DISCUSSION: Doing It Dirty – Should We Feel Embarrassed About Our Reads?

WARNING: This is a discussion on reading preferences when it comes to reading sensual or steamy romance books and/or erotica. If you feel uncomfortable by the genre, then feel free to not read. 

I’m going to admit that I feel so embarrassed even starting this discussion, but it’s been on my mind and I can’t ignore it for any longer! If anyone could just jump in and hold my hand while telling me I’m just silly, then that would be great.

OK, so, if you see on the right, there is a beautiful man. This is a book I own. I haven’t put it up on Goodreads to say that it’s a “to-read,” nor do I keep it on my bookshelves in my library at home. You could say that I feel embarrassed. Truth be told, I do enjoy reading titles like this once in a while (I tend to lean towards more  a steamy romance). It’s something I would never admit (until now …), but I feel like I should be admitting it because why should I feel embarrassed by something that I’m reading, or by something I plan to read in the future?

There was a review book that I had a while back and I still haven’t finished it because it started to get a little gratuitous in its sex scenes. While it’s not necessarily a book I would review on my blog, I felt embarrassed (<– there’s that word again!) to even review it on Goodreads. I think that might be part of why I don’t want to finish it just yet — because then I’ll feel like I should definitely write out my thoughts about the book, which would include the fact that yes, it does include steamy sex scenes.

Is it wrong to feel like I should hide such reads? With the popularity of eReaders these days, it’s so easy for anyone to download any kind of book and hide its cover from prying eyes that I know I’m not alone in my thinking. My books in question are kept in my bedroom, in a drawer, where no one could find them (unless of course you’re a snoop). But they’re still books. Shouldn’t I display them proudly? 

It seems like there’s a fine line between anything labeled “romance” and anything labeled “smut/erotica.” Take the Outlander books, by Diana Gabaldon, for instance. There are some very descriptive sex scenes in that novel that could make anyone blush. In fact, there’s a whole chapter in the first book that is devoted to the sexy times. But, it’s labeled as  “historical romance.” And it has time travel. Clearly, nothing to feel embarrassed about. But a cover like the one above? I would feel embarrassed taking that on an airplane, or reading it at the in-law’s.

I found it interesting when I went to the Kobo website to peruse some cheap titles and saw that when I searched under “romance” there was a ton of steamy-looking titles with sexy covers and sultry plots. Again, there’s that fine line. I mean, what is romance nowadays? Is chick-lit the tame version and romance the harder version? Just look at the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. Those books are selling like hot cakes! I looked on Goodreads and close to 1,700 readers label it as “romance” while under 700 label it as “erotica.” I saw the box-set at Costco the other day and wondered if there’s anyone who bought the books online, or for their ereader, because they were just too embarrassed to buy themselves copies. OR, do people find it’s more acceptable to buy copies of these books because everyone is reading them?

Then, of course, there was the Doin’ it Dirty Readathon, hosted by the amazing Amanda and Kelly. I admit that I wanted to participate, but I felt slightly embarrassed (!) and my husband was home that weekend and I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks, so participation was out. It looked like the participants had a lot of fun doing the readathon, but I do wonder if there were any other readers who wanted to participate but were too embarrassed.

Maybe it’s because a lot of what I review on my blog is YA or contemporary fiction or chick lit, none of which contain a lot of smut within their pages, but I feel like part of me has to come out of my shell and just read what I want and admit that I’m reading it — even if I’m just reviewing it on Goodreads and not on the blog. Don’t be shy! I’m a grown woman, for crying out loud!

Am I alone in this? Do you feel embarrassed by your reads? Do you openly read these kinds of books, or hide them on your ereader?

© 2012, Reading In Winter. All rights reserved.

34 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: Doing It Dirty – Should We Feel Embarrassed About Our Reads?

  1. I completely understand your feelings on this subject. I’ve gone through the embarrassment phase to just not caring so much anymore. Let’s face it, steamy books are just plain fun to read :) That being said I don’t review the ones I read on my blog, but I do read other’s reviews on this type of book. I figure a book is the safest place to explore different things and that includes romance, right? Lovely post!!

    • They ARE just plain fun to read! I like the fact that my blog is kind of eclectic, so I could review them … I still feel that little pang of embarrassment though.

