Hot Takes by Holly

Why I read smut: some notes on catharsis

Let me tell you a story. 

I rarely read books that Erin or Ingrid has already reviewed. One of the pressures of running a blog is that I’m always on to the next book, the next thing; after all, there’s so much smut to discover! 

But sometimes, I want to settle in and read a sure thing and not even have to consider writing the book up. Which is how I ended up reading Kate Clayborne’s recent release Love at First. (Note: It’s really good! All the buzz is well-deserved!)


What follows contains minor spoilers for Love at First. Continue at your own risk. 

By the time I got to the Big Dramatic Moment, I could barely see the word on the page through my tears. And then the kicker: Will tells Nora that she’s the first person who’s ever told him “I love you.” 

And I am a wreck. 

But here’s the thing. This passage is written to be extremely emotionally manipulative. And I am crying while also being fully aware that I am being led to this crying by the way the scene is structured but it doesn’t matter because I feel so light and clean and empty afterward. 

That’s why I read romance. To get that hit of being blatantly emotionally manipulated (and know it!) and then the cathartic release. The tropes, the patterns, the sex, the shifts in the genre: all of that is fun, but at the end of the day, when I really need something good, it’s all secondary. 

Tell me a story. Make me care about the characters. And then punch me in the face with emotion. 

Hot Takes by Holly

Yes, please do jam your fingers into my mouth

It’s time for another installment of That’s Not Sexy!

This time, I want to talk about the thing where one party forcibly inserts their fingers into the other party’s mouth. 

I am not talking about Jane kissing or sucking on John’s fingertips here. I am talking about John pushing Jane’s mouth open and sticking his fingers up in there and maybe pumping them like his fingers are a penis and are about to ejaculate onto her tonsils. 

Obviously, this is an act of dominance. And I do enjoy reading kinkier romance, but when this happens I am completely pulled out of the moment. Reading about spanking – no big deal. Reading about finger-jabbing? YIKES. 

Even if I am kissing someone’s hands or fingers voluntarily, I don’t want to put their whole finger in my mouth. Do I know where that finger has been? Has my partner washed their hands recently? (During these pestilential times, these questions become even more pressing.) Basically, I have no desire to deepthroat a finger. 

The other side of this equation is the force. Just the thought of having something shoved into my body gives me the willies. You’ve got to ease me into things! Foreplay, people! Foreplay! You can be dominant and in charge and kinky and sexy and still ease the way instead of jabbing right on in. 

Related: I also hate it when people just randomly jam their fingers into someone’s vagina (again, usually as an act of dominance), but mainly because I don’t understand the logistics. Like, if you’re both standing in an elevator, and she’s wearing a skirt but no underwear – how do you even get your fingers in there suddenly and sneakily enough that she can’t jiu-jitsu block that shit? The key here is the sneak attack, obviously if there’s other force (physical or emotional) involved it’s a different issue. But I digress. 

In short: don’t stick your fingers in my mouth. 

This Hot Take By Holly has been brought to you by Your Dad Will Do. Thank you. 

Hot Takes by Holly, Smut Reporting

Bitches Be Shopping

It’s time for a poll!

Given the title of this post, you might have already guessed that I am FIRMLY in the category of “Thanks, I hate it.” In fact, a shopping trip in the middle of the story sometimes goes so far as to ruin a book for me. Is this completely irrational? Probably. But since this is my hot take, let’s break it down. 

I’ll start with a caveat. I thought Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic books were friggin’ hilarious. So I am not opposed to characters shopping – as long as it has already been established that this shopping spree is part of their character or important to the plot in some way. 

What I really oppose here is the “suddenly.” Imagine a bunch of characters with a wide range of traits – but who all identify as female. They are having all kinds of adventures and sexytimes and what have you, but give them an AmEx black card and the internet / special access to a fancy boutique / an appointment at Tiffany’s and they all, to a one, turn into a blibbering mass of consumerist spending. 

Here are some questions that immediately pop into my head when this happens:

  1. Do NONE of the women in the room hate shopping? Maybe she finds trying on pants stressful because they never fit right!
  2. Why aren’t the male characters getting excited about buying video games / guns / whiskey?
  3. Are these women really so easily distracted by *shiny* things that they ignore bad behavior when there is stuff to acquire?
  4. Excuse me, ma’am, but do you really need another scarf? 

