The Great Smut Debate

The Great Smut Debate: What Makes a Romance?

If you hang out in online romance communities enough, you’ll notice some of the same conversations pop up over and over again. One of those repeated conversations centers on the question, “Is this book a romance, or is it women’s fiction?”

Now, if you don’t know this, we’re going to be crystal clear. There’s nothing that enrages a romance reader more than the betrayal of picking up a book and discovering that it’s not really a romance after all. 

We take as a given that there are two hard and fast rules: there must be a romantic relationship and there must be a happy ending. However, beyond that, there are a lot of moving pieces that come together and really make a romance sing. 

To explore this issue further, we at the Smut Report are putting together a series of posts exploring the nuances of what makes a romance a romance. In doing so, we’ll be exploring some areas of discussion within the romance community (including HEA vs. HFN, 1st vs. 3rd POV narration, and how much sex is too much sex). Our goal is not to set rigid boundaries on the genre—romance is capacious, and there are many ways to tell a love story!—but rather to probe the grey areas that might make a reader throw up their hands in despair after reading a book.

Our discussion begins in earnest in February, with Ingrid proposing an additional defining characteristic of the romance genre. 

We’ll be eager to hear your thoughts on our questions and conclusions as we go on this smut journey. Let us know what you think by dropping us a comment or an email, or hitting us up on Instagram or Twitter

Welcome to the Great Smut Debate.

Dueling Review, Recommended Read

Dueling Review: Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall (2022)

Holly got an ARC of Something Fabulous for herself, and Erin was like, “You got that for me, right?” Obviously, that meant we had to review this book together. It’s time for a Dueling Review!

Something Fabulous, Book #1

Erin’s Take

Heat Factor: I don’t think I’ve ever read (highly enthusiastic) rimming as the first interlude, and it was a refreshing change of pace 

Character Chemistry: In its essentials, the grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one. Or, rather, the rigid one is soft for the free spirited one. 

Plot: A very bad proposal of marriage leads to a road trip of personal discovery

Overall: I laughed, I cried, I laughed some more, and then I sighed with happiness

Holly’s Take

Heat Factor: Unexpectedly explicit about arseholes

Character Chemistry: Utterly irritating, utterly captivated

Plot: Valentine finds himself the villain in a gothic novel

Overall: I found the silly first half a slog, but my heart went pitter-pat in the end

Continue reading “Dueling Review: Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall (2022)”
Rant, Review

Review: Safety in Numbers by Sophie Penhaligon (2022)

Heat Factor: It’s a medium roast

Character Chemistry: They click pretty much instantly but I’m not sure it’s much of a chemical reaction for the reader.

Plot: Seraphina has a TBI and a lot of baggage. Milo is a CEO/Scientist man who is not very nice and evidently very lonely. They fall in love.

Overall: if you saw the gossip columns featuring Elon Musk and Grimes, and you were like, “that’s so hot”, you will probably like this book. Or if you love a really paternalistic hero.

Continue reading “Review: Safety in Numbers by Sophie Penhaligon (2022)”
Smut Reporting

Orgasms from the Base of the Spine

Erin, Ingrid, and I text each other a LOT. About our kids, about what we’re drinking, but mostly, about smut. (I’m sure you’re shocked.) More than a year ago now, someone texted about the common phrase: “I could feel my orgasm building at the base of my spine.” Which sparked a whole discussion. What does that mean? Is that your butt? Your coccyx? Had any of us experienced an orgasm that we knew was coming because of butt spasms? Had any of our spouses? 

Since then, we’ve been collecting screenshots of the phrase, meaning to make a Pinterest page or something, I don’t know. But that never happened (even though we did start a Pinterest page with other stuff on it, and then immediately neglected it), so I’m writing a blog post instead.

Time for a poll! (Don’t worry! The results are anonymous!)

I personally am in the “no, never” camp, and I thought it was extremely weird that this was so ubiquitous in romance novels. 

To delve further into this weird phenomenon in the land of romance writing, let’s look at some examples!

Knots

Her strokes sped up and the knot at the base of his spine drew tight. He tugged at her hair. “I’m…close.”

