July 8, 2019
Ah, the Harlequin romance. I have serious memories of these dime store bins at every grocery store with of course the huge broody man with the open shirt on the cover. I recall that these were always viewed as somewhat ‘staged porn’ in a way. The history of these books goes quite a ways back. If we for a minute leave out the Harlequin part and just look at romance and erotica, history shows we have plenty of evidence for deeply romantic and somewhat racy writings all the way back to the ancient world. Particularly in ancient Greece, we have a ton of art, literature and more that shows a deep and profound love of erotica. In previous times, sex and sexuality were fairly open. We know they had fewer issues with expressions of nudity, homosexuality, prostitution and open and flagrant acts of sex. This is more to do with the fact that most people lived in small homes and therefore walls literally could talk, no acts were really done in private and so, therefore, there was less ‘taboo’ about it. Only when the Victorian’s came in did we have more toned down erotica. Then books by Ms. Jane Austin became the gold standard. Most of the acts within her genre ended of course in marriage and none contained anything that was even close to taboo. Although, I do think in the novel Pride and Prejudice there were slight hints that one sister had done something inappropriate by shacking up with a suitor. The youngest Bennet sister runs off with no promise of marriage and only after the father offers to pay off his debts does he finally marry her. This was a legitimate fear for rich people of the age. The fear of your children disobeying you and disgracing the family was real. There were clear and legitimate stories of children that flouted the plans of the parents leaving them with nothing but shame. It was not until around the 1940s when the tides began to change. This does not mean that erotic or ‘risky’ images didn’t exist. We know for a fact that even during the most repressive points of history there were ‘houses of ill repute’ that provided many delights. There were also some magazines, postcards and even moving pictures that featured a nude woman or two. I am sure there was also a subculture of homosexual, bisexual and lesbian materials, as what happened behind doors mostly stayed that way.
Around the 40s you had a bit of a breakthrough in the old school pinups and nudity that snuck its way in from the front, it also spilled into our literature and film. This continued through the 50s and 60s with a giant spike in pornography in the 60s that happened alongside the sexual revolution. This is roughly when Harlequin (the company that would be the cornerstone of erotica) began to shift, spurred by movement in the 60s and into the 70s when they got the reputation to have the ‘racy stuff’. However, despite that reputation, the books always resulted in the same old married at the end plot. It was not really until the 2000s that the birth and discovery of Fabio. This changed everything and the dime store romance novel saw its biggest shift in both sales and interest. This change allowed them to carve out a niche until they shifted again to more racy stuff in the not so favored book Fifty Shades. That was when the end of the company was really cemented. People were tired of narratives where everyone gets married, this was no longer our reality. Other companies formed their own erotica and romance editions and then the expansion of LGTBQ+ authors added an entirely new world for people to devour. The romance, erotica and now the lgtbq+ genre is constantly evolving, giving us greater expansion to our reputation of voyeuristic needs. Erotica and romance are a needed part of our culture, without access to aspects that may or may not be seen as perverse or curious we are not allowed to express our sexuality and that creates frustration that is often shown in how we treat others. Now with new voices out there, those that are unsure of their sexuality can safely explore their desires. That’s what erotica has always meant in my opinion, it’s a form that is an outlet, it’s a window into things that we might want to know but are afraid to ask. We at The Three Little Sisters stand firm in this free expression, to express the intimate parts of ourselves to show what is hidden in the ‘bedroom’ is a needed aspect of writing that we believe gives us a small peek into the things we may not have ever been aware of.
We will always remember the history of erotic romance and be in awe of those that came before, and enjoy the novels that we are a part of, we too are naturally inclined to be interested in the natural expressions of love, devotion, kink, and more, as long as it is consensual and respectful we are down to read the pages of the steamy novels that our authors curate and craft.
Larisa Hunter is the President of The Three Little Sisters LLC and author of several books. She is responsible for all the marketing materials, website design and general administration duties.