J.R. Ward. Sherrilyn Kenyon. Christine Feehan. Christine Warren. Early entries in the hot paranormal subgenre, all of these authors (and others) are particularly known for um, plunging into erotic depths that more traditional romance authors have stopped short of.
Is it just that romance readers are ready for hotter and heavier, more erotic love scenes? Or is there something about the paranormal aspects of these not-quite-human guys that releases a psychic taboo?
Certainly the success of Ellora's Cave and the growing section of romantic erotica at Borders' seems to point to the first. But it seems to me that the vampire and were subgenres lend themselves particularly well to a certain kind of really down-and-dirty sex.
For one thing, the fantasy aspect allows the author to eliminate STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and oh yes, unfaithfulness with a wave of the magic word processor. Wow, not even The Pill could do that. That's sexual liberation, baby.
One of the more swoony aspects of Ward's universe is the way her vamps mate for life. When this bond is created, the couple is imbued with a particular scent, which gets stronger when either one is aroused. Talk about marking your territory. I would challenge anyone to read one of these scenes and not get a little hot under the, um, collar. Then of course there's the biting....
Let's see, why does any of that sound familiar? Oh yeah. Horses, dogs... in the worlds that Ward and Warren in particular have created, the heroes are allowed to ignore the niceties of "civilized" lovemaking. There is sweat; there are smells. There is blood. It might be beautiful in a muscular way, but it isn't "pretty" in a delicate-flower way. It is basic, instinctive. Driven.
In a word, animalistic.
So, what's taboo about that? you ask. We're 21st-century women. We're in touch with our sexuality. Sure. But in the 21st century, we also have to deal with safe sex & date rape drugs. There's growing controversy over what constitutes consensuality. And like it or not, there is still a madonna-whore sensibility about most historical romance fiction, if not the contemps as well. There is absolutely still a line in front of, let's call it rougher sex, that most romantic fiction doesn't cross. Sex that's athletic and sweaty. Sex that leaves marks. Men that don't have to ask permission, but never overstep. Women who can submit without being victims. This is the taboo realm that the paranormal subgenre is really pioneering.