  2. You’re not alone! While I don’t actually own any of those types of books, I would probably be embarrassed to read them in public. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading them though, it’s just one of those things that’s hard to explain, like a passenger would give you weird looks on a bus and silently judge you. I’m a grown woman too, but it’s more like I don’t have an interest in reading a more romantic/erotic book yet, I prefer my ya books. And it’s actually funny because every time I go to the bookstore with my fiance he points at the Fifty series and says “there you go!” lol I don’t think he’d mind if I read them.

    • That’s hilarious! We were watching an entertainment show the other day and Will Ferrell and Zach Galafianakis were reading a steamy bathtub part of the book. It was hilarious! Hubs asked me if I read it … I said no, but part of me is interested to see what all the hype is about. I mean, erotic books did exist before 50 Shades of Grey … not sure why it’s so popular!

  3. I think there is a stigma associated with all non-fiction genres (especially romance) and opinions are loudest from non readers or those who only read select genres. I cannot tell you How many times I have heard “I don’t read YA, I grew up” or “Historical fiction is nothing but smut.” I personally haven’t read too many erotica’s simply because when I first explored them, they were all sex and no plot..like a late night B movie. LOL Now I do love HR and some of those can get pretty steamy and the covers..Oh my! E-readers have made it easier to hide what you are reading or in my case how many books I bought this month..hehehe. I love the cover of Lord of the Deep, but I wouldn’t want to showcase it in public where I might offend someone or accidently expose a child too it. I don’t think you should be embarrassed by what you read but I understand why book covers are popular. Great post.

    • Very true. I never have children in my home library, but I still haven’t put it there with the other books. BUT, there are definitely some books that are labeled as romance — not erotica — that have major steamy scenes in them. I think I own more of THOSE and I show them proudly.

      That’s crazy about the comments … personally, I’m a reader and I will read anything! I don’t want to say that just because I’m an adult, I’ll only read adult contemporaries or something. The beauty of a lot of literature is that it can span generations and everyone can read them. Though, not really the case with the books I’m talking about in this post, but it’s nice that these days you can get something super steamy with a plot to it as well, and one that’s well-written to boot.

  4. In my honest opinion, I think this all boils down to your personal thoughts, feelings and experiences about sex, in general. Some people are more closed off and personal when it comes to the subject, while others speak freely about it. I don’t think you should have anything to feel embarrassed about, because you should not hide YOU from others because you are worried about their opinions. If opinions rules our lives, then we’d hole up in our homes and never leave.

    Of course, this is coming from a chic who is A-Ok with talking about sex with others and reading romance (though strangely, it isn’t my favorite genre, by far). I don’t know how you feel, really, because I don’t feel the same way. I hate that you feel embarrassed(!) by something you find pleasure in (and no, I don’t mean THAT kind of pleasure, though…it is may be connected). So, this may have gotten too personal. I’ll leave now.

    • Ha ha … not too personal at all! It’s just definitely a weird feeling to be embarrassed by a book. Even romances that have steamy bits in them — I feel like less of a reader when someone asks me what I’m reading and I spout off a name of something that is slightly smutty (but fun to read). Do we really need to be so serious all the time? What’s wrong with mixing up the genres?

      You’re so right about me being worried about other peoples’ opinions, though — I was worried just writing this post to begin with, but I felt like it was a good topic because I’ve been getting more into the steamier reads. Not necessarily erotica books, but those romance novels on the steamier side. Maybe one of these days I’ll totally get over my embarrassment!

      • Well, you writing this post was a step. So YAY! You are well on your way to SMUT TIME. Or, a sex scene or 5. You never know, you may need a #GutterPass before you know it!

  5. I really do have to agree with Smash on this. I also feel that society, in a way, shuns sex so that talking about it or reading about it is somehow “bad.” I think this makes us ashamed or embarrassed to read or enjoy reading books with steamy love scenes. Part of it is comes to terms with your own sexuality within the context of a society that shuns sex, but uses it to sell just about everything.

    • So true! I always feel like if I were to talk about these kinds of reads, or review a book with steamy sex scenes, that I would be silently judged by people. I mean, it’s completely different in real life than it is on the blog — I guess it kind of goes hand in hand with being yourself when you blog. I shouldn’t feel like other peoples’ opinions of what I read should make me change my reading habits.

