There was an interesting (and very looong) thread over at Romancing the Blog yesterday about erotic romances and the RITAs (link above). Once you weeded out the extraneous comments about whether a sexually explicit book is immoral or not, the discussion basically boiled down to the following: Should there be a separate category for erotic romance in the RITAs or not?
My feeling is no, there shouldn't be. I commented: "There are as many different types of erotic romance as there are of less spicy romances (fantasy, futuristic, contemporary, historical). Placing them all into the same category, simply because of their level of sensuality, and then attempting to judge among them seems to me no more logical than trying to compare futuristic, contemporary, and historical romances simply because they’re all romances."
Toward the end of the thread, however, Jennifer countered: "A book should be able to fit into its catagory - period. A judge reading historical romance shouldn’t suddenly have to judge a book whose main thrust is sex...Why not go the extra step and create a catagory for their genre. An erotic romance judge will be able to see past the sub-genres (sci-fi, paranormal, menage à trois) to the technical part of the writing - i.e. - character developement, plot, etc."
Obviously Jennifer feels that the sexual content of the book defines its genre, rather than other elements such as setting (and some other commenters apparently agreed with her). The question of whether the RITAs should create a separate category for erotic romances, then, appears to me to revolve around the question: Is erotic romance a subgenre of romance? Or should a book be defined by more traditional subgenres (contemporary, historical, etc.) regardless of the sexual content? If we lump all "burning hot" romances together, can a futuristic and a historical be fairly judged? (Of course, the general feeling seems to be that maybe erotic romances aren't being fairly judged now.)
I personally don't consider "erotic romance" a subgenre in its own right, but merely a description of how explicit the book is. My feeling is that I wouldn't want to try to weigh a historical against a fantasy romance, so I wouldn't want to see all erotic romances lumped into one category. But then again, I read all heat levels of romance, so explicitness or lack thereof doesn't bother me. Obviously other people have different views. It'll be interesting to see what the RWA eventually decides.