My beef with comes down to two realms of criticism: gender essentialism and capitalism. 

I am tired of the idea that women, no matter what other interests we might have, can be easily mollified by the new and shiny. 

I am tired of the emphasis in our culture on buying more stuff. The amount of stuff I already have stresses me out. If there’s nothing the current pandemic has taught us, I hope that we have learned that we can’t shop our way out of economic insecurity (we haven’t). 

Don’t get me started on the intersection of gender and capitalism, and the real economic insecurity experienced by many women in the United States, and the fantasy of being able to go on that shopping spree and not worry about it because your royal billionaire vampire boyfriend is footing the bills. I guess I know why authors include this scene after all. 


This Hot Take By Holly is brought to you by books that might have other things to recommend them, but were ruined by shopping scenes. I’m looking at you, Marrying Winterborne and A Hunger Like No Other

Hot Takes by Holly, Smut Reporting

Please don’t tell me about your pubes

Scene: Here I am, reading a romance novel. Things are getting hot and heavy. Off come the shifts. Off come the pants. And then, the hero remarks on the heroine’s pubic hair, mostly shaved except for the perfect landing strip. 

And I am not excited about the sex any more. 

To be clear, explicit sex is not a problem for me. And details about other body parts also don’t stop me in my tracks. But tell me about what her pubic hair (or lack thereof) looks like, and everything inside me just shrivels up. 

At first, I thought the crux is that describing the shave pattern of someone’s pubic region is a purely visual moment. I don’t get hung up when a woman’s sexual partner captures her goji berry nipples and sucks them into his or her mouth. But I also don’t get hung up when said partner just looks at her goji berry nipples as they harden at the end of her pert breasts. 

Upon further reflection, what’s going on here for me is the weight of what it means (or doesn’t?) to shave one’s pubic hair in a certain formation. Like, when the author tells us that the heroine fully shaves her mons or leaves the perfect landing strip, is the author trying to tell the reader something about that character? Because I don’t really know how to interpret that information. If she has a full bush, is it because she’s messy or because she’s a hippie or because she’s lazy or what? Is a woman more clean and moral and upright if she never has a hair out of place? Or am I reading too much into it, and a character’s pubic hair should just be taken as body descriptor outside of their personality, just like the goji berry nipples.

I can think of one exception to my anti-pubes rule. In Blind Date with a Book Boyfriend by Lucy Eden, Jordyn tells Mike that it’s been a while so things might be a little messy down there. This works for me precisely because there’s context, and the information actually reveals something about Jordyn and her history and personality – and Mike’s response, in turn, reveals something about him. See! Pubes can tell us a lot about a person, if we let them!

No poll this time, faithful readers. I don’t want to hear about your pubes either. Sorry, not sorry. 


This Hot Take by Holly is brought to you by an email Erin sent me and Ingrid about a book called “Daddy’s Worst Nightmare” where the heroine is so sheltered that she doesn’t know what a cock is, but also shaves all her pubic hair, because that detail just pushed me over the edge.

Hot Takes by Holly, Smut Reporting

Heroines Who Giggle

I hate them. 

Actually, allow me to rephrase that to be more accurate. I hate it when a heroine giggles. I hate it even more when the heroine is an otherwise grown-ass woman with an established career but when the hero gives her the eyebrow wiggle or says something that’s mildly amusing she breaks into a paroxysm of giggles.

Let’s break this down. A “giggle” is a demure, girly kind of laugh. It’s quiet. It doesn’t take up space. It’s a bit fawning. It’s something little kids do. It’s something we do when we’re nervous. 

When a woman giggles, she signals to the man that she is with that she is not a threat. She is less powerful than he is. She is accommodating and therefore desirable. There’s a power imbalance there. 

Now, I admit, the occasional giggle around a new potential partner makes sense. You’re nervous. You want them to like you. But why is continuing to giggle at your partner as you move your courtship towards established relationship sexy or desirable? Why continue to perpetuate the power imbalance between the One Who Speaks Funny Things and the One Who Giggles?

I want to see romance heroines let out some good ole rip roaring belly laughs. 

This has been a Hot Take by Holly, brought to you by one too many grown ass women giggling in romance novels.