  6. I might be in the minority here but steamy/sexy/downright dirty reads don’t bother me in the slightest. Amanda says I’m “adventurous” in my reading choices. Lol! What can I say? I like the sexy.

    I’m actually embarrassed for people buying the 50 Shades books because I want to tell them “There are so many better written books out there in that genre! LET ME GIVE YOU SOME RECOMMENDATIONS!”

    • Ha ha … it’s so true! I’ve had lots of great reads on my shelf for YEARS! I love how all of a sudden 50 Shades is this big hit like the genre never existed beforehand. Now EVERYONE will be trying to write books based on books full of all the things.

      When I think of buying something new in the steamy romance genre, I always think of you! I was in the bookstore today looking at your shelves on Goodreads, seeing what you would recommend. :)

  7. I used to be embarassed about reading these books, but then I started blogging and discovered a lot of other people who also loved them! Though I’m still slightly embarassed to be reading them when my boyfriend’s family is around. And I don’t think I’d bring them to my parents’ house as physical books…
    I think it’s mostly due to that I don’t want to have other people judging what I’m reading, there’s this whole prejudice against historical romance (not the Outlander version, but the focused on the romance, steamy variety) as a genre with SO MANY people assuming they’re trash. I just think it’s a waste of my time to deal with the judgy mcjudgersons out there.
    But it shouldn’t matter what other people think :)

    I feel like I’m ranting. What I wanted to say was: GREAT POST! And yay for lovers of all kinds of novels!

    • That’s the great thing about blogging! Even with YA reads, I felt embarrassed reading them before because I was an adult — but now to see so many adults reading them, I feel normal! And with the steamier side of books, there are so many bloggers and blogs that read and review them ALL THE TIME! It’s great!

      I think part of the embarrassment with these books is not having anyone to talk to about the books. Like you finish a steamy read and it was GREAT, but then what? At least with other bloggers reading it, you can chat with them, or recommend them a new read.

      • I know!! I love how I can talk with other bloggers about this and I can openly admit that I like these books so much!! And yeah, at the bookstore I sometimes get weird stares when I wonder off into the kids’ section, but you know what: I love YA and I don’t care.

      • Ha ha … yes, me too! I love the YA section. :) Feels weird to go from YA to the heavy-duty romance section, but it’s nice to have such variety when it comes to books.

  8. *Holding your hand and telling you you’re being silly. ;)*

    I definitely don’t think you’re alone, Kristilyn! I’ve been embarrassed by some of the stuff I read. I don’t tend to be as open about the steamier books that I read…and I’ll admit that I have actually left out books that I’ve finished reading on my Goodreads because they were steamier…or because they happened to be REALLY STEAMY (i.e. menage type books or fetish…you know the ones that people really kind of take a second look at when you say you’ve read them). I wish that I didn’t feel self-conscious about them, but I totally do. I’m okay with sharing the fact that I’ve read some, but there are others that I’m still embarrassed by…it’s almost like you’re admitting seriously private things about yourself, or almost like fantasies if you admit you’ve read some. Although, most of the type they aren’t your own fantasies, but they are pretty great to read about. ;) haha

    I’ve tried to be more open about the steamy books I read, but I don’t review them on my blog. I mention them in my Monday and Mailbox type posts, but I don’t review them. Mostly because I don’t want to have to put a censorship warning on my blog, and I think by just briefly talking about them I don’t have to (hopefully I’m not alone in that reasoning), but once I review them I feel like I’d have to put a warning saying my blog had adult content and such…so it’s for that reason that I don’t really review them there. I try to give a bit of my thoughts on my Monday posts, and on Goodreads, but I still don’t say much…I’m never sure what to say. I’m not even sure if it’s out of embarrassment. I just kind of find it awkward sometimes to talk about. haha

    I definitely agree with some of the previous comments about stigmas and all that. It feels like there are honestly some people that try to make you feel embarrassed about reading the steamier stuff. So many people just react so strongly when you admit that you read some. You get weird looks, and you can FEEL yourself being judged. I read Olivia Cunning’s Backstage Pass and Rock Hard a while back, and I honestly didn’t even really want to mention them on my blog. I was afraid of being judged…not sure why, but I was. I’m definitely actively trying to not be embarrassed about the ones that I’m reading that are steamier…and I think I’m getting better at it. I admitted to quite a few that I read on my last few Monday posts. ;) haha

    I do like that ereaders allow you to kind of have that anonymity about reading them though. I love the steamy covers, but they are a bit much to be carting around with your everywhere. ;) haha

    Thanks for starting this fabulous discussion, Kristilyn! :D
    I’ve been waiting for it ever since you mentioned it, and it was well worth the wait. ;D

    Ambur

    • Thanks for the awesome comment, Ambur! You were another one of the people who made me want to write this discussion, since I’ve gotten a few recommendations from your blog. I’m happy that you’re trying to come out of your shell, too!

