Panel Recap: A Geek Girl’s Right to Erotica

I have been more than a little bit obsessed with romance novels, erotica, and romantic fanfiction for most of my life. It started with sneakily checking out books from the library and skim-reading to get to the “good parts,” then moved on to scouring Archive of Our Own, Fanfiction.net, and other glorious sites for all of my slash fic needs, no matter how niche (Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini, anyone?), and now, at long last, I can finally say that I am a proud sex nerd and devourer of all things romance and sexuality.

Given this extensive history, I think it’s safe to say that I couldn’t have been more excited to sit in on this year’s GeekGirlCon panel A Geek Girl’s Right to Erotica. This panel was the first live episode of the certifiably awesome Podice Rippers podcast, hosted by Natalie Warner and Lainey Seaton. When not podcasting “at length and girth” about romance novels, Natalie and Lainey are a cyber-security technical writer and an account manager, respectively. Together, they host a podcast that is an incredibly funny and thoroughly geeky exploration of all things romance, smut, and erotica.

Image Description: podcast hosts and panelists Natalie Warner and Lainey Seaton sitting at their panel table at GeekGirlCon ’17. Source: Twitter

Their panel, which discussed a wide range of topics including representation, realism versus fantasy, the feminism present in romance and erotica, and the influence of the entertainment and publishing industries on romance novels, began with an exploration of different terminology that is often used when discussing the world of romance fiction. Natalie noted that she had previously referred to herself as a reader of “lady porn,” but said that other terms, such as “erotica,” “romance novels” or “pornography” work just as well for her, if not better. The hosts then shared definitions of both the terms “pornography” and “erotica,” calling attention to the fact that the term “erotica” is often used to distinguish content that doesn’t focus solely on sexual arousal, but rather on representing a “sexual journey.” However, Natalie and Lainey were quick to question how important these definitions really are. After all, pornography isn’t bad, wrong, or inferior, and the meaning of it can be redefined and reimagined to be more inclusive, representational, and feminist.

From there, the podcasters centered their discussion around a few central themes, including what makes romance novels wonderful and geeky, what can make them problematic, and where to start reading if you’re new to romance and erotica entirely.

Why Read Romance and Erotica?

Natalie and Lainey discussed the overlap between geeky and erotic works, in that both areas provide women (and anyone who isn’t a cisgender, heterosexual man) with spaces to explore their own agency, passion, and identity. To them, “geeky girls” are people who wholeheartedly explore a passion for something specific, whether it be fandom, gaming, technology, romance novels, or just a really great Drarry fanfic. Fanfiction especially, in Lainey’s word’s represents the “ultimate overlap between the geek and romance worlds.”

Despite how relatable this definition is, romance readers and writers often face external stigma and internal shame about their geekery. The answer, of course, is very simple: the patriarchy. As Lainey pointed out, though, stigma can often times act as an indicator of subversion, and this can certainly be true of romance novels, which so unabashedly provide a safe space for female-centered, female-authored fantasies in a world permeated by white, cishet male desire. When the majority of literature is dominated by men, romance represents a hugely popular, powerful woman-led corner. Beyond the fact that it is caters directly to women, the romance novel industry also encompasses and permeates nearly every fictional genre, including realistic fiction, sci fi, fantasy, “sexy ranchers,” and more.

In their discussion, Lainey and Natalie directly refuted several common critiques of the romance genre. These critiques included the claims that romance novels are “unrealistic” (fiction can be escapist and doesn’t need to be strictly “realistic” in a traditional sense at all times), “formulaic” (having a general formula allows readers to relax and authors to exercise greater creativity within that framework), and “not relatable to men” (to which the podcasters responded that “literally not all media has to appeal to cishet men).

What’s Problematic About Romance Novels?

Despite all the awesome things that romance novels have to offer, though, they can also be problematic and limited in their representation of romance and sexuality. Oftentimes, instead of expressing the realistic diversity of experiences and identities, romance novels reflect how we have been taught to be and what we have been taught to want. Additionally, romance has a long way to go in its representation of characters who are not white, thin, straight, cis, upper middle class, sexually “vanilla,” and able-bodied. As Natalie joked, “enough with the perfect handful breasts, I cannot!” The podcasters both also pointed out the fact that there can be a vast difference between what we as geeky, feminist readers support intellectually and what we love with our “lizard brains,” but that greater representation, inclusivity, and realistic depictions of romance and sex can help bridge this gap.

Where To Get Started

Throughout their discussion, Natalie and Lainey discussed a wide variety of book recommendations they personally love, and also opened up the panel to audience feedback and recommendations. Rebekah Weatherspoon and her Fit series came up repeatedly as a great example of representation within the romance genre, since Weatherspoon’s characters are diverse in terms of body type, race, sexuality, and more. Other recommendations included Keri Arthur’s Riley Jensen Guardian series, Fresh Romance (a romantic comic anthology for all of us visual-minded people out there), Iron Circus Comics (for awesome comic smut), and N.K. Jemisin’s romantic sci fi books. Another incredible resource that was brought up was Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, a website of reviews, recommendations, and discussions geared directly at geeky, feminist romance readers.

Image Description: podcast hosts and panelists Natalie Warner and Lainey Seaton smiling at the camera while taking a group selfie with their panel audience at GeekGirlCon ’17.

Since the panel was recorded for podcast posterity, anyone who wasn’t able to attend to attend it live is in luck, since there are plenty of ways to experience (or re-experience!) the fun of all the feminist sexytimes feels! You can listen to the full episode on the Podice Rippers Soundcloud page, follow Podice Rippers on Twitter, and join their Facebook group! Happy reading and listening, geek girls!

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Hanna Hupp
“Rock On!”

Hanna Hupp

A recent English Lit grad, Hanna is an enthusiastic Hufflepuff who spends as much time as possible reading, writing, and engaging in in-depth critical analyses of the graphic novels, old SyFy shows, and the Bachelor franchise with anyone who will listen. When not developing intense crushes on (inconveniently) fictional characters or outlining a variety of stories she might hopefully get around to writing one day, Hanna can usually be found listening to comedy podcasts while googling 1960’s NASA launches.

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