Inspirational Romance & Erotic Romance: Something in Common? | In the Bookroom

Kristin Ramsdell; photo by Jesse Cantley

Library Journal’s Romance reviewer, Kristin Ramsdell (Librarian Emerita, California State University–East Bay), shares her thoughts on the genre dearest to her heart.

Those paying attention to the popular romance market have probably noticed that, in the past few years, inspirational romances and erotic romances (as well as mainstream erotica) have taken off with a vengeance. In general, these romance subgenres are polar opposites when it comes to sexual explicitness and sensuality issues. Yet, while it will strike some as strange that they are enjoying a parallel popularity, others will see it as a logical reflection of current social trends and the ongoing quest for balance that often exists in the presence of extremes.

These two romance subgenres have little in common other than their current popularity, right? That’s what I thought. Until I came across some reading for projects I’m working on and was suddenly struck by the existence of a recurring theme in many inspirationals that I’d noticed in erotic romance, as well—the importance of submission. Granted, there are differences.

In inspirational romances, the characters usually are submitting to the will of God, most often as interpreted and handed down by religious authority figures, in order to make themselves right with their Creator or to fulfill the mandates of their particular religious community. In erotic romance, the characters are submitting to their sexual partners in an attempt to overcome inhibitions or fears, to get in touch with their sensual sides, to prove to themselves they are in control of their sexual choices by giving them to someone else, or for any number of other psychological, emotional, or even physical reasons. However, whatever the circumstances, the themes are the same: abandoning self-will, giving up control, and submitting to another.

I thought I’d better take another look at other romance subgenres just to be sure I wasn’t missing something and might be way off base. Though I found there are always exceptions, submission is not often a theme in the other romance categories. To be sure, the protagonists aren’t perfect, and they usually have plenty of problems, with trust issues sometimes part of the mix. However, ceding total control to another is usually not in the cards.

This whole idea intrigues me. It’s probably not a new observation, but it was new to me, and I couldn’t wait to toss it out for discussion. Thoughts, anyone?

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox ( is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"


  1. Mary Jo says:

    This is an interesting observation, but I would not characterize these books as being about the importance of submission, but rather as exploring the theme of submission. In most cases, the female character is in a male-dominant relationship or society, and she rebels against it at least in part to find the place where she is comfortable. To me these are books about women learning to deal with patriarchy, and for the reader it is an opportunity to live in the skin of someone who sees there are issues with patriarchy that don’t sit well and to stand up to those issues to some degree.

    To explore this theme in both a highly religious context and a highly sexualized/romantic context seems natural – these are the places women come up against patriarchy most intensely in their lives. The fact that submission as a theme is most prevalent in romance literature attests to this being a woman’s issue. This is women’s literature, and what’s more it’s women’s literature that almost by definition guarantees a happy ending (usually marriage). Readers want to know they can stand up and be counted without giving up on marriage.

    At our library, the inspirational romances (most notably the Amish ones) are euphemistically called “bonnet rippers.” Thought I would share that bit of humor….

  2. Kristin says:

    Great insights, Mary Jo, and I love where you’re taking this discussion. Thank you so much for commenting!

    Incidentally, it was one of those Amish “bonnet rippers” that finally triggered the idea of a link between the two subgenres for me.