There’s this common trope/assumption in romance, whether as a genre or as a side plot in a general story, that real romance is unspoken. That passion is a man grabbing a woman and kissing her mid-sentence, that sparks fly when everything emerges according to chemistry and hormones and instinct. That the touch comes first, and how the girl (or guy, but usually the girl) reacts is the answer: kissing back or a slap to the face. That asking for permission before you do something lacks spontaneity, and if there’s no spontaneity, there’s no sparkage.
One thing I’ve learned as I write erotic romance, it’s that consent is sexy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve written before on the value of ravishment fantasies within erotica. I love some good forced pleasure in fiction.
My point isn’t that fictional non-consent isn’t sexy. It’s that there is definitely chemistry in permission. And the reason why can be summed up in one word: respect.
It’s funny. I’m partial to erotic horror romance, and the things I tend to punish most in my stories is men’s lack of respect for women. It’s a mostly unconscious theme, but I notice it a lot in retrospect. You see it quite a bit in the Arcanium series, actually, which is fucking hilarious when you think about it.
My lovely villains will torture, maim, kill, damn, whatever. But consent is incredibly important to Bell. He has his own ethical code that flies in the face of most human codes, but if anyone touches his people without their permission, he takes revenge of biblical proportions. His incubus and succubus can’t feed from people in his circus, his sadistic Ringmaster can’t whip the people in the circus without cause, and those he tortures on a daily basis are usually that way because they broke his one rule of consent. It’s rooted in the whole vampire/demon idea of invitation and will to sin (although I’m not saying that what anyone is doing is sinful). But the result is a surprising respect among the demons and jinn of Arcanium for the lovers they choose, because when someone does choose the kind of things their kind offer, it means so much more.
Right now, I’m working on a long erotic novel—kind of an Old World gothic fantasy type thing with vampires and werewolves—Nocturnal Creatures. And while the monsters of this novel do some terrible things, they still value consent. My vampire king moves at my protagonist’s pace at every turn, pushing the boundaries to help her grow but not penetrating them. The wolves act on instinct and a certain level of sadism/masochism, but they still feel around the protagonist’s limits, checking periodically that what they’re doing is okay for her, asking what she likes, accepting what she doesn’t.
Bringing us to the Sanctuary trilogy. Call for Blood is coming out this month, in fact. And one of the themes that (again, unconsciously) runs through it is a deep value of consent. Renee wants her buttons pushed, but she needs the right to say no and have that ‘no’ respected. As soon as it’s not, she and her shifters have a problem.
I’m sure it’s not always perfect in my stories. The lines of consent are drawn differently between species. Incubi and succubi, in particular, blur the lines because they can’t help how much sexual energy they put out, and people certainly don’t consent to being consumed, whether by vampires, sex demons, or worse. And sometimes people are simply imperfect.
But asking for consent, gauging body language for continued permission, punishing non-consent while welcoming its illusion, the level of control necessary to restrain one’s non-human sexual desire… all of it is actually fucking hot.
Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.