It probably doesn’t seem like it, what with how critical I am of the erotic romance genre, but I actually love erotic romance. I believe it is just as important as any other genre and should take itself more seriously.
Inevitabily, whenever I criticize prevalent themes in erotic romance, I’m thrown the argument: “It’s just fantasy. It has no effect on real life. People can distinguish between fantasy and reality.” To which I say, cool, so I guess you’re fine with the weirdos on Tumblr getting wet to Eric Harris; we ain’t the same, sis. And as for it having no effect on real life….Sol…Pais? Because my comparison of Tumblr Columbine smut and mainstream romance continues to be one of my most-clicked blog posts, I’ll clarify for anybody still wondering: Yes, I do think the way mainstream romance romanticizes bad and broken boys is to blame for the Columbine freaks. I do believe smut has real-world consequences, including Sol Pais, attempted mass shooter. Can the Columbine freaks help that school shooters make them say UwU? Can anybody help what they are attracted to? Can people with a Nazi fetish help what gets them excited? On some level, probably not. But they should repress the shit out of that. Shame isn’t always a bad thing. Harmful smut should be shamed. I will shame the shit out of your kink, if your kink is something that I feel hurts the world.
So, instead of arguing that it’s all just fantasy, an argument that won’t get you anywhere with me, try arguing that mainstream romance doesn’t cause the harm that I think it does. I think the Columbine weirdos love bad boys because our culture romanticizes bad boys. I think when people read story after story, watch movie after movie, of bad and broken boys as the love interest, they *surprised pikachu* learn to view bad and broken boys as sexy. Sexuality is a mixture of cultural influences and biology. Smut has real-world consequences! Explain to me how I’m wrong.
On to my main point! Since I spend so much time pointing out what is wrong with the erotic romance genre, it’s only right that I shout out the authors who are doing it right.
I think most people would agree that fiction has a tangible effect on society and our values. If this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t have cancel culture and authors wouldn’t be called out for racism or misrepresentation-rightly, btw. That’s an aspect of SJW culture I agree with. People should be shamed for racism. The reason this happens is because we recognize that harmful tropes like the ‘demonized other’ and the ‘exotic other’ (to pull out all my post-colonial literary theory terms. *pops collar* Yep, getting an M.A in English lit wasn’t a waste of money at all), these tropes have a damaging effect on people of color. They affect the way people of color are viewed and contribute to implicit bias. It’s also widely-accepted that fiction can have a positive impact on the world. The Hunger Games has a positive impact by showcasing such a strong female protagonist in a genre that usually has male protagonists. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was directly responsible for the creation of food safety laws.
Then we get to smut….where everybody likes to pretend it exists in isolation, that it has no impact on the people who read it, or (through the use of recurring tropes) an impact on our collective consciousness, what we value.
I don’t buy that for an instant. Erotic romance glamorizes certain types of men, certain types of relationships.
But not all erotic romance authors are taking the lazy route, the lemme-just-slap-an-alpha-male-in-it-and-call-it-a-day route. There are some erotic romance authors who take their craft seriously, and like an author in any other genre, view their storytelling as a vehicle for positive change in the world. One of those authors is Pixie Stormcrow, and I’m here to sing here praises!
I first discovered Pixie Stormcrow on wattpad. You can read a bunch of her erotic romance books for free there. I highly recommend “The Will to Serve.” I don’t know how this woman hasn’t blown up on wattpad yet. I know it’s going to happen any day now. Not sure how some *cough cough* erotica authors on wattpad bully their own fans, but have enough followers for a *nudge nudge* army (I hope someone gets this callout, and I’m not the only person wattpad trash enough to know all the wattpad tea), yet we have someone like Pixie still working to build a following. She’s such a great writer. She’s so sweet and always a pleasure to talk to. She’s way nicer than me! I’m really disappointed in wattpad for how slow it is to stan Pixie Stormcrow. I’ve written about her before. I’ll probably do it again. She’s great.
