Friday, October 10, 2008

Taboos in Romance: What Isn’t Acceptable?

The past year or so was quite the eye opening experience in reading for me. Not only was I introduced to the joys of tree sex with oversexed men who change into seals but also Italian hermaphrodites heroines and their double penis heroes. And let’s not forget the fun of making love on a horse with your orifice of choice. And now I found out, thanks to Kati from Adventures in Katidom, that Joey W. Hill has written a fantasy romance called A Mermaid's Kiss where the heroine shift changes into a mermaid. And at one point the hero and mermaid woman have sex while she is in her mermaid form. Say hello to the year of fish love! And apparently there is a sequel planned, A White Beauty, with a heroine being an octopus.

Up until a few of years ago, my reading tastes were quite tame. I was more a fan of traditional romance where the boy meets girl, they fall in love, have some lovely sex and get married. I honestly never knew there were some mainstream romances that stretched the boundaries of sex. I have heard of certain books much like the sex stories found in Penthouse Variations, that would be in the back of the magazine rack with all other “dirty” magazines, but they never really appealed to me. But then with the internet boom, I found such a website called that really opened my eyes to the ways of different sexual scenarios., is a site that is much like, but specializes in more hard core types of erotic or sexual fiction that ranges from incest, fantasy, multiple partners and gay and lesbian stories.

Some of those stories I decided to read shocked the ever loving crap out of me and my mouth dropped more than a few times. I began visiting the site daily and I must admit I felt much like a voyeur because some of these stories went pass some lines that I wouldn’t even think of crossing. And should I be ashamed to say that I even enjoyed reading some? But because of Literotica, I have to say it opened my mind to try and read different types of books. I used to think that oral sex was one of the biggest taboos in romance. But then came the ménage a trio stories and those S&M scenes that dealt with bondage and sex toys. And let’s not forget anal sex, which I must admit is not one of my favorite sexual acts to read, but that is just me.

I will always be the type of reader who prefers more human love stories rather than the shift changing love that is being published at a rapid pace. I don’t prefer dragon love nor the latest fish sex that Kati so nicely brought to my attention. Perhaps I am a bit of a prude when it comes to sex in general but at least I have the choice to pick and choose my reading material. So, what may not work for me, may work for others. So those who enjoy certain stories and those authors that stretch the boundaries of sex, I give you praise, because you are a stronger person than I am.

With that in mind, are there certain sex acts that you just can’t read? What book have you read that had a certain sexual taboos that shocked you silly? And is there a certain sexual act or a scenario that just shouldn’t be written in romance?


Wendy said...

Which is why I avoid 98% of all paranormal-erotic hybrids. I don't need to read about people having sex with paranormal critters. Just don't.

As a big fan of erotica, my one gripe about the erotic-romance boom has been this trend towards "one-upmanship." The theory that readers are so jaded now that we can't have just hot "vanilla" sex anymore. Um no, seriously. Hot "vanilla" sex is still pretty damn hot when it's a skilled author doing the writing. Just saying. But now? With this theory floating around, readers are finding themselves subjected to tree sex, mermaid sex, wolf sex and guys with more than one who-ha.

Yeah, no thanks.

Certainly I like the "fantasy" of erotica, but I just don't need THAT much fantasy.

Katiebabs said...

I too love a hot erotic love stories, but all these people changing into creatures and plant life, getting their freak on is just not for me.
I think one writer who does the best smoking hot vanilla sex around is Lisa Marie Rice. She is the queen of writing hot missionary sex.

MK/Kati said...

Hi Kate! Thanks for the pimp!

Um, well, as I said yesterday, my one hard and fast rule is: you can have sex as humans, you can have sex in your were form, but you CANNOT have sex one human/one were form. That's a big no ma'am.

I'm also fascinated by BDSM scenes and not in a sexy way, mostly because I absolutely do not ever associate pain with sex in a good way. So, when folks get off on spanking or pushing pain boundaries, I never really get that, and I find it very difficult to find those scenes arousing.

That being said, I love books that push boundaries on group sex. For whatever reason, menage or two couples (or, hell if we're being honest, more) work for me.

I also recently was introduced to m/m romances (by our fabulous LB and JenB), I really enjoy them too. I like the dynamic of strong and strong, you know?

OK, this post ended up being much more about what works for me than what doesn't. Sorry.

MK/Kati said...

Oh! I should have said, far be it from me to yuk someone's yum, so if you're someone who enjoys the spanking, etc. I don't mean to offend.

