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Why did I stop reading romance novels?
Unpacking "mommy porn"
A few weeks ago, we asked members of the community to pitch their own stories for this newsletter, as we want to hear from more voices and broaden our own perspectives. Our third guest essay is by Tati Bohorquez, an artist and writer based in San Diego. Growing up in a quiet town, she found adventure in books and films which led her to become a world traveler, videographer, and expert packer. You can find her work on Youtube.
Want to write for us? If you want to pitch a guest essay idea for the newsletter, read this guide and email our editor, Taylor Majewski, at email@example.com.
Were we all obsessed with Wattpad as horny teens or was it just me?
If you’re unfamiliar, this is the gist of Wattpad: It’s an app full of stories about long-lost lovers, hometown tragedy, messy friendship breakups, Nash Grier/Harry Styles erotica, and Romance. Romance with a capital R, and 14-year-old me ate that up.
Serendipitously, I recently came across a romance bookstore called “Meet Cute” in San Diego. When I walked inside, I found about 30 women zigzagging between the shelves, perusing contemporary romance novels with cheesy titles like It Ends with Us, The Fae Princes, and Flirting with Forever.
I meticulously walked through each row reading back covers, judging the predictable storylines and Canva-inspired cover art that dominates the genre. But soon enough, I was blushing and giggling. These blurbs were making me all warm down there like I was 14 again.
It’s clear that romance gets a bad rap. Often, the genre is viewed as “mommy porn”—it’s for lonely women who depend on fantasy to feel something. Personally, I stopped reading romance because I thought I should become an “adult” who reads nonfiction. Over the past few years, I’ve focused on topics like productivity, finding purpose, and holistic healing. But admittedly, romance is my favorite genre! So why aren’t I reading more of it?
As writer Pamela Regis put it perfectly: ”The romance novel has the strange distinction of being the most popular but least respected of literary genres.” Amanda Pagan, a children’s librarian, also wrote an excellent piece answering that exact question. She explains that a new form of fiction began to develop in the 18th and 19th centuries, focused on the lives and struggles of female protagonists. For the first time, novels were being “written by women, for women, and about women.” Novelists like Jane Austin wrote in an effort to reflect the desires of women within traditional gender roles. Women who had to go against societal norms or overcome personal struggles. Usually, these women just end up meeting a love interest who accepts their individuality, leading to the inevitable happily ever after.
The thought of a man being the climax of a coming-of-age story feels dated and the opposite of modern-day feminism. My “higher literary self” would prefer to have an unexpected ending that leaves me perplexed for days. But at the peak of every seasonal depression, I specifically binge-watch Gilmore Girls at least three times to watch Rory fall in love. There’s a reason why the Bridgerton novels have us fangirling over presenting ourselves to society. There’s a reason why—200 years later—Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, has its own category on tumblr.
I will say it—I love comfort, sappy lines, and happy endings. Why? Maybe because it allows me to go to bed at night without a spike in cortisol.
As we entered the 20th century, we saw Georgian-era romance with a ton of historical fiction. In the ‘50s and ’60s, novels were written with heroines who had careers. The demand for these sexy, heteronormative books was skyrocketing as more women found independence and sought pleasure from their own point of view.
In 1972, the bodice ripper joined the party. Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s book, The Flame and the Flower, introduced the sub genre. Bodice rippers are “historical fiction novels featuring beautiful, virginal, yet fierce and independent women” who catch the attention of an alpha male who will eventually seduce and dominate her. Many of these stories involved elements of violence, such as threats of rape and kidnapping, as part of the love story. The impact of these storylines is seen today in novels like 50 Shades of Grey and 365 Days. Both of those series are extremely fucked up IMO, and yet, I couldn’t stop reading them? But 150 million copies sold later and they’re still being trashed by critics.
When I walked around “Meet Cute,” I saw the influence of female sexuality, desire, and emotions in real-time. The room was filled with light-hearted giggling and rosy cheeks. It felt SO good to be surrounded by the energy of embracing your sexuality and your inner child. A 2013 study looking at who reads contemporary erotic novels showed that female participants (majority heterosexual, in their 20s-30s) found romance and erotica to be “emancipated, feminist, and progressive” because for the first time, “they reduce the gender gap in the availability of sexually explicit and potentially stimulant materials tailored to the demands of women and men, respectfully.” That’s pretty badass if you ask me.
People will always have a problem with romance and erotica. They will call it mommy porn because women’s explicit sexuality makes people uncomfortable. They will call it shitty writing because it unapologetically reflects women’s desires. But history demonstrates that romance is a genre that allows women to find community, connect with themselves, and feel validated.
Today, perhaps, you should go to your local bookstore and take some extra time perusing the romance section. I promise it won't bite—unless you like that.
We would love to know what you think. How do you feel about romance novels? Do they empower your sexuality? Does erotica with traditional gender roles pose limitations for women? Or does it finally give women a space to discuss and contribute to an otherwise unspoken conversation? Join Tati’s conversation in Diem, here.
What we’re reading…
Why Reddit and TikTok are hating on MLM ‘huns’ (Business Insider)
A century of the New York ‘It’ Girl (The Cut)
⭐ PSA! After 18 months, Diem’s launching out of public beta next week… we can’t wait for more people to access the world’s first social search engine, inspired by how women have shared information for centuries. Be sure to keep your eye on your inbox and socials next week as we reveal all. See you then! ⭐