What I love most about her is that she uses her books in the bdsm subgenre of erotic romance to show readers what a healthy bdsm relationship looks like. Now, I don’t have personal experience here. This is a little outside of my wheelhouse. I might read this stuff, but I’ve never been involved in the *lifestyle.* From what I’ve learned about the bdsm lifestyle on r/bdsm, it seems that abusive doms are a real problem in that community. This is due to a combination of true sadists masquerading as doms and wet-behind-the-ears submissives not realizing that they can be submissive AND have boundaries. They don’t know that they can have preferences and still be submissive. In “The Will to Serve” we follow a submissive who does not enjoy pain. With her first dom, she consents to pain play because she thinks she HAS to if she wants to be a submissive. She doesn’t just dislike it. She is basically traumatized by it. Just…freaking BRAVO! Love it. Pixie and her wonderful message of consent, boundaries, and healthy communication, is exactly what the erotic romance genre needs.
Then we have books like Fifty Shades making an abusive dom look like that’s the norm. I remember talking to a coworker back in the first wave of Fifty Shades hype. She LOVED the books (and this bitch hated to read). She talked me into reading them. I became frustrated about halfway through the first book and went back to her like, “Hey…don’t you think it’s a little weird Christian never respects what Ana says? He just shows up in another state when she goes to see her mom! Why are you into this when this guy has no respect for boundaries?” And her answer was, “It’s just a fantasy. That’s how bdsm people do it. They let the guy control everything. It’s just a fantasy for me.” So…if this woman ever actually decides she doesn’t want it to be “just a fantasy” and gives bdsm a go for real, well, she’s under the impression that submissive women aren’t allowed to have boundaries. Fifty Shades has her thinking that having boundaries ruins sexy-time.
P.Stormcrow writes sexy and romantic books, all while incorporating boundaries and healthy communication into the book. I just finished her book “Bound by Red,” where she has two doms as potential love interests for the submissive main character. One is a respectful dom who communicates with the MC in a healthy way and one who crosses boundaries and is controlling. She uses this story as a compare/contrast between a healthy, loving bdsm relationship and a controlling, abusive bdsm relationship.
I LOVE that pixie uses her stories to educate on these important issues.
Erotica can be meaningful and impart an important message, just like any other genre and Ms. Stormcrow proves that in her stories.
Her stories also have such loving and sweet dynamics between the dom and sub. None of that nasty, yelling and shaming Christian Grey stuff. All of Pixie’s male leads are sweet, kind, and gentle. Nothing is pushed on the female protagonist. Rather, the female lead owns her sexuality and wants to submit just as much as the man wants to dominate.
The only real complaint I have about “Bound by Red” is that it doesn’t work as a Little Red Riding Hood retelling. Some bits are clever. Like the MC’s red hoodie, the male lead being a werewolf, and the MC going to the hospital to visit her sick grandma. Clever! But overall this is the loosest of retellings. For one, the wolf is not the antagonist in this. I wanted to see how the grandma being eaten was going to work out…but that didn’t happen. I mean…it is a loose retelling. Maybe I’m being unfair. I guess I like a retelling to stick to the main plot beats of the original.
And then Pixie’s sex scenes really aren’t for me. But that’s a personal thing and I can’t fault her for it. A lot of it just goes beyond anything I’d ever find appealing. The thing is, the story has far more romance than smut, so even if nipple clamps aren’t your thing, you might still find this a highly enjoyable read.
Pixie is deconstructing the bdsm subgenre, breaking down genre tropes, tearing apart gender norms. Sweet, sensitive male leads who are not the typical alpha male, yet they are still very masculine, very take-charge. I’d go as far as to say Pixie’s stories are a wonderful examination of healthy masculinity versus toxic masculinity.
And, honestly, the best part of it all, is that it’s intentional. Just look at how Pixie describes her writing on her blog.
See! She’s doing it on purpose! She sets out to write steamy romances with a purpose!
Smut writers, take a note. You are not “just smut.” You are not “just fantasy.”
No matter what genre you write in, you are never “just” anything. You can work to better the world from within your genre.
Or….you could wave away any responsibility to leave the world better than you found it, by saying, “It’s just fantasy. It doesn’t matter.”
The choice is yours.
Be sure to check out Pixie Stormcrow on wattpad, goodreads, or her blog!