Katiebabs said...

MK: There is one scene in the movie Coppola's Dracula that had me cringing with Dracula as a werewolf and he was ravishing Mina's friend in the garden. Of course I was like 14 at the time when it came out and was shocked to see that in the movie because it was basically human woman getting it one with a furry dog.
Just like you, I am not down with one partner being human and the other up in the air.

Portia Da Costa said...

I've written lots of kinky sex in my time, and I still like writing about the naughty quirks and variations that a pair of lovers can indulge in. But I really only want to read about sex between people who are human or human looking at the very least.

Extra penises, fish tails, snouts, fur, bark... no, no, no!!!!

Amy C said...

I just posted something similar the other day regarding anal sex and the boundary push. It's still a similar topic, instead of with who but the how.

WIth erotic romance becoming so popular, authors and publishing houses are moving the line in the mainstream to allow for more than just the 'vanilla' sex. I don't mind. I actually think it's great, but I think the authors and editors need to take the time to make sure the scenes they are trying to make "hot" are that and not write them in a way that shows they lack the experience and the knowledge of what they are writing. Just because they think it is good, doesn't mean it is.

I guess I expect to be more shocked in an erotic romance than I am in a mainstream. In a mainstream I want to put the book down and know that what just took place between the two is enjoyable, or at least was written in a way that I can suspend disbelief to believe it. I would like that in any romance I read, but with bondage and other things being popular today, it's hard :).

I think this change in the market regarding sex (mainstream anyway) needs to be done with care...not just to shock because now they can, or at least to a certain degree.

And I agree, I think a scene can be tremendously hot with the two having normal, ordinary sex, if it's done right!

JenB said...

I've read and enjoyed shifted sex, brotherly love/twincest, gay, lesbian, bisexual, step-sibling romance, blood play, BDSM, every combination of menage...anal sex, oral sex, toy play...I can read pretty much anything without freaking out.

There are some elements of gay porn that kind of gross me out (talk of dirty sweat and "ripe" odors and flavors *coughbobbymichaelscough*), and I can honestly say the idea of fish sex isn't the least bit sexy to me, but I don't consider those things completely off limits.

I think the only horrifyingly disgusting pairing for me would be parent/child. That's not only nasty to me, but just plain wrong. Brother/sister is gross too.

I also can't read about urination or scat play. Bleh. acts involving food items also creep me out (I'm talking to YOU, Rachel Bo), but those are easy to skim over.

JenB said...

MK - Ooh, spanking...spanking is good! I like the pleasure/pain aspect.

But I know that's a tough one for lots of people.

Thea said...

Oooh interesting. Well, I think the most important thing to me re: sex in books is the way it is written. The Kushiel's Legacy books are some of my faves and there are some disturbing sex scenes in there--but it's not written to be tantalizing, rather it is written to be disturbing, or to show what a character endures/who they are. So that's cool for me. I don't mind the interspecies sex so much if it's written well--for example I just read PC Cast's Goddess of the Sea and there's sex with a human and merman, but it didn't seem weird or icky since it was written so well. Same with Stardoc, with Cherijo and Kai (human-alien)...but these scenes are less 'graphic', I suppose.

The most grossed out/laughing my ass off I have been was recently with Anya Bast's Chosen Sin. There were a few anal sex scenes, complete with a butt plug, and terrible dialogue (i.e. "You mean no one has ever pleasured you in both orifices, querida? This is double penetration. I am conquering you completely!") that I just couldn't take seriously at all.

Then again...I have the maturity level of a twelve year old when it comes to some dialogue during sex scenes so...that's just me :p

Katiebabs said...

Should I dare to ask what scat play is?

Katiebabs said...

Thea: LMAO!!! yup, butt plugs not my thing.

JenB said...

KB - poo

Katiebabs said...

Ah, the opposite of golden showers. BLECK BLECK

Aymless said...

Am in totally agreement with Jen... family sex is just sick and icky *shivers*

And people with animals is icky too...

ps: Kate I tagged you!

MK/Kati said...

Thea - LB was wondering yesterday where a merman's unit would be. Any thoughts???? Given that you just finished a human/merman book?

Ellory said...

I found that my ick level worked out with shapeshifters who changed in the middle of the act. Plus there was some showing of dominance by the same sex in their shapeshifted form. While I understand many found this interesting ... it wasn't my cup of tea.