      Isn’t it just funny how we can talk about such great classic books with weird titles, but the second you mention reading something called ‘Rock Hard’ or ‘Sporting Wood’ (<– one I found in an interview with Smash today), then people look at you like you're weird. In all honesty, these books are fun!

      The wonderful thing about reading is that there's so much diversity in books — we have so much choice, so why be judged when we read one little genre? I guess that's the great thing about eReaders, but sometimes you just want to talk to someone about the book. I'm happy to have found some people who aren't ashamed to read these books and talk about them! Even if I don't read them all the time (heck, really once in a blue moon), it's nice to know they're there.

      • You’re welcome! :D I’m happy to leave awesome comments for awesome discussions. :) Oooh, I’m glad to have helped make you want to write this. :D Thanks! I’m happy that you’re trying to, too. :)

        They are SO fun! :D It’s a shame more people don’t give them a chance. They might be more open-minded if they did. :) (Also…Sporting Wood? That is fabulous! That author was “ballsy” to come up with a title like that. ;) oh the puns! Also was it a sports romance? If so, I may have to check it out. ;D haha)

        I completely agree! We have all that diversity, so why not enjoy that fact, and read a little of everything…or at the very least, try it and see if it’s for you. :) I agree. The one downside of ereaders is that I feel like it makes you less likely to want to talk to the person reading, or have people not want to approach you while reading. You don’t know what they’re reading so you can’t be all, “Oh my! I loved that book! Do you like it so far?” I guess you could ask what they’re reading, but still. :P lol It’s nice to be able to recognize a book in someone’s hands. :) I agree. I like to read them every once in a while too. Not always, but sometimes. ;)

  9. I totally understand where you’re coming from! I’m incredibly shy so to admit that I not only read but also enjoy erotica is a hard thing for me. Here’s the thing though – my dirty little secret if you will – years ago I read somewhere that you shouldn’t write something if it makes you blush. I never in a million years thought I’d write erotica because I’m so painfully shy…I didn’t even know how I’d get through writing short love scenes in romance books. But then a friend and I started writing erotica together and now I’ve been doing it for years. Hardly anyone knows that though…I’m embarrassed to admit it! I know I shouldn’t be, but like you, I just am. Thing is, I’m planning to release a book with some of my short erotic stories, so people will know then! lol I guess I figure get it out there and then I’ll have to admit that yes, I’m a woman, yes I like to read and write sexy stuff, and there’s absolutely no shame in that.
    But I still wouldn’t read a book with a super sexy cover in public. My first thought when I saw the pic you posted was ‘omg there’s a bum!’ lol Lame, but true.
    I think with something like 50 Shades, because EVERYONE is reading it, people aren’t embarrassed. The other day I was checking out at the library and even my librarian had a copy of the second or third book and she was reading it right there at the circulation desk between checking people out. I had to wonder if she’d do that with any other book that’s considered erotica, or if it had a sexy cover.
    Also, the whole erotica/romance thing…I love books written by Nora Roberts and Heather Graham – Roberts’ books are romance with sexy love scenes, and Graham’s books are mysteries with sexy love scenes. I’d hate to see them categorized as ‘erotica’, because that’s not the main focus. On the flip side, I don’t really like seeing erotica categorized as romance, because some people like straight-up romance and not a lot of hot, steamy sex, so it’s misleading. Although the focus of a lot of erotica is romance, so…there’s a fine line and I’m sure it’s becoming harder and harder to categorize.
    As for posting the reviews on your blog…I caved and read 50 Shades last month and I’m going to post the review on my blog but I’m going to post a huge 18+ warning since my blog is mostly YA. I figure I’ll make a flashing neon sign graphic in photo shop so people know not to carry on if they’re easily offended! lol
    And now that I’ve written a novel in your comments, I will go. I’m glad you put this topic out there, Kristilyn!

