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Too darn hot
Romance fans clash over a new breed of explicit, kinky love story.

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By Julia Gracen

Oct. 5, 1999

With his hands and his mouth, he caressed her, his fingers moving down her body, pausing for a moment at her navel, then sliding lower. They sifted through the thatch of copper curls at the base of her thighs, gently eased her legs apart, slipped between the damp folds of her sex, and a long dark finger slid inside her.

Kat Martin, a bestselling novelist, writes some pretty sexy consummations, like the one above, which can be found on Page 121 of "Night Secrets," her latest historical romance. But Martin's love scenes are in the most common romance tradition: They're hot, yes, but not nuclear. And they're tame indeed when compared to the acts detailed by more audacious romance novelists like Robin Schone, whose contribution to the current -- and wildly controversial -- erotic anthology "Captivated" features anal sex:

Kneeling on the bed between her legs, he rubbed himself round and round her tightly puckered flesh, pressing inward, harder and harder with each circle until he felt it blossoming open, and then suddenly he was inside her and Abigail was crying out in the darkness. He sucked in a deep breath and held still. Her flesh nipped and milked him. The soft mounds of her buttocks quivered against his groin.

While the ordinary romance novel contains sex as only a fraction of its content, "Captivated," billed as "Tales of Erotic Romance," features four stories that are far more heavy-handed and "out there" sexually than is usual in the genre. It's not difficult to see why it has come under fire, prompting some in the romance community to insist that it should be removed from romance racks and sold at the back of the store -- in other words, as frank "erotica" and not as "romance."

The first story in the book, "Ecstasy," by Bertrice Small, would seem to make their case. It is an absurd and gymnastic amalgam of the Arabian Nights, "Exit to Eden" and "The Blue Book of Fairy Tales." In it a male sex slave conquers the heart of a frigid Amazon queen through dutiful applications of his 9-inch-long, improbably unflagging penis. Involving a full menu of pointless and glib "Penthouse Forum" sex acts, and told from a psychological distance of about six miles, it is at once hilarious and distasteful. The contrast is extraordinary between it and the deeper and more emotionally believable novella by Schone, the final piece in the volume. In "A Lady's Pleasure," the anal episode comes at the climax -- you should excuse the expression -- of an interlude of escalating emotional revelation and physical intimacy. The "transgressive" act signals the shattering of the last barrier between the couple.

Schone first pushed the erotic envelope in her 1995 romance novel, "Awaken My Love," which was based on the unique -- and some say wacky -- premise of time travel via masturbatory orgasm. Not surprisingly, that high concept was a little too heady for the first 28 agents Schone tried to interest in the manuscript. "You simply cannot start a romance book with a masturbation scene!" one scolded her. Finally, though, Schone's daring book was accepted by the 29th agent she approached and sold to romance publisher Avon five days after submission. Schone recently announced that she'd signed a contract with Kensington Books for $500,000.

Today's billion-dollar romance novel industry offers readers an astonishing spectrum of styles and types, from "inspirational" and Regency romances (which feature chaste kisses at most) to the explicit -- and even downright kinky -- eroticism of writers like Schone. The chasm between the advocates of "sweet" romance and the devotees of the "scorching" became especially apparent in June, when Schone posted a spirited essay on the popular book review site All About Romance, justifying a place for her approach to sexuality in the genre and claiming that her work contributed to feminist and artistic liberation. "Do romance readers want a clueless virgin who regularly bathes but has no idea that she has a clitoris until the hero finds the magic button?" she asked.

Next page | Erotic breakthrough or new era of smut?


 
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