I've shied away from selkies. I know that my friends are telling me the books are wonderful. Somehow I don't see seals (not that kind) as hot and sexy.

I do read some books involving shapeshifters but I tend not to go to the erotica aspect.

Karen Scott said...

I've read and enjoyed shifted sex, brotherly love/twincest,


Brother/sister is gross too.

So, twin on twin is ok, but brother and sister is bad?

What's the difference?

Karen Scott said...

Sorry, that probably seemed a bit tart, but I do genuinely want to know what the difference is.

Thea said...

MK/kati--the merman thingies are like sharks or whales (or i guess dogs), they come from inside the body when they're ready for action. And mermaids have a corresponding area.

Yeah it sounds really weird but it works for some reason! LOL!

Brie said...

With straight romance, I'm more of a vanilla girl. Even the erotica I read is pretty un-shocking. I like it that way. I've read m/m romance and have no problems with that. And lite bongade is alright with me.

What I do not like is degrading sex scenes. Like the hero punching the heroine in the face to get off. Or him pulling it out of her rear and shoving it into her mouth. I hate scat and pee play, and any thing else that would fit into a category of degrading acts.

I've never read about tree sex or animal/human sex, so I don't know how I would react to that.

JenB said...

Karen - Before I even try to answer this, I should clarify that by "twincest" I mean same sex twins, not opposite-sex frats.

Quite honestly, I have absolutely no idea what the difference is. Probably has something to do with the fact that twincest is a pretty common kink fantasy, so I've been desensitized to it. It's even accepted in mainstream media (beer commercials mostly). The twincest I read is m/m. I haven't read f/f twincest, but I can't say I'd be horribly offended by it. Actually, the only time I've heard of twincest at all has been in fictional fantasy settings. I haven't heard any horrible media stories or Biblical parables about twincest.

Brother/sister incest, on the other hand, has pretty much always been taboo. Even during times when it was common practice among royalty, the masses didn't really ever approve of it. Then of course there's upbringing...Bible stories, brother and sister being told that at a certain age they can't bathe together or see each other naked...crazy and disturbing stories in the media, etc.

Same-sex twincest also takes the "two-headed baby" mythology out of the picture since they can't get each other pregnant.

I'd most likely never approve of twincest in real life, but that doesn't mean I can't suspend disbelief and disapproval in a completely fictional setting.

I don't approve of necrophilia in real life, but sex with vampires in fiction is okay. I don't believe in bestiality, but I like reading erotic romances about shape shifters. I'd probably kill my husband if he brought another woman to our bed, but I like reading m/f/f erotica. *shrug*

That said...there are plenty of creepy brother-love/twincest stories I'd NEVER read. A certain creepy quadrilogy comes to mind.

Carolyn Jean said...

Well,I would answer almost the same as Brie, though I am sure I would never like animal sex if the animal didn't choose it. But I have to go check out that literotica!

Kristie (J) said...

LOL - I'm pretty traditional when it comes to variations. I don't even like this trend towards a.n.a.l sex. It's a big turnoff to me. I'm more like Wendy - a real traditional love scene can work wonders if written well.

JenB said...

CJ - So if it was the animal's idea, you'd be okay with it? :D

Katiebabs said...

CJ: Beware, literotica has some crazy stories. Lots of family loving and some freaky plant romance also.

Brie said...

CJ: I should add that I would never be okay with in-consensual animal sex (that sounds strange).

But if it was a paranormal and the amimal was okay with it, then I might have a different reaciton.

Katiebabs said...

Isn't it interesting that most readers are okay with shift changing sex in paranormals? I have to admit when Kati's post told about sex while the heroine was half mermaid, I was a bit disgusted.
My question is, why is it okay in fantasy or paranormal? Doesn't the ick factor still come up just as if it was a contemporary or in a straight historical?

JenB said...

My question is, why is it okay in fantasy or paranormal? Doesn't the ick factor still come up just as if it was a contemporary or in a straight historical?

I'll accept pretty much anything in paranormal because I don't try to apply human rules to non-human characters. I mean...if I'm already reading about a chick having sex with a dude that changes into a wolf or a cat, or I'm reading about sex with a demon or the un-dead, then I'm already suspending disbelief and bending the rules of the universe. It doesn't bother me to bend those rules even more to accept a strange sex act.

Sex with a tree? Well, I can't say I'd enjoy it myself, but who am I to say that fairies shouldn't enjoy it?

Katiebabs said...

Or the Keebler elves? LOL

JenB said...

