I joined RWA about twenty years ago. I've been running around the romance community is some fashion for two decades. I've been to conferences and workshops and writing classes and monthly group meetings and online and what have you for a very long time.
Before that, I was a romance reader. I started reading romance when I was twelve. I read those first love books in my teens. And hid the dirty historicals under my bed. The first dirty historical I read was about two twin girls, named Gia and Gina, one was betrothed to a wealthy man and was sent to marry him, she was killed in a buggy/train wreck. Her sister had amnesia from the same accident. The groom didn't know there was a twin. He took home the wrong sister.... except the other sister wasn't killed she'd been thrown clear of the wreckage (must have been a buggy) and the other body that was severely unrecognizable (I thought burned so must have been a train) was thought by the readers to be one of the twins.... lots of premarital shenanigans went on. The other twin comes back... she wasn't nice about her sister being pregnant with her betrothed's baby... I can't remember how it ended. I was thirteen. It was sex.
Of course, I read Fear of Flying by Erica Jong around that time too. It wasn't a romance. I read my first menage scene when I was too young to know what menage was. Or sex for that matter.
For some reason, my parents had a box of smut books in their closet. I mean SMUT of the smuttiest smut to ever smut. I remember this pulp fiction porn fest titled Amanda set during WWII. In which Amanda is a slut who bangs all her boarding school friends, is sexually assaulted with a fireplace poker by her boarding school friends. Goes to college and becomes a spy for the Allies... and is caught behind German lines, taken hostage and gang banged... uh... yeah... so... my early reading wasn't all sunshine and rainbows.
I read Valley of the Dolls, Peyton Place, and Myra Breckinridge before I was fifteen. Sex, drugs, incest, and transsexuality.
I don't know if I should be ashamed or not.
I read my first official romance when I was twenty-one. Or rather, the first adult romance that I bought and didn't hide. It was Johanna Lindsey's Gentle Rogue.
I proceeded to Kathleen Woodiwiss, who pretty much had the phrase 'bodice ripper' coined just for her books. And Virginia Henley for her sweeping British historical sex romps. And Bertrice Small... for her... well... uh, sex sex and more sex. Susan Johnson for her incredible American frontier sex books.
But before that, there was Anne Rice. Exit to Eden was my first actual penetrative gay sex scene. It was rape. Sure it was. But it was sex club dom/sub and expected... then her Beauty books. I was still in my teens then. I read the Story of O somewhere along to line.
Sex. Multiple partners. Gay. My early reading education was... messed up.
It's why I write what I write. I didn't like the sweet romances. I didn't like books that didn't explore human sexuality, I guess because I was already reading on a higher smut level at fourteen than most adults do in their forties.
I must admit that I've stopped reading smut. Mostly because most of it isn't well written.
There's an art to erotic literature. There's an art to pornographic literature. I've read both. I've read terrible pulp spank/cum fests that were horribly written and felt dirty afterward for even knowing it existed. I've read gorgeously written pulp spank/cum fests that I regret having lost.
But when it all came down to it, I gravitated to the books that the sexual relationship and the nonsexual relationship were given equal time. I didn't need a happy ever after. I just wanted the couples to come out of the story better than when they went in, even if they didn't stay together. Even if it was just a fling.
When I started writing, I thought I could write outside the romance genre. I tried. I can't. I was too young and didn't have enough life experience to write something like Fear of Flying. I'd never read young adult books that weren't sweet romances, so I didn't know that was even an option. I'm still not widely read in the YA genre unless you count Harry Potter. I went from middle school books to teen romance to adult erotic fiction to erotic romance.
My first few finished books were straight romances, with some sex. Not enough to fit into the erotic genre. Too much to be considered traditional romance. Sensual is now the preferred term for those books. Three sex scenes and a Happy Ever After.
They didn't sell. Or I couldn't get a publisher interested. Most publishers were chasing Ellora's Cave's skirts at that time. Erotica was in. Sweet was out. The dirtier the better.
So I wrote a dirty one night stand that I gave an HEA. It didn't sell either.
I wrote my first menage. And I peppered it with this illusion that there was some big secret between the two male protags. That I was too chicken shit to delve into. I published that book as an MFM or M/F/M. And regretted it for two years. I knew there was more to the story.
My next book was an M/F or F/M depending on where you look. It had some mild bondage and spanking. This was before that 50 Shades book. Or right about the same time. It sort of got swept along in that to a small degree. There was definitely more than three sexy time scenes going on in that book. And it sold very well... well by my standards at the time. Since I had no standards and my first three books hadn't sold enough combined to pay my phone bill for a month.
