a romance needn’t have any erotic element at all. Even if it does, it doesn’t have to reach pornographic levels. There’s a reason Erotica is a separate genre, after all.

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