Keebler Elf porn. Heh. Hmm...might not be so bad. All that chocolate frosting they use would probably make good lube. And it's tasty too!

Joey W. Hill said...

Okay, the Keelber elf porn got me (Lol). Katie, I owe you thanks, because you gave me my weekly blog topic this week - your topic and Wendy's comment reminded me of a similar question I was asked by a writer, about writing vanilla versus the more "kinky" versions of sex (though I heartily despise that word).

I started writing this comment, and then it gave me the blog topic, so forgive the redundancy. It may seem ironic, because I do write more non-traditional romances, but I agree with Wendy. I think most readers still enjoy reading steamy vanilla sex, even as they may also enjoy kinkier forms. No matter what kind of sex it is - vanilla or hardcore BDSM or shapeshifter - the key to connecting with the readers is to connect them emotionally with the characters. An author must reflect what it is we’re all seeking when we’re intimate with someone - the deeper level, even beyond how we all like to be touched and aroused by a lover. Then that same author must make sure this feeling is so intertwined in the scene that the reader is pulled in. If an author does that, I don't think it matters what kind of physical scene is being written.

In most of my works, I find the muse guiding me to the moment when it is beyond whether or not they are Master or slave, mermaid or angel - two souls meet, connect, and become one in that all encompassing act of devotion and passion. To me, that's what it's all about. Just my two cents. Thanks for the great topic and intriguing comments

Jaci Burton said...

Oh great topic!

I have always found that one persons 'ew' may be another's 'ooooh!'. And the freedoms we enjoy allow us to experience those pleasures in our reading. What I like to read in a sex scene might be what someone else finds repulsive, or vice versa.

As far as what's taboo...that's difficult (the ew and the oooh again). I've read a lot of erotic romance and erotica, and often been shocked by what I read. But if the story and the characters grip me, I find I can accept just about anything...almost. I draw my personal line at pedophilia, incest and a few other sexual acts that go beyond what I consider sex. Which doesn't mean that my 'ew' factor...again..isn't someone else's 'oooh' factor.

Interestingly enough, as far as my writing goes, I probably write more vanilla in my erotic romance now than I did 5 years ago when I first published. Not sure why since I haven't self analyzed the reason for it. Some kind of evolution in my writing. Maybe I'm going the opposite direction of the trend. Maybe not. Or maybe it's just the kind of stories I'm writing now vs then, with the stories and characters driving the sex. Who knows?

It's just nice to know there's something for everyone out there, no matter your tastes.

Thanks for letting me weigh in on this topic. Really interesting and I'm enjoying everyone's responses.

Katiebabs said...

Joey: you have an excellent point with an author having the skill to connect emotionally with the reader. There have been some books with some uncomfortable sex scenes, but the way I conected with the character and the story itself, made me open to accepting what was going on in the bedroom, or the forest, ocean, another planet. ;D
I also think this discussion can also be compared to forced seductions scenes in romance. Some readers are fine with those while others can't read them because they feel it is rape, plain and simple.
But it all comes down to the connections the reader has, which is very important in the reading experience.
As for incest in romance, that is another touchy topic that I personaly don't think I could enjoy. When I first read VC Andrews and Flowers in the Attic, I felt a bit dirty in what I was reading because the love between the older brother and sister was indeed shocking to me 13 year old mind.

Joey W. Hill said...

Ewww vs Oooh. I shall have to use that in my next workshop – with full attribution to you, Jaci. Succinct and effective way to put it. Plus, your “vanilla” scenes have left me fanning myself, so I think your books are excellent proof of Wendy and Katie’s point.

Katie, that was a blast from the past – I remember poring over those Flowers in the Attic books, fascinated by the idea of such a forbidden joining. I also remember all the discussion that went on during the famous “Luke and Laura” General Hospital soap opera rape scene, where of course later on they ended up being “in love”. Which of course was just reflecting the rash of “forced seduction” or “rape” scenes that were common in romances at that time. It is interesting how our direction as authors and readers change over time. I’ve often wondered if the fascination with the “forbidden” areas are a manifestation of our desire, not to indulge in that particular type of taboo (which may in fact repel us), but to shrug free of our own unique inhibitions to connect with another at the most primal level or ourselves. I’m sure it’s the type of topic that college sociology classes can spend hours dissecting, though of course I think I prefer the pleasure of tossing it around on a blog. Thanks for letting me participate! Back to the dreaded edits and promo stuff… :>