Girl Gone Viral, Alisha Rai

The knot of his orgasm pulled dangerously tight at the base of his spine.

Bad Keys, J.B. Curry

Ok, so here we have the “tight knot” metaphor. If my muscles are knotted, I need a massage. If my stomach is in knots, I’m anxious. So knots—not super comfortable. But the release of orgasm is pretty meaningless if there’s nothing to release from. You need that build-up of tension and discomfort as a counterpoint, so a tight knot as a pre-orgasm metaphor seems pretty apt. 

Tingles

And then I feel that tingle at the base of my spine, the warm glow that tells me I’m getting close.

Promise Me Nothing, Jillian Liota

I’m literally on pure fire for him right now, that vaguely familiar tingle building at the base of my spine.

Venom, Dee Garcia

NOTE: this is a female narrator speaking here

He fucked Tris hard as he wanted, watching with spine-tingling rapture as Tristol came totally apart beneath him.

The 5th Gender, G.L. Carriger

Another set of examples that I can sort of get—the spine tingle. No explosions, but that feeling of something (or, uh, someone) coming. 

I can buy the spine tingle more than the spine knot. My tailbone—the literal base of my spine, anatomically—doesn’t seem like a place that holds a lot of tension, but tingles can happen in the weirdest of places.

It’s Electric

Within minutes, an electric charge built up at the base of his spine, in his balls, the imminent release he could not stop. – Joanna Shupe How the Dues stole Christmas

“Christmas in Central Park,” Joanna Shupe (in How the Dukes Stole Christmas anthology)

When his desire was back under control, he began again, building the rhythm gradually, while the voltage of lightning gathered in his spine.

Marrying Winterborne, Lisa Kleypas

Should we call the electric charge, the bolt of lightning, a more intense tingle? Does it presage a more intense orgasm? What does an electric charge in your body even feel like? Isn’t getting shocked by electricity painful—especially at the “voltage of lightning”?

Climbing the Ladder

And when I felt the climax pressuring the base of my spine, climbing up like a ladder…

Midnight Blue, L.J. Shen

The orgasm careened up his spine, hitting him the moment after she found hers, whispering his name over and over again.

Not the Girl You Marry, Andie J. Christopher

My climax pushed from the base of my spine, spinning, circling, and pressing out and up. It went on and on until I was bursting out of my skin.

Mr. Mayfair, Louise Bay

Sometimes, the orgasm doesn’t stay in the base of the spine, but rather travels up. I think Bay’s description in Mr. Mayfair is perhaps more apt—not just pressure up, but pressure out. Feeling the orgasm also building in your general hip and pelvic region makes sense to me. Since I’m taking things to a literal extreme here, I’m not going to parse the whole “bursting out of my skin” metaphor. We might end up in some dark places.

Descending the Ladder

“Mi princesa, mi única estrella,” as she locked up beneath him, shaking and sobbing and coming, and his own helpless orgasm shot down his spine.

Hate Crush, Angelina M. Lopez

Ok, technically this isn’t a “base of the spine” example but I’m fascinated by this switch up. If the orgasm shoots down his spine, where does it start? Does this imply that there’s a greater mental component to this orgasm, since it comes from the skull or brain, rather than just from the groin?

Yikes

Some nights he would make me orgasm so hard my lower back would hurt the next day.

The Siren, Tiffany Reisz

I dunno, Nora, maybe your lower back hurts because Søren likes flogging you.


What have I learned? Well, the orgasm from the base of the spine image transcends romance subgenres. We have it in traditionally published and indie books. We have it in contemporaries, historicals, and paranormals.

I’ve also learned that it is almost only the male characters who experience orgasms this way (in romance novels, at least). The passages from Venom and The Siren are the only ones from my (admittedly small) sample that are from the point of view of a female character.

And, in doing some additional research, I’ve learned that maybe I’ve been too judgmental about this whole base of the spine thing, especially given the fact that the physical sensation of having an orgasm can’t be easy to describe. From an article on the science of orgasm from the LA Times

Orgasms are difficult to define, let alone reverse-engineer. A few blueprints, however, have already been sketched out. First, stimulating the genitals sends electrical impulses along three main paths — the pelvic, hypogastric and pudendal nerves. Next, these titillating signals enter the spinal cord at the base of the spine and zip up to brain regions that respond to genital sensations.