    • Thanks for the comment, Marie! That is so awesome that you’re writing erotica now — even if you still feel slightly embarrassed.

      The whole 50 Shades thing is funny … It’s weird that people would just have them right out on their desk, BUT at least they’re not embarrassed. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed by the written word!

      I mean, the Marquis de Sade was popular back in the day, so it’s been around FOREVER.

      I was just in the bookstore yesterday and noticed that a lot of the “steamier” reads were categorized as romance — a lot of them with “fiction” on the spine. I always wonder why it seems okay to read something in the romance genre and not the erotica genre, when sometimes they’re the same thing.

      I originally didn’t have a warning on this post, but went back to put one on it. My blog is pretty eclectic, though I’ve been leaning more towards YA. It’s a bit of a shock to the system to post something like this!

      Oh, and “omg there’s a bum!” made me laugh and laugh! :)

  10. I would be so embarassed to read the one in your picture in public. I’m totally shy, but I would still read it, just not flaunt it.

    This is a really good discussion topic because I find there are a lot of people who are embarassed to read erotica/romance in public. So ereaders have made it really easy for people to hide it.

    I’ve actually joined a group on Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/62938-vaginal-fantasy-hangout

    I love the group and have sfound some pretty good reads in it ;) Plus it gives me a place to talk about them without feeling ashamed for publically announcing I like to read them.

    Also, what the heck does your husband do that you don’t see him for a few weeks at a time??

    • What? Everyone likes a sexy bum! :)

      I would be so embarrassed to read it in public, too … I guess that’s why eReaders are so popular! I’ll have to check out that group!

      Oh, and I see hubs every day! He just works lots.

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  14. I enjoy a historical romance every now and then (okay, a little more often than that) but am always embarrassed to read them in public. To be fair, I feel the same embarrassment reading Anna and the French Kiss in public and I love love love that book!
    I think part of my embarrassment is that those covers and titles (Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn as another example) are so girly and I hate the idea of someone thinking that I’m not an intellectual because I love those Bridgerton boys. Or because I love Etienne St. Clair.
    Is it fair to judge or be judged by reading material? No. But I think that everyone does it. I know I get bored to tears when my mom describes the latest old lady detective story she’s read. No sure what my point is exactly, but that’s how it is for me.

    • Aww, I would definitely read something like Anna in public! I remember when I was in my early 20’s, I thought I had to read classic books and adult contemporaries because I thought that’s what was supposed to happen. I think it’s great when you see people reading a variety of books in public. Personally, I don’t think reading should be an embarrassment — with ANY genre. That being said, certain smexy reads I do feel embarrassment over reading in public, though — maybe because of the names? The covers? Maybe because if I were asked what I was reading by someone, I’d feel strange saying some title that alludes to the book being a steamy romance?

      I like to think that I can be a smart and strong person, but still have fun with my reads, too. I hope you can feel the same way!

  15. Great topic! I used to be embarrassed by my historical romances when I first started reading them, but I eventually just got over it. I like to read what I like to read, and others have their own tastes as well. I’m good with that. In fact, pretty much the only time I make a specific effort to hide an ~inappropriate~ cover (or even bring an alternate book, even if it means starting something new) is if I’m reading in church, waiting for the service to start or whatnot, LOL.

    I think there is a lot of stigma surrounding both romance and erotic novels, most definitely. I work at Barnes & Noble, and I can’t tell you how many people have specifically wanted a bag because they didn’t want to be seen carrying around the 50 Shades book they’d just purchased.

    • So true. I need to have your attitude! I’ll read what I want, when I want, dammit! Though I do think that it’s smart to bring something else when reading at church. LOL!

      • It took quite a while to develop, but I eventually just got fed up with feeling embarrassed by my reading material of choice. Every once and a while, there’s a particularly “scandalous” cover or ridiculous title that I’ll find myself a little hesitant to display, but I just try to push past it.

        Yes. Having mostly attended the same church all my life, there are entirely too many people who are perfectly comfortable coming up and investigating my read of the week. I wouldn’t particularly want to cause a heart attack by answering, “Bought for the Sicilian Billionaire’s Bed” (which is an actual book I read a couple years back, LOL).

My home is where my books are. - Ellen Thompson

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