Yes, I do write erotic fantasy along with the non- (or at least less-) erotic sort. In fact, I’ve just started a new serial, Fair Trade, that is an urban fantasy but also distinctly erotic. And no, I see no reason at all to be embarrassed about that. This post is not an apology or an excuse. It is my personal take on the existence of, and frequent dismissal of, erotic literature.
First, we need to make sure we’re talking about the same thing.
WordNet defines erotica as “creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire”. I do not agree with this highly judgmental definition at all, nor with declaring pornography and smut to be its synonyms. In fact, that’s pretty much my whole thesis here, that erotica can have entertainment, literary, and/or artistic value aside from its ability to stimulate sexually.
Wiktionary has the much less disparaging “Erotic literature, art, decoration or other such work” with a usage note of, “This word sometimes encompasses only material that is not pornographic and has or is purported to have artistic or social value, but also can include pornography, depending on the context and speaker.” Erotic is defined by Wiktionary as “Relating to or tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement.” As long as we understand “erotic” to include a broad umbrella of peripheral aspects that might not be sexual in the traditional sense but often interact with it, then I think we can go with that.
Sexuality, the erotic, and all the associated instincts, drives, and emotions are complex and powerful and common, although not universal, and while any given nuanced combination is probably unique, the individual aspects generally are not. The erotic incorporates body and mind, emotion and imagination, spirit and culture, all integrated into one–or with conflicts between that, unresolved, can be devastating. Few other aspects of our existence encompass so broad a range or reach so deep. The erotic can lend that power and passion to fiction, whether it’s incorporated as secondary layers or more centrally–as long as it’s used properly, and isn’t expected to stand alone.