I gravitated to MM or M/M right after I wrote that book. I don't know why. Because of all of the books I'd loved in the past, the ones that stayed with me were the ones in which the men had more than friends relationships. I mean, Louis and Lestat weren't just splitting the rent if you know what I mean. The scene in which Lestat turns Louis is probably one of the most erotic scenes I've ever read and it doesn't involve a single penis.
Sex in MM was easier. I didn't have to stick to the 'rules' of conventional romance. I didn't have to have pure as the driven snow heroine and the alpha who saved her. I don't like those. I don't relate to those. I don't relate to the books in which the girl is only about clothes and fashion and makeup and saving her inheritance or getting a billionaire. I wanted books about women like me. With dark pasts and demons and hardscrabble existences that they pulled themselves through, finding the guy who'd come in and maybe lift some of the burdens off their shoulders but not save them. I wanted people who weren't perfect. I wanted people who were equal. And broken who needed someone to accept their brokenness.
That is not going to happen in MF romance. Like ever.
MM fills that need. But that's not the only reason I write MM.
I write what I call porn with plot. I write erotic romance with a plot. I write sex books with equal brain works.
When I say that most erotic romance is poorly written... well, it is. Erotic romance isn't about sticking it in and pulling it out and body fluids.
Erotic romance is about the brain. It's about two people connecting in more ways than just the slots and tabs being filled. It's about making a mental connection in bed and out of bed. Or it's just porn. Really bad porn.
Erotica, erotica isn't erotic romance. It's sex, smart sex, just for sex sake. There is no plot. There is no HEA. There is only sex between two or more consenting adults. Add toys to take it to the next level. Erotica is where everything with sex is now tossed. Erotic romance and erotica are not the same. In erotica, the partners can have a romantic relationship, or not. There is no expectation of a ring unless it's on a cock. There is no expectation of a day after or a second meeting. A married couple can bring in a third and it's fine. Or swap partners and it's fine. No hearts are broken. In the end, it was just about the sex.
Erotic romance has the same expectations of some kind of HEA for all parties involved.
Sensual romance is romance with three sexy time scenes, probably not fully articulated and double entendred to death.
Romance has sexy time but without the graphic words or descriptions. And is usually over quickly. Sex is not the focus of the story. The romance is the focus.
Sweet romance... no sex. None. They don't even think about it... there's no quivering anything.
Fiction with romantic elements is not the same as a sweet romance. It's fiction, with a plot that isn't about romance, but the two main characters have a romantic interest. Can have sex. It's not the point of the story.
In romance, you'll find letter combinations, especially if there is sex involved.
FM, F/M, MF, M/F= one male one female
MM, M/M= Two males
FF, F/F+ Two females
Now it gets a bit tricky when you throw in a third person. It's how the letters are placed that tells you what kind of sex you will be getting.
If it's two males and one female:
MFM, M/F/M= all three have sex at one time, the dudes do not have sex with each other or touch or mingle body fluids.
MMF, M/M/F, FMM, F/M/M= They all have sex at one time and the dudes to touch and mingle body fluids and enter each other as well as the female.
The same if it's two females and one male just switch the letters to the appropriate opposite.
When you add a fourth person with different sexes... hell I don't even know. Three guys and one girl and not one dude touches the other dude is damned unrealistic or a gang bang.
More than that... I can't even. Just... assume the chick is tired all the time and there's a line.
But when you get to the ones where the pairings are separated like this:
MF. MM. MMF. FFM.= This means that there are multiple sexual encounters between different partners who most likely won't but could pair up with another couple in the story. I know I'm confused just writing that. So a guy and a girl have sex in the first scene, then two dudes, one might be the first dude with a boyfriend on the side or could be two completely different dudes altogether. Then a dude and a chick have sex with another dude. Or a dude and a chick have sex with another chick. Just realize there are multiple different scenes between different partners and watch the placement of the letters, two of the same beside each other means same-sex sex. Separated by the different letter means no same sex touchies.
After that, it's just an orgy.
If there are no letters... assume it's not a romance at all. Or at least that there's no sex.
So, if you were wondering and you're still here reading this... that's the official RWA take on this genre that has evolved over the past two decades. Doesn't mean the publisher knows how to categorize their books or how to code them in the blurb.
Clear as mud?
Clear as mud.
But you should be able to navigate the lingo now. Unless I don't know what I'm talking about... which is highly possible.