We’re talking about biological functions of the nervous system here, but we’re also talking about electricity and the base of the spine and those feelings traveling to other parts of the body. Orgasms are difficult to define, let alone describe. I don’t think I can actively feel the workings of my nervous system, but in the absence of other options, why not draw on the scientific language, and then make it more evocative?

Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Quickie

In an attempt to get our collective bookstacks under control, we’re participating in SuperWendy’s #TBRChallenge. January’s theme prompt was “Quickie.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.


Erin Read: Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight by Alyssa Cole (2014)

Why was this book on your TBR?

I picked this one up because it’s a medieval historical romance by Alyssa Cole. I’ve since seen some others in Romancelandia talk about it, but I think I mostly have Amazon’s algorithm to thank for this one.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

According to Goodreads, it’s 38 pages.

What are your thoughts on the book?

This story is really short, so I honestly can’t tell you why it’s taken me until this challenge to read it, but, as usual with Alyssa Cole, I’m glad I did! 

Cole based the story on a tournament that occurred in 1507/8 in the Scottish court, but the imagined version was much more romantic than the original sounds (considering that the Knight in question in the original was the King himself). A kiss from Agnes, a Black woman living in James’s court, is the prize of the tournament, and the Wild Knight, a mysterious but extremely skilled figure, is taking no prisoners in what is revealed as his quest to win Agnes. But who is he? There are moments when Agnes feels the Knight is familiar, but how could that man she’d met be present at the tournament?

It’s short. It’s hot. It touches on Scottish clan politics and the politics of race in medieval Scotland. It’s a bit fanciful, but grounded in reality. It was definitely worth 99 cents. 

Buy Now: Amazon


Holly Read: Unsolicited Duke Pic by Nico Rosso (2019)

Why was this book on your TBR?

Honestly, I probably picked this up because of the novelty title.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

It’s on the long end for a novella, but it’s still novella length. Besides, what screams quickie more than dick pics? Don’t answer that. 

What are your thoughts on the book?

We have here a case of Woke Duke. Honestly, I get it. Because the premise is that Thomas commissions a portrait of his member from Sofia, there has to be a good reason for it, otherwise Thomas is just another gross guy. I personally find dukes who are very concerned with the plight of the poor but spend their time saving wealthy widows a bit tiring, but your mileage may vary. 

I thought the first third of the book, while Thomas is sitting for his portrait, was delightful. Sofia and Thomas have great conversations and witty banter—with the added, uh, excitement, of a portrait subject that doesn’t always cooperate. 

While the black moment was definitely earned, the fact that Thomas didn’t see the fact that painting a penis picture would end with negative repercussions for Sofia says something about how thoughtful his activism is (read: not very). Furthermore, the solution to Sofia’s stained reputation was both unrealistic and unsatisfying—in that I don’t think it would work AND even if it did, I didn’t find the climactic showdown all that interesting.

Buy Now: Amazon


Ingrid Read: Riley Thorne and the Corpse in the Closet by Lucy Score (2021)

Why was this book on your TBR?

The first Riley Thorn was a wild ride and I was so curious about how the second would go.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I had read the first one, and I knew I’d be able to knock out the second pretty quickly (but also, that it would keep getting put off with everything else I’m reading).

What are your thoughts on the book?

It was funny and cute. We get the same crew of geriatric room mates, plus Riley’s rude and judgmental grandmother. Basically, Riley’s still resisting her gifts and her now boyfriend is overprotective and not keen on her helping the police with a murder case. Her grandmother basically puts Riley into psychic boot camp while also sucking the joy out of every possible experience, and Nick is hovering and smothering. 

This one was high on mystery and shenanigans, and lower on romance—to the point where I’d classify it as smut adjacent. The love story was back burner to most of the rest of the book, and that’s ok! It was funny and good. But it just wasn’t the primary focus and plot driver.

Buy Now: Amazon


Want to join us in tackling your TBR? February’s theme is “Fairy Tale.”